The Revolution Wanders From The Script
Published on: February 3, 2011
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  • Excellent historical perspective and analysis. I’m somewhat pessimistic. Here’s what I wrote two days ago:

    It is said that a second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience. Right now, the optimism that I hear from the administration and the MSM in the midst of a very fluid situation sounds very much like the hope for the second marriage.

    The problem with the optimism that many are expressing for the revolutions in the Middle East is that, while there are many examples of happy marriages, there are no examples of democratic Islamist regimes. The Middle East was substantially converted to Islam following the dictates and example of Muhammad who’se rule and religion was spread by the sword. This situation has not changed substantially since Mohammad’s death in 632. Before Mohammad the region was ruled by Romans, king and Pharaohs; after him it was ruled by Caliphs. There is no – zero – example of Democracy in the Middle East with the exception of Israel and a very shaky state – Iraq – which was created, nurtured and shaped by the American military following the invasion under George Bush. To repeat, there is no history or political culture of representative government in the Middle East.

    The one unifying factor in the region is Islam, a religion that demands submission to its political and theological dictates on pain of death. Not since Henry the Eight created the English church and became its political head have rulers held such secular and religious power.

    It is said that in every human breast there is the desire to be free. Perhaps, but it’s also true that in many human breasts is the desire to force others to our will. To believe what we believe and agree with our ideas. In the dominant culture in America that wish is expressed in the demand that Glenn Beck should be fired, that Rush Limbaugh should be banned and Sarah Palin should shut up. In many Islamic countries it’s expressed in beheading, hanging or stoning.

    The Egyptian people have been misruled by Mubarak for decades. But he’s not the first or the worst. The people in the Middle East have been misruled for centuries. If the levelers in America were truly concerned about wealth discrepancies, they would slink away from criticizing American wealth disparities and focus on the truly incredible differences between the rich and the poor in Africa and the Middle East.

    With no history of democracy and a culture and religion that disdains individual freedom, the concept that democracy will spring from the revolutions that are now engulfing the region is unrealistic. Remember what we were told about the revolution in China: that Mao was an agrarian reformer. Castro was sold as a freedom fighter. We helped overthrow the Shah to usher in a repressive theocracy despite a population that favors Western values.

    And, God help us, we have a President who really doesn’t like the America he was elected to lead.

    I would like to be wrong, but Democracy is a rare flower; repression and authoritarianism is the global rule not the exception. Hoping and wishing that the people of Egypt will throw off the yoke of literally millennia of repression – all by themselves – and usher in the rule of law and a representative government is as believable as the Easter Bunny.

    I pray I’m wrong, and would love to have to eat my words in a year. But the odds are loaded heavily in my favor. The problem is, if I’m right, we lose and so do the poor people of the Middle East.

  • Coalition regimes have a history of being just a halfway mark on the route to oppression, by design: Remember Stalin’s Comintern, Ho’s Viet Minh, Ortega’s Sandinistas? A post at http://www.granitesentry.com.

  • Mike

    The “Glorious” Revolution and the American Revolution were revolutions in name only. 1688 wasn’t exactly one of the wilder years in 17th century England. The Puritan Revolution was much more so.

    The rebellion in the United States was a reaction to Britain’s attempt to change the status quo. What was revolutionary is the establishment of a republic that survived.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @ Mike: They were revolutions only in name if we accept that Revolutions like the French Revolution are the real thing and that ours are just pale imitations. 1688 and 1776 did what revolutions do: introduce rapid change that is also long lasting — but they did it without all the muss and fuss of other revolutions.

  • As I watch events unfold in Egypt I keep flashing back to V.S. Naipaul’s account of the 79 Iranian revolution which gives a heart rendering account of the naivete of the democratic reformers and their betrayal by the Islamists. Nonetheless I am getting more optimistic because it looks like the regime may hang on, sans Mubarak, and that there is a chance of reform rather than the chaos which I think would inevitably be subverted by the Muslim Brotherhood with Bolshevik efficiency.

    On a very different tack I would just point out that the simple minded support of the protesters as a force for good by the media is, apart form ideology, a function of the nature of television news. It is drama derived from the cinema which is derived from the theater which stretches back to Ancient Greece and beyond. Its function is to grip us emotionally and persuade us, not inform us. It needs good guys and bad guys. Mubarak (BOO HISS) Handsome Egyptian Protester (Cheer cheer). An Egyptian Lafayette? Too complex, too boring for a staring role.

  • Luke Lea

    This is some of the best reading available on the subject. Thanks.

  • Excellent historical perspective here. One big problem though is that the Obama administration is seriously flirting with the idea of opening a “dialogue” with the Muslim Brotherhood, i.e. the radicals, because very loud voices are insisting that this group has “moderated” and “renounced violence.” If it comes to power there will be a lot of blood on the administration’s hands.

  • I sometimes wonder why the major industrial democracies don’t get together and use their economic and financial muscle to incentivize certain minimal standards of civilization in the less-developed countries of the world. Right now, for example, WTO rules (tariff structures, access to financial institutions, travel) are fixed with little reference to the behavior of the regimes who are party to it. Sanctions, when they exist, are haphazard and post facto.

    We live in a unique historical moment, one in which the richest and most powerful countries in the world have the economic might to enforce such norms. It won’t last.

    I’d love to see Mead at least address this possibility — the diplomatic hurdles in particular.

  • Peter

    Mr. Mead, you hit the old nail square on the head when you closed with:

    “There is no magic stability potion that can make these troubles go away. The accelerating technological revolution irresistibly sweeping back and forth across planet Earth places stresses on many countries and many political systems that they are simply unable to bear.”

  • Americans had more rights before the revolution than people living in dictatorships in the Middle East and Central Asia. Americans living in colonies were asking same rights in taxation and more representation enjoyed by Englishmen in the UK. Otherwise, Americans had already self-government representatives in each colony. 13th century Magna Carta and English Common Law had already foundation to build civil society. French, Russian and Iranian revolutions failed to create open society due to non-existence of a framework of civil society norms. When I was taking international business course at the college, I was told that you have to know traditional way of doing business in every culture. For example, when you do business in Arab countries, you have to give ‘bakshish’, which means you have to bribe somebody to do your business. While our government has adopted Foreign Corrupt Practices act in 1977, corruption and bribery had never been transparent in those countries. Last year, our government paid 1.5 billion dollars federal aid to Egypt. Even some of that money were used to buy US merchandise, the rest was used for internal affairs like strengthening security forces used to persecute opposition. Under corrupt practices act, our government actually bribed Mubarak’s government to buy ‘stability’ and ‘peace’ in the region. Lack of democracy and its values have nothing to with Islam. The Western democracies had its share of dictators in 20th century – Mussolini, Hitler, Franko. There is still Lukashenko in Belarus and Russian authoritarian regime with Putin in command. At the same time, we have Muslim countries with democratic values at various levels – Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, UAE, emerging Kyrgyzstan, evolving Pakistan. If there is social vacuum in any society with no alternatives, it always is filled with radical extremes (religious, socialistic, nationalistic, etc).

  • An educational post. Very informative. I always enjoy reading your material. Thnx

  • Mark

    Just doing a little Meadian analysis:
    1)Jacksonians- power to the people side with the rebels
    2)Wilsonians- let’s teach them democracy-side with the rebels
    3)Hamiltonians- let’s keep the Suez canal open-sides with the regime
    4)Realists- lets maintain middle east security-sides with the regime
    5)Jeffersonians- Let’s avoid entanglement-stay the heck out of it.

    If there are any Jeffersonians left, they may have the most sensible approach.

  • HarGru

    Globalization and its global reallocation of labor has lessened the political and economic power of the people with jobs in developed countries in favor of outright unemployment or reduced wages due to job competition.

    Egypt could take advantage of this phenomenon through better technical education, friendly attitudes toward Western countries (the importers of its products and services), and a softer approach to its main religion that stresses spiritualism over the practicalities and national enrichment in a secular world.

    Egypt’s military and present political leaders must understand all that and must be willing to make necessary social and economic changes to make Egypt a better economic player on the world scene, like China and India are today. The nation’s young people, who are the predominate demographic number, will insist on that for their own benefit.

    Any new power center arising from the recent demonstrations and bending of the government will have to make a contract with the young people regarding their economic well-being in the near future. An overly Islamic power center, without foreign economic ties and oil derived money, will not be able to that. It will be a moderate and somewhat democratic power center that will be see the advantage of economic ties to the West, and indeed to Israel, that we will see coming out from this endeavor for change.

  • Carl

    Any way you look at this situation, Mr. Mead is absolutely correct. This is going to be “a terrifying new century…”

  • John Barker

    Historian, John Lukacs, never a sunbeam of hope, once wrote that we are facing 200 years of chaos.I wonder if populist mass movements will be the new norm, this time armed with WMD’s instead of pitchforks.

  • RAF

    Mike: The “Glorious” Revolution and the American Revolution were revolutions in name only….

    WTM: They were revolutions only in name if we accept that Revolutions like the French Revolution are the real thing and that ours are just pale imitations. 1688 and 1776 did what revolutions do: introduce rapid change that is also long lasting — but they did it without all the muss and fuss of other revolutions.

    It seems to me that the distinctive difference between the “sustainable” revolutions of England and America and the “unsustainable” ones of everywhere else is that, in the former, the local structures of governing were left largely intact. They were political revolutions, but not really social revolutions. Although I suppose you could say that (especially) the American Revolution started a social revolution which is still playing out….

  • jxhdfyq2cd3w765r6e5

    ” The clergy of Iran turned on their allies, leading the country into the horrifying and pointless war with Iraq and establishing a regime worse than anything the Shah could have dreamed of.”

    What do you mean “…leading the country into the .. war with Iraq…”? Iraq started the war by invading Iran.

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