Walk like an Egyptian

History sometimes produces an interesting symmetry. If Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak leaves the Egyptian presidency (and probably the country) today, then his rule will have come to an end on exactly the same date on which, in 1958, Gamel Abdel Nasser became president of the United Arab Republic, a short-lived union between Egypt and Syria.

From the safe but probably also not fully informed location of my home in Dublin, it is way past time for President Mubarak to go, and key Western states have probably once again repeated their Cold War mistake of offering support for too long to an ally whose régime had ceased to enjoy popular support or consent. From my vantage point, though, I do not really know what kind of government, or indeed what kind of state, the protestors want, and we don’t have to look too far beyond Egypt to see examples of countries in which popular uprisings removed oppression and replaced it with yet more oppression.

As we watch events like this unfold, we should probably be aware that the system of government that we enjoy – i.e. a liberal democracy (with all is imperfections) – now holds sway in countries often thought to be in global decline, while the countries advancing internationally often have governments that are more authoritarian. We balk at the notion, but it may well be that a majority of the world’s population now regard liberal democracy as a western or European cultural tradition that does not translate well to other parts of the world.

On a recent visit to the United States I heard a television commentator suggest that liberal democracy will inevitably triumph in the competition of political ideas across the world. I would really like to think that is so, but somehow I doubt it. We may learn a little more in the days and weeks after President Mubarak has walked.

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3 Comments on “Walk like an Egyptian”

  1. cormac Says:

    “it may well be that a majority of the world’s population now regard liberal democracy as a western or European cultural tradition that does not translate well to other parts of the world”
    Given the situation in Ireland, the UK and the US, I wouldn’t be surprised if a majority of the world’s population now regard liberal democracy as a western or European cultural tradition that does not do well anywhere!

  2. Vincent Says:

    All I’m hoping is that whatever change is not accompanied with vast bloodshed.
    A bit of a nasty twist though that the Government accused any white journalist of being Israeli.

  3. anna notaro Says:

    “We balk at the notion, but it may well be that a majority of the world’s population now regard liberal democracy as a western or European cultural tradition that does not translate well to other parts of the world.”
    Actually, I don’t entirely agree with this, it is more complicated than that, Brazil for example is a country on the up and a democracy, one can of course discuss about the ‘quality’ of such a democracy, besides like in any ‘translation’ a lot gets lost.
    I was listening to the Today programme on BBC radio 4 this morning and I was struck by the recurrence in the words of ordinary Egyptians of liberal democracy concepts, above all freedom, freedom to express one’s views without fear of torture or persecution, democratic representation etc. The West has been wrong in assuming that ‘our’ democratic values could be ‘exported’ (often by military means) abroad, but recent events in Tunisia and Egypt demonstrate (if it was needed) that these are not uniquely ‘our’ values, they belong to the larger sphere of human rights which then ‘translate’, to use this imperfect term again, into different interpretation and various political systems. Samuel Huntington was wrong when in his 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order spoke of ‘Arab exceptionalism’, i.e. that Arab nations are immune to economic modernization and democratization.
    The young masses in the Middle East (this is an important difference compared to the aging population in the West), are at the forefront of an epochal change, they don’t simply wish for *Western patented* democratic values, they want democratic values tout court, it is up to them to implement such a change and to us to support them in any way we can..


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