Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Short Attention Spans

By Alan Caruba

The American Revolution, from the day in 1773 when tea got dumped in Boston Bay to the day in 1781 when the British were defeated at Yorktown took eight years. If it had been on television, the ratings would have fallen off in about two weeks.

My point is that, by the end of the second week of the turmoil in Egypt, it mattered less and less to those in the West that a million Egyptians were showing up in Cairo and Alexandria to demand Mubarak’s resignation or that demands for real freedom, real liberty in the Middle East are a very big deal!

Mubarak says he intends to stay in office until the election in September. He appointed a vice president, gave a pay raise to government workers, and has patiently waited for the crowds to grow tired of singing, chanting, listening to speeches, and to get on with their lives.

These events are cultural in nature.

Despite common ties with England, the colonists had been quite distinctly “American” for a very long time and didn’t like being treated poorly by the British crown and parliament. “No taxation without representation” became their rallying call.

Egyptians have been around a lot longer than Americans; several millennia in fact.

They have been Muslims since the religion was “introduced” by its early zealots in the seventh century A.D. Designed to appeal to Arabs in particular, but proclaimed as a universal faith to which everyone would have to submit, Islam put its stamp on Egyptians, just as it would on Persians and others throughout the Middle East, northern Africa, and into India..

It wasn’t that long ago that Egyptians were ruled by a monarch, King Farouk, crowned at age 16 and ruling until 1952 when a coup led by Gamal Abdel Nasser forced him into exile in Monaco. The defeat Egypt had suffered in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war would lead to the end of the king’s reign. Until then, from around the 1800s, the British had been deeply involved in Egypt, eventually wresting control of the Suez Canal from the French while the monarchy increasingly became a figurehead.

The British literally modernized Egypt, but by the end of World War Two, depleted in wealth to maintain their empire, they watched it drift away into new, independent nations. Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956 and continued to engage in wars with Israel. When Nasser died his successor, Anwar Sadat, made a cold peace with Israel and, shortly after, was assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Seated beside him that day was Hosni Mubarak, an air force general and, when he came to power shortly thereafter, he clamped down on the Muslim Brotherhood who wanted to turn Egypt into the same kind of hellish regime that was later imposed on Iran in 1979. As in Turkey earlier, Egypt installed a secular government whose military ensured that it stayed that way.

Most of this is unknown history to Americans who have already tired of seeing Egyptians in Cairo’s main square and, if they have paid any attention to the White House, know that President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Clinton have managed to say conflicting things about the uprising, looking and sounding clueless and foolish in the process.

Freedom, however, is not a joke and, thanks to the Internet, a lot of Egyptians, a lot of Iranians, a lot of Tunisians, a lot of Yemenis, and, in general, people through northern Africa, the Maghreb, and elsewhere in the Middle East would like to vote in legitimate elections where there are real choices among candidates and parties. They would like to live without secret police and other forms of oppression.

We tend to forget that George W. Bush’s aim when invading Iraq was to depose a dictator, to bring about democracy there, and to spread the message throughout the Middle East.

Mostly, the Egyptians would like to be rid of the endemic corruption that authoritarian regimes establish among a small, ruling elite that, in turn, discourages everything from owning a deed to one’s own home to being able to start a business without paying off several levels of bureaucracy and waiting a very long time.

The Egyptians want real opportunity, an energetic economy, and some form of actual democracy. Concessions are being made, but progress is likely to take a while.

The Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and all the other Islamists are in a race to gain control over the nations of the Middle East before freedom breaks out everywhere.

© Alan Caruba, 2011


Witch Doctor said...

How true; Americans have forgotten airplanes that were intentionally crashed into buildings in the name of Islamists.

Alan Caruba said...

@Witch Doctor. Good point! Wish I had included it in my commentary.

LarryOldtimer said...

Another great article, Alan. However . . . to start a small business in Egypt, 59 layers of the huge bureaucracy have to be paid off.

The people there certainly want freedom, and democracy, but they don't have the faintest idea about what form of government they want.

Our first stab at the sort of government to have resulted in the Articles of Confederation, which resulted in failure.

It took from 1776 to 1789, 13 years, for the Founding Fathers to get from revolution to a working government. And at that, there was a single religion to deal with, and a people of basically the same ethnic group.

George Washington's farewell address is an interesting read.

Alan Caruba said...

Yes, Larry, you are quite right. In my defense, I can't spell out the entire early years of America's history without losing the reader at some point...and not getting to the point I want to make.

Old writers learn these things.

Rich Kozlovich said...


Democracy as we understand it breaking out in Muslim nations? That is antithetical to Islamic thinking. That would require such a major cultural shift that I believe is impossible.

The Ottoman Empire ceased to exist after WWI. Modern Turkey was formed to fill that void for the Turks. Even the secular Muslim countries like Turkey can’t control it entirely.

In Afghanistan, this democratically elected government is going to hang a man for becoming a Christian.

Democracy doesn’t necessarily mean freedom. And it absolutely doesn’t mean freedom if Sharia is imposed by a “democratically” elected elite. Many of the worst dictators were elected.

Add religious intolerance to the equation and you have Islam.


Ronbo said...

I have no doubt there exists in Egypt millions of people who are secular and want a Western style democracy,however,over 90% of the population is Muslim and thus follow an ideology that is fascist in nature.

The math says that if you allow free elections in Egypt at this time it will be the Muslim Brotherhood that gets the majority of seats in the Parliament that in turn will elect a Prime Minister who sounds and acts like crazy A-jad of Iran.

Alan Caruba said...

@Rich & Ronbo: Americans tend to think that democracy is a magic cure-all, but you both correctly identify the problem in the Middle East--there is little in its culture that encourages the participation of its people in the governance of nations. Indeed, just the opposite. Islam has enslaved them and will enslave them.