At some point you’re not “liberal” anymore

Today in “nonsensical headlines presented completely without irony,” we have the New York Times:

Egyptian Liberals Embrace the Military, Brooking No Dissent

In the square where liberals and Islamists once chanted together for democracy, demonstrators now carry posters hailing as a national hero the general who ousted the country’s first elected president, Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood. Liberal talk-show hosts denounce the Brotherhood as a foreign menace and as “sadistic, extremely violent creatures” unfit for political life. A leading human rights advocate blames the Brotherhood’s “filthy” leaders for the deaths of more than 50 of their own supporters in a mass shooting by soldiers and the police.

“Liberals” … “democracy” … “human rights” … is it possible that these terms don’t mean what these Egyptian groups think they mean? Let’s take a closer look.

A hypernationalist euphoria unleashed in Egypt by the toppling of Mr. Morsi has swept up even liberals and leftists who spent years struggling against the country’s previous military-backed governments.

I assume this means the Glorious Military Coup to Restore Democracy by Overthrowing the Democratically-Elected Government is entering its hippie-punching phase then? Damn hippies, always whining and moaning about lame-ass leftist fears like “total intolerance of dissenting ideas” and “creeping fascism.”

An unpopular few among them have begun to raise alarms about what they are calling signs of “fascism”: the fervor in the streets, the glorification of the military as it tightens its grip and the enthusiastic cheers for the suppression of the Islamists. But the vast majority of liberals, leftists and intellectuals in Egypt have joined in the jubilation at the defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood, slamming any dissenters.

“Slamming any dissenters” being the favorite pastime of liberal democrats the world over, definitely.

Many on the left are still locked in an battle of semantics, trying to persuade the world — and perhaps one another — that the overthrow of Mr. Morsi was not a “coup” but a “revolution.” The army merely carried out the popular will, they insist. On Sunday, one private satellite network in Egypt was running commercials of citizen testimonials proclaiming as much.

I don’t know about you, but in my mind nothing says “this coup was not really a coup” more than media networks running pro-coup propaganda films on the TV.

Khaled Montaser, a liberal columnist, declared that the Islamists were worse than “criminals and psychopaths” because they could never reform. “Their treason, terrorism and conspiracies are an indelible tattoo,” Mr. Montaser wrote. “They do not know the meaning of ‘homeland.’ They only know the meaning of ‘the caliphate’ and their organization first.”

There’s that word, “liberal,” again. Is the Times just going with the term these people are using to describe themselves, or does David Kirkpatrick really think that championing state action to suppress dissent is a particularly “liberal” quality?

[Activist Esraa Abdel] Fattah insisted that the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political party won the post-Mubarak elections, amounted to a foreign-backed terrorist group. “When terrorism is trying to take hold of Egypt and foreign interference is trying to dig into our domestic affairs, then it’s inevitable for the great Egyptian people to support its armed forces against the foreign danger,” Ms. Abdel Fattah wrote in a newspaper column.

Xenophobia, surely another strong sign of a classically liberal outlook.

In the turbulent period of military rule after Mr. Mubarak was ousted, many liberals and leftists stood shoulder to shoulder with Islamists to demand that the generals relinquish power to elected civilians. Now the liberals appear to have joined in a public amnesia about the abuses and scandals of that period

Yeah, that, or they’re not “liberals” anymore, if they ever really were.

State and private television channels also broadcast images of Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi in his trademark black beret, explaining to admiring soldiers the military’s obligation to intervene in the national interest. “Egypt is the mother of the world, and Egypt will be as great as the world,” he declared.

More state media propaganda. I really feel like John Locke, say, would find himself right at home in the liberal haven that Egypt has become.

Much of the public, fatigued by revolutionary turmoil, has embraced him. “The people had been saying ‘down, down with military rule,’ but Sisi completely changed them,” said Mohamed Mofeed, 38, a barber in downtown Cairo. “They love him.”

Mr. Morsi “should have been tougher with the media,” he added. “They were disrespecting him all over the place.”

Osama Mohamed, 20, a student sitting with a group of friends, said they wanted General Sisi to “leave his office and elect himself president.”

Oh, good. Fetishizing a general who just overthrew his civilian government in a coup is something real liberals do all the time, and it always turns out well.

I’ll eat a hat if the degree of support for the military establishment among Egyptian “liberals” is as great as Kirkpatrick makes it sound in this piece. There is a liberal case that the Brotherhood’s overreach and attempt to degrade and eliminate democratic institutions to their own benefit, and their loss of popular support, made the coup (or whatever, I’m not interested in semantics) a necessary but very unfortunate thing. This case would involve a healthy level of distrust for the military’s motives, and consistent pressure on the military to restore real democracy ASAP, then to subordinate itself to the civilian government immediately. But people who are enthusiastically embracing rule-by-junta and celebrating the suppression of dissent against that junta are not “liberal” and they’re not making the liberal case for anything. They’re wanna-be fascists. Even if these folks don’t see that themselves, David Kirkpatrick and the New York Times certainly should.

UPDATE I: David Kirkpatrick responds to my question via the Twitters.

So that answers that question. You can’t fault Kirkpatrick or the Times for describing these folks the way they describe themselves and/or they way they’re positioned in Egyptian politics. I would say that the rationale for referring to them as “liberals” could be better explained in the article, but it is a fair rationale.

UPDATE II: El Cid makes an excellent point, also on the Twitters:

Congratulations, Egyptian “liberals.” You’ve definitely made something special for yourselves.

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