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September 23, 2008

The Hypocrisy of (some) Arab Liberals
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Yes, it is a harsh title for a post. But I'm a bit perturbed. Jordan's most popular bar/cafe - Books@Cafe - was shut down last week, essentially because it continued to serve alcohol during the holy month of Ramadan. Books@Cafe 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 Books@Cafe 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.


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Hmmm, I think you've confused a liberal with a standard issue capitalist. This guy doesn't give a tinker's damn about long as the cash register is going "Ca-chingggg."

Shadi - I appreciate your insight here. One question I have is whether Internet use and liberal attitudes correlate. How would you assess the customers of Internet cafes in Jordan?

Hello I would like to invite you to visit our website :

IKhwanweb is the Muslim Brotherhood"s only official English web site. The Main office is located in London, although Ikhwanweb has correspondents in most countries. Our staff is exclusively made of volunteers and stretched over the five continents.
The Muslim Brotherhood opinions and views can be found under the sections of MB statements and MB opinions, in addition to the Editorial Message.
Items posted under "other views" are usually different from these of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ikhwanweb does not censor any articles or comments but has the right only to remove any inappropriate words that defy public taste
Ikhwanweb is not a news website, although we report news that matter to the Muslim Brotherhood"s cause. Our main misson is to present the Muslim Brotherhood vision right from the source and rebut misonceptions about the movement in western societies. We value debate on the issues and we welcome constructive criticism.

to help inform you about your subject matter,questions

If you have any addition questions you can email us at :

I'm in Jordan right now and reading "Closed for maintenance" at Books last week was pretty disappointing. As myself and a friend wondered where we would get a drink, a co-owner exited the building and informed us that they refused to pay a 15,000JD "fee" to keep the place open. The specific complaint the government said it received was that young men and women were mixing inappropriately on some upper level. There was a happy ending since Le Calle (sp) was open and right around the corner. Ah, a happy oasis.

The bit I know about the Muslim Brotherhood doesn't inspire me to chastise local liberals for failing to demand voting rights for these political parties. From what I understand, their ideas about democracy are rather narrow since they would go even further in limiting certain rights and freedoms.

The sad reality may be that the devil they know is better than the alternative. Eventually the Muslim Brotherhood has to be brought into the process, but to demand it now and all it once doesn't seem in the interests of anyone but the Muslim Brotherhood.

Religiously driven political parties can be even more dangerous than anyone else since clearly God is on their side....look at the Republicans.

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