Wednesday 6 February 2013

Stands Egypt where it did?

Two years ago exactly I wrote an article focusing on the evolving political situation in Egypt, then the high noon of the so-called Arab Spring (Reflections on the Revolution in Egypt, 6 Feb, 2011).  Of course the title was deliberate, a nod in the direction of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, his brilliant conservative dissection of an event that was still well short of its most extreme and murderous phase.  I began my piece by quoting Burke’s most pertinent observation;
The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.
Now here we are, two years on; now we see what it has pleased the present Egyptian authorities to do.  It’s just as well that, unlike some, unlike the BBC, for example, we did not offer congratulations.  We see that Mohamed Morsi, the Islamic Brotherhood President, is taking the country in the direction of a new tyranny.  Meet the new boss, pretty much the same as the old boss.  Actually, no; for all his faults Hosni Mubarak was at least a secular tyrant. 
In my frustrated Cassandra-like manner (who listens to me?) I made my own observations at the time:
What is it, I wonder, that will please the mobs, beyond the departure of President Mubarak? What is to come after Ozymandius has left nothing but footsteps in sand and time? If one tried to find answers here, if one tried to penetrate beneath the surface of transient events, one is best to ignore the reports of the BBC, unbelievably banal in their shallowness and lack of understanding. Jeremy Bowen, their Middle East editor, was heard to say of the Muslim Brotherhood, the fundamental face of Egypt, that they are a “fairly moderate force here…they don’t want to rock the boat too much.” No, let the boat keep rocking; they will be there to steady it afterwards.
Well, now we know.  Bowen’s ‘fairly moderate force’, endorsed by the Economist and all liberal idiots at the time, has been busy, like the Bolsheviks in 1917, concentrating all power in its own hands.  Alarmed by recent developments, thousands gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, protesting that the revolution had been betrayed.  Thousands more gathered outside the presidential palace, chanting ‘leave!’ ‘leave!’ in the empty hope that Morsi would really leave. 
Meanwhile, under the guidance of the Brother of the Brotherhood, Egypt slips still further into chaos.  The economy is in ruins and the vital tourist industry is in sharp decline.  I was in the country two years ago and still keep up some of the contacts and friendships I made then.  It really breaks my heart to see how bad things have become, to learn that people are being gunned down in the streets for taking the message of freedom too literally. It gives me no pleasure at all to say - see, I was right; democracy cannot be grafted on to a country with no tradition of democracy.  Now in place of freedom comes a state of emergency and a curfew.  Now in place of Mubarak comes Morsi. 
Even Egypt’s most precious treasures have come under threat.  Last year Murgen Salam al-Gohary, a jihadist who claims he has links with the Taliban, called for the destruction of the Sphinx and the Giza Pyramids.  The pyramids have laughed for thousands of years at time, but they cannot laugh at ignorant fanatics who simply pass through time. 
“God ordered Prophet Mohammed to destroy idols,” he said, according to Al Arabiya News. “When I was with the Taliban we destroyed the statue of Buddha, something the government failed to do.”
Yes, a nice reminder of a past cultural atrocity and a present warning of what Egypt’s future may bring.  The future may also bring the Salafists, the second most influential party in the country after the Muslim Brotherhood.  They have agreed with al-Gohray’s view, saying that they also want the country’s Pharonic statues covered. 
They may as well cover up what remains of Egypt’s democracy as well.  Stands Egypt where it did?
Alas, poor country, 
Almost afraid to know itself! It cannot 
Be call'd our mother, but our grave. Where nothing, 
But who knows nothing, is once seen to smile; 
Where sighs and groans and shrieks that rend the air, 
Are made, not mark'd; where violent sorrow seems 
A modern ecstasy The dead man's knell
Is there scarce ask'd for who, and good men's lives 
Expire before the flowers in their caps, 
Dying or ere they sicken. 


  1. History doesn't stop, does it? It doesn't even fall into nice, self-contained segments with clear beginnings and endings - except in the fantasies of historians. All the skeins are tangled, and everyone trying to knit a different pattern from the same wild yarns.

    Earlier this week I listened to an interview with the author of "Sugar in the Blood" - a mixed race Barbadian descended from both plantation owners and slaves.

    On a parallel track I was seduced by an article on a recent book by Mario Vargas Llosa that told of the exploitation of Peruvian rainforest indians during the years when S. America held a monopoly on natural rubber. Dream of the Celt reveals that the terrible abuses of Leopold's Congo were mirrored in the Amazon Rainforest, and both evils were exposed by Roger Casement, of whom I had only the slightest inkling, as an Irish Independence martyr of the same order as Erskine Childers.

    That led me to browse further, into the Scramble for Africa. While the US and Confederacy were locked in mortal combat, visionary French engineers began construction of the Suez Canal, an enterprise that led to the destabilization of Egypt and Sudan, to Mad Mahdis, and Gordon, and Omdurman. Wow! But the real land rush for colonies really began as late as 1881. Had they learned nothing from the American disasters? Hell no!

    And we're still living with the shockwaves 100 plus years on: Egypt, Libya, Mali, Sudan, Somalia . . .

    1. Calvin, absolutely right. It maddens me that people could ever have been taken in by the shallow Francis Fukuyama, even if only for the briefest of times. History moves and will continue to move in all sorts of unanticipated ways. We will continue to reap, as you have indicated, from all sorts of past sowings.

  2. The Llosa article:

  3. Do you remember the Statues of Bamiyan.

    1. Damo, yes, I know the story, cultural barbarism of the worst kind.

  4. There are two dangers facing the West Islam and socialism the only difference between them the joke goes is "one promises paradise in the next life and the other in this one". Both are fatal to us as the one is eating away at the core of our society and the other is nibbling away at the periphery. Socialism is aiding and abetting Islam in it quest to subjugate us as it has destabilised us economically, socially and politically and therefore weakened our ability to protect ourselves. Coupled with which it is blind to the Islamic threat favouring appeasement which as we know from past experience is a very dangerous policy and will be exploited to our disadvantage.

    The so called Arab spring I always thought that it would not lead to more democracy because as you point out Arab democracy experience does not and never has existed. Coupled with which the Muslim religion does not preach democracy in fact very much the opposite. Also revolutions and regime changes generally only leads to one set of thugs replacing another and usually a lot of bloodshed. In this case we have the added complication of a secular thug being replaced by a religious fundamentalist one, which is what one would expect to happen and anyone who thought differently were deluding themselves. Normally Johnny Foreigner fighting amongst themselves or changing tyrants is really of no concern of ours and I would say let them get on with it. Indeed prospective enemies squabbling and disunited is in our best interests. However we are now seeing a gradual uniting of Middle Eastern states as one after another they are embracing fundamentalism and allying themselves with Iran. Are we seeing something of a rerun of history? Was not the Christian crusade against the holy land successful because at the time Islam was in disarray and disunited and were they not expelled in a period when they were not. As Arabs and Persians see it the holy land is once again occupied by infidels this time the Jews whom they also wish to expel. I despair for the West, Europe at least, as I see the danger that socialism and inward migration of Muslims will destroy us only for Islam to pick up the pieces.

    1. Lots of interesting points, Antisthenes. I don't think Islam is necessarily incompatible with forms of democracy. The examples of Indonesia, Malaysia and - at least up to a point - Pakistan might serve here. The thing about the Arab states, as you rightly indicate, is that they have no civic tradition upon which a viable democracy can be built. Egypt is a classic case. In my original article I pointed out that a survey of Egyptian opinion showed that people wanted democracy but they also wanted Sharia law. Laws are either made by people or they are made by God; one cannot have both.

      Your interpretation of the Crusades is quite correct.

  5. If only for it's strategic location with control of the Suez Canal and Antiquities, Nile river etc. Egypt must not fall under the control of these extremist factions, these lunatics are in a cultural retrograde, everything that they touch they turn to shite.

    1. People like Murgen Salam al-Gohary are the new barbarians, Anthony, all the worse because the originals were not religious fanatics.

  6. "Democracy cannot be grafted on to a country with no tradition of democracy" - yes, I have been saying this for years. Democracy grew out of a historical cultural setting.

  7. An asteroid the size of a fifteen story building will pass low Earth orbit on Feb 15, It would be cool if it hit the Middle East.