Ignatius for a fantastical and self-destructive Egypt policy

David Ignatius summarizes the Obama administration response to criticism of its Egypt policy:

The administration’s rejoinder is that this isn’t about America. Egyptians and other Arabs are writing their history now, and they will have to live with the consequences. Moreover, the last thing secular protesters need is an American embrace. That’s surely true, but it’s crazy for Washington to appear to take sides against those who want a liberal, tolerant Egypt and for those who favor sharia. Somehow, that’s where the administration has ended up.

Ignatius is writing sloppily on the key issue – either that or he is simply setting aside the inconvenient fact that in Egypt, a ca. 90% Muslim country, even the opposition claims to “favor sharia.” Because “favoring sharia,” “being a Muslim,” and “following the Qur’an” amount to different expressions for the same thing, it is not surprising that the same number turns up in polling data: Around 90% (actually 92%) of Egyptians are said to favor either strict or basic adherence to Islamic values and principles in law, with the large majority of Egyptian Muslims (and of all Egyptians) in the “strict” camp.

In other words the question cannot be “secular” vs. “sharia” – a simplistic definition that appeals to the liberal West, but is rejected within Egypt by those whom those same Westerners would support. The distinction in such a polity will not be between sharia and anti-sharia, but between different and varyingly inclusive interpretations of sharia – as expressed in the distinctions between sharia as “source” or “reference,” “primary” or “sole” source,  “source of rulings” or “source of principles,” and so on. For the same reason those who see or portray sharia as inherently illiberal will have already given up on a liberal politics in Egypt for the foreseeable future, while, as so often, expressing their liberal commitment to the inclusive and tolerant society through pre-emptive exclusion and intolerance.

As for the Obami and the American self-interest, a policy that took sides “against sharia” in Egypt would be a policy that took sides on behalf of almost no one against almost everyone. The alternative perspective, and actual policy, seems for now to square with the best hope from the perspective of loss of life and destruction of social and economic capital: The actual weakness, or effective irrelevance, of uncompromisingly “anti-sharia,” congenitally anti-Islamist Egyptian forces other than in the secular liberal imagination.

Home Page  Public Email  Twitter  Facebook  YouTube  Github   

Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution. 

8 comments on “Ignatius for a fantastical and self-destructive Egypt policy

Commenting at CK MacLeod's

We are determined to encourage thoughtful discussion, so please be respectful to others. We also provide a set of Commenting Options - comment/commenter highlighting and ignoring, and commenter archives that you can access by clicking the commenter options button (). Go to our Commenting Guidelines page for more details, including how to report offensive and spam commenting.

  1. So, we come to the point that you agree Sharia, not self determination, was the real issue, that was also at stake in the GZ Mosque, so what is the limiting principle, execution ala Chop Chop square, the total exclusion except for shaheed purposes of women from public life, furthermore how does that square with the fact that Christianity broadly understood is the predominant
    sectarian trend in this country, yet any attempt to assert that point, gets called ‘theocracy’

    • Somehow you’ve managed to read through to the symmetrical opposite, perhaps because all of the definitions we depend on are in some sense provisional and self-dissolving where not fictional – we are all always on the impossible mission.

      In Egypt sharia/anti-sharia is not the issue. Self-determination and sharia are in a certain sense the same, though the decision comes in the infinitely developing interpretations and articulations under changing circumstances.

      Have no idea what this has to do with the GZM, and “limiting principle” is another one of those fictions in all cases. As for what some people say about Christianity in the U.S., I’m not one of those people. Americanism in my view already is ecumenical Christian theocracy. The dogmas of particular sects are highly problematic.

      • Yeah, and this comes out in full relief once you delve deeper into what Egyptians mean when they say they want “Sharia-based law”. Some mean the literal legal application of their sect’s internal rules (just like many American Christian fundamentalists), while most hem a bit and say they mean that broad Muslim principles like “charity” and “justice” be the basis of the Egyptian constitution. I think when people say that their country should be a “Christian/Muslim/Hindu/whatever nation,” what they’re really saying is that issues of morality should figure in the nation’s primary rules, which is impossible to prevent in the first place. So “secular” Westerners who are concerned about Egyptian fundamentalism shouldn’t be hung up by popular clamors for Sharia law, but should instead be reading up on traditions within Islam and Arab culture that emphasize pluralism, and creating conditions where those coalitions can flourish.

  2. Great post CK. Miguel, I don’t think anyone denies that Christianity is the predominant sectarian trend in America, or even really that this Christian flavor affects the laws in some inchoate way. It’s more that the unique pluralistic history of America has diminished the connection between this sectarian flavor and the governance of the country in a way that doesn’t obtain for a place like Egypt, where people have been overwhelmingly the same religion for over a millennium. So I think CK could (and probably would) take your claim and run with it, by arguing that secularists should be more accepting of the idea that “America is a Christian nation” in at least some sense, and inviting Egypt’s critics to see more benign commonalities between the American system and the “Sharia Law” to which most Egyptians would like to b subject.

    • I think you’re right, but I accept that the language is difficult for “secularists” and “atheists” and other non-Christians to accept, in part because of the tendency and possibly the need of each of us to reify and sacralize his own terminology.

  3. Correct Robert, and I don’t doubt since Uqba bin Nafi conquered Egypt, that Islam has been a part of Egyptian society, Al Aswani certainly noticed this in Yacoubian, which was his ‘Tales of the City’ however, I don’t know if he fully took into account
    what it means in practice, when Zakat ends up in Hamas’s arsenal budget,

Commenter Ignore Button by CK's Plug-Ins

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

Comment →

Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

Comment →

[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

Comment →
CK's WP Plugins


Extraordinary Comments

CK's WP Plugins