The Egyptian People: About to Drink a Cup of Sick? – 7 February 2011

Poor old Egypt. The world’s oldest civilisation (with due apologies to Greeks and Iraqis who’d like to claim the same…) wracked with violence and protest. It’s like a bad ground-hog day at the London student protests, only without the kettle.

Some hack observations:

* The US administration has dropped a ball on this one. They should have just gone with supporting the ‘what the people want’ line, rather than falling down a rabbit-hole of sort of supporting Mubarak, then Mubarak Mk2, then democracy, but not Muslim Brotherhood, not now, nor ever etc etc..

* The British-American desire for democracy everywhere is incompatible with our strategic, mineral based interests. What we actually want are strict bastards who will deliver us our mineral based products at a stable price and in a guaranteed way. Democracy in hot and dusty places appears to cause volatility in both of these factors, and is therefore a nuisance.

* We love democracy, but we’re not keen on the leading runners and riders in most elections that result from this kind of political upheaval. I’ve never understood why the locals get so agitated about western influence, when all we do is tell them to exercise choice.. but not that choice. And old man Mubarak must be pulling his Grecion 2000’d hair out wondering exactly how much more stability he had to deliver to the west to deserve a bit of support, in a sticky moment. Dealing with the west (and their contradictory demands) in a hot and dusty place is seemingly from theRory Breaker school of diplomacy.

* We may well have to revise our opinion of the Bush Administration’s desire to transform the Middle East, they may well have actually set that in motion. Managing the transition from no democracy (and no cultural experience of democracy) to western style democracy is going to be very difficult indeed, and managing the balance between offering choice and managing change might need to be assertively overcome.

* I did quite like hearing a raft of British politicians praising those who went onto the streets to try and overthrow Mubarak. There are a lot of academics (and no, I went precisely nowhere near any protests and have no intention of ever doing so) and students who must feel quite sore about the different standards applied to the Egyptians and student protestors here. Afterall, vigilante barricades and ad-hoc justice are a million miles away from the meandering protests of British academics. Perhaps the British political class just has little empathy for world leaders in hot and dusty places?  I did quite like the cheek of the Iranian government who called in the British Ambassador in Tehran to complain about how the student protesters had been treated : did he manage to keep a straight face when he was doing it?

So, Egypt looks likely to get a Mubarak Mk2 regime, which sends the old man out to think about his belated retirement, and which will be obliged to play nicely in the first instance before returning to business as usual (one would assume). I have no desire for extremists to take over in Egypt and I understand the strategic importance of the place, but it would be nice for those in the media and academia who do punditry on this kind of thing to just be honest about the fact that we don’t really care what happens to ordinary Egyptians (or if we do, we’ve been silent for 30years for no apparent reason), or any of those living in our former colonies (Zimbabwe springs to mind), we want stable rule (with whatever that means for individuals) so that our mineral wealth and state alliances can be preserved. When normal service is resumed in Egypt it will be trebles all round in the west and those who do well there, whilst the Egyptian people will get to drink their cup of sick.  Lucky them!

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