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31 January 2011

Crawl like an egyptian

Hanson:

So what’s the matter with Egypt? The same thing that is the matter with most of the modern Middle East: in the post-industrial world, its hundreds of millions now are vicariously exposed to the affluence and freedom of the West via satellite television, cell phones, the Internet, DVDs, and social networks.

And they become angry that, in contrast to what they see and hear from abroad, their own lives are unusually miserable in the most elemental sense. Of course, there is no introspective Socrates on hand and walking about to remind the Cairo or Amman Street that their corrupt government is in some part a reification of themselves, who in their daily lives see the world in terms of gender apartheid, tribalism, religious intolerance, conspiracies, fundamentalism, and statism that are incompatible with a modern, successful, capitalist democracy.

That is, a century after the onset of modern waste treatment science, many of the cities in the Middle East smell of raw sewage. A century after we learned about microbes and disease, the water in places like Cairo is undrinkable from the tap. Six decades after the knowledge of treating infectious disease, millions in the Middle East suffer chronic pain and suffer from maladies that are easily addressed in the West. And they have about as much freedom as the Chinese, but without either the affluence or the confidence. That the Gulf and parts of North Africa are awash in oil and gas, at a time of both near record prices and indigenous control of national oil treasures, makes the ensuing poverty all the more insulting.

[...]

I don’t particularly like Mubarak and will be glad to see him leave, but please spare us the condemnation that we “made” him. We did not. He is a reflection of the pathologies above, and would have to be invented had he not existed. He could not have come to power without an underlining culture of tribalism, gender apartheid, religious intolerance, and statism. And he has less blood on his hands than did the once beloved “authentic” Nasser.

What’s next? “Finger-in-the-wind” diplomacy may work for a while, but it requires deftness that follows conditions on the street in a nanosecond to avoid appearing purely cynical (a skill beyond Hillary, Biden, and Obama). I think in this bad/worse choice scenario we might as well support supposedly democratic reformers, with the expectation that they could either fail in removing Mubarak or be nudged out by those far worse than Mubarak. Contrary to popular opinion, I think Bush was right to support elections in Gaza “one time” (only of course). The Gazans got what they wanted, we are done with them, and they have to live with the results, happy in their thuggish misery, with a prosperous Israel and better-off West Bank to remind them of their stupidity. All bad, but an honest bad and preferable to the lie that there were thousands of Jeffersonians in Gaza thwarted by the U.S.

So step back and watch it play out with encouragement for those who oppose both Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood— hoping for the best, expecting the worst.

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