William Pangloss and the Arab Winter
Published in: Daily Mail
Listening to Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague on BBC Radio’s Today programme this morning, I nearly fell off my chair.
Hague was being asked about the escalating mayhem in Egypt, where as of this morning some 13 people had been killed over the weekend as the regime savagely cracked down on protesters. Egypt appears to be gripped by a spiral of violence (the situation has worsened during today, with the death toll at time of writing reportedly having reached 35). The protesters want an end to military rule; the army council appears to believe that only it itself stands in the way of a government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamic extremists. It may well be right.
Yet asked about the descent into violence of the country where the UK government had hymned the imminent dawn of democracy, Hague said that the UK would not take sides in this fight between Egyptian protesters and the army council. Well why not? After all, it took the side of the protesters against Mubarak merely on account of his repressive regime and without an apparent second thought about the make-up of that opposition. Then Hague said the UK took the side of democracy. Pressed further on these evidently evasive replies, he conceded that the violence was ‘of great concern’ – but promptly added that it was going too far to say that hopes were fading for democracy in the Arab world:
‘“We do have these problems in Egypt but elections are about to take place and we have seen successful elections in Tunisia, a new government is now being formed in Libya, important reforms are taking place in Morocco and Jordan. And so we should remain on the optimistic side of what is happening in the Arab Spring, albeit there will be many conflicts and difficulties on the way.’’’
Such Panglossian complacency is astonishing. The violence in Egypt is the direct result of the toppling of Mubarak that Hague’s government helped bring about. In both Egypt and Libya, where the UK helped provoke regime change, the likelihood that Islamists hostile to the west will come to power looks extremely high.
If they do so, it will be through the very ‘democracy’ that Hague so piously invokes – which is not democracy at all, in any meaningful sense of the word, merely elections. In the absence of the necessary preconditions of democracy – rule of law, independent judiciary, free press and institutions of civil society – elections can merely bring another set of tyrants to power (as happened with Hamas). With the only alternative to such an Islamist government in Egypt likely to be the army council, the words devil and deep blue sea come to mind.
Hague also finds optimism in Tunisia and Jordan. But Tunisia’s ‘successful elections’ brought the once outlawed Islamist al-Nahda Party to power. As for Jordan, King Abdullah is nervously responding to the seismic changes in the region by reaching out to his mortal foes in the Muslim Brotherhood. In 1999, Jordan expelled Hamas leaders for activities harmful to the state. Yet now, Jordan’s Prime Minister says this was ‘a mistake which must be rectified’.
Why the sudden love-in with these sworn enemies? Because everywhere in the region relatively moderate Arab leaders can see that, far from promoting the flowering of true democracy and human rights the ‘Arab Spring’ is bringing the Islamists to power – as Lee Smith has dubbed it, in a deeply alarming ‘Muslim Brotherhood crescent’. And in the Arab world, everyone goes along with the strong horse – which the UK, with consummate perversity, has helped make even stronger.
Only someone who is extremely naive, wilfully blind or an utter fool could possibly be optimistic about the outcome of the current tumult in the Arab world. Just what planet is William Hague on?