By Barry Rubin
In September, the leaves will start falling off the trees in the West. And so will their policies toward the Middle East. That month, Egypt will elect a radical and largely Islamist parliament. That parliament will write a radical and largely Islamist constitution. The new government will follow a radical and at least partly Islamist policy. It will be Iran all over again.
Of course, Egypt is different. The problem will not be as large or intense as Iran. But as the Shakespearean character said when given a fatal sword wound in “Romeo and Juliet”: “No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but ’tis enough, ‘twill serve.”
There was a violent demonstration at the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. The protesters set fire to an Israeli flag and demanded the Israeli ambassador be expelled. The demonstrators attempted to storm the embassy; 185 people were arrested, 18 police injured by thrown rocks.
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The demonstration was organized on Facebook by the April 6 Youth Movement. The same “moderate” and “democratic” group so highly praised in the West for “leading” the Egyptian revolution.
Asmaa Mahfouz is a leader of the April 6 Youth Movement. In fact, she claims that she personally began the revolution with her January 18 video calling for demonstrations. Now, Mahfouz is trying to launch a new revolution against the military rulers. One of the reasons she’s protesting the transitional military regime is that the army protected the Israeli Embassy from being stormed and seized by the demonstrators.
President Obama believes these people are the hope for the future and backs them 100 percent. Of course, there are real moderate democrats in Egypt, but they are few and terrible at organizing a political structure. There is no strong moderate party running in the parliamentary election. The Muslim Brotherhood is well-organized. Smaller Islamist and radical leftist parties are organized.
The dominant emotion today in Egypt is fear. The dominant response today in the West is blindness.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian court took Egyptian citizenship away from a leading Coptic Christian activist and banned him from entering the country. Among the charges was supposedly insulting Islam and asking the United States and Israel to interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs.
Former Deputy Head of Egypt’s Court of Appeals Judge Mahmoud al-Khodheiri, gave an interview on al-Jazira (thanks to MEMRI for video and translation) and said:
“We should stop exporting natural gas to Israel.” But is it all about the money? No: “I consider the export of gas to Israel an act of treason, and we should stop it. I salute the people who bombed the gas pipe, because this is my blood that is being transferred to my enemy.”
A man who’s been a high-ranking judge salutes terrorists who blew up a pipeline. Yet judges are supposed to uphold the rule of law. If a judge can cheer those who blow things up that opens the door to supporting other acts of lawless violence. Wherever al-Khodheiri draws the line others will find justification for mayhem. Attack Christians? Kill Jews? Assassinate secularists or government officials? Once lawlessness is rationalized as absolute right there are no limits.
A former high-ranking judge calls for ignoring a legal contract. Judges are supposed to uphold contracts. Of course, he could call for renegotiating the contract through legal channels, but that isn’t what he does. So the acceptable resort to an agreement where you aren’t currently gaining an advantage is violence and unilateral abrogation. What does this tell us about other agreements (contracts) that Israel might make with Arab neighbors or the Palestinians?
Israel is an enemy. Despite a peace treaty 33 years ago, most Egyptians regard this as merely a temporary truce. The return of the Sinai, reopening of the Suez Canal, reopening of Egyptian oilfields in western Sinai do not suffice to make them feel at peace with Israel, whatever continuing sympathy and support they might give the Palestinians. Nor does Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the creation of the Palestinian Authority and Israel’s acceptance of its arming and transfer of funds, nor Israel’s other actions. Why should we believe that Israel’s turnover of east Jerusalem, the West Bank, and creation of a Palestinian state would change anything? I wish that were true but I’m not going to pretend it is when I see it isn’t.
Selling gas is “treason.” And what does one do to traitors in the Arabic-speaking world? One kills them. While al-Khodheiri isn’t a cleric, he has been a career judge, the people who lay down the law of the state as Muslim clerics rule on Sharia (Islamic) law. So in a real sense what he ‘has done is to issue what one might call a “secular fatwa.” If an official of Egypt’s energy authority is murdered tomorrow the killers can cite al-Khodheiri as justifying it, just as previous killers or the would-be assassin of Naguib Mafouz, Egypt’s great novelist, rationalized their acts because of clerics’ statements.
Remember, al-Khodheiri is a Mubarak-appointed judge! What will the judges selected by the next government sound like?
Finally, “blood.” The resort to passion rather than reason is dangerous. The English-language expression “as sober as a judge” doesn’t just refer to intoxication with alcohol but to a “judicious temperament,” calm, cool, and rational.
If judges call for violence and murder, invoke blood and treason how might common people behave? What example is being offered to the national political culture?
President Barack Obama and European leaders don’t get it. We are about to be projected back to the bad old days of radical Arab nationalist regimes competing with each other in militancy, anti-Americanism, and hatred of Israel. Except this time they’re Islamists and that’s worse.
When top judges yell for fire and vengeance your society is in real trouble. And so are its neighbors. No democratic state can be built on such a foundation. Ignore all those soothing and ignorant journalists and “experts” on television and in the newspapers. Here comes the judge. And he’s a hanging judge.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/ His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is http://www.gloria-center.org. His PajamaMedia columns are mirrored and other articles available at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com/.