1. Jean says

    That’s obviously because they are more feminist and empowered now than they ever were…

  2. Jean says

    But I agree, that’s depressing. And revealing.

    (I actually was going to start with “but seriously”)

  3. Matt Penfold says

    There used to be a significant liberal movement in the Arab world in the 50s and 60s.

    Western foreign policy has quite a lot to do with why it no longer exists.

  4. Helene says


    Ah, here we go again. Muslims never seem to have any agency; it’s always “Cherchez l’Occident”.

  5. lorn says

    There seem to be lot of that sort of thing going on in the wider region:

    A shame.

    Women assumed to be so mystically powerful and spiritually dangerous that they need to be holstered like a gun. Men so weak they cannot bear the sight of a woman’s body without losing their minds. A sad state of affairs. Even worse, covering the women hasn’t kept men from obsessing about sex. It has changed a minor distraction into an obsession.

    A parallel is how there is as much talk of sex in your average evangelical church as there is at a singles bar.

  6. Matt Penfold says

    “Ah, here we go again. Muslims never seem to have any agency; it’s always “Cherchez l’Occident”.”

    Given how Western nations interfered with internal Arab politics, including sponsoring coups to overthrow democratically elected governments, it does not seen unreasonable to blame those nations.

    Clearly you think otherwise.

  7. Helene says

    @6 Matt Penfold

    One half of my family comes from that region. The only even remotely “democratic” Arab governments (ever!) were in Lebanon – torn apart by a religious/sectarian civil war with no western interference – and more recently Tunisia. There is no Arab history of genuine liberalism or true democracy anywhere else, and with the rise of Islamism little hope of improvement in the near future. The closest thing to a democracy in any Muslim country in the Middle East is Turkey and it is now teetering on the edge of religious authoritarianism.

  8. says

    @7 Helene

    I don’t think you’ve really addressed what Matt said. From the Wikipedia article you link:

    On the other hand, “post-colonial” theories (such as those put forth by Edward Said) for the relative absence of liberal democracy in the Middle East are diverse, from the long history of imperial rule by the Ottoman Empire, Britain and France and the contemporary political and military intervention by the United States, all of which have been blamed for preferring authoritarian regimes because this simplifies the business environment, while enriching the governing elite and the companies of the imperial countries.

    Now, I grant that the article is reporting this as one hypothesis as opposed to being conclusive fact, but there is nothing to say it is absolutely false, either. So, first, nothing in there contradicts what Matt has said. Second, just because there may be pockets that are not directly impacted by western interference, like Tunisia, those pockets are not bubbles. By which I mean they are not immune to influence from their neighbors, who have been impacted by western interference and, therefore, could have had indirect western interference.

    As for your other point about no “true democracy,” that is shifting the goal posts. Matt had said “significant liberal movement.” I’ll say it’s not clear what Matt means by “significant,” so I could agree that his position could use refinement. However, I would not think that “significant” would require “true democracy,” so your remarks do not seem to refute his point. I, for example, would say that this country has had a “significant” LGBT-rights movement for some time now, even though it was only just Friday that they gained marriage equality. (And, of course, have to continue fighting for equality in other areas.) Significant, in my mind, does not equate with successful.

  9. Helene says

    @8 Leo

    Ok, how about any democracy? There were liberal tendencies at times, to be sure, if by “liberal” we mean “mild secularization”. e.g. in Egypt under Nasser and Sadat. But they were never “significant” and Sadat’s regime (he had the temerity to travel to Israel to address the Knesset!), tellingly, was cut short by a Muslim Brotherhood assassin. Mubarak mollified the mullahs in order to keep a lid on things, and Western governments went along with this rightfully reasoning that a lack of real democracy in Egypt was a small price to pay for political and religious tranquility. Subsequent events have proven them right. In short, the idea that there was ever any “significant” liberalization (or democracy) in Arab countries (beyond limited examples in Lebanon and Tunisia) is plain wrong. And the short-lived euphoria that greeted “Arab spring” was similarly mistaken. What we had until now, in most of the Middle East and the Maghreb, was, at best, an “Arab autumn”. And I needn’t remind you of the order of the seasons.

    If I sound pessimistic, I am. Lebanon was, for a long time, the best candidate for real liberalism and democracy, in particular because of its ethnic and religious diversity and its links to the West, but now its geographic and political position (caught between the rock of Assad & Hezbollah and the increasingly hard place of ISIS) makes its situation precarious. I still have family there and they are not optimistic.

  10. Helene says

    @6 Matt

    And something which I intended to say in comment #7…

    There were no western sponsored “coups to overthrow democratically elected governments” in Arab countries. None. (Perhaps you were thinking of Iran.) And not only because – beyond Lebanon and very recently Tunisia – there have never been any genuine “democratically elected” Arab governments. (I hope you’re weren’t thinking of Saddam Hussein!) In fact, just two years ago the US administration volubly disapproved of the army coup that removed the elected Morsi government in Egypt. Precisely how democratic the Morsi election actually was is still unknown but in this case the US was on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood!

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