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?
Regarding political Islam, 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.
Indeed, for them, promoting and supporting democracy in Tunisia means essentially supporting the reactionary so-called “moderate” Islamists, alongside some seculars, but only those who agree to form alliances with the Islamists and can demonstrate a strong commitment to neoliberal ideology. And certainly not, absolutely not, the liberal/progressive seculars, whether intellectuals, academics, or political parties, unions, and other civil society organizations.
These democracy promoters and democracy instructors and supervisors, support the Tunisian Islamists for a variety of reasons:
According to their short-sighted, ideologically oriented and simplistic view of America’s interests, coupled to their superficial neo-orientalist understanding of Islam, and essentialist stereotypes about Arab societies, as well as their ignorance of the historical, social, political, economic and geopolitical particularities of countries like Tunisia for example, the Islamists are the best bet for democracy to take hold in that country. A democracy that should, of course, be unequivocally and uncompromisingly pro-market and pro-America as the guarantor of a neoliberal global order. Thus, they worked hard at their legitimization, providing 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, staunchly pro-market and true believers in democracy, as well as pro-American.
Thus, with very few secular exceptions (again, only the committed neoliberals among them) even though, contrary to the regressive Islamists, they share most of America’s core values of liberty, equality, and democracy, and largely outnumber the Islamists in Tunisia, absolutely NO liberal, no progressive has ever been invited since the start of the Arab Spring revolts by the mainstream think tank and foreign policy circles and 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.
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 apparently they have been replaced in the mind of the democracy promoters and instructors 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 are the effects of neoliberal globalization policies on developing countries like theirs, 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 the 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…
However, remarkably enough, 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, it seems that Tunisians are led on the chaotic path of building their own version of democracy by a singularly knowledgeable and highly educated and relatively cohesive 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 (“bidons”) 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 prevent from understanding, and respect in all its diversity? Moreover, they don’t seem to understand that their relevance today, given the large number of Americans who oppose US global interventionism particularly in the MENA region to promote or/and impose democracy, as well as 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…/ .
Nejib Ayachi (The views expressed here are strictly mine)
For more on the topic: The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities, a talk given by John J Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science, the University of Chicago, at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS University of London on 21 January 2019 –>> http://bit.ly/2Dv5nlZ