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Subject: Final Prager U: What's Holding the Arab World Back? rss

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Kelsey Rinella
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This will be my final post in the Prager U series. The basic point of What's Holding the Arab World Back? is the quotation below:

Quote:
Yet the fact remains that over the past 70 years the Arab world expelled virtually all of its Jews, some 900,000 people, while holding on to its hatred of them. Over time the result proved fatal: a combination of lost human capital, expensive wars against Israel, and an intellectual life perverted by conspiracy theories and a perpetual search for scapegoats. The Arab world's problems are a problem of the Arab mindset, and the name of that problem is anti-Semitism.


There's a pretty hefty reliance on cultural/racial stereotyping to make the point, which is often a sign of shoddy thinking generally. More obviously, there's no mention of colonialism or terrain, crusades or, really, any history other than that involving Jews. So as an attempt at an exhaustive explanation, it's kind of risible.

However, I do think there's something interesting at the heart of it. The idea that conforming your view of the world to a false preconceived notion (in this case, that Jews are uniquely bad) leaves you unable to pursue knowledge with integrity and has serious consequences for your knowledge-generating and governing institutions is, I think, insightful. It's basically the point of Solaris, as I recall.

But, as single sentences has closed down his attempts, I hereby memorialize him:

prager u sux.
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Did geocentrism or heliocentrism stop Western or any other culture from advancing? Dubious. A false belief would have to be a barrier to knowledge or accomplishment or something else to stop advancement.

For example, "The love of money is the root of all evil," probably inhibited European financial progress to some extent, until--um...--the Hanseatic League? The Fuggers? The divine right of kings had a similar effect, holding on to mercantilism and resisting liberalism (in the economic sense: move money from governments into private hands).

Someone who strictly believes in the Earth/Air/Fire/Water elements isn't going to be a good chemist.

I think it was Mac who posted some Islamic scholars' YouTube videos that (possibly over-)summarizing said, Islam is just so satisfied that the answer is praying five times a day, that they don't do anything.

I've read opinions from military officers that the Arabic, "I and my brother against my cousin; all of us against the world," attitude prevents any large scale cohesion, such as in a military unit.
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Ugh. "The Middle East" is a series of countries with borders drawn by a bunch of white Europeans with little care for anything but the amount of territory and wealth that they managed to grab. As a result, just about every nation is a very odd mix of ethnic groups, religions, languages, and traditions. Even after the colonial period ended, foreign powers felt free to intervene to protect corporate and national interests and meddle in local affairs to the point of standing up and tearing down governments to suit their needs.

With this as a starting point, there should be little surprise that the Middle East is a mess. Was this made worse by bad treatment of Jewish minorities? Probably. It might be better to replace "Jewish" with "intellectual," though. When Egypt was showing Jews the door or making it difficult for them, they were also targeting foreign-educated individuals that weren't adhering to the government's party line. Is it at all reasonable to blame expelling Jews for all of this? In no way, shape, or form.

Glad that you're abandoning this exercise. Find a good history book club instead so you undo some of the damage that has to have been done to your reasoning capacity.
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The Ottoman Turks ran the whole Mideast until WW1.
 
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And there remaineth...
"Yet the fact remains that over the past 70 years the Arab world expelled virtually all of its Jews, some 900,000 people,..."
 
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George Brinton wrote:
The Ottoman Turks ran the whole Mideast until WW1.

The Persians would find this view… interesting.
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George Brinton wrote:
The Ottoman Turks ran the whole Mideast until WW1.


Yes, and? The Ottoman Turks sustained very large Jewish and Christian populations throughout their Empire and largely ruled by installing governors that reported up to the Sultan who oversaw regions that, well, made sense. It was a multinational and multilingual empire that was pretty damned successful for a very long time. It's system of law even provided for a great deal of local variability to suit customs and traditions, so long as imperial authority wasn't undercut or damaged.

It's a fascinating nation that often gets short shrift in history. A lot of Muslim nations don't get sufficient recognition. Without Muslim scholarship and libraries, you probably don't preserve sufficient knowledge for the Renaissance to happen.

If the mideast is a mess, pointing to the Ottomans as the cause is a pretty horrible idea. Or did you mean to suggest that things would have been better if we'd left the Ottomans in charge (just in case - doubtful. The empire in the late 19th century had changed for the worse and corruption, incompetence, and graft would have caused a split eventually).
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George Brinton wrote:
And there remaineth...
"Yet the fact remains that over the past 70 years the Arab world expelled virtually all of its Jews, some 900,000 people,..."


And this means...?
 
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Tall_Walt wrote:
Did geocentrism or heliocentrism stop Western or any other culture from advancing? Dubious. A false belief would have to be a barrier to knowledge or accomplishment or something else to stop advancement.

For example, "The love of money is the root of all evil," probably inhibited European financial progress to some extent, until--um...--the Hanseatic League? The Fuggers? The divine right of kings had a similar effect, holding on to mercantilism and resisting liberalism (in the economic sense: move money from governments into private hands).

Someone who strictly believes in the Earth/Air/Fire/Water elements isn't going to be a good chemist.

I think it was Mac who posted some Islamic scholars' YouTube videos that (possibly over-)summarizing said, Islam is just so satisfied that the answer is praying five times a day, that they don't do anything.

I've read opinions from military officers that the Arabic, "I and my brother against my cousin; all of us against the world," attitude prevents any large scale cohesion, such as in a military unit.


I don't recall that but I have a terrible memory so it's possible. It doesn't ring any bell tho.

Hmm. Oh wait. It was of an islamic scholar critiquing why islamic nations struggled to advance. That does ring a bell. 18-24 months ago maybe?
 
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rinelk wrote:
This will be my final post in the Prager U series. The basic point of What's Holding the Arab World Back? is the quotation below:

Quote:
Yet the fact remains that over the past 70 years the Arab world expelled virtually all of its Jews, some 900,000 people, while holding on to its hatred of them. Over time the result proved fatal: a combination of lost human capital, expensive wars against Israel, and an intellectual life perverted by conspiracy theories and a perpetual search for scapegoats. The Arab world's problems are a problem of the Arab mindset, and the name of that problem is anti-Semitism.


There's a pretty hefty reliance on cultural/racial stereotyping to make the point, which is often a sign of shoddy thinking generally. More obviously, there's no mention of colonialism or terrain, crusades or, really, any history other than that involving Jews. So as an attempt at an exhaustive explanation, it's kind of risible.

However, I do think there's something interesting at the heart of it. The idea that conforming your view of the world to a false preconceived notion (in this case, that Jews are uniquely bad) leaves you unable to pursue knowledge with integrity and has serious consequences for your knowledge-generating and governing institutions is, I think, insightful. It's basically the point of Solaris, as I recall.

But, as single sentences has closed down his attempts, I hereby memorialize him:

prager u sux.

That's easy without reading, The Arab World holds the Arab World back.
 
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I'm thinking that artificially created nations that have frequently (Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Iran?) been ruled by coalitions of minorities (including minority Islamic flavours, Eastern Christian and Jews) who have oppressed the biggest sections of the population to ensure their own survival have, not surprisingly, been open to new developments, social porosity and entrepeneurial spirit.

Say Quebec ruled all Canadians.
Or Utahites ruled all of USA. Not much chance of nonUtahites getting wealth and power without threatening the powerbase of Utah. And if no powerbase then?
No Utah?
 
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rinelk wrote:
However, I do think there's something interesting at the heart of it. The idea that conforming your view of the world to a false preconceived notion (in this case, that Jews are uniquely bad) leaves you unable to pursue knowledge with integrity and has serious consequences for your knowledge-generating and governing institutions is, I think, insightful.


it's a nice thought but it's not true

white supremacist thinking did nothing to slow the ascent of the United States, after all
 
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I think the notion of the Arab world being held back is largely (post-)colonialist paternalism and tends to treat Arabs (and others in the Middle East) as not rational actors with power over their own lives and who make meaningful choices.

That said, the Muslim world is typically less economically and scientifically advanced than the West. One could go on at length about the damage colonialism did to their societies but the question on its best face seems to me what the Muslim world is doing against its own interests.

The answer is largely the cultural context vis-a-vis science and religion. Virtually all of those gov'ts that self-identify as Islamic to varying degree suppress rational inquiry much the way that Christian institutions did pre-Enlightenment.

That is a superficial picture. ISIS etc are largely a backlash against the growing movement in the Islamic world where Muslims want to have both a vibrantly religious society which is not secularist and yet also enjoy the benefits of a society which embraces scientific inquiry. It's no coincidence that the principal target of the terrorists has been educational facilities. For Boko Haram for example that is their entire shtick. The Muslim world is striving to reach its own free and open society with all the benefits of science, technology, and pluralistic democracy-- one which is different from the Western model but offers the same or comparable benefits in a way that lets Muslims be themselves culturally and religiously. Finding that kind of alternative path takes time and there's going to be violent resistance along the way.
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whac3 wrote:
I think the notion of the Arab world being held back is largely (post-)colonialist paternalism and tends to treat Arabs (and others in the Middle East) as not rational actors with power over their own lives and who make meaningful choices.

That said, the Muslim world is typically less economically and scientifically advanced than the West. One could go on at length about the damage colonialism did to their societies but the question on its best face seems to me what the Muslim world is doing against its own interests.

The answer is largely the cultural context vis-a-vis science and religion. Virtually all of those gov'ts that self-identify as Islamic to varying degree suppress rational inquiry much the way that Christian institutions did pre-Enlightenment.

That is a superficial picture. ISIS etc are largely a backlash against the growing movement in the Islamic world where Muslims want to have both a vibrantly religious society which is not secularist and yet also enjoy the benefits of a society which embraces scientific inquiry. It's no coincidence that the principal target of the terrorists has been educational facilities. For Boko Haram for example that is their entire shtick. The Muslim world is striving to reach its own free and open society with all the benefits of science, technology, and pluralistic democracy-- one which is different from the Western model but offers the same or comparable benefits in a way that lets Muslims be themselves culturally and religiously. Finding that kind of alternative path takes time and there's going to be violent resistance along the way.


All cultures go through this, just at different times as circumstances allow. 1918->Cold War suppressed a natural arc of growth artificially for the benefit of the West. (People can argue validation elsewhere, it's just plain true it happened)
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maxo-texas wrote:
Tall_Walt wrote:
Did geocentrism or heliocentrism stop Western or any other culture from advancing? Dubious. A false belief would have to be a barrier to knowledge or accomplishment or something else to stop advancement.

For example, "The love of money is the root of all evil," probably inhibited European financial progress to some extent, until--um...--the Hanseatic League? The Fuggers? The divine right of kings had a similar effect, holding on to mercantilism and resisting liberalism (in the economic sense: move money from governments into private hands).

Someone who strictly believes in the Earth/Air/Fire/Water elements isn't going to be a good chemist.

I think it was Mac who posted some Islamic scholars' YouTube videos that (possibly over-)summarizing said, Islam is just so satisfied that the answer is praying five times a day, that they don't do anything.

I've read opinions from military officers that the Arabic, "I and my brother against my cousin; all of us against the world," attitude prevents any large scale cohesion, such as in a military unit.


I don't recall that but I have a terrible memory so it's possible. It doesn't ring any bell tho.

Hmm. Oh wait. It was of an islamic scholar critiquing why islamic nations struggled to advance. That does ring a bell. 18-24 months ago maybe?

That sounds right. I'm awful at dates unless I look them up. Happy new year's eve.
 
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whac3 wrote:
I think the notion of the Arab world being held back is largely (post-)colonialist paternalism and tends to treat Arabs (and others in the Middle East) as not rational actors with power over their own lives and who make meaningful choices.

That said, the Muslim world is typically less economically and scientifically advanced than the West. One could go on at length about the damage colonialism did to their societies but the question on its best face seems to me what the Muslim world is doing against its own interests.

The answer is largely the cultural context vis-a-vis science and religion. Virtually all of those gov'ts that self-identify as Islamic to varying degree suppress rational inquiry much the way that Christian institutions did pre-Enlightenment.

That is a superficial picture. ISIS etc are largely a backlash against the growing movement in the Islamic world where Muslims want to have both a vibrantly religious society which is not secularist and yet also enjoy the benefits of a society which embraces scientific inquiry. It's no coincidence that the principal target of the terrorists has been educational facilities. For Boko Haram for example that is their entire shtick. The Muslim world is striving to reach its own free and open society with all the benefits of science, technology, and pluralistic democracy-- one which is different from the Western model but offers the same or comparable benefits in a way that lets Muslims be themselves culturally and religiously. Finding that kind of alternative path takes time and there's going to be violent resistance along the way.


Excellent. I've said this before in a more oblique and simplistic way: the Muslim world is now going its own "Reformation," and as was the Christian reformation, it will be long, bloody, and chaotic.
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whac3 wrote:
That said, the Muslim world is typically less economically and scientifically advanced than the West. One could go on at length about the damage colonialism did to their societies but the question on its best face seems to me what the Muslim world is doing against its own interests.


I think you're decoupling these two things in a way that isn't necessarily good. The colonial regimes (and many of the regimes that were propped up post-colonialism) were usually corrupt, oppressive, and sensitive to any threats to their power. That has largely been the trend for the region and has led to a number of regimes that specifically worked to "keep people down" because it made controlling them easier. It's hard to imagine Iraq sustaining a particularly vibrant education environment or intellectual community under Hussein or those that went before them.

Other than that, I think you've got some great points to consider.
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perfalbion wrote:
whac3 wrote:
That said, the Muslim world is typically less economically and scientifically advanced than the West. One could go on at length about the damage colonialism did to their societies but the question on its best face seems to me what the Muslim world is doing against its own interests.


I think you're decoupling these two things in a way that isn't necessarily good. The colonial regimes (and many of the regimes that were propped up post-colonialism) were usually corrupt, oppressive, and sensitive to any threats to their power. That has largely been the trend for the region and has led to a number of regimes that specifically worked to "keep people down" because it made controlling them easier. It's hard to imagine Iraq sustaining a particularly vibrant education environment or intellectual community under Hussein or those that went before them.

Other than that, I think you've got some great points to consider.

True. Colonialism does have its hold overs. The infighting which is a legacy of divide and rule is a big part of that. When the empires left, local thugs took their place in the short term.
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whac3 wrote:
The Muslim world is striving to reach its own free and open society with all the benefits of science, technology, and pluralistic democracy-- one which is different from the Western model but offers the same or comparable benefits in a way that lets Muslims be themselves culturally and religiously.


I'd have largely agreed with you (at least in the Middle East) up until say 2013. The failure of the Arab Spring and the authoritarian turn of Turkey make me pessimistic that we'll see much movement towards pluralism in the Muslim Middle East.

I think eventually Iran will regain its role as a regional power and cultural leader, but that's going to take the clerical class there acknowledging the Islamic republic was a mistake and putting faith in their (significant) cultural power rather than in directly political power.
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tmcvey wrote:
whac3 wrote:
The Muslim world is striving to reach its own free and open society with all the benefits of science, technology, and pluralistic democracy-- one which is different from the Western model but offers the same or comparable benefits in a way that lets Muslims be themselves culturally and religiously.


I'd have largely agreed with you (at least in the Middle East) up until say 2013. The failure of the Arab Spring and the authoritarian turn of Turkey make me pessimistic that we'll see much movement towards pluralism in the Muslim Middle East.

I think eventually Iran will regain its role as a regional power and cultural leader, but that's going to take the clerical class there acknowledging the Islamic republic was a mistake and putting faith in their (significant) cultural power rather than in directly political power.

They're the analog of the Counter-Reformation, part of the violent resistance I mentioned.
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whac3 wrote:

They're the analog of the Counter-Reformation, part of the violent resistance I mentioned.


Is the weakness in civil society in Muslim Middle East an answer to why the Arab Spring (except for Tunisia) failed compared to the 1989 revolutions in E. Europe?

But if so, why did the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which had a lot of support/penetration into what Egyptian civil society there is, fail so badly?
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tmcvey wrote:
I'd have largely agreed with you (at least in the Middle East) up until say 2013. The failure of the Arab Spring and the authoritarian turn of Turkey make me pessimistic that we'll see much movement towards pluralism in the Muslim Middle East.


I've thought about this a bit. I think a great deal of this has to do with a form of reverting to tribalism as strong-man regimes crumble and people try looking out for their own. Right now, groups that never had a voice suddenly had an opportunity to have one, albeit by overthrowing governments in very loose coalitions of disparate groups. Libya seems like a great example of this, though Syria and Egypt also show a lot of this.

I think the problem is that there's been so little in the way of pluralism in the Middle East that it's going to take a while for them to sort through living with neighbors of different tribes/clans/sects/religions without seeing them as an existential threat or a threat to power. It's not like they have long histories to draw from. And even those nations that have had success in more democratic/pluralistic directions (notably Turkey) still have issues with lack of real participation/representation and militaries that don't mind intervening if they don't like the direction of the country.

Quote:
I think eventually Iran will regain its role as a regional power and cultural leader, but that's going to take the clerical class there acknowledging the Islamic republic was a mistake and putting faith in their (significant) cultural power rather than in directly political power.


I've read some historians who think we've completely dropped the ball with Iran. That they actually have moved in real democratic directions with a willingness for secular authority, only to have the West do something that causes the clergy to pull back again. I'm not sure how true this is or not, but it's an interesting idea to contemplate.
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tmcvey wrote:
whac3 wrote:

They're the analog of the Counter-Reformation, part of the violent resistance I mentioned.


Is the weakness in civil society in Muslim Middle East an answer to why the Arab Spring (except for Tunisia) failed compared to the 1989 revolutions in E. Europe?

But if so, why did the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which had a lot of support/penetration into what Egyptian civil society there is, fail so badly?

Fundamentally I'd say it's a matter that in the Arab Spring, the populace did push for Western-style democracy but at the same time they pushed for more Islam in gov't. That to Westerners seems a contradiction and in practice largely it is BUT since WWII the secularists have in the Arab world (which does not include Iran) largely bee the worst kind of thugs. The imams have been pushing in part for protection of the people, that gov't should care for the needs of the people within the scope of what that means in an Islamic society.

The Muslim Brotherhood was seen by Muslims in for example Egypt as being pro-democracy. Yet when they took power, they quickly began to persecute non-Muslims. That set the stage for disaster.
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This is going to be a very long post that most of you (or all) will find boring, and with a reason

Basically the question is why has not the Arab world embraced the modernity, maybe in a customized form that suit the culture of those lands better?

The first and obvious point is that this is very difficult process. We are always reminded of Japan, who successfully adapted to the modernity in a few years. Take China, however, and you will see a very different picture emerge. The thing is that it's very difficult for a society to quickly adapt and change to some ideas that are completely alien to them. China has only started to rise very recently, even when in the 19th century she got a lot of interaction with Modernity, Science and the Western World.

For a quick and accesible history of how the Arab world reacted to the contact with the all "new" European world, I recommend this book: https://www.amazon.com/Arabs-History-Eugene-Rogan/dp/0465025...



One important point, though, is that the previous history of the Arab world, which believed itself to have a far superior culture to Europe, did not help.

Second, the Arab World has some peculiar things, geographically and politically that has not helped at all. Apart from what I mentioned before (too close to Europe so it has a lot of prejudices about it) - it's a region of the world that has been dominated by an empire (the Ottoman one) by so many years, with so little changes, that the Arab world became used to be dominated from far-away capitals. This can be clearly traced in some of the attitudes during the Cold War. So, a history of "foreign" dominance and lack of independence did not prepare the Arab World to self-domain. Yes, the European colonial powers may have created a lot of problems with artificial frontiers, or rewarding infighting (France supporting the Manorites, for instance), but if you want to look for "colonial" (aka imperial) problems, I believe the Ottoman Empire is much more important for the current situation of the Arab World.

Third, I agree somewhat with the "jew argument". It's not because of stupid beliefs, but rather than the arab countries pushed so hard themselves in a corner that Israel destruction was a very important mark of success for some of the post-colonial regimes. They clearly failed to deliver on that, and this has been part of the downfall of Nasserism.

With takes me to the fourth point - the Arab world has already tried some things. Kind-of secular, socialist-like strong-men governments did appear all around the arab world - and it persist in Syria, for instance. I do not think that there is any current leader that has even a modicum of the support that Nasser commanded over the Arab world in his heyday. Yet, still, he failed to deliver an increase on the quality of life, victory over Israel or any other point - not was he able to unite all the arabs. The next wave of attempts to self-govern would be religious-like, and we are still on that phase. I'd say that the religious governments like the one from Iran (not arab, BTW) usually fail to deliver, but in most countries they have not experienced this yet and probably there is a lot of population willing to try that kind of government, as any real free election would show in most of these countries. When those things fail, maybe another new thing will appear.

The fifth point is demographics. Put simply - the demographics of the arab countries, much like the ones in Africa does not help a lot. Modern medicine and agriculture has allowed for a boom in population that can be really a very bad thing if the economy does not grow in parallel. Put simply, with so many countries close to 1/3 or 1/4 of the population younger than 25 years old, it's very difficult to find jobs. Economic stagnation and poverty does not help at all with regards to democracy.

Even more, my sixth point is that the Muslim world has never had a successful separation of church and state. Whether this is a real problem or not remain to be seen (it may be that we just imagine it as a problem because in Europe the separation of church and state has been beneficial). Muhammad was at the same time a very capable militar leader and the religious leader. From then on, the separation between the head of the state and the head of the church has been a kind of alien idea. This has another problem - namely, that the Arab World can always look to the past, to the "Golden Age" of Muhammad and the Companions to try to see why they have fallen from this state of grace. Other cultures do not have a "Lost Golden Age" like that - they do not look so inward to their own past. This is a problem and is part (of course, only a part) of the history of the success of movements like ISIS.

There are more points to say (a lot) but probably nobody has read this long.

TLR - To adapt to modernity is a very difficult process. History (Ottoman dominance mainly - not bad in itself, but many, many years of non controlling its own destiny), coped with horrible demographics with lots of young unemployed people, scapegoats like Israel and the Western World, persistent belief in a lost golden age, and some abjects failures at the attempts to modernize (Nasser, religious governments) are delaying the Arab World. It will eventually find its own way to modernity.

--------

(There is hope yet, Tunisia may be an example of how to do things. It has some advantages - it's not rife in Shia-Suni conflict, for instance, that so dominates many regions in the asian part of the Arab World, and it is looking much better than what I dare to predict).

Apologies for the long post and for my horrible english
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Tom McVey
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whac3 wrote:


The Muslim Brotherhood was seen by Muslims in for example Egypt as being pro-democracy. Yet when they took power, they quickly began to persecute non-Muslims. That set the stage for disaster.


Yep, but I'd always thought of the Egyptian MB as being savvy actors - c.f. in the early 1990s earthquake when they provided relief the Mubbarak government was unable (or unwilling) to provide, which increased their support, or their takeover of the professional societies in Egypt.

I expected a competent, technocratic Islamist illiberal democracy to result. That's not what happened.
 
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