From the moment the Tahrir Square demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak began, optimism has dominated American reporting and commentary on what is being called the Egyptian revolution.
I fervently hope I am wrong, but I find it hard to share this dominant view, even as I identify with all those Egyptians and other Arabs who yearn for freedom.
I offer eight good reasons for my pessimism:
1. Countries almost never go straight from dictatorship to liberty.
For the past 250 years, the general rule of revolutions has been this: The more tyrannical the regime that is overthrown, the more tyrannical the regime that replaces it. Though post-Soviet Eastern European countries might seem to invalidate this rule, they do not. The reason Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria became more or less free countries almost immediately after overthrowing communist dictatorships is that all those dictatorships were imposed from abroad (the Soviet Union). When a country overthrows a homemade dictator, it rarely replaces him with a free society. The French Revolution replaced the French monarchy with revolutionary terror. The Russian Revolution replaced the autocratic Russian czar with totalitarian commissars.
2. When pro-American dictators are overthrown, far more repressive anti-American tyrants usually replace them.
In 1959, the pro-American Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista was overthrown and replaced by an anti-American communist totalitarian state under Fidel Castro. Most Cubans had far more freedom under Batista than under Castro. In 1979, the pro-American Shah of Iran dictatorship was overthrown and replaced by a far less free, far more repressive, virulently anti-American Islamic tyranny.
3. Islamists have a near-monopoly on passion in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.
In politics, passion matters. That is why small impassioned groups can dominate a more passive majority of a country. And in Egypt, no group or cause has nearly the passion that the Islamists have.
4. Neither liberty nor tolerance has roots in the Arab world.
It is very hard, perhaps impossible, to plant the trees of liberty and tolerance in soil that has never grown them. And if these trees are planted, they are likely to take many years to grow.
5. People have been trained to depend on the state.
In addition to political obstacles, there are economic and psychological ones. Most Egyptians and other Arabs have known no economic life other than reliance on the state. In order to foster liberty, the state must shrink. But if the state shrinks, so do government subsidies for food and so do the number of state employees. Even assuming Egyptians’ yearnings for liberty were more intense than their yearning for an Islamist state, in order to make a free country, Egyptians would have to wean themselves off of dependence on the state. That is almost unheard of — see Madison, Wis., to see how difficult it is even in a prosperous, free, First World country.
6. The American media have been hiding the bad guys.
You have not been getting the whole truth about Tahrir Square. To this day, the print edition of The New York Times has not reported the sexual assault on Lara Logan, the chief CBS TV foreign correspondent, by 200 Egyptian men in Tahrir Square yelling “Jew, Jew” while they assaulted her. CBS News itself did not report on the incident until others exposed it. Likewise, few mainstream news media have reported or shown the depictions of Mubarak as an Israeli agent or attacks on other Western news teams accused of being agents of Israel.
7. Getting closer to Iran
In one of its first actions after taking over control of the Egyptian government, the Egyptian army allowed two Iranian warships to sail through the Suez Canal for the first time since the Iranian revolution. If that is not a bad sign, nothing is.
8. Egypt is saturated with Jew and Israel hatred.
Finally, and arguably most significantly, Egypt and the rest of the Arab world have been swimming in a sea of Jew and Israel hatred for decades. Historically, anti-Semitism has been a perfect predictor of a society that will cause others problems and that will eventually self-destruct. The preoccupation with destroying Israel has been the single greatest obstacle to Arab countries joining the modern world. No Arab progress will be possible until the Arab world gives up its obsession with Israel’s disappearance.
Against these eight powerful reasons, we read about individual Egyptians who are sick of dictatorship and yearn for freedom. Such wonderful people also lived in Cuba in 1959, and in Iran in 1979. They usually end up in prison.