Monday, May 9, 2011

A Burkean In Egypt

I don't know who Amr Bargisi is--he's identified in the Jewish Review of Books as "the director of Programs at the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth"--but I like the cut of his jib:
What the Western media has been calling the "secular opposition" consists mostly of na├»ve pseudo-activists alongside many opportunists, mediocre thinkers, and madmen. This "youth revolution" with its incoherent mix of hopes, demands, and grievances, and its insistence on the stark opposition between the young and the old scares me, my own youth notwithstanding. When I visited Tahrir Square I thought of [Edmund] Burke: "but what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint."
Not that a people should endure the injustice of a despot for the sake of preserving stability and tradition. Burke acknowledges the right of people to dismiss their ruler by force, but only if all other means have been exhausted. This wasn't really the case in Tunisia, and even less so in Egypt. Dozens of former officials and business men are now facing house arrest, confiscation of property, or imprisonment without due process, and calls for an even deeper purge are filling newspaper pages and TV airtime.
"Days of rage" may topple a dictator—in Tunisia and here in Egypt, at least, they have—but they are unlikely to produce democracy, and neither is Egypt's more likely path. The constitutional reform that just passed is almost certainly a win for the military dictatorship that Mubarak led for so long, with perhaps a few seats at the table for the Muslim Brotherhood and others. In short, we are probably closer to Nasser's 1952 Free Officers Coup than we are to 1776. I wish that I thought otherwise.
Me too. Someone who does think otherwise is Natan Sharansky. In the same issue of JRB, he continues to generalize from the particular experience of Jewish Russian "refuseniks," insisting that, like all human beings, Egyptians and other Arabs long to be free. The problem with this way of thinking is the same as it was back when it influenced the Bush II neo-Cons: it fails to consider the history, appeal and hold of Islam, and how Islamic teachings are antithetical to the concept of freedom as we freedom-loving kafirs understand it.

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