Richard Cohen: Egyptian democracy will be “a nightmare”

The longtime Washington Post columnist is terrified of the prospect of Muslims governing their own country

Topics: Washington Post, Egyptian Protests, Israel, Media Criticism, Middle East, War Room,

Richard Cohen: Egyptian democracy will be "a nightmare"People demonstrate in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Jan. 31, 2011. Right: Richard Cohen

Nothing saddens Richard Cohen more than the sight of hundreds of thousands of Egyptians peacefully protesting. The longtime Washington Post columnist is sad because those childish Arab Muslims might end up with a democracy, but they don’t know how democracy works. Here is how democracy works: We like it unless “the people” want something that complicates our current foreign policy objectives.

Cohen is just broken up about this. “Egypt, once stable if tenuously so, has been pitched into chaos.” “The dream of a democratic Egypt,” he says, “is sure to produce a nightmare.” It is sure to. Such a nightmare it will be. Just not anywhere near as pleasant as these last 30 years of “stability” have been, for everyone.

Cohen is totally an expert on Egypt and Muslims, because he is a longtime opinion columnist for the Washington Post, and not at all a blinkered idiot. Egypt “lacks the civic and political institutions that are necessary for democracy,” he tells us. And you can’t argue with that. I mean, do Egyptian newspapers even run syndicated Richard Cohen opinion columns? Do they have “Dancing With the Stars,” to teach them how voting works?

My take on all this is relentlessly gloomy. I care about Israel. I care about Egypt, too, but its survival is hardly at stake. I care about democratic values, but they are worse than useless in societies that have no tradition of tolerance or respect for minority rights. What we want for Egypt is what we have ourselves. This, though, is an identity crisis. We are not them.

No. We are not them, at all. Because they are Muslims. We all know Americans could handle democracy because we were super good at respecting the rights of minority groups. But the Egyptians are sometimes resentful of or even violent against minority groups, so no democracy allowed for them. (While some Coptic Christians worry that a more Islamic Egyptian government would be less friendly to Copts, demonstrators are stressing an inclusive, nationalist message, and there’s evidence that Christians are themselves involved in the protests. The right-wing CBN has even filed a report on the growing “bond” between Christians and “their Muslim neighbors” in Egypt.)

You Might Also Like

Cohen is concerned that the Muslim Brotherhood — which “runs the Gaza Strip” under the name “Hamas,” he tells us — will take control of Egypt and attack Israel, at which point “the mob currently in the streets will roar its approval.” That “mob” certainly does seem pretty bloodthirsty. They clearly want all-out war with the region’s sole nuclear power. Pretty sure that’s what these demonstrations are about. “I’m actually pretty cool with Mubarak but I really wish we were waging war against Israel right now” — An Egyptian protester.

Cohen seems to understand that the Brotherhood, while involved in the demonstrations, did not organize them, and he has been told that the majority of the demonstrators have no ties to the group, but he thinks that might just be because they are sneaky. “It has been underground for generations — jailed, tortured, infiltrated, but still, somehow, flourishing. Its moment may be approaching.” Scary!

And why should we all be super-scared of them? “The Islamists of the Brotherhood do not despise America for what it does but for what it is.” Thanks, Richard Cohen, for explaining who these Islamists are, and what they despise about us. It’s not our lengthy history of propping up the dictator who brutally repressed them — they hate us for our freedom. (You may compare Richard Cohen’s history of the Muslim Brotherhood to that an an actual expert on the subject, if you wish.)

This column is so full of winning lines, I have to stop myself from quoting the entire thing. There is literally an “I like democracy, but” part: “Majority rule is a worthwhile idea. But so, too, are respect for minorities, freedom of religion, the equality of women and adherence to treaties, such as the one with Israel, the only democracy in the region.”

I’m sorry, I can edit that one to more clearly express Cohen’s actual point: “Majority rule is a worthwhile idea. But so, too … [is] respect for… Israel….”

These are the last lines:

America needs to be on the right side of human rights. But it also needs to be on the right side of history. This time, the two may not be the same.

The “right side of history” might not be the “right side of human rights.” Got it? Sometimes you have to be on the “wrong side” of “human rights,” and history will totally understand.

Poor Egypt. Maybe you will be grown-up enough in the eyes of Richard Cohen to handle a democracy someday, but right now, it’s just not in the cards.

Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>