By Mustafa Akyol
July 31 2013
Since the beginning of the military coup in Egypt, many Western governments, particularity the United States, have taken great pains not to call it a coup. They have also been very shy when it came condemning the brutality of the Egyptian military. When dozens of peaceful protestors were shot dead by the soldiers, statements by some Western capitals called on “both sides” to be more restrained. No one openly called the massacre a massacre.
All of this, of course, is duly noted here in Turkey, where suspicions about Western intentions in the Middle East are already rampant. I have been quite critical of these suspicions, especially when they reached the level conspiracy theories that depict Turkey as the target of Western plots. But, alas, the West is doing everything in its capacity to inspire the conspiracy theorists of the East. Many pro-government commentators in Turkey are arguing these days that all their fears about the Gezi Park protests — that they were a Western-induced plot to topple Prime Minister Erdoğan — have been confirmed by what has just happened in Egypt: Popular demonstrations against President Mohamed Morsi invited a bloody military coup that got whitewashed by Western capitals.
In other words, while there is indeed anti-Western paranoia in the Middle East, the West also has a clear double standard for the same region, which only deepens the contempt against it.
The heart of the matter, of course, is Islamism, or outright Islam. A powerful narrative in the West has argued, for long, that if Islamists come to power in free and fair elections, they will only establish authoritarian regimes that will threaten the rights of minorities and dissenting individuals.
Notably, the cheapest example of this narrative — “Hitler came to power with elections, too” — comes from the history of the West itself, not the Middle East. (The Muslim World never had a Hitler who invented gas chambers to exterminate millions of innocent people.) Moreover, while the more reasonable worries about “illiberal democracy” are valid, military coups are not a solution to anything.
It might help the West a bit to rethink how its own democracies became more liberal over time, by the natural dynamics of society. In the United States, for example, the prohibition of alcohol — one of the most-feared agendas of the Islamists — took place less than a century ago. And it ended not with a military coup supported by a foreign civilization, but the trial-and-error experiment the Americans went through: They realized that banning alcohol served no one other than the mafia. Women’s suffrage and other rights, as well, progressed in the West only in the 20th century and quite gradually.
One of the core problems in the Middle East is that the region, including its Islamists, have never had the chance to have their own experiments, uncut by colonialism, foreign intervention, local dictators and military coups. The post-Mubarak Egypt could have been a good chance, had it not been suffocated by its brutal military, its military-loving “liberals,” and their Western patrons. It is a big pity that not only Egypt but also the whole Middle East and even the West itself will have to pay for it.