Human Rights Watch (HRW) has just released its World Report 2012, in which it warns western governments not to ignore the popular will in the Arab world just because that has resulted in a massive victory for political Islam.
HRW is aware of the potential dangers for minority rights as well as of the possibility of a lurch back to authoritarianism but its thinking betrays a profound sense of confusion.
Consider the following: "Much like the revolutions that upended Eastern Europe in 1989, the Arab upheavals were inspired by a vision of freedom, a desire for a voice in one’s destiny, and a quest for governments that are accountable to the public rather than captured by a ruling elite."
It is vital that Western governments do not fall for this.
The fact that parties which can quite fairly be described as neo-fascist could attract such a vast share of the vote tells us that much of the Egyptian population is not inspired by a "vision of freedom" at all. The reference to 1989 is dangerously misleading.
But there’s worse. The report says: "wherever Islam-inspired governments emerge, the international community should focus on encouraging, and if need be pressuring, them to respect basic rights – just as the Christian-labelled parties and governments of Europe are expected to do." To the first part, yes, of course. But do they truly think the Muslim Brotherhood is like Germany’s Christian Democrats?
Not surprisingly, there’s the obligatory slating of Israel. "Many Arabs were naturally disturbed by Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people, and often protested," the report notes.
For one thing, Israel is not repressing the Palestinian people. It is they who have consistently refused to make peace, frequently opting for terrorism instead. For another, hostility to Israel is deeply intertwined with the kind of vitriolic mass antisemitism that, historically, has never sat well with efforts to build free societies.
And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with the "Arab Spring". The political culture is mired in multiple bigotries which will need to be rooted out if liberal democracy is to stand a chance. HRW makes some important points in its report. It’s a shame they missed the most important point of all.