Mohammed Morsi and Aung San Suu Kyi both believed in democracy, yet the West treated them very differently when they were oppressed, writes Jahangir Mohammed.
The death of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in court after six years of imprisonment and torture, has demonstrated the West’s double standards over democracy. The West’s championing of democracy as a higher political value does not extend to the Muslim majority world – it is simply a stick to beat Muslims with.
The UK Government has included lack of support for democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual tolerance within its definition of “extremism” (mainly used against Muslims with dissenting views), and a fundamental British value. Yet its own behaviour (like others in the West) in other parts of the world, shows a total disregard for the very values it expects Muslim communities to embrace, and subsequently judges them by.
In six years, the West has made little to no effort to support the first fairly elected president of Egypt or its democracy. Nor has it tried to oppose the intolerance and abuse of the rule of law and human rights in Egypt. Rather, the US other Western nations embraced military dictatorship as a partner in the region.
The case of Mohamed Morsi
Mohammed Morsi and his democratically elected Freedom and Justice Party were ousted in a military coup led by General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi in July 2013. There was no moral outcry in the West. In fact, no sooner had Sisi come to power, some Western countries visited him to secure arms and trade deals.
When Morsi was charged with treason and other trumped up charges, he did not become an international symbol of a “freedom-loving democrat” trying to move his country away from military dictatorship. Nor did Western human rights groups widely champion him as a political prisoner worthy of their highest accolades and mass campaigns. Even the socialists and the left were unusually silent.
When Sisi imprisoned thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and members, and sentenced many to death, there was still no outcry and no political prisoner campaigns.
Western rights groups, politicians and the media appeared to care very little about the masses of pollical prisoners, torture, lack of due process and rule of law.
Yet, when even one European is imprisoned in a country like Iran, they are deserving of the whole machinery of politics and human rights being unleashed.
You would think that the West’s army of feminists would care for the plight of the thousands of women arrested or affected by mass detention in Egypt. Here too they have been largely silent. We have of course seen this before, when 50,000 Muslim women were raped or in camps in Bosnia at the hands of the Serbs, I don’t recall a single Western feminist group taking up the issue.
In the six years that followed the detention of President Morsi, there was little concern about any of these human right abuses and torture. Instead, the West was more concerned about whether the Muslim Brotherhood and former President Morsi cared about or held the same social and political values as the West (both the political Left and Right). The message appeared to be unless you are a Muslim that is like us, you are not worthy of our support.
When sadly he died, there were no tributes from Western leaders or expressions of grief or even anger. Morsi was dead and his belief in democracy mattered not one jot. It was his belief in democracy and faith in the democratic West, that contributed towards his tragic death.
The case of Aung San Suu Kyi
Compare the treatment of Mohammed Morsi to another former political prisoner fighting for democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi rose to prominence in the uprisings in Myanmar against military rule in 1988. She then became the President of the National League for Democracy (NLD). In the 1990 elections, the NLD won 81% of the seats in Parliament. The military refused to hand over power and she remained in house detention for 15 of the following 21 years until 2010.
Suu Kyi became the world’s most prominent political prisoner thanks to international Western support. In 1990, she was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, in 1991 the Nobel Peace Prize, and in 2012 she received the United States Congressional Gold Medal. She became an iconic figurehead for democracy and human rights organisations, and was championed by politicians and movements on both the left and the right of the western political spectrum.
Her “bravery and struggle for non-violent commitment to democracy” were saluted across the Western world. She was seen in the West as “one of us” with little concern to consider her own Buddhist values and political views. Only since her party came to power in 2015 have her Buddhist and political views been criticised, especially in light of her attitude towards the minority Rohingya Muslim community (whose persecution she has denied).
Western imperialism and supremacy
The West’s approach and policies towards Muslims, and the Muslim majority world (irrespective of Left or Right) is still rooted in its pre-colonial relationship and interaction with Islam. This was, and largely still is, infected by ignorance, stereotypes, anti-Islamic propaganda with an attitude of Rudyard Kipling’s supremacist civilising mission.
Muslim social, moral and political beliefs and values have to be just like the West’s to be deemed worthy of their support. Hinduism and Buddhism on the other hand have tended to be viewed in the West in a romantic way as some exotic religion Westerners can study and gain some spiritual benefits from. Islam and Muslims have always been seen as a rival to Western religious, and now secular values, and its global power.
At the time of colonialism, European countries entered Muslim lands saying they were there for trade which would make us prosperous too. Sadly, most Muslim leaders at the time believed this. After the 9/11 attacks, the West told us they were invading our countries to install democracy in the Muslim world. Many believed them. On both occasions, the only thing Muslims got was death, destruction and impoverishment. It is time for Muslims to learn that if we are going to bring an end to tyranny and oppression in the Muslim world, we are going to have to do it all by ourselves within our own traditions and struggle’s.
In a real sense, the Egyptian people’s revolution died at the hands of democracy and the belief that the West would support those Muslims who embraced it.
References to the “West” and “Western” are at the political level, and not directed at ordinary people in the West.