Tuesday, 15 February 2011

People power? [update 2]

I’m struggling to understand why everyone’s so happy about the outcome in Egypt.

For nearly sixty years—ever since Lieutenant-Colonel Nasser’s nationalist “Association of Free Officers” overthrew the monarchy promising to establish a parliamentary democracy—Egypt has been ruled by military strongmen in Nasser’s nationalist anti-Islamist image.

DeFreedom For three weeks Egyptians protested in Tahrir Square, demanding a change in that succession. They called for the dictator of the last twenty years to step down. And after three weeks of getting his money out of the country, he complied.

To be replaced by another military strongmen aping the long line already preceding him: to whit, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the former Minister of Defense, Military Production, Deputy Prime Minister, Commander of the Presidential Guard, and chief of the Operations Authority of the Armed Forces. A man who is “aged and change resistant,” and “committed to the status quo.”

Is this really the “new-found freedom” people died for?

Now they’ve begin to disperse, courageous protestors still mopping up after their victory might still insist they

_Quote will not give up on Egypt as a civilian state, not a military state. If things move away from our demands, we will go into the street again, even if we have to die as martyrs.

But they have just cheered the coming to power of a military ruler who will have quite specific ideas about how to use that desire for martyrdom.

And I’ll wager good money it won’t be to set up a constitutional republic and then resign—any more than his predecessor some dictators ago did.

So this is not a victory for individual freedom—more’s the pity.

And neither is it a victory for democracy.  And thank goodness for that. Because by contrast to a constitutional republic, a democracy (i.e., majority rule; i.e., a counting of head regardless of content) would not have delivered freedom and individual rights to Egyptians, but instead a government responding to the the one-out-of-every-five Egyptians who thinks suicide bombing can be justified; and the four-out-of-every-five Egyptians who would stone people who commit adultery, cut limbs off people who steal, and put to death those who leave the Muslim religion. [See Pew survey here.]

Muslim Egypt is not secular Turkey—where they understand the dangers of Islam playing a large part in politics, and have at least begun to put some rights beyond the vote. It’s a place where nineteen-out-of-every-twenty people think it would be a good thing for Islam to play a much larger role in politics, with everything that implies for individual freedom—or lack thereof.

No wonder the Muslim Brotherhood are coming round to the idea of democracy. For one election, anyway.

And the Brotherhood’s own statement about the “historic victory” gives a clue to where exactly they would like an Egyptian democracy to go, were such a thing ever to be allowed:

_Quote_Idiot The victory scored by this revolution is in the first place directed against the United States, which so far sponsored the toppled regime, and wanted it as a strong ally and defender of the Zionist entity, and an enemy of the Arab jihad and resistance movements.

So should they ever get near the seats of power (something both Egyptian monarchists and nationalists have been trying for over eighty years to avoid) that would mean big ticks by the Brotherhood to Egypt being a strong enemy both of Israel and the U.S. (and presumably pretty much everywhere else in the west who trades, supports or visits these places), and a strong ally and defender of jihad.

So much then for the cry for freedom.

UPDATE 1: Quoting Olivier Roy, Matthew Iglesias argues that people in Tahrir Square were marching for real freedom,

_Quote“This new generation isn’t interested in ideology, their slogans are all pragmatic and
concrete; they don’t speak of Islam the way their predecessors did in Algeria in the late
    1980s. Above all they reject corrupt dictators and demand democracy. That’s not to say
    that the demonstrators are secular, but simply that they don’t see Islam as a political
    ideology to be used to create a better order, they’re well inside a secular political space.”
    This [says Yglesias] is a continuation of Roy’s work over the past several years on “the failure of political Islam.”
    The basic idea here is that in part thanks to the example of Iran, you just don’t have a mass constituency that’s prepared to believe that Islam or Islamic rule offers answers to the concrete problems of poverty, corruption, and slow economic growth.
    People may be religiously observant or culturally conservative in ways that western liberals (or even western cultural conservatives) would find alarming, but the Egyptian people are asking “where are the jobs?” and don’t think the answer is going to be found in the Koran.

Hat tip Dim Post, who points out that “revolutions do have a tendency to get derailed…”

UPDATE 2: Historian Niall Ferguson explains some uncomfortable truths about the outcome of the Egyptian revolution—and of the Obama Administration’s handling of it. [Hat tip reader Michael]


  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9sMo-LTdSc&feature=player_embedded

  2. Yes, that's a good one from Niall Ferguson. I first saw it at Kiwiblog cited by a commenter Hurf.

  3. I wonder who the mob will be voting for?


  4. While many love to put for the Muslim Brotherhood as a boogey man, that’s usually fear mongering. Their charter is a bit extreme, but their membership is varied — and has to answer to the same population that Mubarak had to deal with. The 20th Century is gone, and old thinking — especially the chicken little who see Muslims as some evil force — is obsolete. Moreover, the US has less power to control or shape events there than ever before. Really think a lot of you have yet to comprehend just how fundamentally world politics is changing at this moment in time. Yes, there will be spots of conflict, bloodshed, terror, and crisis. No transition is without them. But one thing always makes transitions even more difficult: when people steeped in the old way of thinking can’t let go of the past, and try to impose past patterns on a rapidly changing world. That always fails.


1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.