Is the New World Order Losing the Arabs?
Brief Reflections on the Revolution in Egypt
by Sean Gabb
I have been asked to comment on the revolution in Egypt. Every newspaper is already filled with commentary. Every time I switch on the television, no one seems to be discussing anything else. All this may be very good for sales of Mr Blake’s novel, Blood of Alexandria. But I am already bored with Egypt. For this reason, I will try to be brief.
I will begin with the Egyptian people. According to the narrative pushed by the BBC among others, the current wave of revolutions sweeping through the Arab Islamic world shows a longing for democratic modernity. Particularly in Egypt, a dictator has fallen who, for thirty years, kept his people in subjection with threats of arbitrary arrest and punishment. Now, we are told, democracy can flourish at last. Earlier today, I saw films of departing crowds in Cairo or Alexandria, while some stupid woman explained with tearful optimism that the people had now spoken.
Well, I have no doubt that most Egyptians, called on at random, would say they wanted representative democracy, and independent courts, and a bill of rights and an end to government corruption, and so forth. But I doubt this is what they will vote for. If they do get any of it by chance, I fail to believe they will lift a finger to keep it from being swept away.
Egypt is not a nation in the sense than England or France or Germany are nations. It has no history of the kind that unites and inspires a people. It has always been ruled by absolute despots. For most of the past few thousand years, the despots have been foreign. It has no observable racial homogeneity: the higher classes seem invariably to be white; the lower classes range between brown and sub-Saharan black. It has no cultural unity. Most people there are young. Most are very poor. Most are without education. We therefore have a country without any secular identity, where the people are desperate enough, and ignorant enough, and energetic enough, to demand the impossible. Given this, Egypt is as likely to become a stable democracy as I am to become a Quaker.