Events in Egypt these past few days have been tragic. Much of what has happened was not unexpected. Though, what has been somewhat startling (however maybe should not have been a surprise) has been the response of American liberals (such at Peter Beinhart), as well as the reaction of the President of the United States to these events.
Let’s start with President Obama, who stated yesterday: “The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt’s interim government and security forces. We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest.”
Could President Obama possibly believe what he said? Does he think that there has been violence perpetrated against “innocent civilians” in Egypt? Does he consider the Muslim Brotherhood to be involved in “peaceful protest”?
Peter Beinhart disparages President Obama for not going even further. Yesterday Beinhart wrote that Obama should have stated: “The US supports the rights of Islamist parties to peacefully seek power, as long as they respect democratic norms.” In Israeli politics I am considered a leftist. In the last election I voted for Meretz. However, I realize that I share very little of the world views of either President Obama or Peter Beinhart. While I am sure that the Muslim Brotherhood mourns the death of its members– as we all should– this is exactly what they were hoping would happen. They wanted more than anything to provoke the police, provoke the army; and dare them to do something.
What we are seeing in Egypt is not some peaceful group of protestors marching down Pennsylvania Ave., calling for and end to a war, and then heading home. There were tens of thousands Egyptian citizens occupying major sections of Cairo. It was as if protestors occupied Time Square and Union Square in Manhattan– blocking traffic, disrupting lives and refusing to move. Egyptian protesters were not only occupying these locations, they also actively incited their followers to violence. This did not go on for one or two days, but for weeks and then continued for more than a week after the military warned them that their actions were illegal.
The protesters refused to move. Instead they escalated their activities and created barriers, and defensive positions. They did all they could to ensure that removing them would be costly in men and time, and would have to end up being bloody. It was the blood they wanted. It was the sympathy and support they wanted. They did all of this with the veneer of saying ‘all we really want is democracy’. A movement that does not believe in the fundamental beliefs of democracy, has suddenly found the benefits of a democratic system. More correctly, they thought they had discovered how to use the word democracy and elections as tools for their benefit. The military was reluctant to act, and waited days beyond their stated deadline. In the end, they felt (rightly or wrongly) that what had become the “law of the land” could not be flouted in such a provocative way. The Egyptian military did not deny the Muslim Brotherhood the right to peacefully protest. Rather, they denied their right to occupy parts of the city, and incite their followers to violence.
Critics of the actions of the liberals and the military in Egypt seem to have missed the essential point of what has gone in Egypt this past two months. The military did not “seize power”– the tens of millions of Egyptians who returned to the streets in late July had come to protest the fact that under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt was on a quick road to a theocratic dictatorship. The sea of protesters believed that if they did not act when they did, it would be too late… By the time it came around to new election it would have been impossible to remove Morsi. What history can we point to of theocracies– be them muslim or not– giving up power in free elections? We only have the opposite experience- i.e. Iran, Hamas, and now possibly Tunisia (not to mention Hezbollah in Lebanon). The democratic process is a means to and end, not an end to a means for religious parties, such as the Brotherhood. Having seen what happened to their colleagues in Turkey (under the leadership of another Islamist), the military were only too happy to try to force Morsi to either change direction, or remove him.
Which brings me to Beinhart. What can I say. He really just does not get it. Opposing Islamic parties is NOT the same as opposing Islam. It means opposing parties, which all share a common set of beliefs; that is, to use the ballot to obtain power and then impose their religious beliefs on their entire country. How can Beinhart and others not comprehend that one of the reasons for the success of American democracy is its successful separation between Church and State. Political religion (and that includes Judaism), is fundamentally incompatible with democracy. When God tells you how to vote you, are not voting democratically. Furthermore, in the case of Islamic political parties, you have parties whose fundamental goal is the establishment of Islamic rule, not just in their own countries, but beyond as well.
To Americans, the separation of State and Church should be as fundamental as having free elections. Since the American government did not seem understand this principle, we have gotten the government we have Iraq, Hamas, and Morsi. It is not too late for America and the west to wake up– and state clearly– that as much as we believe in democracy, we believe a democracy should have some clear boundaries, and one of those boundries must be the separation of Church and State.
The separation of Church and State is equally compelling Israel. For if we are ever to settle our dispute with the Palestinians, we must make sure that those who believe that “God gave us the land”, and as such, must never give it up; along with those in the Palestinian camp who believe that no sacred Islamic land should ever be turned over the infidels, do not doom us all to perpetual conflict.
One final note, people keep asking the question: “Is what is going on in Egypt now ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for Israel? First, and with out question, any deaths must be considered a tragedy. However, what keeps running through my mind is a comment made to me over a year and half ago by a well known Israeli journalist and expert on Egypt. She stated that at that time she did not fear the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power. The thing that kept her up at night was worrying Egypt could devolve into chaos and as a result we could have a million starving Egyptian refugees on our borders. I bet she is not sleeping well at all these days.