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Arab Spring, or Arab Thermidor?

In Egypt, the Arab Spring feels more like an Arab “Thermidor.” Thermidor, one of the summer months of France’s revolutionary calendar, was the month in which Robespierre was overthrown and sent to the guillotine. Today, it’s generally taken to mean the end of the most radical phase of a revolution, or the beginning of the backlash. We may be witnessing that phase in Egypt.

Recent Egyptian presidential election polls show a surge of support for Mubarak’s former prime minister and air force chief, Ahmed Shafiq, coming largely at the expense of Muslim Brotherhood candidates. Despite widespread respect for the Muslim Brotherhood’s resistance pedigree, and for moderate political Islam in general, many ordinary Egyptians have grown dissatisfied with the direction of the country since the Brotherhood-led Parliament came to power earlier this year. Crime and lawlessness have increased dramatically. Poverty, even by the standards of an Egypt familiar with tough times, is becoming unbearable for some.

All of this plays into Mr. Shafiq’s hand. He brands himself as the “law and order” candidate, and his performance shows that many Egyptians prefer law and order and security over other priorities, like democracy and women’s rights. He has especially strong support among the poor, agricultural communities in the Nile Delta where residents had voted overwhelmingly for the Muslim Brotherhood in parliamentary elections. Large numbers of Egyptians are fed up with the treacherous politics of a revolution; they hunger for normalcy.

Whether or not Shafiq wins the presidency, the mere fact that an official of the hated Mubarak government is able to muster this kind of support shows that idealistic revolutions, even popular ones, don’t solve economic or social problems overnight, and sometimes make them far worse. More so than his rivals, Shafiq offers concrete proposals to combat fuel, food, and electricity shortages, and he plans for security and stability. Who can blame Egyptians for voting for those things?

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  • SteveMG

    Re thermidor: “Today, it’s generally taken to mean the most radical phase of a revolution, after which more normal processes give way.”

    I had always thought that the Thermidorian reaction in France signalled the END of the more radical phase and wasn’t a part of that period. The denouement, if you will, of the terror period.

    Harsh measures, to be sure, that ended a harsher period.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    It would be shocking if the backward Egyptian culture could evolve into an advanced western culture, with Capitalism, Democracy, and the Rule of Law, all in one step, and without taking any of the steps in between. That a step the French took Thermidor should occur in Egypt as well seems very reasonable to me.

    “Cultures Evolve at Glacial Speeds” Jacksonian Libertarian

    “Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.” Edmund Burke

  • Peter Mellgard

    @SteveMG, thanks for the heads up, it was an editing error. The intern responsible has been…dealt with.

  • Art Deco

    It would be shocking if the backward Egyptian culture could evolve into an advanced western culture, with Capitalism, Democracy, and the Rule of Law, all in one step, and without taking any of the steps in between.

    The list below are countries which have a lower standard of living than Egypt (manifested in per capita income assessed at purchasing-power-parity as reported in the CIA World Factbook). The political order of all of them has been characterized by an absence of generalized insurgency and the presence of competitive electoral politics for periods of time ranging from 20 years to 60-odd years. As for the rule of law, Arab and Near Eastern countries tend to have fairly low homicide rates. Turkey and Iraq have been the notable exception in recent years.

    Cape Verde
    Solomon Islands
    Papua New Guinea
    Marshall Islands
    Micronesia, Federated States of
    Sao Tome and Principe

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