Egypt, Turkey, and the Future of Middle East Democracy

First published July 25, 2013

Aside from the fact that religious fundamentalism and the democratic ideal are polar opposites, Islamist leaders like Morsi and Erdogan, who have professed to be democrats, just can’t help it. When backed into a corner politically, they are forced to reveal their true disdain for popular opinion, which is the very basis of democracy. Fairness and equality are not factors in their calculus.

Religious fundamentalism is absolutist. Democracy is populist. Reconciliation of these does not seem a logical possibility. The idea of fundamentalist Islamic democracies is the world’s latest political version of a “good used car.” It looks nice on the lot. The salesman does a good job describing its virtues. But it just doesn’t run very well, and it is likely to leave you stranded some place you don’t want to be.

But this idea that a democracy has been undone is precisely the starting premise of the Western liberal media and political establishment and the cause of so much principled handwringing: An Egyptian Islamic democracy has been killed in the cradle. How tragic! No, actually, it was stillborn. Because a democracy born of religious fundamentalism is the offspring of an unnatural union.

What we have in the Middle East today, especially in Turkey and Egypt, is a clash of two temporal cultures. One looking anxiously to its past failures and another to the possibility of a more prosperous and liberal future. Turkey is the most successful Muslim country in the world for the same reason that America is the world’s most successful Christian majority state. It is a fact rife with historical irony, and one that illuminates the way forward to the development of true Islamic democracies: That the success of Turkey has in large measure been due to its historic, constitutional separation of religion and the political state.

One need not look far to see what the future of Egypt would have looked like under Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. For Islamists like these, the ruse of democratic elections is a means to an end. In Turkey, the people talk of Erdogan “pulling a Putin,” that is, of changing the constitution to perpetuate his own hold on power by allowing himself to become president.

Turkey has more journalists in jail than any other country on Earth, including China and Russia, and twice as many journalists in jail as Syria! College and high school students who protested in the streets have been arrested in government raids, held without legal counsel, and are being indicted on “terrorism” charges. Seriously. Soon, many of Turkey’s former top military officers, who were imprisoned years ago on bogus conspiracy charges fabricated by the AKP, will be put on trial as traitors.

Freedom is being slowly, systematically crushed in Turkey by an Islamist regime that cares nothing for democratic ideals. With each passing day, Turkey becomes more and more like Iran. Where is the Western outrage? What about Turkish democracy?

In Egypt, the Islamists have murdered Christians, blamed women for their own gang rapes, and repeatedly violated the Egyptian constitution and judicial injunctions, even while attempting to replace judges who did not please them, in order to ramrod through a constitution hostile to the most fundamental principles of democracy, like respect for women’s and minority rights. In stark contrast, when the opposition group Tamarod called for more demonstrations a couple of weeks ago, only a few hundred people showed up. The opposition protests that ousted Morsi were comparatively peaceful. It is the Muslim Brotherhood that has repeatedly called for violent, massive public demonstrations. It is the Islamists who have refused abatement.

Western critics of the Egyptian military’s actions betray their ignorance of the fact that there is an enormous difference between having a democratically elected leader–which is itself debatable in Egypt’s case–and having a democratic government. It’s disappointing that so many Americans don’t seem to know the difference. As I told a friend of mine in Egypt today, Thomas Jefferson believed that when any government demonstrates an open hostility to the will of the people that it is the right of the people to institute new government. It is the ideal of an Egyptian democracy that our American critics have romanticized in their high-minded protestations, while the fact that the Egyptian people were faced with the prospect of living under a repressive Islamist dictatorship does not seem to have concerned them. Democracy is not just about form; it is also about content.

The Failure of Republican Economics

Those clinging to Bush-era ideologies and illusions show they simply do not understand economics.

Last Modified: 06 Aug 2012 18:51

Former US President George W Bush’s new book might be poorly timed [GALLO/GETTY]

What’s wrong with this picture? The George W Bush Institute has just released a book, The 4% Solution: Unleashing the Economic Growth America Needs with a foreword by former President George W Bush. A better question would be, what’s not wrong with this picture? It’s not just the matter of timing – the former Republican president releasing a book just as the current Republican nominee is struggling to establish his own identity and political bona fides. Nor is it simply the additional embarrassment that the book’s subject is economics, which Mitt Romney pretends to be an expert on. It’s not even just the fact that Bush had his chance at producing four per cent growth for eight long years and never once managed to even come close. In fact, he only managed three isolated quarters when the economy grew that rapidly.

It’s all that and much, much more. Because Republicans in general are downright terrible at producing four per cent growth, while Democrats are relatively good at it. In fact, since FDR took office in the depths of the Great Depression, Democratic presidents have produced four per cent annual growth an average of three out of every five years – 60.5 per cent of the time – while Republican presidents have only managed it a little more than one year out of every four – 27.8 per cent of the time. With figures like that, it’s a no-brainer: the best thing you can do to produce four per cent growth is to vote for a Democrat for president.

Fastest years of economic growth

The five fastest years of economic growth all took place under a Democratic president. His name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In fact, the 11 fastest years of economic growth all took place under Roosevelt or Truman. Democrats presided over 16 of the 20 fastest-growing years, 22 of the fastest-growing 30 years, and 28 of the fastest-growing 40 years. There have only been 36 years in which growth has actually topped four per cent, and Democrats were in charge during 26 of them.

“Republicans love to idolise Ronald Reagan – even though they’d never nominate him if he were running today.”

George W Bush was in charge during zero of them. His best year clocked in at 3.5 per cent growth – in 41st place.

Bill Clinton did it five times out of eight. And Clinton produced that better record while turning massive federal deficits into a surplus, while Reagan almost tripled the federal deficit during his two terms.

In fact, since Reagan took office in 1980, Republican presidents have only produced four per cent growth or better 20 per cent of the time, compared with 45.5 per cent of the time under Democrats.

Republicans like to argue that they are the party of business and therefore the party of economic growth. Democrats are the party of economic redistribution. Republicans grow the pie, Democrats cut it up. This is what Republicans argue, and the so-called “liberal media” largely echoes their message. But the facts simply don’t add up.

Since 1932, growth under Democrats has averaged 4.8 per cent annually, while growth under Republicans has averaged just 2.7 per cent. For a two-term presidency, this amounts to a growth rate almost double under the Democrat: 45.5 per cent growth, compared with 23.8 per cent growth under the Republican. And if it’s sustained growth, year after year that you’re looking for – the sort of growth that Bush is dishonestly promising, the results are even more lopsided.

When’s the last time since 1929 that a Republican president presided over four straight years of four per cent GDP growth? The answer is simple: Never. When’s the last time a Democrat did it? Bill Clinton, from 1997 through 2000. Democrats also put together four or more years of four per cent + GDP under Kennedy/Johnson (five years: 1962-66) and FDR – twice. First was a four-year stretch from 1934-1937, followed by a six-year stretch, 1939 to 1944.

The only year FDR missed four per cent + GDP growth over an 11-year span was 1938, the year he fell prey to the rhetoric of deficit hawks and cut back spending to try to balance the budget. It scared the bejesus out of folks, fearful that the Great Recession would return full force and Roosevelt never considered it again. But that budget-slashing disaster is exactly the same “solution” that Republicans are pushing today – and demonising Obama because he’s reluctant to go along with them.

Obama recently told CBS News that there was a significant difference between running a business and running an economy:

“When some people question why I would challenge his Bain record, the point I’ve made there in the past is, if you’re a head of a large private equity firm or hedge fund, your job is to make money. It’s not to create jobs. It’s not even to create a successful business – it’s to make sure that you’re maximising returns for your investor. Now that’s appropriate. That’s part of the American way. That’s part of the system. But that doesn’t necessarily make you qualified to think about the economy as a whole, because as president, my job is to think about the workers. My job is to think about communities, where jobs have been outsourced.”

Tax cuts for high earners

This is a valid point, and economist Paul Krugman justly backed him up, his point that “business is not economics” linking to a 1996 paper where he makes the larger argument about the systemic differences between a micro-economic and a macro-economic view of the economy – that is, that “a country is not a company”.

In fact, Democrats are so much better at growing the economy that even super-wealthy Republicans do better when a Democrat is in the White House. Attention has repeatedly been focused on the Bush tax cuts for high-income Americans. But those tax lower tax rates pale in comparison to the much stronger income growth under Clinton. So what if you’re paying four per cent more in taxes, if you’re earning way more than you otherwise would?

Paul Rosenberg is the senior editor of Random Lengths News, a bi-weekly alternative community newspaper.

Read more at Al Jazeera

Under siege: the uncertain fate of Arab Christians – Al Arabiya

Hisham Melhem

Rarely do I write about my personal feelings and passions. The situation is different this time. I write with pain, nay, I write with anger. While watching with horror the savage assaults against the Christians in the Eastern Mediterranean, one of the first and oldest Christian communities in the world, I am shocked. From the beginning of the season of Arab uprisings I kept reminding myself, and others, that when we analyze and assess the rapidly unfolding events we should not lose sight of the fundamentals: the civil and human rights of all the peoples living in theses societies regardless of their ethnic and religious backgrounds or their gender. By that I meant that we should denounce and resist repression and injustice inherent in transitional times when the old entrenched powers, along with absolutist radical groups, continue to undermine peaceful inclusive change. Both state and “revolutionary” repression and intimidation should be confronted, although state repression is more dangerous because it is systemic and institutional.

Events in Syria

I was shocked by, and denounced, the destruction of the great Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, a jewel of a structure with its elegant 11th century minaret. This was a beastly act perpetrated by a cruel regime and primitive gangs of fanatic Islamists. Also shocking was the shelling and looting of the historic Jobar synagogue in Damascus, one of the oldest Jewish houses of worship in the world. Now, I am seized with deep anger because the terror of both the Syrian government forces and elements of the radical Islamists Jabhat al-Nusra or Nusra Front have visited the iconic town of Maaloula, a truly unique and special Christian sanctuary nestled in the rugged mountains not far from Damascus where many inhabitants still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ . Maaloula’s Christian inhabitants, with their family tree going back to the first Christian communities in ancient Syria, fled the town when it was taken and retaken by the marauding gangs of Assad and al-Nusra.

I was born, and grew up, in Beirut in a decidedly conservative Christian (Maronite/Catholic) environment. I still remember the pride we felt as youngsters when we used to pray and chant Syriac/Aramaic hymns written in Arabic script. In my teens I read Nahj al-Balaghah by Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (usually translated in English as “Peak of eloquence”) the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, who is considered by his Shiite followers as the most important figure in Islam after the Prophet. The book is truly a magnificent collection of speeches, invocations and aphorisms written by a man of wisdom, courage and compassion. This was the beginning of my love affair with the Arabic language. Another great Muslim Caliph I admired was Omar Ibn Al Khattab, the second of the four wise Caliphs that succeeded Prophet Muhammad. Omar, one of the most powerful and consequential figures in the history of Islam, was known for his strong sense of social justice. I named my son after him.

Even when I parted ways with religion and became a secularist, I remained attached to the rituals and aestheticism of Christianity and Islam and their civilizational legacies. When I find myself in a European capital I do my own version of (Gothic) church hopping. On my first visit to Cairo and Istanbul I was intoxicated with their charming mosques and ancient churches. All this is to say that what I am writing here is not emanating from my religious background but from my moral and political convictions.

Read more at Al Arabiya

The West Must Not Appease Bashar al-Assad

No reasonable person, neither American nor Syrian, wishes to see the United States and its allies become deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, but for the western powers to fail to act now is tantamount to appeasement of a butcher of children. No one knows what will happen if we strike Syrian military targets; no one knows what will happen if we do not. That is not an argument. If the past is prologue, then Assad will continue to slaughter the people of Syria without discrimination. That much appears certain.

The confiscation of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal does not look like a realistic proposal on its face, because the safe transfer of massive quantities of chemical weapons in a war zone would be risky and problematic at best. How will compliance be verified when it was difficult just for UN inspectors to reach a suburb of Damascus?

The French are correct to insist upon stringent preconditions before any negotiated deal with Assad on chemical weapons. The world has tolerated this monster long enough. Every person who detests war should take a hard look at the situation in the Middle East today, and then explain to themselves how a victory for Assad, Iran and Hezbollah reduces the probability of a Middle East war, one into which the United States would be inextricably drawn by its many alliances in the region. To those who believe that opposing military action against Syria is the path of peace, I respectfully ask that they think again of the likely consequences of doing nothing.

There are indeed shades of past conflicts evoked by the images of carnage in Syria. But the deja vu being experienced is not that of Iraq–which was completely different–but of another, similar atrocity that occurred at Guernica, Spain, in 1937, of another moral failure to respond, and of the results of a flawed strategy of trying to appease a monster.

On April 26,1937, bombers and fighters of the German Luftwaffe and the Italian air force attacked the small Basque village of Guernica in northern Spain. It was an outrageous assault on an unarmed civilian population. It was the blatant mass murder of hundreds of civilians, by some accounts over a thousand were killed, men, women and children.

For America in those days, neutrality was the dominant U.S. foreign policy model, enshrined in a series of congressional acts that had been designed to further and further remove the United States from the possibility of involvement in “foreign wars.” The prevailing American sentiment then, as today in regard to atrocities being committed in Syria, was that what had happened in Guernica was not our problem. It simply didn’t involve us.

Four years later, the relevance of Guernica to the security interests of the United States became more than apparent. On December 8, 1941, in the wake of a devastating attack on American naval forces at Pearl Harbor, the United States formerly declared war on imperial Japan. Three days later, war was declared on the United States by those same German and Italian fascist regimes who had bombed Guernica only four years earlier.

Red Lines Matter – NYTimes.com

 

BERLIN — Europe knows, and this city in particular, about the importance of American “red lines.” West Berlin, caught for more than four decades 100 miles within the Soviet occupation zone, survived on the credibility of the U.S. commitment to it, demonstrated by the Allied airlift in response to the Soviet blockade of 1948.

A shattered Europe became whole, free and prosperous under the shield of U.S. credibility. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty spelled out that an armed attack against one member “shall be considered an attack against them all.” This was believable enough to deter a Soviet attack on Western Europe.

American credibility in Asia has played a substantial part in the rapid but peaceful rise of China, a power shift of a kind that has seldom, if ever, occurred in world history without major conflict. China believes in the U.S. defense commitment to Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. America has been the offsetting power allaying the tensions of China’s emergence.

It is the credibility of the United States as a European and Asian and Middle Eastern power that underwrites global security.

Read more at The New York Times.

The Race-Baiting of America | The Nation

A memorial is seen at the scene where Australian college student Christopher Lane, 23, of Melbourne, was found dead of a gunshot wound on Friday in Duncan, Oklahoma, August 21, 2013. (REUTERS/Bill Waugh)

The tragic murder of Australian student Christopher Lane is being exploited by the right to stoke fears of a race war.

As the nation takes stock of the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, I’m listening to a news program playing a recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking of peace and reconciliation and mountaintops to be crested. I’m also online, watching my screen blink with discussions about current events like the dismissal of a racial harassment suit against Paula Deen and the debate over New York’s stop-and-frisk policies. The decades-long span of unsolved issues and endless crises fills me with sadness and unease.

According to a recent Pew poll, “Blacks were nearly three times as likely as whites to be living in poverty. And the median net worth of white households was 14 times the median net worth of black households.” But this disparate reality is felt very differently: nearly twice as many blacks as whites feel that blacks are treated less fairly by police and the courts; blacks are three times more likely than whites to feel that blacks are treated less fairly in employment, education, hospitals and stores. These findings are consistent with a trend documented by a 2011 article in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science: whites now see anti-white bias as a bigger problem than bias against blacks—or as the study’s title puts it: “Whites See Racism as a Zero-Sum Game That They Are Now Losing.”

Read more at The Nation.