I Told You So

Not that I’m happy about it, but I was dubious from the beginning about Egypt’s military taking control of the country after ousting Mubarak.

The violent reaction to Coptic protestors is just the more public evidence of how the Arab Spring is turning to a dismal winter in Egypt. Thanassis Cambanis writes in The Atlantic:

It’s hard to escape the feeling that Egypt’s January 25 Revolution is being eaten alive. It’s too soon to write it off, and too soon to predict that a full-fledged military dictatorship will rule the country for the foreseeable future; but that grisly outcome now is a solid possibility, perhaps as likely an outcome as a liberal, civilian Egypt or an authoritarian republic.

Eight months after a euphoric wave of people power stunned Egypt’s complacent and abusive elite, it’s possible to see the clear outlines of the players competing to take over from Mubarak and his circle, and to assess the likely outcomes. The scorecard is distasteful. The uprising — it can’t yet be fairly termed a revolution — forced the regime to jettison its CEO, Hosni Mubarak, in order to preserve its own prerogatives.

In the last two months, that regime has made clear how strong it feels. In September, in quick succession the military extended the hated state of emergency for another year, effectively rendering any notion of rule of law in Egypt meaningless; unilaterally published election rules that favor wealthy incumbents and remnants of the old regime, and that disadvantage new, post-Mubarak competitors; indefinitely postponed presidential elections, and refused any timetable for handing over authority to a civilian; reinstated full media censorship, threatening television stations and imposing a gag order on all reporting about the military; and the country’s authoritarian ruler, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, unleashed a personal public relations campaign on state television odiously reminiscent of Mubarak’s image-making. Furthermore, the government advanced its investigation of “illegal NGOs” that allegedly took foreign money, including virtually every important and independent dissident organization.

Taken together, these moves show a military junta fully confident that it can impose measures of control as harsh — or, in the case of widespread military trials for civilians, harsher — than those employed by Mubarak.

Meet the new boss.

Advertisements

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
This entry was posted in The Democratic Process. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to I Told You So

  1. AMW says:

    Yeah, my early optimism is significantly eroded for Egypt. And let’s not even talk about Libya. I suspect that the medium-term (5 – 10 year) outcome for states in the Arab Spring will be strongly dependent on how much force was required to overturn the original regime. Hence, I still hold out a lot of hope for Tunisia, am worried about Egypt, and await dreadful news from Libya.

    Also, after reading the comment thread on one of your links above I found that I made a bum prediction on the third state to fall. I had guessed Algeria. Am I qualified to be a pundit? Answer: Yes!

  2. Lance says:

    I remember a TV news piece after the Soviet Union crumbled. It was a sort of “man on the street” bit where an ABC reporter was asking people what they thought about their new freedoms. Most of the people were just grumbling about the lack of stuff in the markets and the reporter was trying to get them to show excitement over their new found liberty.

    One guy was griping about the shortage of meat in the market and spouting something about Stalin when a uniformed Red Army Lieutenant pushed him out of the way and said in perfect English “This man would trade his freedom for a potato.”

    At first I was flush with enthusiasm that a man that was part of the “evil empire” could show such a profoundly libertarian idea. Then I realized he was right. Most people are more interested in satisfying their primary physical needs than lofty concepts of liberty and freedom.

    If the Egyptian authorities can keep the food in the markets and the lights on they can probably impose snuff out any real political reform so long as no huge protests can be sustained.

    I have often wondered what became of that Red Army Lieutenant. I’d love to sit in a Moscow bar and share a couple of glasses of vodka with him.

  3. James K says:

    At first I was flush with enthusiasm that a man that was part of the “evil empire” could show such a profoundly libertarian idea.

    That doesn’t really surprise me, in many ways libertarians and totalitarians have a similar view of the nature of government and its relationship to the people. We just feel differently about those insights. For instance, the concept “War is the health of the state” could be accepted by libertarians and fascists.

  4. Dr X says:

    @Lance:

    Most people are more interested in satisfying their primary physical needs than lofty concepts of liberty and freedom.

    This is absolutely correct, but I’d take it further. Human beings are inherently ambivalent about freedom. There is a strong urge toward limitlessness in all things—an urge that is rooted in primitive grandiosity. There’s a primary wish to be everything: omnipotent, omniscient and totally free, without limit or constraint. The reactions of so many people to confrontation with their limits and their failings, strongly hints that they hold on to a fantasy of omnipotence, at least as an unconscious premise.

    But total freedom, total power and authority over one’s world (the mind isn’t libertarian at a basic level—total freedom for me means none for thee), is also a deeply troubling wish. If they’re paying attention, parents learn that despite their desire for no limits, children also need and want countervailing limits for physical and emotional safety and security. As people grow up, they internalize those auxiliary parental restraints. In the best of circumstances, impulses to live without limits are tempered by reality experience and constrained by a wiser self that senses the danger and imposes the restriction–in the best of circumstances.

    But the tempering of life without limits, and the internalization of the once auxiliary parental control, is far from uniformly successful; witness the ubiquitous human difficulty with realism and self-control. The pressure of desire for limitless and the fear of limitlessness is always a background tension in people. So many people have mixed feelings about wide-ranging freedom–they want a culture and/or government to place them in reassuring restraints. This is what Christian conservatism is about. Instead of government, it’s a religio-cultural constraint they impose on themselves and want to impose on everyone else. Jesus is auxiliary loving Mommy who picks them up after they have vulnerability exposing scrapes with reality, and God the Father is auxiliary Daddy who will punish them if they step out of line. But even that isn’t enough for many Christian conservatives whose primary fear seems to be their own impulses to freely indulge their sexual desires. They want government to impose restraints.

    There are questions that arise:

    Why should those with good judgment and adequate self-restraint be constrained because of those who have deep anxiety about their own impulses?

    If these anxieties are nearly universal, at least to some extent, does a high-degree of freedom create a very anxious society with a lot of misbehavior?

    I’ve often wondered if Christian conservatism thrives in the U.S. precisely because our high level of freedom creates a great deal of anxiety. Certainly in the US, conservatives clamor for more personal restriction, regardless of what they say about small government. It seems to me that they’re most concerned about big D.C. government because it gets in the way state government controls over worrisome impulses.

    But then in the Muslim world, where freedoms are more restrained, it seems that religious fundamentalism is alive and well anyway. Or maybe not. Maybe a lot of people in Iran are chafing at the degree of reassuring government control imposed upon their lives.

    Here’s some somewhat counter-intuitive thinking about liberalism & conservatism: is fear of their own limitless greed and financial treachery a fundamental unconscious fear of liberals? Do they clamor for more restraint in this area because of their unconscious fear of their own limitless greed? And is a primary unconscious fear of conservatives, the limitlessness of their sexual wishes. At least, IRT the latter, I don’t think there are many people other than conservatives who would disagree with that appraisal.

  5. Matty says:

    Well *I’m* not scared of my wishes for limitless financial and sexual success. Sadly the rest of the world disagrees.

  6. James Hanley says:

    I agree with what Dr. X says. It’s often said that libertarianism is an ideology suitable only for grownups, but of course in many ways most of us are never that grownup. And, of course, it’s an ideology that is often supremely attractive to adolescents, also for reasons articulated by the good doctor.

    “This man would trade his freedom for a potato.”
    That’s the essence of libertarianism’s failure in a nice pithy soundbite.

  7. Lance says:

    Dr X,

    You are certainly correct in most of your above conclusions. As a young man I foolishly, and philosophically unsuccessfully, tried to argue that a society that maximized “freedom” would be “better” for everyone than one that maximized “security”.

    I later realized that there are plenty of people that fear allowing others the freedom to do things that they find distasteful or immoral even if it has no direct effect on their own lives. Even more surprising to me, as someone that esteemed self-sufficiency above almost all other values, a large percentage of people place a very low value on personal autonomy and self reliance.

    At first I sneered at these people. Then I realized I could never be totally autonomous nor would I want to be. It was all a continuum. The question was where you felt comfortable drawing the line and there was really no one point on the line that was more correct,/i> than any other.

    I now see libertarianism through a different prism. Ideally a society would allow people on many different parts of that spectrum to pursue a life that satisfies them without imposing excessive restraints or risks onto others.

  8. Lance says:

    Maybe I should give up on those pesky tags. I seem unable to get through more than three of them with out botching it up.

  9. Troublesome Frog says:

    Every time I see this sort of thing, I think the same thing: A lot of us make the mistake of assuming that freedom and democracy are the natural state of things and that if only a totalitarian government will fall, a functioning state with well-protected freedoms will emerge automatically. This sort of thinking seems to have informed a lot of our foreign policy disasters.

  10. Lance says:

    Troublesome Frog,

    To quote an oft repeated (by Toby Keith types), but seldom considered in earnest, platitude,

    Freedom isn’t free.

    As Thomas Jefferson said,

    The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants.*

    Unfortunately that blood often nourishes the roots of another tyranny.

    * A T-shirt with these words was entered into evidence in federal court against Timothy McVeigh. He was wearing it when he was arrested. I wonder what ol’ T.J. would have thought about his words being used to convict some one, and sentence them to death, in federal court?

  11. James Hanley says:

    The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants

    Would Jefferson be surprised to learn the extent to which the categories of patriot and tyrant have come to overlap in contemporary America?

  12. Lance says:

    Can one truly be considered an American patriot while acting contrary to the spirit and letter of the constitution?

    Is not real patriotism defined as fealty to the constitution?

    Anything else is just gaudy nationalism.

  13. James Hanley says:

    Lance,

    Whose understanding of the spirit and letter of the Constitution?

    Or, more generally, I wouldn’t bother trying to define “real” patriotism anymore than I would try to define the “real” meaning of any such social construction.

  14. Lance says:

    James Hanley,

    Whose understanding of the spirit and letter of the Constitution?

    I hesitated to type the word “real” in front of patriot.

    Or, more generally, I wouldn’t bother trying to define “real” patriotism anymore than I would try to define the “real” meaning of any such social construction.

    But at some point there must be at least some kernel of the constitution, or social constructs to generalize, that we can agree about or it dissolves into unintelligibility. While I’m comfortable with shades of meaning I bristle at the notion that there exist no concrete principles.

    Maybe it’s the empiricist in me, but I find excessive appeals to relativism to be lazy sophistry. If everything can be “relativized” away it makes no difference what course of action we choose and any one action is the equivalent of another. No injustice can exist nor any virtue.

    Shooting you and taking all of your stuff stands equal to entering into mutual agreement.

    The physical universe is distinct, quantized and measurable (so far as I can tell) and so is my personal model of human endeavor. Perhaps this notion is fatally optimistic or self-indulgent but I see no point in contextual equivocation that blurs all meaning.

  15. Matty says:

    What has preferring virtue over injustice got to do with loyalty to a particular nation?

  16. James Hanley says:

    Lance,

    I agree with you. But the problem is an empirical one–we may not be able to definitively establish, in a way that can persuade all intelligent people, what that kernel is. I’d hope we can, but whether or not we can is not itself an issue of relativism, but an empirical one.

  17. Lance says:

    Matty,

    What has preferring virtue over injustice got to do with loyalty to a particular nation?

    My wife became an American citizen last year. She still identifies emotionally with her mother country Ethiopia. Organically she will always be an Ethiopian with a deep connection and loyalty to its rich culture and the indomitable spirit of its people.

    When she says she is an American she realizes it is a statement about the ideals of the constitution and not our “nation” in so far as that means its culture, geography or iconography.

    Being an America patriot is not a commitment to the land outlined on a map or the culture of this land, as rich and diverse as it may be. It is a commitment to the ideas and values that are expressed in the constitution.

    That is why the president and every US soldier, sailor, airman, marine and coast guardsmen take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

  18. Lance says:

    James Hanley,

    But the problem is an empirical one–we may not be able to definitively establish, in a way that can persuade all intelligent people, what that kernel is. I’d hope we can, but whether or not we can is not itself an issue of relativism, but an empirical one.

    I completely agree with this idea. That is why the constitution is a process not a formula. It approaches the issue asymptotically. Much as science is a process that approaches the true nature of the universe asymptotically.

    Closer and closer but never quite there. And yes there can be embarrassing missteps along the way.

  19. Matty says:

    Lance, good answer and I don’t have a good comeback. It still bothers me though the idea that principles I as a Brit agree with are seen as somehow ‘beloning’ to America

  20. Lance says:

    Matty,

    I think that the US constitution was just a step along the way. It was a big one, but just a step.
    I don’t claim that the US has a claim to the principles expressed in the constitution. They were a long time coming and can still be advanced.

    Other agreements between people and their government may end up being the next step.

  21. James Hanley says:

    It still bothers me though the idea that principles I as a Brit agree with are seen as somehow ‘beloning’ to America

    Well, we did just adopt them from you folks. The real complaint of the America revolutionaries wasn’t that there was something wrong with the British system, just that we weren’t really getting to share in its virtues. So, yeah, I can see why treating those principles as quintessentially American would be annoying; but it is sort of a back-handed compliment.

Comments are closed.