Imagine the following; Reverend Al Sharpton and Reverend Jesse Jackson travel around the US and use as many of the Baptist churches in America to spread the following message: “Vote for brother Obama (not for America but) for the greater African nation”. “Vote for Brother Obama if you want to go to heaven; if you do not, you will suffer eternal damnation in hell.” Finally, imagine that the Reverends were Republicans.
African Americans constitute less than 13% of the US electorate; they suffer double the poverty rate of other Americans; graduation from high school is less than whites and completion of college degrees is half or less than that of whites (as a legacy of past slavery and discrimination).
Supporters of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt (according to official figures in the first round of the presidential elections) also constitute less than 13% of the Egyptian electorate. They are predominantly poor or close to destitute, and either poorly educated or in many cases illiterate.
While there is no comparison being made here between African Americans or the Muslim Brotherhood, both are minorities and both suffered in the past. The difference is that African Americans have struggled and continue to struggle to be part of the greater American society and of the American Nation. On the other hand, the MB and Islamists did not assimilate into our society – they formed their own parallel institutions and culture. In fact the Islamists reject our society and their objectives are not to create a better Egypt, but rather to achieve the greater Islamic Umma in the region.
African Americans fought for freedom, equality and civil rights; these are American values shared by the majority of Americans no matter what their color, sex or religion is. This struggle was an internal struggle and was achieved by the support of fellow Americans. In the two most recent US elections, Obama won with the support of most of the 13% black electorate in addition to Whites, Latinos, men, women rich, poor and many others whom he reached out to.
The Islamist struggle aims to reduce freedom and civil rights; women, Christians, Baha’is and other minorities in society will not be treated as equals. The Islamist vision of society is shaped by radical Islamic ideas and is very different to the moderate Islam that most Egyptians have always practiced. Finally, the Islamists main source of support and funding is not internal but is in fact coming from the Gulf Arabs with American consent and thus breaches our sovereignty. The success of the Islamists so far has been due to their manipulation of the very poor and illiterate who need the most help; sadly those who need the most help will not get it through the misogynous backward looking system of the Islamists.
Now to return to my analogy, imagine that the Reverends Sharpton and Jackson used their network to distribute fried chicken and cornbread to the poor black population across the US in return for votes. Imagine that they gave out cooking oil and other basic necessities to as many of the black and non-black poor in the US with the clear stipulation that the recipients vote for Brother Obama and support the cause of the greater black nation. Imagine that the poor in the US (black, Latino, white, or other) could not get natural gas for their cooking stoves due to an energy shortage, but, the one way of getting it was through Reverends Sharpton and Jackson. To continue with this scenario, the umbrella organization of the Reverends also happens to provide subsidized goods in all the poor neighborhoods in the US so as to buy the support of the poor. At election time, Reverends Sharpton and Jackson then send out buses to pick up all the very poor and promise them free lunch or a fee if they vote for a cause that does not serve the US but rather serves the interests of foreign regimes.
Strange? That was the not so strange part. Now hard as it may be, imagine that Reverends Sharpton and Jackson rewrote the American Constitution to protect and benefit African American Baptists – actually to favor African American MEN. Their new American Constitution ignores the role of women in society, diminishes labor rights for everyone, removes previous protections of minorities, and tries to consolidate power in the hands of the leadership of a militant minority movement. Ironic as it may sound, while getting almost all their support from the poor in society, the new constitution does nothing to help them – so picture Jesse and Al as neocons; perhaps a black Cheney and Rumsfeld on steroids.
Please indulge me a little further; imagine that during the voting period, almost all the voting locations were managed by people whose allegiance was not to the US but to the greater cause of the African umma and who dressed in a way that showed it (think Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam supporters). Now imagine that in some voting locations, women were not allowed to enter and in fact male supporters of the greater Caliphate took the voter registration cards of women and used the female vote to support a male-dominant and narrow extreme cause that would diminish the role of women and others in society. Imagine at one or more voting stations, Catholics or members of another religion were not allowed to vote? Imagine widespread fraud such as voting slips that were not stamped by the US government. Finally, imagine going to vote and finding out that your dead mother or father who relied on food stamps and government assistance to raise you (and they happen to have been gay), just voted for the Republicans.
What if in Chicago you found sacks of voter-ballots favoring the creation of a greater umma being used to rig the election results? What if you found voter-ballots in the Potomac River that were in favor of a strong all-inclusive America? Now forgive me for mixing my analogies, but what if you woke up one day and found the Supreme Court surrounded by a misogynous fascist-like group who would not let the judges in to the building and threatened them if they did not comply with this extreme group’s demands? What if this group had an armed militia? What if this extreme minority group paid the very poor (and mostly illiterate and desperate) 70 dollars a day and fed them to go out and cause havoc and in many cases to carry out violent acts and to harass women (in the name of religion)? What if reporters could not get into the building of the New York Times, Washington Post, ABC, CBS or CNN for example without first being frisked and taunted by this anti-freedom group of religious fanatics? What if this group did not identify with its home country first and was funded by governments and citizens of foreign countries that are undemocratic, misogynous and have minimum to no human rights? Finally, what if all this happened under the watchful eyes of the American police services and other government agencies that did nothing to protect the judges, the electoral process, or the American population?
Ridiculous? Yes, but this is happening in Egypt and it is being supported by the American Government, and by doing so it is doing the American people a great disservice. This is not the America I was educated in. This is not the America I lived in and where I befriended so many people who I know would not agree with this kind of Government support. This is not the democracy that I was taught about by so many great scholars in the US. This is not the “American Exceptionalism” that I was taught under the mentorship of Martin Seymour Lipset.
A couple of weeks ago in a lecture, I discussed “national self-image” and described America’s view of itself as the defender of democracy and human rights – my students laughed.
The age-old American question of “why do they hate us?” - is nothing more than a fallacy and a distraction. “They” whomever that may be, do not hate anyone; “they” in many cases (rightly or wrongly) want to emulate you and have nothing against the people of the US or the West. “They” are only angry at some inconsistencies and hypocritical policies by certain governments. In the case of the US, it is still using Cold War politics. For the good of all, it must embark on some sort of paradigm shift away from its current extreme and short sighted form of realism in international relations. “They” are people who want the same rights and freedoms you have. The extreme elements in our societies are few but loud and are fueled by the perception of Western (and in particular super power) hypocrisy. The extremists retaliate by rejecting anything and everything that can be labeled as American or from the West (but the very same extremists will work with the West until they are securely in power). The US government now support the people they themselves called extremists for so many decades. The religious fanatics will turn on you and take us back 1400 years. Do not lose the moderate majority - “they” do not hate you …yet.
Dr. Hisham Wahby is Programme Director and Assistant Professor of Political Science in Egypt. Concurrently, he is pursuing an (LL.M) MSt in International Human Rights Law at Oxford University.