Oh this is very good but I feel bad quoting the whole thing…
Imagine one morning that you wake up to find the newspaper you have been reading for years is offering a totally new picture of the world. It says that yesterday’s great and good were no more than a bunch of hoodlums engaged in all manner of misdeeds and that yesterday’s unquestionable truths were hollow.
This is what has happened to Egypt’s most-read newspaper, Al-Ahram (The Pyramids), after the revolt that forced Hosni Mubarak out of office after 31 years. I have read Al-Ahram for decades, not out of masochism but because it has reflected the mindset of Egypt’s rulers since the 1952 coup that derailed its historic development. Al-Ahram coined new phrases to praise the dictator as it polished his boots.
Now the same paper, with the same editors and columnists, is telling us how Mubarak plundered Egypt while sending its best children to prison. A columnist reputed to have reflected the dictator’s thinking claims that for years he wanted to tell the truth about “that evil man” but was terrorised by the mukhabarat (security services).
That must be so bizarre. I wonder how many people are actually surprised. I mean, if Fox News came out and said that everyone’s darkest theories about GW Bush were true but they stuck to the adulation (as if they did but let’s say for the moment they did) because they were threatened by the NSA, there’d be have the country that would be all “I knew it!” and the other half that might be surprised but at least knew that the other half was already convinced.
Anyway here’s probably the most interesting part:
How did this happen and why so fast? What looks like an Arab 1848 reflects the spirit of the time. Most Arab states gained independence after the Second World War. The romantic vision of Arab unification captured imaginations from Benghazi to Baghdad as they played backgammon in drab teahouses. Its iconic leader was Gamal Abdel Nasser. Within a decade, nationalists had won power in eight Arab states, always with a military coup. However, Arab nationalism was mortally wounded in June 1967 when Israel routed the combined forces of the Arab League. The 1960s were dominated by “Arab socialism”, which produced nothing but despotism and war, and the 1970s by Islamism. More than 200,000 lives were lost in Algeria as Islamists tried to dislodge Arab socialists.
In the 1980s, the Arabs were promised their version of “get-rich” capitalism starting with Egypt’s infitah (liberalisation) strategy. In a decade all Arab states moved towards the market economy. But Arab capitalism turned out to be a subterfuge for plunder by a few. Its iconic leader, the Tunisian despot Zine Al Abedine bin Ali, was more Al Capone than Adam Smith.
Nationalism, socialism, capitalism and Islamism, all with an Arab prefix, proved to be nothing but different masks for despotic rule. They all failed, and there is no echo of them anywhere in the unfolding revolt. Today the main slogan is: “Freedom, freedom now.” It is the first time in decades that large numbers of Arabs have gathered together without burning the American and Israeli flags or shouting: “Death to the Infidel.”
Anyway, on the other hand (and sure, he’s never going to be a cheerleader, but he makes some good points):
The great philosopher of the nation-state, Roger Scruton, has often written about the importance of the former for the latter. Among other things he has pointed out:
Democracy involves the ability to grant a share in government to people with whom you profoundly disagree, including people of another faith. This is possible only where government is secular, and where nevertheless people revere the process of government as the expression of a shared national identity.
A society of citizens is a society in which strangers can trust one another, since everyone is bound by a common set of rules… it means that trust can grow between strangers, and does not depend upon family connections, tribal loyalties or favours granted and earned.
For Scruton, the nation-state is the “society of strangers”, against which he compared the world of tribes, quoting the Arab saying: “I and my brother against my cousin; I and my cousin against the world.”…
In Europe, such societies of strangers took centuries to build, and grew slowly and organically around a sovereign. And in pre-national societies the overthrow of a sovereign rarely – in fact, never – leads to European-style democracy, not least because the tyrants who replace them owe their loyalty to their tribe or clan. In contrast, a monarch is a unifying figure and one tied by a mystical and eternal relationship with his people. The least corrupt Arab states – Qatar, UAE, Oman, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – are all monarchies; the most corrupt – Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria and Egypt – are all republics. Democracy may grow in the Middle East – no one knows – but it is not “prejudiced” to point out that the soil is not fertile. Its best prospects are probably in conservative constitutional monarchies such as Jordan, under a compassionate and humane ruler like King Abdullah, rather than in republics built on nothing but mindless optimism.