Friday, October 12, 2012

Arab Spring Notes

Debate at Intelligence Squared

Reuel Marc Gerecht. 

a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy. You are a former media specialist at the CIA's Directorate of Operations, now the National Clandestine Service. 
"Better Elected Islamists Than Dictators," Brian Katulis. He is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. You have been studying, Brian, the Middle East since your days as undergraduate. Actually you lived in Amman, Jordan, as did I a long time ago, but you were a Fulbright scholar. I was just a journalist. In the '90s you also lived in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and you were in Egypt doing work for the National Democratic Institution for International Affairs, and considering your breadth of experience and the depth of your experience as actually having lived there, 

{Either] a dictatorship forever than allow the Muslim common man, woman to elect Islamists in a free vote. Now, that's a pretty, I think, ironic position for them to take, because what they're essentially saying is they want to perpetuate the political systems which have allowed Islamic fundamentalism, including its most radical offshoots, jihadism, most famously al-Qaida, to actually grow stronger.  It is no accident that Islamic radicalism has grown enormously during the period of dictatorship, secular dictatorship, throughout much of the region. It has been jet fuel for that cause. The societies that have been ruled by dictators and kings with ever coarsening, I think, rigor have very -- have harmed their societies, have caused, more or less, an ethical collapse.  RMG
Although I suspect much of the debate tonight will focus on the Middle East and North Africa, it's important to note that this region of the world actually represents a minority in the vast Muslim world. It's about 20 percent of the entire population of Muslims in the world. Six in 10 Muslims actually live in the Asia-Pacific region. Muslim majority countries like Indonesia and Malaysia have activist Islamist political parties and systems that work. So the debate over whether Islam and democracy is compatible is the persistent charm of an irrelevant question, one that's no longer relevant. 

In the Middle East right now we're in the very early stages of a transition that I think will last for years. And a year and a half into these uprisings we've only seen four leaders fall out of about 19 or 20, depending how you add them up. And you've seen only serious infighting in the five or six countries, but you look at the crushing demographic political and economic conditions that these countries face, no dictator can hold that back. And I think you look at the political dynamics in places like Egypt and Tunisia, it's quite natural to see why Islamists did very well for reasons that were well explained. They were suppressed, and the debates in these societies were pushed to the dark corners of the mosques. And that debate was radicalized, and, yes, there is a threat from radicalized Islam. But it is the consequence of dictatorships, the very thing that if you vote against the proposition you will be voting in favor of that and continuing that sort of system. 
It's simply not sustainable. Number two, elected Islamists will change in response to the politics. And I think tonight we'll talk a lot about statements that elected Islamists will say. What I'm focused on are the people, and I lived over there, and I understand that the basic needs, basic security, jobs, and other things will drive politics, maybe not in the early stages, maybe when things get a little rough they'll be a little ideological, but, by and large, Islamist politicians will be politicians, and we will need to support this long effort to actually push them to face the same pressures and constraints that other politicians face around the world. And the open debates that we have like the open debate we're having here tonight in Intelligence Squared, I think this forum is phenomenal. I've watched it now a number of times. And these sorts of open debates expose the voices of fear, expose the voices of hatred and demonization in ways that I think clarify. 

And this is what these societies in the Middle East are just starting to experience. So, again, a vote for the proposition is a vote for the possibility of change in these societies. A vote against it, it's for the status quo, which, as we said, is unsustainable and has harmed us. Now, I hope we get into this debate over a liberal democracy. You talked about it a little bit early on. And certainly we shouldn't be naïve. There's a very real risk that if we simplistically define democracy as the ballot box and going to the ballot box, you could see Christian minorities, other religious minorities, women see their rights suffer. But my argument, again, against that and against the arguments of one man, one vote, one time, which is often brought up, is that that threat in the context of this debate tonight, the proposition you have to vote for or against, there's an inherent contradiction there, because if the biggest threat resulting from elected Islamists is a dictatorship that imposes upon the human rights and basic rights of individuals, you've got a dictatorship. 

 Third point, elected Islamists, not dictators, will defeat the radical ideologies of groups like al-Qaida. Now, I think we've done a damn good job over the last three or four years going after al-Qaida, and I know that's a debatable proposition among a lot of people. But I think the targeted strikes and other things, that's a separate debate, which I hope Intelligence Squared has. But if you look at what's going on ideologically in the battle of ideas, al-Qaida, over the last three decades, essentially, has tried to build its ideological platform on two core pillars. Number one, tapping the popular discontent with dictators. Number two, anti-Americanism. That's a combustible mix, and breaking that, and having the people in the region break that, I think, is extremely powerful. 

The fact that al-Qaida and its affiliates had virtually nothing with the removal of leaders in places like Egypt and Tunisia and the widespread calls for political reform and the battles that are still going, I think, is telling. The fact that Ayman Zawahiri, the head of al-Qaida, wrote a book attacking the Muslim Brotherhood for actually participating in democratic politics is telling. Looking ahead, it seems that al-Qaida's popular appeal, I think, will remain low, given that many of the protesters are out there supporting democratic reforms. People are going to the ballot box, the very thing that radical jihadists are opposed to. So I'm going to close up here. I must say that we're faced with a great opportunity here. The popular uprisings in the Middle East. And, again, we'll probably focus on that, because it's the hot topic, and it's the most uncertain, and Reuel and I agree that there's no clear path forward. And I think we're probably going to have a couple of steps back. 

We're going to see these countries fight with this all along. But tonight, if you vote against this motion, your vote is essentially saying -- remember those good old days when Muammar Gaddafi was in power in Libya? Remember those good old days? 

Remember when he repressed and killed thousands of his own citizens, when he actually used the veil of Islamism at different times and passed laws in the name of Islam to try to establish his credibility? Remember Muammar Gaddafi used terrorists who actually bombed airlines and killed hundreds of Americans around the world, setting off the sorts of things that I think we're debating here tonight. Remember that? Then vote against the proposition. A vote for the proposition, is it a clear, certain proposition that we're going to see liberal democracy appear? I can't guarantee you that. But I actually think it's a better pathway forward than sticking with dictatorships. Brian Katulis. 
Reuel Marc Gerecht: Yeah. It's pretty hard to find an instance where you can find the United States successfully encouraging a dictatorship to evolve liberally in the Middle East. Daniel said, "I wish we had." Well, of course I wish we had. I wish we had taken the Shah -- had we put more pressure on him so he could have evolved and developed elections so you wouldn't have had a revolution. I mean, I just have to say this, Daniel's premise is that by the mighty hand of the United States, we're going to discover these hidden liberals in the Middle East. And suddenly, through America's 
 But let's just take Turkey. I mean, Turkey is the ideal. They elected an Islamist party. I mean, what would you have done differently in Turkey? As you just said, the 1990s created a more liberal order. Guess what happens? The people freely vote and bring in the Islamists. So I don't see -- if Turkey's not going that way, how is Egypt, which is far less Westernized, which has been much farther from the European tradition. 

-- and it's not about the leaders or what Morsi says and what he might not say -- when I see Egypt today, Egypt after Mubarak is an Egypt where there're multiple centers of power that are competing for this. And they're fighting with each other. And, yes, Islamists did well in the first round of elections. But guess what? I actually think in the next round of elections you're going to see even more competitive space here. You stick with dictatorships, you don't let Islamists go out there and make fools of themselves in the way that I think elected democracies open up that space -- 

Reuel Marc Gerecht: In the sense that the central governing structure had collapsed. It wasn't there. I mean, one reason the Islamic fundamentalists were to come -- able to come in and have such growth is because the social order from the central government, it just basically ceased to exist and also because there are a lot of Egyptians out there who don't have a problem with much of the holy law. And I don't think you get to take the holy law, as tried -- as you tried to do in other places in the Middle East, and just suddenly throw it -- Ben Ali tried to do it, just take it, throw it away -- you have to have it organically evolve. 

There is no other way, and I think you will. I mean, you suggest with Mubarak that you could have nudged him. But every time we tried to nudge Mubarak -- and the American government did try to nudge Mubarak -- he would say, "If not me, then the Islamists." 

My old friend and teacher, Olivier Roy, made the -- I thought the pithy remark where he said, "If France had to wait for the development of a democratic culture, France would still be a monarchy." The notion that you are somehow going to push off into the distance four or five years, and you get to four or five years, another four or five years, that you're going to have suddenly liberals become strong and the dominant party I think isn't serious. 

Brian Katulis: Yeah, I started out my presentation talking about the vast majority of Muslims living in South Asia. Indonesia, the number one largest Muslim country in the world. Prime examples of where Islamists ran as political parties and they failed. 
They failed. And their populations actually voted them out. You have -- they are weakened, because they didn't deliver, and I think the central premise that you guys have is that elected Islamists don't change or morph, or somehow don't become like other politicians. Well, guess what -- they do, when you actually have open systems. We see this in Turkey too. And I think there -- steps forward and steps backward on Turkey's democracy, but by and large, Turkey, I think, is a much more sustainable proposition than what Daniel was talking about 

ut I just don't see that you've got the traction. And I don't see if you go to Mubarak -- Mubarak made a real hobby out of squashing liberals like he made a hobby of squashing everybody else. And Mubarak says, no, I don't want to do that. And what's the United States going to do? All right. Take the money away. Take the money from him and he
says, all right, you're going to weaken me. The Islamists are coming. You've already said the Islamists did come. So I don't think you can create liberals in the Middle East out of sand. There has to be a process, an evolution. In the West, liberals were not born overnight. They came into being. It was -- I don't want to go through Occidental history here. It was a very ugly process. What he is saying is that, no, you don't get to have that process. We had that process, but no, not you. Muslims don't get to evolve. You have to be born liberals now. 

Reuel Marc Gerecht: -- how do you bring about a political system where you have evolution, where you have some chance -- if you are going -- you're not going to get a situation -- and I think we've seen that since the Arab -- great Arab revolt started. You're not going to get a situation where liberals are going to win an election. People of faith are going to win the election. Islamist parties are going to win the elections. So you're going to have to take that as a given. You're not going to be able to have the United States come in there and dictatorially essentially say -- I mean, Kissinger made the great line, "Democracy is great, but I really want to know who gets to win." You don't get to know who gets to win. You've got to go through the process. You have to set up a system where you have a jousting ethic. Fundamentalists have to fight with fundamentalists. 
In Egypt, the Nour party of the Salafis is absolutely morally repugnant, all right? No doubt about it. But they are actually in the process of collapse right now because they haven't figured out how to handle the pressure of democracy yet. The Muslim Brotherhood is having serious internal debates because they haven't figured out how to handle -- this is all new terrain for them. That's what we want. We want them to fight it out. It's not going to produce something pretty in the short term. But what they're suggesting, having dictatorship and somehow having the United States, oh, I'm going to create a liberal here and a liberal there and a liberal here, it makes no sense. 

And it's very enticing to believe that the Islamists will morph. What I don't understand is how will they morph if there's so much violence that once they begin to change they are in tremendous danger of being killed by other Islamists? There's so much murder, so much violence as part of that culture, aren't they afraid to morph? 
John Donvan: Perfect question. This side. 
This side. Brian Katulis or Reuel Marc Gerecht. Brian Katulis. 
Brian Katulis: Look, I think they have a greater possibility to morph now than if they were facing Saddam Hussein who killed hundreds of thousands of people, more possibility in places like Tunisia to morph than they did in Libya under Muammar Gaddafi, when you had organized mass murder. 
And let's be clear about this. I want to stress this. The transition in the Middle East is in the very early stages, sorts of violence that we saw and we've been talking about, that killed our ambassador in Libya, those extremists that killed him and murdered him, those sorts of things -- we need to recognize that those threats have not been completely eradicated. We also need to recognize that the large protests against those extremists in Libya would never have actually happened under Muammar Gaddafi. We need to recognize that there's a space there, that I'm not in favor of elected Islamists or liberals or anything. I'm in favor of systemic change that has legitimacy. And I think this is a key distinction between what Reuel and I are saying and what the other team is saying. We can't implant this. 

We need to recognize the reality that because of the dysfunction caused by dictatorships for decades, you're going to have this first early result. And, yes, there's still going to be violence and risks, but I actually think it's less than what we saw in terms of the hundreds of thousands killed by the dictators in these countries. And I actually think the more that you have popular reaction of the sort that we saw in the streets of 
Benghazi against those murderers, you have I think a possibility then to push them and further marginalize them in that debate. 


Reuel Marc Gerecht: I have to say this. It's not a question of imposition. I mean, what we're talking about here is, in fact, people in the Middle East have absorbed, profoundly, western ideas. 

They haven't, by any means, absorbed them perfectly, ideally, to the level that we would like. But one of the things I'm arguing is, in fact, the idea of popular sovereignty has been absorbed through a wide body politic, including the faithful, including within those that we call Islamic fundamentalists. If you can -- when I was in Najaf in Iraq and I was having discussions with one of the elder sons of Grand Ayatollah Hakim, and we were discussing what democracy was, I mean, he understood to be, in his own conception, ma'ruf, that it something that was sacred, that popular sovereignty was sacred. Now, in the next breath, he said, "I don't know where the red lines are." He had no idea where they are. We have red lines, too, in democracy, whether they be about abortion or other issues. We're not quite sure where certain issues in our ethics collide, where we don't want to compromise. They have, for the very first time, this problem. 

It is great that an elder son of one of the senior clerics in Iraq has this problem. That's where you want to take this. And it's not a question of imposition. It's a question of they, themselves, taking the imports that they have voluntarily taken in and trying to figure out how they work out a more humane society. In their case, it's easy, given where they came from with Saddam Hussein, because they could screw up for a long time and it would still be more humane than what they had before. 

Katulis: Actually, I didn't say that there are no innate liberals. And I lived and worked for five years in the Middle East. I go to Pakistan frequently. I talk to them all of the time. They're fighting that struggle. And I'll tell you right now, Pakistan's at an interesting moment that everybody's negative about Pakistan and what's going on. There's an interesting dynamic that's been underplay there. And you've seen this. And I was there in 2009 when there was Sufi Mohammed, the head of Pakistani Taliban group, extremist group. 
He said that courts are un-Islamic. He said that elections are un-Islamic. And this was at a time, a territory called Swat, about an hour outside of Islamabad, was taken over by Intelligence Squared U.S. - 39 - 10/5/2012 
Prepared by National Capitol Contracting 200 N. Glebe Rd., #1016 Arlington, VA 22203 

those very same extremists. And I was on the ground there. And the national outcry against Sufi Muhammad and the national protests against a video of a woman being beaten in that very same territory, the liberal and democratic response was there. And you saw it in the previous elections in 2008, the MMA. You know it very well, an Islamist party that said that they were going to ban cable television in northwest frontier Pakistan. You know what? You know what a lot of men love watching WWE wrestling in Pakistan. These parties tried to rule theocratically and by a basis of religious ideology, and they failed. 
They were voted out in the ballot in 2008. And as you know, not end of story, not end of story at all, because Pakistan is at a dangerous place. But yes, there are liberals there. And they are fighting against those radical Islamists. They are going to have an election. Guess what? Next year. And they are having an open debate. That did not exist under Zia. That did not exist under the dictators that ruled, the military dictators that quite frankly were backed by the United States, like these gentlemen want us to do. 

Brian Katulis: And I'm all in favor of that because I spent five years of my life in the Middle East working with liberals, with people pushing for human rights, working for women's rights in the West Bank, in Gaza, in Egypt, across the region. 

And I'm in favor of it, and I think it's a nice idea. And I was against the war in Iraq, but the reality is -- and this is what we're debating tonight is that good intentioned Americans who want to go in peacefully and try to orchestrate the politics of these places won't produce the sorts of results that you expect. What you need is the rough and tumble, the jousting that Reuel talks about. We can help. We were trying to help with the tools of, "How do you organize?" and I think this is a fundamental struggle in the next wave of Egypt because there will be a next wave. The Islamists swept in this first round of elections. There's still a lot of uncertainty about the constitution, but there'll be another round of elections. And I do believe that American, European, and other organizations have a role to actually support these groups to become better organized. That's not what we're arguing. We're not arguing for elected Islamists. We're opening -- we're arguing for open politics in these places, and it doesn't come by invading these countries, and it doesn't come by simply trying to negotiate with some of these dictators and say, "Please open up." 
It comes through an organic process, a political process, that what Reuel and I are saying that in the first waves are likely going to lead to elected Islamists -- but that's not going to close off the debate. It's going to open it up and lead to multiple centers of power in these countries. 

There was a distinction made early on, and that wasn't addressed, that the same repressive regimes can operate, but one tends to operate local and local- regional, and as the against side indicated that there is a vast globality of vision and intent on the part of Islamists, that they have a vision that goes far beyond the periphery and the boundaries of the state -- nation and state. And that wasn't addressed, and so I'd like this side, pro side, to address, "Isn't that a valid distinction that, that would suggest a far greater potential for ill on a global level from Islamic fundamentalists and elected Islamists and -- 
John Donvan: Can I restate the question and -- 
Male Speaker: Yeah. 
John Donvan: -- make sure that I'm understanding what you're asking? You're saying -- you're asking about the point that dictators are working from one state. Islamists are a part of a 

global worldwide aspiration to control many, many states -- 

Reuel Marc Gerecht: I think it's highly likely that if you have more than one election, that what you're going to see -- and you always see it with democratic politics, is that your aspirations become much more localized. And I don't think that you're going to see any Caliphate. I think the notion of that is a bit farfetched. I think it runs against the most successful Western export to the Middle East which is nationalism which has profoundly affected even Islamist movements throughout the area. So I don't think that's a big problem. Now, you could find common purpose. It's entirely possible that you will have Islamists in one country look fondly and affectionately at Islamists in another country and seek to support them. 

Reuel Marc Gerecht: Well, that's because the primary -- the OIC is really about them saying, in a rather childish way, you know, "Here we are; here we are. Notice us. We're not the West, et cetera, et cetera." The OIC is -- has been, in the past, sort of a concoction of dictatorships that, virtually, the only thing they could agree on is how much they dislike the United States, how much they dislike the Israel, and other, you know, less concealed forms of anti-Semitism. 

It's -- I don't really see that the OIC actually has anything to do with the democratic process. It has a lot to do -- it's sort of like an Islamic version of the United Nations, which I don't recommend. I don't think it's a moral paragon. Most of the time, it's not very serious. 
John Donvan: Let me -- we have to wrap -- we have to wrap up this section. And I just want to bring up a topic that I thought would come from the audience, and it didn't, and we don't have much time, so I want to ask it very quickly to this side. We haven't heard very much about the issue of women's rights. You all acknowledge that, at this point, most Islamist movements are not friendly to women's rights in the way that we would understand it. And I want to ask this side, you know, where do you draw the line on that? Where do you say, you know, it can be open and it can be evolving, but in the meantime, in the short term, this abuse of women's rights just cannot be tolerated? 
Brian Katulis: It's a red line, and I think we see the dictatorship of Saudi Arabia as one of the worst offenders of women's rights. And I think you see the places that have -- again, Muslim majority countries, Malaysia, Indonesia, and other places with Islamist parties -- respect for women's rights, like everything else. 

In places like Morocco too, where you have space for a discourse and a debate about this. And in Morocco, they had Mudawwana, a code to improve the status of women's rights. So a big debate is happening here. And I don't believe, for a moment, that the rights of women under Saddam Hussein were a lot better than what we have today inside of Iraq. I don't believe that at all. And I think there's a fight that women, as long as they can go back to the ballot box, as long as there are institutions there, as long as there's accountability in the system, as long as women have a voice in those debates, I believe that you'll see, eventually, a more sustainable and legitimate foundation for women's rights in these countries. Intelligence Squared U.S. - 48 - 10/5/2012 
Reuel Marc Gerecht: You know, I think Daniel started off by talking about tactics. And I have to say this is the part I simply don't understand. I mean, he says we have dictators to push around and make evolve. But we've -- they didn't evolve, and we did push them around. I don't understand how you actually make a dictator become -- allow liberals to win in a democracy and deprive everybody else. I mean, would that were possible. But it's not possible. Doesn't actually make any sense. If liberals are going to triumph, they're going to have to triumph in a free election sometime. 
You're not going to be able to hold off an election and know -- you only get to have that election when you know that they are going to win. And until that moment, you can't have the election. Now, I think that's a recipe that any dictator can look at and say, I think I'm a dictator for life. And I think I have to be honest here. I think that's what Daniel is saying too. I think what he is really saying is it's just too big a risk, so we're just going to have to keep the dictators more or less forever because unless you actually are tested at the urns, you're never going to know how popular you are. And I would suggest to you it's only by being tested at the urns that you're actually going to begin to develop a liberal framework, a liberal process that makes sense. It's only by defining yourself against those who are not liberal that you're going to be able to gain votes. 

I don't see how in the Middle East, where the region has been defined by faith, increasingly so under dictatorship, that you get to imagine a scenario whereby suddenly, through American pressure, intelligently applied, of course, because Americans always 

apply pressure intelligently, that you are going to create a liberal order without coming to the ballot box and testing yourself. 
John Donvan: Thank you, Reuel Marc Gerecht. Our motion is "Better Elected Islamists Than Dictators." And here to summarize his position against this motion, Zuhdi Jasser who is president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. 

Brian Katulis: we really have a choice here tonight. It's either to accept the reality, a reality that the dictatorships in the Middle East and in parts of South Asia have fostered the sorts of ideologies that led to the deaths of people in those societies and right here in Manhattan on 9/11. 

 We can stick with that old system that is crumbling, a system in countries that have a population where more than half of the population is under the age of 25. And change is coming, whether we like it or not. And we can pretend like the system of dictatorships that we see in Saudi Arabia or in Iran or in other places, that we can work with them somehow and they'll open up, and that we'll actually whisper in the ear of liberals, and they'll bring about change in those societies. We can continue to pretend that that's the pathway forward. I believe that the rough-and-tumble jousting of politics in these societies are the only thing that's going to produce the sort of legitimate change that comes from within. It's going to take a long time. It won't be simple or easy. But I actually think we stick with the process of democratization as it's unfolding, or we continue on 

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