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Robert R. Reilly

A Weimer moment for the Arab world

Last February, Bernard Lewis, the famous historian of the Middle East, warned that if elections were held early after the Arab spring, “It can only lead to one direction, as it did in [Weimar] Germany, for example,” an allusion to Hitler’s 1933 takeover after gaining a plurality in elections. In this case, Lewis meant not the Nazis, but the Muslim Brotherhood (enthusiastic supporters of Hitler during and after World War II) and other Islamist forces, which would simply use the democratic opportunity to gain power before the forces against them could get organized.This seemed a rather shocking, if not alarmist, prediction in the heady days of the Arab spring, when so many Westerners thought they were witnessing something akin to the rise of the peoples of Eastern Europe against the Soviets in 1989, so it was largely ignored.Soon after Lewis’s warning, however, in the March constitutional referendum, Egyptians overwhelmingly voted in favor (77 percent) of early elections, which would obviously favor the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood. And lo and behold, what do we see now? The lslamists and their allies have won a combined total of nearly 77 percent in the first round of the recent vote. What a surprise!According to the Associated Press, the High Election Commission announced that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party garnered 36.6 percent of the 9.7 million valid ballots cast last week for party lists. The Nour Party, representing the more hard-line Salafi Islamists, captured 24.4 percent. Bringing up the rear was the secular-leaning Egyptian Bloc, which gained only 13.4 percent. This is roughly equivalent to the March results.“Freedom and Justice,” the Brotherhood’s party name, sounds very appealing. What is the worry? The concern is over the meaning of the words. “Freedom” simply means freedom to submit to Islam. Contrary to what Westerners expect, “justice”… Read More