Sean Gabb on the Egyptian Revolution

Looks like I got this one right! SIG

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 204
12th February 2011

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.

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 popular will.

Egypt will 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.

Unless the Americans continue interfering in the country’s 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.

There – I have been brief and have said all that I can about Egypt. Let us now see how many of my predictions come true.

16 responses to “Sean Gabb on the Egyptian Revolution

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  2. Peter Watson

    I agree pretty well across the board with what you say, having worked in Egypt but suspect the MB will persecute Christians as it appears to be their sole source of entertainment. Either way Egypt is screwed but they will continue to sell oil. Egypt is the second largest recipient of US foreign aid. The Copts are however afraid – I know, I spoke with one about the situation just last week.

    • “I suspect the Moslem Brotherhood will persecute Christians as it appears to be their sole source of entertainment” – a most witty epigram, if you don’t mind my saying.

  3. Well, as I’ve often said, the Moslem world is having its Reformation. Large swathes of Christendom fell under the radical fundamentalists- they were called “Protestants” back then but in the modern lingo I suppose we’d call them “Christianists”- there was phenomenal quantities of blood spilt, and in the end everyone got bored with all that and we had a Scientific revolution instead. Then an agricultural one. Then an industrial one. Then we invented the oven chip, and utopia was achieved.

    There you go, history in one paragraph.

    So anyway, we had a “popular” revolution here in England, and it put a nasty religious maniac in charge. Banned Christmas and everything. Total barmpot. Then we got over that, too. They danced in the streets the day Cromwell died, so they did. And all without Facebook.

    I daresay the future is going to be much like the past. People will do awful things. People will die. Libertarians will say, “you don’t want to do that, you know”, and will be ignored. And so it goes on.

    The Christianists became, ultimately, the architects of our current totalitarian tendency. Sean may never become a Quaker, but as Nixon said, “We are all Quakers now”. Centuries later, and we’re still fightng the buggers, on the beaches and on the landing grounds, and on the doorsteps of our pubs where they make us stand to have a smoke.

    I do hope Islam’s version don’t evolve into something that nasty.

  4. Oven chips are disgusting, Ian. They are dry as stale cardboard. The trouble is, my dear wife won’t have a deep-fat-frier in the house…she says “it will smell”. No: oven chips, specially when cooked too hard and fast (“it will be quicker, and I’m just tired and want to go to bed” unquote) are like eating a piece of concrete. I hope the Egyptian Moslems’ new ministers come up with a better solution. specially for a nation that supplies so many p-p-p-potatoes to the world.

  5. David, this is why Moslems are allowed four wives; chances are at least one of them will have a deep fat fryer.

    ” [The man asked] ‘Who is more entitled to be treated with the best companionship by me?’ The Prophet said, ‘Your mother.’ The man said. ‘Why?’ The Prophet said, ‘Because she has a deep fat fryer, even when you have no wives.’ The man further said, ‘Who is next?’ The Prophet said, ‘Any woman who also has a Snack And Sandwich Toaster. Or a George Foreman Grill. Allah considers them about equal.’

    There is so much we can learn from other cultures.

  6. Oh dear! I suppose this is one way to discover whether Moslems have any sense of humour….

  7. Oh Sean, I think the legendary Islamic sense of humour is well known to all. Indeed, they take such a delight in comedy, so I’ve heard, that one only has to tell a Mohammed joke to one Muslim, and they will make sure that every Muslim hears it. And knows who told it, too.

    Fabulously jolly crowd.

  8. Bloody dangerous things, those deep fat friers.

  9. Christendom, of course, preferred to specialise in fat friars.

    (Hey, that’s funny! (Ed.)

  10. Careful, Ian B – I think the alleged obesity of the mendicant orders is a Hollywood stereotype.

  11. I would be content with only one wife, if only I could find one who would allow a deeply fat friar into the house, so that I could eat proper greasy hot crispy chips.

    Regarding the Moslems, I think they must not have any prob with this sort of thing, for wherever I go to visit chums among them, the house smells totally, all through, of deeply, seriously, multiply-refried, butter. If they can give me one of their wives, then, that’ll probably do for my proper chips.

    Remember: I live in “The North of England”. Card-dry-oven-chips simply will not do, any more.

  12. What’s a “George Foreman Grill”? Is it what my mother would have called “GOOD”? Can I have nicely greasy chips on it? And with salt and vinegar?

  13. Actually, guys and girls, I think Sean wants us to talk a bit about the Egyptian elections instead of this culinary stuff. Sorry…..

  14. You could shallow-fry your chips on your car bonnet in Egypt, it’s that hot.