Christopher Hitchens not optimistic about the fate of Egypt

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS-VANITY FAIR: When anatomizing revolutions, it always pays to consult the whiskered old veterans. Those trying to master a new language, wrote Karl Marx about the turmoil in France in the 19th century, invariably begin haltingly, by translating it back into the familiar tongue they already know. And with his colleague Friedrich Engels he defined a revolution as the midwife by whom the new society is born from the body of the old.

Surveying the seismic-looking events in Tunis and Cairo in January and February of this year, various observers immediately began by comparing them to discrepant precedents. Was this the fall of the Arab world’s Berlin Wall? Or was it, perhaps, more like the “people power” movements in Asia in the mid-1980s? The example of Latin America, with its overdue but rapid escape from military rule in the past decades, was also mentioned. Those with longer memories had fond recollections of the bloodless “red carnation” revolution in Portugal, in 1974: a beautiful fiesta of democracy which also helped to inaugurate Spain’s emancipation from four decades in the shadow of General Franco.

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Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson has about the same assessment of Egypt as Hitchens

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One Response to “Christopher Hitchens not optimistic about the fate of Egypt”

  • avatar blahboy:

    While the world waits for democracy in the Middle East to move from a concept to a Capital D, what everyone refuses to acknowledge is that democracy does not automatically equate to the adoption of Western values, or even Western patterns of behavior.

    There is a LOUD and pronounced cultural bias against Jews and Israel in the Middle East (and by extension any of their allies worldwide). In recent times, despots were held back from acting on it by their own self-interests. Now that they are gone there is very little cultural, social or legal grounds to prevent open aggression authorized by democratic consensus. Even the Cairo demonstrators openly spoke of their hatred for Israel and a desire to “strike back.”

    Al Queda may be temporarily sidelined (longer, any civilized person hopes), but as a funded and organized group capable of operating efficiently in chaos – even chaos not of their own making – no one can deny the influence they will have on a voting public, be it platforms they author or cultural anti-Israel/Semitic/Western biases they co-opt; no one can say that a democratic Middle East will assuredly result in a regional peace. It could very easily just amount to popular aggression, with Israel becoming the new Sudetenland. Yes, as a reminder, Hitler was elected by popular vote as well.

    Democracy to the West means something entirely different than it does in the Middle East. For the West, it is a rule of law and a process. For the Middle East, it means a result. Thus far, that difference is ignored by the Western press while they focus on justifiable riots by the citizens of a half-dozen nations.

    The application of democracy beyond the expression of outrage it is a lesson that can be taught, though it has to spring from communal desire and a sense of justice in and outside the individual, ideology and country.

    Most Islamic cultures do not have that as part of their gestalt as they have historically surrendered significant parts of their legal and social process to the dictums of a 1,400 year old book which is not just monotheist, but also socially didactic. Combine that with two thousand years’ of patriarchal tribal organizations as their dominant social structure and there is little historical basis for a working legislature, open debate and cooperation under either law or purpose. Iraq is still slowly riding that learning curve and it remains to be seen if they remain on it without the specter of occupation.

    The aesthetic of cohesiveness should be the single greatest lesson the West can assist emerging democracies to learn; Americans did it in Japan and the Philippines. We let Germans rediscover it during the Marshal Plan, and Italians have arguably been trudging with it through nearly 60 distinct formed governments since 1946. The French Napoleonic Code has survived since 1804 to give a common baseline of behavior, jurisprudence and conduct even though Napoleon’s ouster and Nazi occupation. However, Koranic cultures do not have a record of debate and interpretation; while the Koran itself may be up for interpretation, the adherent culture it has inspired has never accepted it. There are Islamic-inspired secular efforts in the Middle East, but history those voices have had more to fear from their own culture than the West’s “interference.”

    No such democratic or legislative process exists, in the Middle East, where 280 million people are organized by tribe, geography and strict landed hierarchies, save the surrounded 7.5 million democratic Israelis. Voicing discontent for the region manifests itself in an individual’s punishment or subversive activity (read: terrorism); either is a selfish act and there can be no working democracy without a template for not just self-respect and expression, but allowance for others’ dissent without persecution, a feat made worse by current generations’ despot leadership.

    However, there are historical touchstones to draw from. Saladin, the logistically brilliant Islamic defender of the Third Crusades, conducted himself with a degree of honor and respect he became a noble hero in the 12th Century… to the Europeans he defeated. A Kurd, he managed to unite hundreds of tribes from modern Iran to Egypt under a code of conduct that was every bit as secular as it was Islamist. He united people not with just a common goal, but a common standard of behavior that applied not just to people under his flag but those pursued by it like Richard the Lionheart. Unfortunately most contemporary education focuses on his strategic victories and not the representative social system he used to unite the tribes, a system that lasted nearly a hundred years after his death.

    Looking at contemporary times, there is no cultural blueprint for a lasting and free debate, none yet even provided by the democratic activists begging for it. THAT is what the West needs to be willing to allow them to learn, what the West needs to foster. It is a lesson and common modus operandi that must be accepted by the masses BEFORE there is a truly democratic vote. Otherwise we just have a Dickensian mob screaming who should be beheaded next without realizing that each person screaming is fast becoming the next name shouted out.

    Guiding that is not all their fault; in a Western culture increasingly dominated by political correctness, too much attention is focused on the terms used rather than the application or localized meanings thereof; Shaw once wrote that the United States and England are two countries separated by a common language. Today, what we have is more devious and severe; the world has divergent motivations hiding behind a common language. We have surrendered our quest for truth for the commonality of semantics. Or to quote Inigio Montoya “I do not think the word means what he thinks it means.” The West has forgotten than across borders and cultures, and even within, the labels we celebrate are akin to isotopes.

    Just remember, the Mullahs of Iran were elected in a free democratic election. No one can claim that benefitted the world, even the Iranians.

    I do hope there is a genuine emerging democracy that has peace and a just common law as a goal. If there is, it would be the most remarkable thing the Middle East has produced since the invention of coffee.

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