BoomerCafé.com co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs spent much of his career as an ABC Network News foreign correspondent covering the Middle East and shares this perspective on recent fighting and carnage in Egypt that may get worse.
I saw it as a reporter while covering the revolution in Iran. I saw it when I covered the “troubles” in Northern Ireland. I saw it while covering the war for majority rule in Zimbabwe. I saw it time after time when reporting on the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And now, I see it in Egypt. And after Thursday’s carnage, this might be the worst.
In each of those other conflicts, peace-loving people, who in a different environment would just go to work and raise their kids and enjoy a day off, were radicalized by repression and ruthlessness. Which is bound to be escalating now in Egypt. Millions of religious citizens, despite the warnings of extremists, had bought into the positive potential of the democratic process. Are they likely to support it if it’s put on the table again? Not so much, not when they’ve seen it ferociously dissembled by the generals because real elections didn’t lead the country where they wanted it to go.
I’m not just theorizing here. In Iran in the late 1970s, the majority of people reviled the Shah and combined their energies to force him out. Countless Iranians told me they didn’t want the ayatollahs who replaced him; they only got on that Islamic bandwagon because it was their best bet. But look at them today. Either radicalized, or marginalized.
In Northern Ireland, my measure of most people over the years I went there was that whether Catholic or Protestant, they wanted the violence to end so that some day they could safely hoist a beer at the pub. But as citizens on both sides continued to die from bullets and bombs, many of these ordinary people themselves became radicalized, and eventually provided money, safe houses, and moral support to terrorists — allegedly fighting for their side — who they once would have condemned. Look at them today; it’s not clear yet whether everyone subscribes to a peace, or just a truce.
In Zimbabwe, I spent time in the bush with Robert Mugabe back when he was the popular leader of one of two rebel armies fighting to overturn white minority rule. Strange as it sounds today, he was a good guy then. But he and his supporters became radicalized after they prevailed, partly by pushback from white ranchers and bankers who worked to undermine the new order. Look at dictator Mugabe, and the poor citizens of his pathetic nation, today.
On both sides of the decades-long divide between Israelis and Palestinians, political intransigence — and the perception on each side that that they are terrorized by the other side — has radicalized people who once believed there was a chance for peace, but now opt for division over détente.
Which brings us back to Egypt. I’ve spent enough time there, and have had enough friends there, to know that many of those who back the Muslim Brotherhood are not, on the face of it, bad people. They are not the Taliban. They are not al Qaeda. What they stand for is an Islamic umbrella over the morals of the nation. To us that doesn’t sound like such a good thing, but to them it merely means counteracting Western decadence and deceit. Think about the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Bernie Madoff and maybe they’re not all wrong.
But they were wrong for the generals, not only for aspiring to a more Islamically-oriented society, but for making a mess of Egypt’s overstressed and frighteningly fragile economy. So the generals renounced restraint, tossed them out, and told soldiers to shoot to kill. And look what they got: chaos in the streets, hundreds of deaths, an economy approaching disaster with nothing to turn it around, and maybe most destructively, millions of citizens who could have been stalwarts for a stable society but now are likely to do what they can to overturn it. Arguably, the generals have radicalized more Egyptians who will drop out of the democratic political process and support, if not actually join, the extremists who would overthrow everything Western.
The Muslim Brotherhood might have been bad but the bedlam that’s replaced it could end up being worse. Worse for our ally Israel. Worse for us. Worse for democracy. Worst of all, not a thing we can do about it.