A Few Thoughts on Egypt

For those of you who read this blog and don’t know already, Mohammed Morsi, former president of Egypt, was rendered the former President of that country on Wednesday by the army, backed by the Supreme Court. That Egypt’s bit of Arab Spring has gone in a rather undemocratic direction should have surprised no one.

Here’s why. 

First, Morsi was elected as the candidate of the political branch of the Muslim Brotherhood,  an organization which, in case you couldn’t tell from the name, backs making politics more Islamic–which, by the by, translates into less democratic. 

Second, if that wasn’t enough of a tip-off, the Egyptian cultural situation indicated that the land was not going to become democratic anytime soon. Why? Consider the following: thousands of years of native god-kings and foreign conquerors alternating until the Persians took over in the 6th century BC, after which the Greeks took it over during the reign of Alexander the Great. After this, a Greek general named Ptolemy took it over due to Alexander’s death, and his dynasty–which became Egyptian, eventually–reigned until Augustus Caesar formally incorporated it into the Roman empire. This state of affairs lasted . albeit under the Byzantine Empire for a few centuries, until the Arabs came out of their peninsula, riding to spread the name of Allah. 

The Arabs were replaced by Berbers, who were replaced by Kurds, who were replaced by the Mamelukes, who were taken over by the Ottoman Empire, who, after Napoleon took over Egypt, took it back and lost again to an Albanian, who ended up being booted by the British, who occupied the country for seventy-one years before leaving in 1953. While Egypt had some degree of autonomy under the British, said autonomy was not a representative government, but an autocratic one.

Afterwards, every Egyptian president–all three of them–until Morsi had some kind of relationship to the military and suppressed dissent of any kind. All of them were presidents for life, until Mubarak was ousted and Morsi took over–and proceeded to start granting all sorts of powers to himself and gloriously botching things.

To put it another way, it’s as if, for the first sixty years of our nation, our presidents were George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and William Henry Harrison–the last of whom was replaced by William Lloyd Garrison.

As we all know, however, that didn’t happen. Why?

Because, when we had our War of Independence, we had over a hundred and fifty years of managing our own affairs in self-governing fashion–Britain ruled with a light hand in North America until the 1760s–and an aversion to fully centralized authority. Egypt has neither, and is not likely to acquire either one in the very near future, as well as he added complication of political Islam. Also, as seen by how I named it, the American Revolution–wasn’t. It was an attempt to return to a previous order that could only be obtained, it was believed, by independence, rather than truly overturning the established order, as was the one in Egypt.

The latter very rarely ends well, as overturning governments tends to result in smashed bureaucracies, and those do bad jobs with water and sewage, trash pickup, and other necessary facets of modern society. This leads to desperation, and when people become desperate, democracy goes out the window, in the end.

In other words, fear the revolution, and remember that history matters, because history is what makes a culture into what it is–and culture matters when a society decides what to do for the future. Don’t assume that everyone has your culture, because not everyone has your history.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness


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