Saturday, 12 February 2011

Disjointed reflections on the revolution in Egypt - as Mubarak goes

Mubarak was the best ruler of Egypt since Muhammad Ali (or maybe Kitchener?). Compare Nasser whom the Left admired and whose legacy was poverty, ethnic cleansing and war. Mubarak's party is still theoretically socialist but so is the Baath and the Israeli Labour Party. Eden's judgement in invading Egypt in 1956 is vindicated? Eisenhower's lack of judgement over Suez was never in doubt.

‎"Whatever order emerges will almost certainly be less favorable to Israel and the United States, both symbols to many protesters of Egyptian subservience." IHT today. Very natural. I perfectly understand why America is hated on the Arab street. But you would need a heart of stone not to sympathise with Mr. Obama and even (a first for me) with Mrs. Clinton this week.

I feel a sense of joy and Romanians naturally feel more for they see the parallels with their revolution but they also know that the revolution replaced one group of Communists with another. A difference between Romania in the 80s and Egypt now is that Ceausescu did not tolerate a widely popular Iron Guard putting up candidates at elections under other party labels.

Poor Mubarak. No-one should have to live in Sharm el Sheik.

How old he feels now and angry.

Which will be the next domino? Iran? Yemen? Jordan, suspects Kissinger who is still alive and well, his extraordinary accent once so familiar now sounding odd. I haven't heard it in decades. Fatah corrupt and unelected in the West Bank is safe and its people prospering despite the tear gas and wall. For forms of government let fools contest, whate ‘er is best administered is best.

Paradoxical that Bin Ali and Mubarak were the perhaps two best of the despots in the region; both had huge accomplishments despite the torture and stealing which are fairly universal in Arab countries. There are liberals in Tunisia who want liberal democracy but not I imagine enough of them in Egypt. I could just about imagine Tunisia becoming Turkey if we are very lucky indeed. Bin Ali and his predecessor were Kemals. So hopes my head. My heart frivolously mourns the Bey of Tunis and would like the monarchy restored as Michael Wharton would have done (or would he have backed Al Qaeda?) but this is silly romantic nonsense.

Liberals and egalitarians - including neo-cons – who forms a sort of soft dictatorship in the first world think the idea that Arabs might not be ready for liberal democracy is outrageous. The implication would be that some cultures are more advanced than others - this could justify Western self-regard, colonialism, the idea that hierarchy is natural... Any yet so many countries south of Egypt have some kind of rough and ready sort-of-democracy. Perhaps it could work. Egypt is ethnically homogeneous an important basis for a democracy (N.B.), has a (smallish) educated class. It also has the Brotherhood. Do Islam and representative government or any solid political institutional institutions go together very much? The Balkans since 1990 is an exception that proves the rule, Pakistan occasionally, many other places? Perhaps George W Bush and the Neo-Cons are going to be rehabilitated slightly or perhaps Obama is going to go down in flames like Jimmy Carter.

“President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the position of the presidency. He has commissioned the armed forces council to direct the issues of the state.” They are ringing the bells now- will they be wringing their hands soon?

Mubarak: "I will not leave Egypt until I die." Egypt: "WE CAN TOTALLY HELP YOU WITH THAT." I received this on twitter. I do not wish for anyone’s death and do not believe in revolutions usually but it made me grin. But Mubarak is less important than Omar Suleiman the legendary spy chief who is now Vice-President.

US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Thursday before a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, described the Muslim Brotherhood as a peaceful, “largely secular” organisation that “eschewed violence.” In Clapper’s words:
“The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ … is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam… there is no overarching agenda, particularly in the pursuit of violence…” Hmmm.

History never repeats itself. Historians repeat one another. It will not be Iran 1979 all over again. Maybe as Marx said of Napoleon III’s coup d’etat, history will repeat itself first as tragedy, then as farce. Farce would be a good outcome. Was Carter to blame for Islamist Iran? I was still at school. He like Gorbachev reminds me of Napoleon III; a blessing to other countries e.g. Romanians .and a disaster for his own. The unification of Germany in 1871 was one of many unforgivable mistakes which liberals cheered.

‘They dance with foreign ladies, wear Frankish clothes, smoke cigarettes, enjoy French plays and, but for their Eastern habits of tyranny, peculation, insincerity and corruption, they might for all the world be Europeans.' Stanley Lane-Poole on Egyptians, 1892 quoted by the incomparable Max Rodenbeck. Tyranny seemed alien to Europe west of Russia in 1892. Europe in those days was still civilised. A question - was Louis XIV a tyrant?

Corruption was not nearly so big a problem in Europe in the days of the small state as it became. 

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