Tunisia and Egypt expose the hypocrisy of western liberalism

Category: Middle East, World Affairs Topics: Conflicts And War, Fundamentalism, Tunisia Channel: Opinion Views: 3878


What is particularly striking about the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt is the conspicuous absence of Muslim fundamentalism. In the best secular democratic tradition, the people are simply revolting against oppressive and corrupt regimes, against the needless poverty into which their countries have been plunged, and they are demanding freedom and economic hope.

The cynical wisdom of western liberals - according to whom, in Arab countries, any genuine democratic sensibility is limited to a small bunch of liberal elites, while the vast majority can only be mobilized through religious fundamentalism or vulgar nationalism - has been proven wrong.

When a new provisional government was nominated in Tunis, it excluded Islamists and the more radical left. The reaction of smug liberals was: good, they are the basically same two totalitarian extremes - but are things really as simple as that? Is the true long-term antagonism not precisely between Islamists and the left?

Even if they are temporarily united against their common enemy, once they approach victory their unity will doubtless become unstable, and what will most likely ensure is a deadly struggle even crueler than that against the regime.

Is such a struggle not precisely what we witnessed after the 2009 elections in Iran? What the hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters stood for was the popular dream that sustained the Khomeini revolution: freedom and justice. Even if this dream was utopian, it did lead to a breathtaking explosion of political and social creativity, organizational experiments, and debates among students and ordinary people.

This genuine opening that unleashed the real potential for social transformation - a moment in which everything seemed possible - was then gradually stifled through the takeover of political control by the Islamist establishment.

Even in the case of clearly fundamentalist movements, one should be careful not to miss the social component. The Taliban is regularly presented as a fundamentalist Islamist group enforcing its rule with terror. However, when, in the spring of 2009, they took over the Swat valley in Pakistan, the New York Times reported that they engineered "a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants."

If, by "taking advantage" of the farmers' plight, the Taliban are creating, in the words of the New York Times, "alarm about the risks to Pakistan, which remains largely feudal," what prevented liberal democrats in Pakistan and the United States from similarly "taking advantage" of this plight and trying to help the landless farmers? Is it that the feudal forces in Pakistan are the natural ally of liberal democracy?

The inevitable conclusion to be drawn is that the rise of radical Islamism was always the other side of the disappearance of the secular left in Muslim countries. When Afghanistan is portrayed as a kind of archetypal Islamic fundamentalist country, does it not indicate that, a mere forty years ago, it was a country with a strong secular tradition, including a powerful communist party that took power there independently of the Soviet Union? Where did this secular tradition go?

And it is crucial that we examine the ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt - and Yemen, and maybe, hopefully, even Saudi Arabia - against this background.

If the situation is eventually stabilized so that the old regime survives but with some liberal cosmetic surgery, this will generate an insurmountable fundamentalist backlash. In order for the crucial liberal legacy to survive, liberals need the fraternal help of the radical left.

Back to Egypt, the most shameful and dangerously opportunistic reaction was that of Tony Blair as reported on CNN: change is necessary, but it should be a stable change. Stable change in Egypt today can mean only a compromise with the Mubarak forces by means of slightly enlarging the ruling circle.

This is why to talk about peaceful transition now is an obscenity: by squashing the opposition, Mubarak himself made this impossible. After Mubarak sent the army against the protesters, the choice became clear: either a cosmetic concession in which something changes so that everything stays the same or a true break.

Here, then, is the moment of truth: one cannot claim, as in the case of Algeria a decade ago, that allowing truly free elections will effectively deliver power to Muslim fundamentalists.

Another liberal worry is that there is no organized political power to take over if Mubarak goes. Of course, there isn't: Mubarak took care of that by reducing all opposition to mere ornaments, the result being reminiscent of the title of the famous Agatha Christie novel, And Then There Were None. The argument for Mubarak - that it's either him or chaos - is thus an argument against him.

The hypocrisy of western liberals is breathtaking: they publicly support democracy, and now, when the people revolt against the tyrants on behalf of secular freedom and justice, not on behalf of religion, they are all deeply concerned. Why be concerned? Why not hope that freedom is given a chance?

Today, more than ever, Mao Zedong's old motto is pertinent: "There is great chaos under heaven - the situation is excellent."

The outcome we should all hope for is Mubarak's immediate departure from Egypt. But where should he go? The answer is also clear: to The Hague. If there is a leader who deserves to sit in the dock, it is him.


Slavoj Zizek is the International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, University of London, and one of the world's most influential public intellectuals. His most recent books are Living in the End Times (Verso, 2010), and, co-edited with Costas Douzinas, The Idea of Communism (Verso, 2010).

Source: ABC Australia

  Category: Middle East, World Affairs
  Topics: Conflicts And War, Fundamentalism, Tunisia  Channel: Opinion
Views: 3878

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Older Comments:
Western powers in general are in habit to propagate one thing and doing opposite. They are, as they claim, champions of democracy and civil liberty and they always support autocrats and dictators. Wests should understand, people cannot be be fooled forever. Instead of supporting autocrats and dictators in third world, they should start to learn to work with people's choice of respective countries, before it is too late. There are so many Irans in making, which they cannot afford.

Very intresting point is that west is worried of islamic ruling party in Islamic country, what a hypocracy and Double standard?

Fatimah, Assalamou alaykoum, You state "As Obama said, Egypt is a sovereign state and should decide its own future. Why don't you take it from there, and be positive? thank you" Obama is a politician and like any politician he will say anything to buy time and fool the mass, no need to remind you that sovereignty and democracy is the last thing the forces behind those politicians want and will 'allow', for over 60 years they have waged wars and wars against many nations that seek a true sovereignty and true democracy if they oppose their policies, that's what imperialists do. Your naivety can be very detrimental to you and to the rest of the world. These people are excellent chess game players, remember that. The writer maybe an atheist and we don't have to accept anything he writes, but he's doing reasoned thinking for some people. And for your information there is no whining against brutal and violent empires, there is only legitimate resistance, you and them can call it anything they (and you) want, it's still resistance. The current evil empire is being shredded, stay tuned. Salam

Hello Slavoj Zizek: Please stop pontificating against the West and all of its evils. Writing trite and insipid articles about the US doesn't help anyone. Egypt has been under control for 30 years by Mubarak. And the US has supported Egypt during that time. Now things are rapidly changing. There are great political considerations at hand now concerning Egypt,
the US, all the Middle East and the world. Hasty decisions in American foreign policy help no one (i.e. invasion of Iraq, courtesy of George W. Bush). God willing, the US will learn from its mistakes. As Obama said, Egypt is a sovereign state and should decide its own future. Why don't you take it from there, and be positive? thank you.

Life is full of cynics and sophists.

Islamic moral values should be implemented (as early as childhood), because the society nowadays are so naive to do bad things. Every leaders must think wisely what is the best for their people. In return, the people will be pleased with the policies and laws issued, and they can develop their country easily into a great nation.

Hosni Mubarak, give your people a chance to obtain certain freedoms they want.