Choksy viewed the Arab upheaval as the beginning of a new power struggle between secular democracy and Iranian theocracy. In his writings, he argues that both the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Iran advocate creating Islamic states, acquiring atomic bombs, ending the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, and curbing Western influence in the Middle East. Iran covertly funds the Brotherhood and formed ties with Tunisian Islamist Ghannouchi during his long exile. And shortly after long-time American ally Hosni Mubarak fell, Brotherhood leader Kamal al-Hilbawi flew to Iran for an Islamic unity conference, where he declared his wish to emulate Iran. Because of the dangers of a potential Iranian nuclear umbrella and Iran’s skill at co-opting unrest among its neighbors, Choksy urged Western countries to take a proactive role in supporting democratic elements versus Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood.
In stark contrast to Choksy, Juan Cole (Michigan), Gerges, and Lustick promoted the ruling Turkish Islamist AKP party as a model for the Muslim Brotherhood. But the AKP is a poor example on both strategic and democratic grounds. Since its 2002 election victory, the AKP has reoriented Turkey away from the United States and Israel and towards Iran. It refused to let the U.S. attack Iraq from Turkish soil in 2003, and the Turkish government participated in the sordid Mavi Marmara affair. Domestically, the AKP has systematically eroded democracy by disarming checks and balances and arresting journalists, military officers, and others they accuse of being involved in the apocryphal Ergenekon and Balyoz conspiracies. Turkey currently holds more journalists in prison than any other country, and between 700 and 1,000 Turkish journalists face legal proceedings. AKP Prime Minister Erdogan famously commented, “Democracy is like a streetcar. When you come to your stop, you get off,” and he seems to be living up to his ideals.
Regrettably, most Middle East studies professors failed to elucidate the ideology and goals of the Muslim Brotherhood and explain why they are incompatible with both liberal democracy and a stable world order. The Arab upheaval presents both opportunities and dangers, and it is crucial that we understand what’s at stake. Each country is different. While we hope in time the burgeoning new spirit of democracy will bear fruit, in Egypt, early elections will favor the Brotherhood over the poorly-organized and leaderless demonstrators. The military, which remains in power, seems closer ideologically to the Brothers than the democrats. And because of their oligopolistic business interests, the military officers are particularly unsuited to solve Egypt’s severe economic problems, so another round of revolution may be in order, with unknown results. What is long overdue is a revolution at American universities — in the struggle against the entrenched apologists for radical Islam, the first cries for freedom have barely been heard.
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