AH, IF ONLY!
If only these preachy, condescending, democracy promoters and democracy instructors, advice-givers and “observers”; these Middle-East democratizers and forced democratization/ regime change aficionados; these opportunistic self-appointed and self-proclaimed, rather bogus, fake, “bidons”(in French, as the Francophone Tunisians characterize them) so-called experts on the Arab world, Islam and political Islam, and, of course, on ‘democratization’, who descended en masse upon Tunisia after the so-called Arab Spring uprisings … Ah, If only they would leave Tunisia alone?
About political Islam, most of these “experts” support discreetly, perniciously, and even openly at times, when it matters, the Tunisian Islamists, and have used their influence in Washington to promote them.
For them, promoting democracy in Tunisia means essentially supporting the so-called “moderate” reactionary Islamists, eventually and barely the seculars, but only if they can demonstrate a strong commitment to neoliberal ideology and global order, and certainly not, absolutely not, the liberal seculars, whether political parties, unions, intellectuals, academics, or civil society organizations.
These democracy promoters and democracy instructors and supervisors, support the Tunisian Islamists for a variety of reasons. According to their simplistic, neo-orientalist understanding of Islam, and essentialist stereotypes about Arab societies, coupled with their ignorance of the historical, social, political, economic and geopolitical particularities of Tunisia, the Islamists are the best bet for democracy (which should, of course, be unequivocally pro-market and pro-America as a defender of the neoliberal global order) to take hold in that country. Thus, they provided them with various platforms in Washington to promote their views and agendas, after they paved their way with countless newspapers’ Op-eds and articles, and “studies” in mainstream Washington think tanks publications, swearing up and down that these Islamists are moderate and true believers in democracy, as well as staunchly pro-American. Thus, with very few “secular” exceptions (and, again, only the committed neoliberals among them), absolutely NO liberal, no progressive, has ever been invited since the launching of the Arab Spring revolts, by the think tank and foreign policy circles establishments, and the other entities part of the democracy promotion industry, to come to Washington and give talks, or participate in the numerous panels about democracy in the Middle East and North Africa and democratic transition in Tunisia (the only Arab Spring success story, blah, blah, blah…). Only Islamist officials and sympathizers have had that honor time and again.
Some others, among the Middle East and North Africa democratizers, apparently still believe that we are fighting the cold war when the Islamists were considered the strongest bulwarks against the spread of communist influence in the Muslim world (See Footnote 1), and should be supported for that reason. Today the communists are gone, but they have been replaced in their views by those liberals who question American hegemony in the region in support of neoliberal globalization and dare to claim some kind of relative economic and political sovereignty for their countries, even if they are not necessarily anti-American. In other words, most of the secular liberals and progressives who know first hand how devasting the effects of neoliberal globalization is having on developing countries, and which have led, by the way, to the social movements and uprisings of the so-called Arab Spring.
Another group among the democratizers seems to believe that given the high level of religiosity in that region, keeping Tunisia and other MENA countries under (non-violent) Islamist influence and control, according to the dictum that “religion is the opium of the people”, will keep it quiet. Indeed, everybody knows that Arabs and Muslims don’t need jobs, justice, economic development, roads, schools, hospitals, and so on; all they need is religion and to be ruled by religious parties…
At any rate, remarkably enough, the Tunisians have proven fully committed –in spite of huge obstacles engendered by a catastrophic economic situation endured by their small peripheral developing country’s economy, caught up in the whirlpool of neoliberal globalization and foreign interferences– to building democratic institutions that are truly indigenous, neither imported nor transplanted. Institutions that include socio-economic rights as well, whether our usually anti-welfare state, anti-union, free-market worshipper democratization instructors, like it or not!
Moreover, Tunisians are led on the chaotic path of building their own version of democracy by a singularly highly educated social elite (I am not talking about the political class here) with a direct relationship (an almost organic link) to their people. A democracy that is rooted in their country’s history, reflecting their people’s social and cultural specificities — ‘cultural’ in a broad sense, not only religious, as our “democratizers” with their neo-conservative culturalist fixation on Islam, believe! For these, and other reasons, Tunisians certainly do not need any foreign interference, no democracy instructors, no foreign coaching by fake (“bidon”) experts and advice-givers, as they continue to forge their own path towards democracy!
One can’t help it but wonder: Wouldn’t there be enough for them to do in the US these days with all these anti-democratic forces rising? Shouldn’t our democratizers focus on their own country instead of wasting tax-payers money (for some of them) trying to “democratize” a complex world that their arrogant lack of modesty and intellectual rigor prevents from understanding, and, above all, respect, in all its diversity? In any case, they don’t seem to understand that their relevance today, particularly given the current administration nationalist inclination and disinterest in universalizing American values, as our democratizers understand them, is over.
1 – There are of course several books about this, but here is a summary of the history of US-Muslim Brotherhood relations, in an article by Ian Johnson in the New York Review of Books dated February 5, 2011: https://www.nybooks.com/…/washingtons-secret-history-musli…/ .
(The views expressed here are strictly mine)