You know how when a character in a movie says “things couldn’t possibly get any worse,” something terrible is about to happen?
Well, a recent comment on the tumult in the Middle East reminded me of that:
Yet while few dispute that the entire region is hurtling in directions that cannot be foretold, for most Arabs that is a cause for hope, not concern, said Labib Kamhawi, a political analyst based in the Jordanian capital Amman.
“Nothing could be worse than what we are used to having until now,” he said. “We hit the bottom and people became desperate, until Tunisia taught us that change is possible, and how to go about it.”
Boy, is he in for a surprise.
I think Reuel Gerecht is basically correct in saying, in Duncan’s words, that “Egypt’s secular liberals must defeat the Islamists in the public square, rather than through military repression. They must win the battle of ideas.” The problem is that this process isn’t one of vigorous political give-and-take, as Westerners might imagine it. Rather, the only way that secular liberals can “win the battle of ideas” in the Islamic world is for the Islamists (the only force other than hereditary monarchy with any political legitimacy there) to take over the public square and discredit themselves.
In other words, it’s not so much that modern secular-liberal ideas must win the battle of ideas in the Islamic world, which is not possible — literally impossible, given the nature of Islam — but rather that the Islamists must lose the battle of ideas by exercising power and demonstrating the irredeemable bankruptcy of Islam as a governing ideology in the modern world. In this respect Egypt today is indeed comparable to Iran in 1979 — both are facing the long dark of sharia, though with a 30-year head start, Iran is closer to emerging into the light of modernity.
As calamitous as it will be — especially for the remaining indigenous people of Egypt, the Copts — Islamic governance is the only cure for militant Islam.