Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Two lessons

Five years ago yesterday I left a comment at Inside Higher Ed on a story about Egypt. Mohammad Morsi, candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, had just been elected president, and IHE's piece explored whether study-abroad programs would suffer under the new regime. I wrote,

According to two authorities cited in the article:

"[T]he new leadership will probably lead to greater stability and economic growth . . . and not a less tolerant view of Americans, especially women, studying in Egypt."

"[T]he president-elect’s American education gives him reason to value higher education."

The Muslim Brotherhood's motto:

"Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Qur'an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope."

The Brotherhood and Western civilization are irreconcilable. To believe otherwise is delusion.

Two other commenters expressed sentiments consistent with mine. A third, Steven Hanchey, mocked us:

Glad to hear this positive thinking from three respected and distinguished experts on study abroad in Egypt.

I replied,

Good. Let's check back in five years to see who had it right, the optimist (Mr. Hanchey) or the pessimists (the rest of us as of this writing). . . .

This is one of those times I'll be glad if proven wrong.

I score my comment 50/100, by which I mean I failed. Though right that study-abroad programs in Egypt would be affected—they ended and have yet to be revived—I missed the enormous fact that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood would soon be overthrown by Egypt's military. I expected sharia to tighten its grip inexorably. Meanwhile, clear-sighted, knowledgeable analysts such as Daniel Pipes anticipated a military coup.

Lesson: The casual observer, however intelligent, tends to prove no match for the expert analyst.

To Mr. Hanchey I award the rather worse score of 5/100. I did lack expertise, thus his five points; otherwise he was completely off. (Yes, I'm inferring a lot from his one sentence.)

How could a man with experience in the State Department and the American University in Cairo have been so wrong?

My guess is that Mr. Hanchey's specific knowledge, and his wishes, weakened his judgment. He likely had friends and acquaintances in Egypt with no fondness for the Muslim Brotherhood and sharia, and so he underestimated how much life would change under Morsi. He also, I'm sure, wanted the study-abroad programs to continue, and he let his hopes color his view.

Lesson: Beware the analyst, expert or otherwise, whose career would benefit from a particular outcome.

(Edited since first posted.)