Brief Reflections on the Revolution in Egypt
by Sean Gabb: How
Long Before Christians Are Actively Persecuted in England?
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 Blakes novel, Blood of Alexandria. But
I am already bored with Egypt. For this reason, I will try to be
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.
What will happen,
I think, is that someone rather old and westernised will be the
next President. He will make fine assurances to everyone who will
listen. Of course, he will take his orders from Washington. Nothing
much will change. He will last a few months he might manage
a few years, if he is bright or lucky or both. But the one unifying
force in Egypt is religion. Sooner or later, enough people will
accept or enough will stop denying that Islam is the
answer. And that will be an end to American efforts to manage the
get a government of radical Moslems. This may not be completely
horrid to the Christian minority. It may choose not to copy the
full radicalism of the Iranians. I hope it will not damage the monuments
or empty out the museums. But the westernised veneer of Egyptian
life will be swept away, and there will be no more jolly parties
on the Nile cruisers. There will probably be a war these
do accompany revolutions, and they break out as much for the same
demographic reasons as for any internal dynamic of revolution. Perhaps
the enemy will be Israel. Almost as likely, it will be Libya or
some other neighbour.
Americans continue interfering in the countrys internal politics,
this Islamic government will, in time, become another cynical kleptocracy.
Even with religious supports, revolutionary fervour is unlikely
to survive longer than one generation. And, since Islam, considered
either in its traditional forms or in the modern reformulations,
has no answers to the questions that really face Egypt, there will
be a new ruling class, with a new legitimising ideology, and new
barriers to entry to keep up average incomes for its members. Except
they will continue to benefit at second hand from scientific and
technical progress elsewhere, most ordinary Egyptians will be no
better off nor worse off than under the government they have just
pulled down. All that can be said is that they will have a government
more acceptable to their cultural values.
What this revolution
means for the nations of the West is less obvious. What has just
happened in Egypt will probably be repeated in Jordan and in Saudi
Arabia and in various other countries. It is reasonable to suppose
that the Arab Islamic world will become a regional alliance of states
hostile to Western values and generally hostile to the West.
Now, I am not
about to drift off into some neoconservative rant about Islamofascism
and the need for a new Cold War, or another set of Crusades. I suppose
the Israelis will find life rather harder, without all those corrupt
Arab rulers they have been dealing with in private since about 1973.
But that is an Israeli problem and the Israelis are clever
enough and ruthless enough to make whatever threats and accommodations
will ensure their survival. For every other Western people, the
loss of the Middle East will mean somewhere between nothing very
much and modest good fortune.
In the first
place, there will be no disruption to the oil trade. Every oil exporting
country in the Middle East is as desperate for our money as we need
the oil. Whether the people in charge are secular dictators or divine-right
monarchies, or excitable young men with beards, the basis for trade
will remain. Oil will continue flowing out of the region until scientific
and technical progress provide us with more convenient alternatives.
Once more, this assumes that the Americans will behave more sensibly
than they did in Iraq or have with Iran. I suspect they will be
forced to behave sensibly, however. In Iraq, they lost militarily,
and its costs at home have contributed to an approaching state bankruptcy.
In the second
place, a much more Islamic Arab world will be less inclined to sign
up to all the global police state treaties. It will stop co-operating
in the war on financial privacy, or in whatever lunacy about the
environment may be in fashion. It will probably allow the sale of
proper light bulbs or of full-strength vitamin pills. Already, the
Islamic world is a place of refuge from the despotism of Western
governments. Northern Cyprus and Morocco both have growing colonies
of Europeans who are on the run with their children from the social
workers. An Arab Islamic world impermeable to Western influence
is to be welcomed as a place of refuge. And the removal of one more
part of the world from its zone of control will slow the growth
of the global police state.
This is not
to say that the loss of the Middle East will destroy the New World
Order any more than it has been prevented from emerging by
the non-adherence of Russia and China. But it is a question of balance.
Confine the global police state to the white nations alone, and
it may become less dangerous.
I have been brief and have said all that I can about Egypt. Let
us now see how many of my predictions come true.
Gabb [send him mail]
is the author of Smoking, Class and the Legitimation of Power.
His book, Cultural Revolution,
Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England, and How to Get It Back,
can be downloaded for free. See his
© 2011 Sean Gabb