>Interesting Diversions

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Not in the way that Animal Cops: Houston is diverting, but in the way that coverage of ordinary-folk-vs-the-state stuff in foreign affairs di-verges within the libertarian movement.

After reading another piece on the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood (and their co-religionists) in Egypt over at Anti-War.Com, and being reminded of an analysis of just that topic by the classical liberal Muslim outfit Minaret of Freedom, I decided to see if the Cato Institute is also up on their plight. (I could not find the online reference I wanted for “analysis” above, but I’ve got the PDF published by MFI, if you’re interested.) I typed “Egypt” into the Cato search engine, hoping to find an equivalent human interest story (as opposed to another policy analysis), and came up with multiple references to Kareem Suleiman, Egypt’s “freedom blogger”, described as a “freethinker”. Suleiman’s crime was to criticize Al-Azhar university, the government and Islam generally.

It appears that part of the appeal of Kareem is his similarity to other firebrands such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or those willing to take on religious extremists and even Islamic society itself, the latter charged with inertia and silence in the face of a societal-wide cultural malaise.

One would get the impression, then, that Egypt is a kind of religious police state, brutally suppressing secularists and encouraging the aforementioned malaise. But in fact Egypt is more accurately described as a secular nationalist state of an obviously Arab orientation, with perhaps Sunni Islamic overtones. It’s population is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim and the Muslim Brotherhood has alot of support, with a designation of “populist” not at all far off the mark. Indeed, the MB represents Egypt’s most powerful opposition movement. This phenomenon, pitting the secular state vs. the “opium of the masses” has been detailed by Mark Jurgensmeyer, of Terror in the Mind of God fame, in his book The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State.

The State Department, in its wrongheaded effort to reach out to Egypt’s freedom loving, anti-government opposition, seems to be in the dark about all this.

Alejandro Beutel of MFI writes:

The [United States] government’s public vocal support for opposition movements and figures in Egypt is highly inconsistent. State Department officials have not explicitly denounced mass detentions and physical violence against peaceful MB supporters, but they have been extremely vocal for support of secular activists like Ayman Nour.

Beutel also tackles the issue of authoritarianism and the alleged undemocratic tendencies of the MB, but finds this is based largely on myth and stereotype. (Again, the PDF I’ve got, and will release upon request.) But this is for another discussion. However, some writing on the civil society successes and democratic tendencies of the MB can be found here.

So, the Cato institute is doing more or less what the State Department has been doing for years: overlooking grassroots concerns and privileging the relatively secular and western educated elite. This both materially and by way of public expression of sympathy, even as one Arab public opinion poll after another finds disdain for America stemming from just such a detached and biased point of view.

This is not to say that private organizations and individuals should not support whomever they wish, but considering the very real potential for violence this tactic has shown to be for my own personal safety (terrorism, when it happens, is no joke!), and the less than obvious benefits of an explicitly secular humanist regime, I wouldn’t even necessarily advise a blogger in Indianapolis to contribute to Kareem over the far more widely loved MB.

Anyway, the “liberaltarian” vs. “paleolibertarian” saga continues. It would seem the latter have just as many friends on the domestic far right as they do on the academic far left (but is “far” even accurate? Postcolonial studies departments are a staple of the academy by now). From Saba Mahmood to Haifa Zangana, there is a bone to be picked with all this trendy imperial paternalism.
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One thought on “>Interesting Diversions

  1. >I too sometimes wondered about that. I see the same sort of conflation of liberty with secularism from libertarians like Tim Sandefur and Kip Esquire.

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