It looks like the Egyptian armed forces have confiscated the revolution for the time being. They told the old man Mubarak he had to be reasonable and agree to save face with a simulacrum of power devolution. So, he agreed to resign. They told the revolutionaries on Tahrir Square that they could not have their immediate but largely symbolic victory: The shameful flight of the tyrant of thirty years in the wee hours of morning. Instead, they agreed to celebrate a formal transfer of power from one military dictator to another. I hate to admit it but I am relieved by these developments.
First, the snatched symbolic victory. I can certainly empathize. The French would have been unable to believe they had really changed the system had they not beheaded hapless King Louis the Sixteenth in 1793. That they also killed the Queen Marie-Antoinette a little later shows that blood drinking is addictive. Also, the English had beheaded a king more then a century before the French, largely for the same reasons: It’s not enough to beat your adversary, you have to annihilate him. We are primates, after all.
The Egyptian revolutionaries, with the real but limited wisdom of an old people feigned to assent to the surface change and broke out the fireworks to celebrate their false victory. For the time being, an Air Force general is replaced by the Head-Torturer-In-Chief. This is not equivalent to the fall of the Berlin Wall as Al Jazeera reported. But Al-Jazeera is a smart news beast, I think the comparison was about the crowd’s joy, not about the political reality of the event.
I have been watching the news on the French language channel TV5. The French news anchors are as dingbaty as their American counterparts or more. Those who manage them have enough sense though to bring forth some of the numerous experts on the Middle-East who live in France, as French citizens or as exiles from their native countries. The discussion on TV5 are less stereotypical and less cliché-laden than what I hear and see on American television Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh have been clearly out of their depth, as much as their left-liberal competitors, I would say. Here is my rule of thumb: I don’t like it when I have the feeling that I know more than nearly all those who express themselves in the media. Pundits who criticize Obama’s handling of this business don’t have a plan B, I suspect. President Obama did not lose Egypt. It was never his or ours to lose.
Mostly. I follow a French professor who is a native Arabic speaker, Hasni Abidi. I do this although he expresses typical French delusions about the knowledge, power, and influence of the American secret services. It’s a French mental illness. Perhaps it does not affect anything else and, how I wish their paranoia were justified! And I follow Fouad Ajami, an American professor who is also an Arabic speaker. Ajami has been consistently somber when he appears on CNN. I think he is waiting for the other shoe to fall.
Here is what I think will happen next. It’s also what I hope will happen. And, no, I am not confusing my wishes with reality. The armed forces of Egypt, some of whose leaders are younger and more aware of the world than a 80+year-old dictator, will shepherd the country to a gradual democratization. There will be honest elections in six months, or in one year, or in two years, or in five. This will give time for the democratic forces of Egypt to organize themselves into real political parties, to collect funds, to formulate their positions and to articulate them. If elections were held tomorrow, there is a good chance the Muslim Brotherhood would dominate them just because it’s well organized. That could (could) be the beginning of a democratic conquest of power by this ultimately undemocratic group. I know, it’s the reformed Muslim Brotherhood that professes to believe in elections and in a secular state. I am skeptical. I don’t trust people who want eventually to establish the rule of Sharia to be sensitive to the importance of separating religion from governance. Come to think of it, I don’t trust most Egyptians in this respect. Come to think of it, after many years of personal association with Muslims, I don’t trust many Muslims in this connection. In my book, they are guilty until they prove themselves innocent of the confusion between church and state.
I understand my own intellectual dilemma: I believe democracy is the aspiration of most people everywhere (like George W. Bush and his articulate spokeswoman Condoleeza Rice). Yet, as a student of French and English history and of Communism, I mistrust popular revolutions that start in the street. It’s obvious to my mind that they they often end in worse tyrannies than what they replace. Also, they produce aggressive states that will not and cannot leave their neighbors in peace. That’s why I think the outcome I predict is not the worst possible although it will disappoint in short order the aspirations of millions of Egyptians. I said “millions,” not “all.” I still have not seen a single djellaba, the normal garment of the peasantry, on Tahrir square.
There is a domestic aspect to the media tumult of the past two weeks that I am not generous enough not to enjoy. Liberal commentators are like an old lady stuck at the end of a too-long line for the restroom, dancing from one foot to the other. On the one hand, if President Obama has anything to do with Mubarak’s departure, it shows that he, Obama, has also joined the ranks of American imperialist manipulators. On the other hand, if he had nothing to do with the event, it demonstrates again the President’s momentous, historical incompetence. I incline to the latter, of course. He never did know what he was doing. Why would this be different?
Finally, I am not too worried about Israel. It’s not callousness. It think Israel is a big boy capable of taking care of itself. Beside, even if Egypt becomes more bellicose – not at all self-evident – Israel will be facing a weakened Egypt.