“Head of news Helen Boaden admitted that her journalists got carried away with events and produced ‘over-excited’ reports,” the (London) Daily Mail said on Wednesday. “She told a BBC Trust report that in Libya, where reporters were ‘embedded’ with rebels, they may have failed to explore both sides of the story properly.”
That pretty much goes for most reports out of the Middle East in the last year, which studiously ignored signs of extremism, anti-American feelings and anti-Semitism.
All of those traits were displayed, openly and proudly, by the Muslim Brotherhood in the weeks leading up to last week’s elections in Egypt.
“Egyptians picked a conservative Islamist as their first freely elected president, officials announced Sunday, giving the Muslim Brotherhood a platform to challenge entrenched military authority and electrifying the Arab world’s most populous nation with one of the most concrete signs of democratic change since the revolution last year,” it wrote.
Note the cheerleading tone; you wouldn’t know that the Brotherhood had been terrorizing Tahrir Square and sexually assaulting women (the latest Western woman assaulted was journalist Natasha Smith).
Indeed, by any measure, the Middle East is no more peaceful or stable a place than before. Regimes labeled “repressive” have been replaced by regimes that don’t seem to be any more open or free.
That has to be a deep (though as-yet unacknowledged) disappointment for President Barack Obama and the American left, which cheered the movement on as a sort of “Occupy the Casbah,” and as proof that President George W. Bush was wrong about everything.
“The failure of the Arab Spring to deliver democratic reforms or to provide a positive path for development in North African or Middle Eastern nations shows the hollowness of Obama’s foreign policy assumptions,” wrote James Corum in the (London) Telegraph. “In fact, this was never about Bush, or Obama, or even really about the West at all. The problem lies in the long-term dysfunctional politics of Middle Eastern Islamic nations.”
Those nations simply lack the fundamental foundations for real change.
“True reform and democracy require a tolerance for peaceful protest, a free press, the rule of law, economic freedom, and respect for the fundamental rights of groups and individuals. Successful democracy also requires constant adjustment and self-criticism by the political leadership,” Corum contends. “All these essential elements of democracy took the Western nations centuries to evolve.
Unfortunately, not one Islamic nation in the Middle East has the cultural or legal traditions that might allow real democracy to evolve.”
At this point, it doesn’t really matter to us who takes power in Egypt — the military, which holds it now but promises to hand it over to the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood faction, or the Muslim Brotherhood itself. We know that both sides have pledged, more or less publicly, to tear up the peace treaty with Israel, and both sides sneer at the U.S. even as they get ready to accept even more military and developmental aid.
The story is much the same in other “Arab Spring” countries. The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl writes, “An ugly civil war in Syria could easily spread across the Levant. In Egypt, the victory of an Islamist in a democratic presidential election has prompted a power struggle with the military. Violent political conflict continues in Yemen, Libya and Bahrain.”
It was foolish to believe that democracy was about to take hold across the Arab world. And the most important lesson we can take away from the experience is to be slow to offer financial assistance to the new regimes.