Looking back over 2013, what person or organisation has done the most to preserve the ideals of democracy and freedom? Who should win the prize for standing up for democratic rights in the face of autonomy-crushing authoritarianism? I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I think it’s the Muslim Brotherhood, or at least its supporters in Egypt. More than any other group of people on Earth, the Egyptian masses who back the Muslim Brotherhood risked life and limb in 2013 to try to preserve the idea that the people should get to choose their political leaders and should be free to express their political views and anger in public. Where we liberals in the West merely write articles about the importance of democratic rights and freedom of speech, MB fans in Egypt have fought tooth-and-catapult for those things; they’ve even died for them, in their thousands.
This is a weird thing to say, I know. The Muslim Brotherhood is no defender of true, meaningful democracy, far less individual and minority rights. In fact it’s a frequently intolerant outfit, harrying and sometimes persecuting those who don’t buy into its Islamist agenda. So how has it managed to look like a warrior for democracy this year? It’s our fault. It has been the stunning failure of Westerners who claim to love democracy to condemn the anti-Muslim Brotherhood coup in Egypt, to challenge the overthrow of MB-leaning President Mohamed Morsi and the new regime’s subsequent brutal repression of his supporters, which has granted the Muslim Brotherhood moral authority on all matters relating to democracy and freedom. We failed to put the case for democracy in Egypt, and so the Muslim Brotherhood did. We vacated the moral highground, the Muslim Brotherhood took our place.
It’s six months since the Egyptian military deposed Morsi, and still there is a deafening silence from Western leaders and many liberal observers about this political quake, which in my view was the most shocking and brazen assault on democracy in the whole of 2013. In fact, the European Union seems to have a pretty good relationship with the unelected post-Morsi regime: this week it pumped 280 million Euros into the new Egypt, for government development projects. This follows a visit to Egypt by Baroness Catherine Ashton, the EU’s chief of foreign affairs, to see General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the Egyptian armed forces who swept Morsi from power on 3 July. Baroness Ashton encouraged al-Sisi and his junta to start “a journey [towards] a stable, prosperous and democratic Egypt”, somewhat overlooking the fact that al-Sisi came to power precisely through overriding the democratic will of the people and removing from power their elected leader.
Other Western leaders have also given the nod of approval to the post-Morsi dictators of Egypt. US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is clearly in want of a dictionary, claimed the military’s assumption of power was about “restoring democracy”. Tony Blair, who spent much of his 10 misery-inducing years in Downing Street pontificating about any foreign regime that didn’t respect democracy and human rights, has acted as the unofficial press officer for the new dictators of Egypt. He has praised the new regime for achieving some semblance of stability through taking “some very tough, even unpopular decisions”. What a hypocrite. He blustered against and bombed anti-democratic authoritarianism in Iraq, yet praises it in Egypt. Not a word that this man says about democracy can ever be taken seriously again. As for Western observers, too many have been silent about the events of the past six months, and some have even cheered them, on the basis that the coup”stopped the advance of the Muslim Brotherhood”.