Israel an obstacle to Arab democracy, Egyptian strongman wrote

In a 2006 academic paper, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi claimed the Arab-Israeli conflict makes Middle Easterners suspect democracy

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi speaking on state television, July 3. (photo credit: Screenshot AP/Egypt State Television)
Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi speaking on state television, July 3. (photo credit: Screenshot AP/Egypt State Television)

The Arab-Israeli conflict has caused Middle Eastern Arabs to doubt the benefits of democracy, the de-facto ruler of Egypt claimed in an academic article written seven years ago.

During his studies at the US Army War College in 2006, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi penned an article titled “Democracy in the Middle East,” in which he outlined the challenges and prospects of instilling democracy in the Arab Middle East. The only known manifesto of Egypt’s defense minister, the document was exposed earlier this month by Judicial Watch, a conservative, Washington-based organization.

Sissi emerged as the Egyptian army’s strongman following the dismissal of defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and chief of staff Sami Anan on August 12, 2012, soon after Mohammed Morsi took power as Egypt’s first Muslim Brotherhood president.

According to Sissi, “The fact that Israel reflects a Western interest raises suspicion among Arabs about the true nature of democracy.” The Egyptian general did not explain how Israel’s existence cast doubt on the notion of democracy, but asserted that it would “slow the emergence of democracy in the Middle East.”

Conflicts in areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel must be resolved before democracy can be “fully accepted” by people in the region, he added.

Democracy, Sissi claimed in 2006, was closely related in the minds of Arabs to the economic interests of the United States, and was therefore ill-received. For democracy to take root in the Middle East, it must reflect local culture and show more respect for local values, namely Islam, he said.

In light of the military crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and its leadership since the ouster of Mohammed Morsi on July 3, Sissi’s challenge to the United States rings deeply ironic.

“Is America ready to accept Middle Eastern democracies in their own form, which may or may not be sympathetic to Western interests, particularly in the early years of Middle East democracy?” wondered Sissi, citing the West’s unwillingness to engage Hamas as an example of Western double standards.

“It is one thing to say that democracy is a preferred form of government, but quite another to adjust to its requirements and accept some of the risks that go along with it,” he said.

A Middle Eastern democracy, argued Sissi, would entail a country with three branches of power, all infused with Islamic principles.

“This does not mean a theocracy will be established; rather, it means that a democracy will be established built upon Islamic beliefs,” he said.

In an interview with The Times of Israel, Egyptian activist and conscientious objector Maikel Nabil argued that the Egyptian military was “Islamic, though in a different way than the Brotherhood.”

Sissi’s essay seems to prove the Islamic inclination of the Egyptian army’s commander-in-chief. “The practice of Islam and democracy can coexist,” he wrote.

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