Daniel Pipes: Islamists are worse than dictators

Who is worse, President Mohammed Morsi,  the elected Islamist seeking to apply Islamic law in Egypt, or former President Hosni  Mubarak, the dictator ousted for trying to start a dynasty? More broadly,  will a liberal, democratic order be more likely to emerge under Islamist  ideologues who prevail through the ballot box or under greedy dictators with no  particular agenda beyond their own survival and power?

Mr. Morsi’s recent actions provide an  answer, establishing that Islamists are worse than dictators.

Intelligence Squared debate in New York City on Oct. 4, 2012.

Intelligence Squared debate in New York City on Oct. 4, 2012.

This issue came up in an interesting debate for Intelligence Squared U.S. in  early October when Reuel Marc Gerecht of the  Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Brian  Katulis of the Center for  American Progress argued, “Better elected Islamists than dictators,” while Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum  for Democracy and I made the counter-argument. Well, no one really argued “for” anyone. The other team did not endorse Islamists and we certainly did not  celebrate dictators. The issue, rather, was which sort of ruler is the lesser of  two evils, and can be cudgeled toward democracy.

Mr. Katulis blamed dictatorships for  fostering “the sorts of ideologies” that led to Sept. 11, 2001, and Mr.  Gerecht insisted that military juntas, not Islamists, generally are “the  real danger.  The only way you’re going to get a more liberal order in the  Middle East is through people of faith” who vote Islamists into office. Mr.  Katulis argued that elected Islamists change and morph, becoming less  ideological and more practical. They evolve in response to the rough and tumble  of politics to focus on “basic needs” such as security and jobs.

In Iraq, Mr.  Gerecht professed to find that “a tidal wave of people who were once  hard-core Islamists  have become pretty profound democrats, if not liberals.” As  for Egypt, he noted approvingly but inaccurately  that “the Muslim Brotherhood is having  serious internal debates because they haven’t figured out how to handle [their  success]. That’s what we want. We want them to fight it out.”

Mr. Jasser and I replied to this catalog  of inaccuracies (military juntas led to Sept. 11?) and wishful thinking (true  believers will compromise on their goals? a tidal wave of Iraqi Islamists became  liberals?) by stating first that ideologues are “dictators on steroids” who  don’t moderate upon reaching power but dig themselves in, building foundations  to remain indefinitely in office. Second, ideologues neglect the very issues  that our opponents stressed — security and jobs — in favor of implementing  Islamic laws. Greedy dictators, in contrast, short on ideology, do not have a  vision of society and so can be convinced to move toward economic development,  personal freedoms, an open political process and rule of law (for example, South  Korea).

Mr. Morsi and the Muslim  Brotherhood have followed our script exactly. Since taking power in August, Mr. Morsi sidelined the military, then  focused on entrenching and expanding his supremacy, most notably by issuing a  series of orders on Nov. 22 that arrogated autocratic powers to himself, and  spreading Zionist conspiracy theories about his opponents. Then he rammed  through an Islamist-oriented constitution on Nov. 30 and called a snap  referendum on it for Dec. 15. Consumed with these two tasks, he virtually  ignored the myriad issues afflicting Egypt,  especially the looming economic crisis and the lack of funds to pay for imported  food.

Read more at the Washington Times