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In Cairo, a demoralizing spectacle

This time ‘people power’ returned Egypt to the Mubarak era, only worse.

Since I spend most of my writing time denouncing the Israeli public for its rotten political inclinations, I think I have the right to call it as I see it about the Egyptian public, which has really put on a show these last few days.

One of the polite hypocrisies of democratic society is that the public, in any country, is fundamentally good, that it wants good things, that it’s entitled to have what it wants, and that when masses of people are suffering and crying out for an end to their suffering, they are the good guys and all good people everywhere should root for them to win, to get their way. I had no problem going along with that idea in January-February 2011 when the Egyptian people overthrew Mubarak. But this time?

Look at what “people power” just did in Cairo. It overthrew the first elected president in Egypt’s history – a year after he got elected. It was a military coup – backed deliriously by the people. And look at what’s happening now – the army has arrested the elected president, Mohammed Morsi, and all the other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and is calling the shots again with its old buddies from the pre-revolution era, who are back in business. And “the people,” the millions who filled Tahrir Square this week, are triumphant. They willed the return of military dictatorship to Egypt, after willing its downfall two-and-a-half years ago.

And good people everywhere are supposed to sympathize with them. Sorry. This is demoralizing. The Egyptian people have just demonstrated the fatal flaw of left-wing idealism – which is that the people are no better than their leaders, and the injustices of the world are rooted in the basic workings of human societies.

I understand that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were not a stellar bunch; I can very well understand why masses of Egyptians would have wanted to get rid of them. And from what I read, the original goal of the Tamarrud (Rebellion) petition movement was to compel Morsi to call elections, which would have been completely legitimate. But it seems things got out of hand – the people put on an awesome show of strength in Tahrir Square, their leaders teamed up with the military, and new elections were no longer enough; they wanted upheaval now. And the army gave it to them.

And now, with the army in control and the Muslim Brotherhood – a year ago the most popular political movement in the country – on the run, it’s as if Mubarak never left. The difference is that the threat of civil war is much greater, and the dream of free elections is now a joke. Elections have just been grossly devalued in Egypt. The losers are no longer under any compunction to respect the results. I don’t know if elections are worth anything in that country anymore. And if elections aren’t worth anything, neither is democracy. We’re back to might makes right.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Philos

      Good article Larry but I think you’re confusing “left-wing” with liberal. A proper left-wing view is that nothing will change if the state itself isn’t overthrown. A liberal view is that if you change the leadership, make it more plural, progressive, more “people” friendly, then somehow the state will change its authoritarian and violent character. In that sense the Salafists are more left-wing than the Brotherhood and even the protesters

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        “The Egyptian people have just demonstrated the fatal flaw of left-wing idealism – which is that the people are no better than their leaders, and the injustices of the world are rooted in the basic workings of human societies.”

        Reasonable premise. What is your preferred solution for this fatal flaw of left-wing idealism and ideology?

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          My mistake. Wasn’t meant as a reply to Philos..

          Reply to Comment
    2. rsgengland

      Morsi achieved very little, if anything, in his one year in office.
      He appeared to be following in the footsteps of that “great man in Istanbul”, by working to entrench himself and his party for ‘permanent rule’, by disenfranchising the opposition.
      It doesn’t appear that any effort or planning was ever put forward by Morsi or The Muslim Brotherhood, to deal with Egypts problems, like a spiraling population, a weak economy, endemic poverty, poor education, and extremist attitudes and actions toward and against minorities.
      Whether the next Egyptian Authorities can come to grips with these issues, is the BIG QUESTION.
      For the Egyptians we can only hope.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Joel

      Larry.
      You are well-nourished, safe from crime, able to put food on your table and express your opinions.

      Aren’t you superimposing your values on the average Egyptian, who has nothing compared to you?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Giora Me'ir

      The regularly scheduled electoral process was untouched by Morsi. Therefore, the coup was illegitimate and marks the end of the democratic experiment in Egypt. I doubt many true “leftists” support this.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Richard Witty

      The reason that this transpired this way is that in the Egyptian Constitution there is no provision for a vote of no confidence.

      Morsi was in power for 3 more years with much heavier executive powers than the US president, close to Putin level of power, including the power to suspend the legislature.

      There is no question that the relationships of power are complex, with greedy and power-seeking individuals and factions.

      It is also now apparent that there is no faction that controls enough power to establish a dictatorship, even the military.

      All must abide by popular consent.

      The only real danger is if the people themselves are so divided that they will harm rather than reconcile.

      I looked at the body language of the general announcing the coup, and it didn’t appear to me to be the haughty, “we are now in charge” stance of most coups.

      It did seem to me as the stance of “noone else is going to apply the declaration of no confidence, we will.”

      I think its likely to end well, with a better constitution and restoration of free elections and parliament.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Be as skeptical of the public as you are of politicians.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        “the injustices of the world are rooted in the basic workings of human societies”

        So are you still a liberal then if you don’t trust people to be decent absent authority?

        Reply to Comment
    7. Swanson Tudor

      “The masses go to far!” and “don’t know what is best for themselves” is typical liberal analysis when it comes to powerful popular movements. For many Egyptians their Arab Spring and the fall of Mubarak was not an end but the start of a revolution and struggle for actual popular democracy that will continue after this ouster of Morsi. As shown by many statements coming out in the last few days, I doubt the Left and others in Egypt have many illusions about the Military.

      Reply to Comment
    8. c123

      It’s good to question the wisdom of overthrowing democratic institutions, but in this case, Morsi broke the social contract first. Morsi decreed on November 22 that he had “unlimited powers” to protect the nation, and to legislate without judicial review of his legal acts as President. Those are the acts of a strongman, not a democratically elected president operating within the boundaries of a constitutional system.

      I think the military is now smart enough to know that the Egyptian people will not tolerate another Mubarak-like regime. To wit, the second Morsi tried to grab absolute power for himself, Egypt rebelled. I imagine they’ll do the same if the military does not conform to the expectations of the Egyptian people.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Danny

      Who had the most to gain by getting rid of Morsi and the M/B? The army, of course, but who else?

      Was it the people? Not really. Morsi was elected a short year ago by a wide margin by the people, many of whom still support him and the M/B.

      So, who, then?

      Who could gain (at least in their twisted minds) by fomenting anarchy and political and societal breakdown in a country it perceives to be a potentially grave threat?

      Hmm, I wonder who it could be…

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard Lightbown

        Perhaps it was the same North American country that would have approved of the same Egyptian army bulldozing the Gaza tunnels this week.

        Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        A country which is not even capable to feed its population, can’t be perceived as a threat by anyone who has any kind of mind (twisted or not)

        Reply to Comment
    10. “The people” is not a single entity. At best, a single outcome/view predominates through their acts, but that very action will change socio-economic relations among people, thereby transforming “the people,” just as post election policy can change dispositions in the electorate. Egypt has significant urban unemployment (and by “people” mostly the urban are meant here), facilitating quick mobilization based on label and news/rumor. I expectt the MB to benefit from the same as well. Electorally, Morsi never had a real positive majority. He and the MB failed to understand that only a broad coaltion might–might–pacify mass mobilization, perhaps not suprising in an organization semi-clandestine for decades. The army will pacify mobilization violently, checked perhaps by the US. People, not “the people,” have to have something to do in urban settings. The draw of demonstrations must have a grounding in other social relations–this the present vacuum.

      Reply to Comment
    11. David

      A suggestion, once again. Promote vigorous discussion on these pages; do not allow unadulterated racism. To call Egyptians “savages” is not legitimate comment.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        People who are throwing each other off roof tops (mutilate genitalia of females, trade organs of refugees, etc.) are savages whether you like it or not.

        Reply to Comment
    12. Trespasser, what you’re writing is borderline racism. If mutilating female genitalia is savagery, so is mutilating male genitalia. There are things Israelis have done that’s more savage than throwing people off roofs. (I don’t know what you’re referring to by trading organs of refugees, but Israeli doctors remove the organs of destitute people selling them, and Israelis are eager buyers of black market organs, wherever they come from. I don’t want to ban your comments, but if you continue in this vein, I will.

      Reply to Comment
    13. 1. Don’t make excuses for Jewish savagery upon our children. We mutilate our infant boys’ penises not for health reasons, but because our religion commands us.
      2. You think throwing someone off a roof is uniquely savage, worse than anything Israelis have ever done to Arabs? That we don’t do it to other Jews doesn’t mean we’re less savage, maybe we’re just more into the chosen people, master race thing.
      3. Read Haaretz’s recent stories about Israeli doctors’ involvement in a Costa Rican-based organ trafficking ring.
      4. Sure, and everybody’s complicit.
      Trespasser, why don’t you go write borderline racism somewhere else. I’m banning your comments here.

      Reply to Comment
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