I’ve been writing about the Arab Revolution since the outset in a mood of sustained cynicism. It’s not that I don’t want the people of the Middle East and North Africa to be able to breathe free, to live in a spirit of tolerance and understanding, brought on by a mood of mutual respect, respect for the rights of others; it’s just that I don’t think they are capable of it; they have no mature civic tradition, just a long legacy of intolerance, often murderous in nature.
On my personal blog at the beginning of February I wrote Reflections on the Revolution in Egypt (http://anatheimp.blogspot.com/2011/02/reflections-on-revolution-in-egypt.html ) , making the following observation;
Revolutions are all very well when they produce the results one approves of, but they don’t always do that, do they? If you are reading the book Egypt please don’t make the mistake of reading Eastern Europe 1989; read Iran 1979. Here I find myself in complete agreement with Andrew Roberts, the conservative British historian, who said with regard to the situation in Egypt that we should abhor policy created by mobs and assume that all revolutionary change will ultimately be for the worse.
And so, sadly, it is proving. Last week saw a murderous attack by the Egyptian army on a demonstration by Coptic Christians in central Cairo, in which some twenty-six people are estimated to have been killed, a number deliberately crushed to death by armoured vehicles. It was, as the lead in this week’s Spectator said, the worst act of sectarian violence in Egyptian history, all the more shocking for having been encouraged by state television.
The Copts, who comprise some ten per cent of Egypt’s population, are an ancient faith community, with roots going back to the first century AD. They are the sons and daughters of Saint Mark the Evangelist, people ever mindful of his observation that “Every affliction tests our will.”
They certainly have been tested, with persecution, an ever present threat, getting steadily worse since the departure of Hosni Mubarak earlier this year. The Cairo demonstration was called after a church in Aswan province in the south of the country was deliberately destroyed by arson, part of a continuing pattern of violence against the Christian community.
There is nothing accidental in this; no, it’s all part of a rather sinister pattern. Many fear a new axis is emerging between Islamic fundamentalists and the army, the overseers of the revolution, determined, at all hazards, to maintain its long hold on Egyptian politics, not stopping short of murder.
With the Islamic Brotherhood poised to make substantial gains in elections scheduled for November and January, the army, heading the interim government, is clearly attempting to deflect attention from its own mismanagement by offering the Copts as a scapegoat, part of a long-term political strategy.
Last Sunday television news readers appealed for ‘honest Egyptians’ to come to the aid of the army, allegedly under attack from Christian “mobs”, all while soldiers were shown calling the Copts “sons of dogs”, one saying how proud he was to have shot a Christian in the chest. It was also falsely reported that America was preparing to send in troops to protect the Copts, lending weight to the old contention by the Islamists that the Christians constitute an alien element in Egypt’s midst, a fifth column. The result, as the Economist reports, was a miniature pogrom.
Afterwards radical Islamists were seen trying to set fire to a Coptic hospital where some of the injured were being treated. Still later the interim administration blamed the violence on a “foreign plot” intended to cause “the fall and fragmentation of the state.”
It would seem obvious that neither the army nor the radicals in the Islamic Brotherhood have any real interest in establishing a modern, secular democracy. Instead a new theocracy seems in the offing, backed by military force, a theocracy that will turn the Copts into permanent dhimmi, second class citizens in their own land, subject to forms of law at total variance with their own beliefs.
That’s one possibility. The other is the forms of sustained persecution that have all but destroyed Iraq’s ancient Christian community, and is likely to destroy that of Syria, hitherto a land of religious tolerance, if President Assad is allowed to fall. Western involvement in the region has been nothing but disastrous, based on the fallacious assumption that the Arabs want freedom and democracy, as we understand freedom and democracy, when there is no evidence at all to support such a conclusion.
In Reflections I made one other core observation;
What do the Egyptians want themselves? For some time now polls have shown that they want democracy…but they also want sharia law, a glaring contradiction. The source of law can be God or it can be the people; it can’t be both. Will another Nasser emerge – could the country take more of the absolute misery that he inflicted on it? – or someone altogether more sinister, more brotherly?
Nasser and the Brotherhood, a theocracy of tanks, that would seem to be the future of Egypt, that looks like being the outcome of the revolution that never was, all against a background of rotting jasmine.