Editor's note: This column was co-authored by Bob Morrison.
There’s a lot of enthusiasm building in Washington for the “winds of change” blowing through the Middle East. We have seen the durable regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt toppled in recent days. Gaddafi seems to be toppling in Libya. The long-time ruler of Tunisia was ousted in December, having ruled that North African country for twenty-three years.
For most of us, only when he was given the boot did we learn the name of Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Prior to 2010, he would probably have stumped even Ken Jennings on Jeopardy. So what did Ben Ali the former world statesman actually do in Tunisia all those years? TV in Tunis has given us this picture:
Ben Ali hid his treasures behind curtains, paintings and book shelves in the palace library, according to a video broadcast by state television, which showed millions of U.S. dollars and euros, diamonds and gold found in the palace in the Carthage district near the capital Tunis.
His Excellency did manage to skip town to Saudi Arabia. Doubtless he held on to his Tunis Express Card (“Don’t leave home without it”). That card’s magnetic strip and personal identification number will allow Ben Ali to access his hoarded millions in that most respected Geneva banking establishment—The Deposed Despots House of Deposit.
Now, we are told, democracy is on the rise in the Middle East. It was fashionable some years ago to say that doubting the prospects for democracy in the Middle East was an example of “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” So let us state, for the record, that no racial or ethnic group is incapable of democracy or unworthy of liberty. That doesn’t mean the Middle East is going to be free anytime soon.
Let’s start with religious liberty. Twenty years ago, Rothman and Lichter did a seminal study of the media elites. They found that more than 90% of top journalistsnever attend a religious service of any kind. As CNN’s Bill Schneider acknowledged, the media doesn’t “get religion.”
So, if religion is not important to them, does that mean journalists cannot understand its importance to others? It shouldn’t. Harvard’s great scholar Perry Miller understood the Puritans better, perhaps, than any professor at any American university. But Miller himself was an atheist.
Still, the democracy boosters seem blissfully unaware that 84% of Egyptians say anyone who departs from Islam should be killed. This is a killer stat. It means, bluntly, that Egyptians are not going to see political liberty any time soon. And there is a real danger they will come under the sway of the Muslim Brotherhood.