The Hypocrisy of (some) Arab Liberals
The Hypocrisy of (some) Arab Liberals
Wednesday, September 24,2008 15:41
By Shadi Hamid

Yes, it is a harsh title for a post. But I"m a bit perturbed. Jordan"s most popular bar/cafe - [email protected] - was shut down last week, essentially because it continued to serve alcohol during the holy month of Ramadan. [email protected] has a liquor license from the relevant government ministries, so it appears that the government"s move to close it down isn"t exactly legal. Moreover, I will readily agree it is an attack on freedom of expression (people should be allowed to drink alcohol if they want to) and the government should reverse its decision immediately. I just got back from Jordan two weeks ago. I was there for about 5 months. I went to Books quite a few times. I like the place a lot, in part because it boasts an amazing view of East Amman. Many of my friends were Books regulars. This is a direct attack on them.

But I"d like to bring up a caveat. I find it ironic that the co-owner of [email protected] wrote this blistering post criticizing the government for an attack of freedom and individual rights. Many others, including bloggers and online activists, are incensed. It appears that there may be an effort to organize a response, protesting the government"s measures, which apparently include the closing down of more than 60 other establishments throughout Jordan. This outrage among Jordanian liberals is - what is the right word? - interesting. We hear them speaking the weightly language of rights and freedoms and democracy. The ownder of Books writes: "Do we just close up and leave the country and lose all our love and loyalty to Jordan? I prefer to fight for a better Jordan and I think everyone should do the same."

It"s strange that they have waited this long to fight for "a better Jordan." While nonviolent Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, were being repressed by the government, we did not hear from them this talk of rights and freedoms. When Jordan witnessed the most blatantly rigged elections in its history (in 2007), we did not hear this outrage. We heard mostly a silent acquiescence, in part because Arab liberals have long feared that if there were, in fact, free and fair elections in Jordan and elsewhere, Islamists would win. Their attachment to freedom and democracy is obviously contextual, and is only raised when it is their rights - rather than the rights of others - that are being trampled. For too long, too many Arab liberals have stood by silently, and have cast their lot with Arab autocrats because the devil they knew was better than the devil they didn"t.

And so, time and time again, democracy has been sacrificed in the name of democracy. This is a tragic hypocrisy. Arab liberals have a vital role to play in futhering demoracy in the Middle East. Some have played this role courageously - people, for instance, like Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Ayman Nour, who have spoken out against the repression moderate Islamists. But, unfortunately, many have not.