As the former head of Egypt sits in front of a judge, behind bars and on a bed in an Egyptian courtroom, the Egyptian people are finally able to celebrate some concrete results of the revolutionary movement that took down the despot. Of course, Egypt has a long way to go before the revolution can be considered a success and it remains unclear what success will look like. Will the secularists and leftist groups succeed in transforming Egypt into a liberal democracy? Will the Salafis be able to impose Sharia law on the country? Or will the Muslim Brotherhood be able to build a liberal Islamic government based on the Turkish model? In other words, while success for some may not equate to success for all, longterm comprehensive reform of the entire system is necessary,
Michael Young’s latest piece says as much. At least in the beginning, that is before he blames the Egyptian people for allowing themselves to be dominated by Mubarak for decades. Young starts off by pointing out that:
The killing of the father is a favorite theme in literature and psychology, but its most forceful manifestations can usually be witnessed in politics. A democratic Egypt, if one emerges, will need to transcend Mubarak—not to mention the garland of fathers in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. However, a warning is in order. Those Arab societies that have rejected their regimes and are going through revolutionary transformations today should also address seriously why they remained for so long under the boot of absolute, kleptocratic, usually homicidal leaderships.
This is true, of course. The revolution will not end with the conviction of Mubarak; this is merely the beginning of the real revolutionary changes that must take place in Egypt. Yet Young goes on to point out that comprehensive reforms are necessary only because Egyptians allowed Mubarak to dominate them for years. It isn’t Mubarak’s fault he was a dictator that used state power for his own personal means while neglecting the Egyptian people. The Egyptians should be blamed for letting him do it:
Despotism is a frame of mind as much as it is an individual imposing his writ on all. Arabs striving to regain their liberty and impose the rule of law will have to break down complex structures of obedience and conformity that were, or still are, manipulated by their leaders. These structures include fear of violent repression, but also oppressive ideologies, sectarian prejudices, social and financial dependencies, a tendency to engage in self-censorship, and much else.
So, I have to ask, did he really just make that argument? Certainly there needs to be fundamental societal changes in Egypt to encourage more empowerment of the people just as there needs to be revolutionary changes in the governmental structures that denied such empowerment in the first place. The financial dependency, self-censorship, sectarian prejudices and more are a result of the very system Mubarak created in order to maintain power. The former president consciously molded Egyptian society by severely punishing those who challenged him. And we are supposed to take blame away from these dictators?
I am hard pressed to believe that this is Young’s actual opinion. It seems like an unfortunate way to explain that the revolution must transcend the leader and tackle the institutional and social problems created by the leader. Yet it reminds me of Marat Terterov’s ridiculous argument that Mubarak and Ben Ali were not state builders as if the former leaders were not responsible for the institutions that kept them in power.
Can we please recognize two things about the Arab Spring? First, revolutionary changes will and must include fundamental reform of the entire system, not just a change in leadership; and second, the system that needs to be reformed was either created, maintained or strengthened by these leaders and these leaders – not the people – are responsible.
Photo from The Sun