Losing Sight of What Matters in Egypt and Beyond

by Jack Ross


The neocons are regrettably all too skillful in their use of the big lie — in this case, the maddening whopper that the protesters in Egypt and beyond are carrying out the global democratic revolution proclaimed by George W. Bush.  Increasingly, this lie is premised on the bald-faced lie which the neocons are getting away with shockingly easily, that the opposition movement Iran favors regime change toward a secular regime.

Leon Hadar’s new essay, while thought provoking to be sure, is symptomatic of too many intelligent conservatives taking mindless talk of democracy, not just by the neocons to be sure, too seriously.  Iran may be an ideal case in point — I would hope that the specter of Egypt would move the ayatollahs to make the pragmatic move of leading by example in bringing the loyal opposition in from the cold.  If, as today’s events make clear, heads have to be knocked together to bring this about, so be it.

The specific comparisons to 1848 are certainly interesting, but I’m not at all sure that they’re mutually exclusive to comparisons to 1989 or even 1919.  If we are seeing the birth of an Arab world with nominally democratic governments that have thrown off the yoke of the American empire — and this, not “democracy”, is the real issue here — it may be less 1848 than 1648, in which the foundations of an entirely new and unprecedented order are being laid.  As a Burkean, I’d like to think that there’s something positive to be said for reform over revolution, if revolutionary upheaval is nevertheless necessary to bring it about.  No doubt the Burkean ideal will scarcely ever take place in any of these upheavals, but the new order will surely be somewhere in the mean between that and Hadar’s more pessimistic scenario.

Finally, a related point about Islam and democracy is in order.  The program of the Muslim Brotherhood and related movements seem to be the first sproutings of a genuine organic democracy in the Muslim world, coming along roughly the same timeline as democracy did in the history of Christendom at about 1400 years.  These will not be liberal democracies as we understand them, but we must remember that the first parliamentary systems of Europe, namely the English and the Dutch, began organized along religious sectarian partisan lines.

That this will come about through a genuinely liberatory advent – the liberation of the Arab world from the American empire, throwing off the last lingering legacy of the ideological horror of the 20th century, is surely an extremely good omen.

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