Is this Egypt’s Intifada?

Michael Hirsh writes: As the Egyptian military consolidates control by murdering pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters and declaring a state of emergency, we may be witnessing the most dangerous potential for Arab radicalization since the two Palestinian intifadas. Despite the resignation Wednesday of Mohamed ElBaradei, the vice president, in opposition to the Egyptian junta’s action, the discomfiting fact is that most of Egypt’s liberal “democrats”–along with the United States–have never looked more hypocritical. If the bloody crackdown is allowed to continue while the U.S. and West do nothing, the actions of the Egyptian military could de-legitimize democratic change in the Arab world for a generation or more.

And for Washington, a dream that began with the neoconservative push to turn Iraq into a “model democracy” after the 2003 invasion–the somewhat naïve Western hope that the Arab nations would catch up with the rest of the world–may already be dead. Worse, the loss of moderate Islamist alternatives, and the failure of democracy, could supply al-Qaida with its biggest recruiting campaign since 9/11.

The images in Egypt are excruciating to behold, both in a literal and philosophical sense. In what appeared to be more of a direct military assault than a police-style crowd-clearing exercise, Egyptian forces reportedly killed nearly 150 people, most of them supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi who were engaged in nothing more offensive than a series of sit-ins. Suddenly, in one awful day, the exercise of the democratic rights and ideals that are so dear to America’s self-image–and which have formed the heart of U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War–were rendered all but irrelevant to many Arabs, especially because of Washington’s mild response. Apart from a few dissenters such as ElBaradei, the once-inspiring secularists who massed in Tahrir Square to oust Hosni Mubarak have now repudiated those democratic rights and values by continuing to support the bloody crackdown. And while the Obama administration issued a rote condemnation, the lack of any more dramatic response continues to fritter away what little moral authority America has left. [Continue reading…]

As commentators warn about the dangers of rising “radicalization” across the Middle East, we should never forget that in many respects this is the legacy of the war on terrorism. Which is to say, ever since the United States government elevated “terrorism” into a global threat supposedly greater than any other, authoritarian rulers have been given free license to act with relative impunity in crushing their political opponents by casting them as terrorists.

The radicalization of the Muslim Brotherhood may well be the principal objective of the Egyptian military as it pursues its current crackdown. Rather than wanting to clear the streets of protesters, it wants the protesters to become increasingly violent and as the violence escalates, the military will claim it is justified in escalating its own use of force.

The real extremism that is always at play is one that has no unique geographic, religious, or ideological locus; it is the belief that there is no alternative than a fight to destroy one’s enemy.

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