Egypt’s Tragedy by Richard Sale

I think Egypt’s tragedy is liable to be repeated if the United States attempts to spread democracy through the Third World as David said. In Egypt, idealist rebels, its liberals, its students and leftists think that whatever happens they are going to prevail, and they believe they are going to be Egypt's future. I disagree. Participants in social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and so forth, may chatter away about “change,” but too often popular idealism is the prisoner of the moment, and can hardly be a basis for governing. Leaderless and loosely organized, the liberals in Egypt have showed that they are unable to discipline themselves, to effectively organize, to create a governing coalition, or to lay any sound foundations of a new political order. 

It is an unfortunate truth that the methods used by a dictator to administer his power may last long after the dictator himself has fallen.

Egypt and other Middle Eastern nations have no tradition of democracy or constitutional government, and it is right to ask, what shape are the governments of the Middle East likely to take or what is the future shape of any other Mideast countries?  Is the liberal hope realistic? 

It pays to recall that France in 1789 had the world’s most democratic constitution in history. It had no bureaucracy, and no centralized administrative authority. The King was a figurehead, the ministers almost powerless.  The work of administration fell on elected directories and municipalities. King Louis XVI protested, quite rightly, that the government couldn’t control a country the size of France.  He saw that authority was so divided and restricted that the government no longer had any effective control over the country and freedom was so elaborately, almost neurotically protected that it was smothered under the burden of ceaseless elections. And that was what happened. It would be well if Egypt’s liberals avoided the same disaster. They have more than forty-five political parties contending for predominance, a recipe for confusion. 

One must also ask whether Islam, with its ideal of justice for the needy and a good life for all, is impervious to the secular economic forces that for years sustained Mubarak in power. That the ultraorthodox Islamists like Al-Nour wield great power there is no doubt. Its reach and its resources make it an impressive example of the worship of collective human power.  But once again we must think of past history.

The urge to set up forms of “self-government” has had a broad attraction for many nations of the world, but one has to remember that some of the most brutal tyrannies have been based on the word democratic. Think of Hitler gaining power in the 1933 elections. The rule of law is a more potent factor in achieving democracy than free elections, in my view. 

Yes, the initial protests of the leftists, the idealistic youth, and the liberals in Tahir Square burst forth like a flood unleashed by a thundercloud. But protesting wrongs is not equivalent to governing a country equitably. I believe that the most astute US analysts would like to see in Egypt and other Mideast countries is a political system that is in accord with their ages-old tribal character. Commentators in the United States seem to picture a future system there as a day of sunlight and little white flowers, a place as sweet as a sugar cookie. One doubts that this will prove true. The power of Islam, backed by centuries of submission to its religious power, may instill a common will in the bulk of the people who are likely to set up a government that defies our wishes. Remember to that Islam, it is God that governs. Government by men in a sin. 

From the first I feared the insurgent character of the Muslim Brotherhood, its ability to secure an Islamic government in which the Islamics secure a majority and then gradually leverage their legislative authority to divest the military of its traditional power and start to outlaw political opponents. Thankfully,  this has failed, thanks to the rebuff by Egypt’s military. But I still fear that if such a thing occurs, Tunisia or Iraq could start linking with similar groups in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, which would be catastrophic. 

As I have said before, it is a bitter fact that Truth is not the same for everyone in all places.  Nothing is suitable for all people everywhere. What pleases an inhabitant of Paris is hardly going to please an inhabitant of Beijing. You have to ask of any people, what suits them, what inspires them, what animates them, what gives them energy, and what ideas make their existence meaningful and valuable. The Greeks proceeded in one direction, the Chinese and the Hebrews in another, the Romans in another. Each group must strive to realize what lies uniquely in its bones, in its essential features, its particular circumstances and peculiarities of character that act to create customs, traditions, and initiate talents. 

In any case, gaining that common will is an arduous achievement, and one suspects that the features of any new government in Egypt are likely to be unfamiliar or even hostile to an ordinary American like myself.  The question must be, can we live with it? And once established, what new threats to America does it pose, how can they be managed?


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9 Responses to Egypt’s Tragedy by Richard Sale

  1. RetiredPatriot says:
    As time goes on, it sure looks like the “deep state” is making it’s return. One wonders if they could have left Mubarak in prison until at least all the leftist leaders and student youths were in jail. I wonder how long it will be before the NDP is reborn with a new name?

  2. Bill H says:

    “Participants in social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and so forth, may chatter away about “change,” but too often popular idealism is the prisoner of the moment, and can hardly be a basis for governing.”
    Well put. I have often wondered how the “Facebook revolution” was expected to actually translate even into an actual constructive movement, much less a government. Chatter limited to 140 characters is not communication. Occupy Wall Street could agree on where to meet, but not on what to do once they met there. In 140 characters we can agree what to tear down, but we cannot agree on what to replace it with.

  3. There is a vast shortage of serious people interested in governance as opposed to greed world wide. Egypt is no different than other nation-states that have failed to find an effective long term formula in any guise that can avoid capture by some individual or group that believes it has the right answer.
    Thanks Richard for a very thoughtful post.

  4. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I would not call it a “Tragedy”.
    Here the various protagonists and antagonists were not engaged in a supreme moral struggle to do the right thing, and after having expended their utmost humanly possible efforts, being thwarted by Destiny (ordained by gods).
    It is best described as a Comedy; again in the (Ancient) Greek sense.

  5. JMH says:

    Thank you again Mr. Sale; your historical scope is refreshing in a world of myopia and expedience.

  6. turcopolier says:

    I would call it a “tragicomedy” as in “The Tempest.” pl

  7. Charles I says:

    For a lighter moment watch Paul Mazursky’s movie version with John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, Susan Sarandon and a simply magnificent Raul Julia as Kalibanos

  8. YT says:

    Folks ought to read more Greek Classics.
    & adopt the Stoic Nature of the Ancients.

  9. herb says:

    Robert Fisk interviews Anwar Sadat (the assassinated leader’s nephew), who has some very insightful comments:

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