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Egyptian Liberals Pushed Closer To The Edge

The Egyptian non-revolution continues to push liberals to the margins even as the Army and the Islamists renegotiate the boundaries between them.

The latest demonstration of liberal impotence: the Egyptian government, despite strong pressure from Washington and other donors, insists on its right to supervise and watch over NGOs that receive funds from abroad.  Overwhelmingly these are liberal groups; without funding from Europe and America there would be little money  or technical support for the relative handful of Egyptian liberals seeking to build something like a western human rights movement in the land of the Nile.

There is no way the liberals can win this fight.  Having the fight at all publicizes the extent of their abject dependence on foreign funds. That makes them suspect to many average Egyptians. The right to be bribed by foreigners is not one that many Egyptians set much store by; to defend your organization’s right to receive foreign funds is to admit that you can’t survive on local support.

Game, set and match, really.

Some face saving way will likely be found for some designated groups to get foreign money even as the Egyptian authorities take credit for defending national sovereignty. But make no mistake: the marginalization of Egyptian liberals continues.

The military doesn’t want to throw them all the way under the bus.  The army likes to play the Copts against the Islamists, the liberals against the Muslim Brotherhood.  If the liberals disappear completely, the army loses its ability to triangulate and to look like wise rulers who take the views of all parties into account.

But the raids on NGO groups are a reminder: the core institutions and power structures that were there in the old Egypt haven’t gone away. And they can tweet all they want in Tahrir Square, but the liberals for now have absolutely no way of changing that.

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  • Luke Lea

    Can a highly inbred society — in which clan and tribal loyalties trump the rights of the individual — be a liberal democracy as we understand the term?

    If not, then for the foreseeable future at least the entire Middle East would seem to be a lost cause:

    The interplay between genes and culture is a poweful force in the world, and we may have to come to terms with that fact. See here.

    I’m not happy about this.

  • nadine

    You can only triangulate if all three corners of the triangle have some power. The liberals have none, now that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists have won 80% of the new parliament. As if that weren’t bad enough, the liberals can’t even get their act together to form one party and stage a united front. So it’s easy to crush them. Beside’s anti-Americanism sells, and somebody has to take the blame for the economic chaos. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Army certainly don’t intend to. Game, set, match.

    Meanwhile, as their darling Facebook revolutionaries get crushed, the NYT editorial page, reliably wrong as always, scolds the big bad Egyptian military to hand over power to the civilians more quickly. The NYT (and the Obama administration) really believe that the “moderate Islamists” [sic] of the Muslim Brotherhood are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

    Can you see, Mr. Mead, why conservatives argue among themselves whether Barack Obama is destroying American interests unintentionally because he is an incompetent ideologue, or whether he is a Manchurian candidate who is destroying them on purpose?

  • Luke Lea

    Here’s what I was trying to say re: hard won democracy:

    “In the West we had to move from tribalism, through city-states and small nations, through empire, feudalism, mercantile capitalism, and the industrial revolution to reach our present state of fragile open universalistic democracy (shrugging off communism and fascism along the way). Athens and Rome had a period of republicanism and democracy — at least voting and elections for free males — but this did not last and succumbed to autocracy and dictatorship with the growth of empire. The English were helped in the shedding of dominant kinship groups by the relative individualism of the Angles and Saxons, with their emphasis on the independent nuclear family. (See Alan Macfarlane’s ‘The Origins of English Individualism.’) Christian monogamy and the banning of cousin marriages by the Catholic Church helped to break down extended kinship groups and encouraged even more individualism.

    “This breaking up of tight kin groups by expanding ‘prohibited degrees’ (as far as third cousins) is perhaps not sufficiently appreciated. Think what it would have done to the Arab cousin-marriage system. In England the institution of primogeniture — inheritance by the eldest son — also helped prevent the dissipation of family fortunes produced by partible inheritance: division of the patrimony among all sons, common on the continent (and in China, but not Japan). It reduced the power of aristocratic clans by forcing the younger sons into the professions: the army, the law, and the church.

    “This move away from kinship and into the world of voluntary and non-kin organizations was in turn infused with the Protestant work and reinvestment ethic, and the Miracle happened. It did not happen all at once, but over several centuries of cumulative effort that fed on the new humanism and the growth of science and industry. As labor became ever more specialized and more mobile, family groups became ever less self-sufficient, and individuals became more and more dependent on strangers and on the institutions that made dependence on strangers possible: in particular, the rule of law and the enforcement of contracts.

    “And we had to do it by our own efforts, pull ourselves up by the social bootstraps, to make it stick. We have seen in Germany, in Italy, and in Spain how fragile this really is. Russia never did make it. France is always problematic. Latin America and the Balkans continue to be a mess. But in making this move we had to change the entire particularistic, communalistic, ritualistic, kin-dominated society that is natural to us, and we have to keep at it all the time….” [from: “The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind,” pgs. 69-70.]

    hat tip hbd chick

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Why are so many disappointed in the progress created by the Arab Spring?
    Islamic culture is incredibly backward, it was never going to make the leap to the most successful American Culture overnight, without taking all of the steps in between. Saying 80% of the Egyptian Parliament is going to be Islamic, is the same as saying 20% will not be.
    “Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.” Edmund Burke
    Mankind is now evolving thousands of times faster culturally than genetically, and Cultures advance at glacial speed. To expect the backward Islamic cultures to make huge evolutionary leaps, without first taking all the little steps in between, is unreasonable. It was always going to have to be this way, now the Islamic cultures will learn the value of separation of Mosque and State, as the Moslem Brotherhood will fail as badly as the Theocracy in Iran at providing for the needs of its people.
    Everyone now knows how the people of the western cultures live; they see it every day on TV, and they want it for themselves and their families. Everyone is now being steeped in the western cultural values of “The Right of Free Speech”, “The Right to Carry a Gun”, “The Right to a Jury of your Peers”, “Capitalism works better than Communism, or Socialism”, “Only Democracy can Confer Legitimacy on a Government”, etc… this should speed the evolution of the Islamic cultures, but they must still learn all the lessons in between, from where they are now, and the culturally superior west.
    It’s hard to hide from a starving Egyptian the simple fact, that even the poor in America are FAT, I doubt they will be patient with the Moslem Brotherhood.

  • Luke Lea

    @ Jacksonian libertarian – “Mankind is now evolving thousands of times faster culturally than genetically, and Cultures advance at glacial speed.”

    You would think so. I did until recently. But now there is evidence that evolution has sped up since rise of large-scale civilizations. The reason is that the chance of a favorable mutation is greater in larger populations.

    Even in the absence of new mutations (such as the gene for lactose tolerance) consanguineous marriage customs can magnify the importance of kin selection — i.e. the natural tendency we all feel to favor close kin over non-relatives. This kind of gene-culture interaction is something we are just beginning to understand.

    It can be changed however. For instance in societies in which female fertility is below the replacement level there are very few cousins to marry. After several generations such societies might be thoroughly outbred. At least I think so, though I haven’t done the math.

  • Y.

    @Jacksonian Libertarian,

    It is possible that after after trying Islamist parties (for who knows how many years), the street would end up at a nice democracy. However, this is not the only endgame. Another endgame for example would be the ‘everybody/lots of people/ die’ scenario.

    This other scenario could happen if they get WMDs (judging by Iran’s example, quite doable), or if their economy collapses to mass starvation levels, or if the post-Islamist endgame collapses to a civil war. All of this is quite possible, and if some current administrations’ policies are continued, not unlikely.

  • Kris

    It would be interesting to know how much Saudi and Gulf money makes its way to the Brotherhood and other Islamic groups.

    “Saying 80% of the Egyptian Parliament is going to be Islamic, is the same as saying 20% will not be.”

    Now consider how much of those 20% are Christian. The election results have taken even the pessimists by surprise.

    “It’s hard to hide from a starving Egyptian the simple fact, that even the poor in America are FAT, I doubt they will be patient with the Moslem Brotherhood.”

    Don’t you understand? It’s because those evil Americans are stealing Egypt’s food!

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