In an essay published in the New York Times, Sheri Berman sees history repeating itself, tragically and farcically, in Egypt:
The mistake that liberals made in 19th-century Europe was to see all socialists as fanatics. But while some socialists were extremists, others were opposed to violence and dedicated to democracy. Those socialists — who later became Europe’s social democrats rather than communists — wanted social and economic reforms, but not ones that were mortal threats to capitalism or democracy. Yet, for too long, European liberals were unwilling to recognize those differences; they opposed full democratization and worked actively to repress the entire movement. The results were disastrous.
Radical, violent and nondemocratic elements within the socialist movement began to ask why workers should participate in a system unwilling to accept the possibility of their victory. And when socialists became the largest political force across Europe, liberals accepted unsavory bargains with conservatives to keep the Left out of power. As a result, European societies became increasingly divided and conflict ridden.
Egypt’s liberals are repeating those mistakes today. Once again, they see their opponents as zealots determined to abolish everything liberals value. But just as not all socialists were proto-Stalinists, not all Islamists want to implement a theocratic regime. There are moderate Islamists today who are willing to play by the rules of the game, and they should be encouraged to do so.
Read the full essay here.