A week after the Egyptian uprising sent the Right into disarray, they appear to have regrouped somewhat more successfully than the leader they once favoured, Hosni Mubarak. In the final days of Mubarak’s reign last week, the neocons suddenly remembered their conservative side, and started sounding like Edmund Burke.
Pundits who had greeted the chaotic looting and violence of the early days of the Iraq invasion with Donald Rumsfeld’s insouciant remark — “stuff happens” — suddenly became wary of disorder and the mob, as a substitute for authority.
The early attempt to claim the uprising as a knock-on effect of the Iraq invasion died by and large died early, collapsing under the weight of its own absurdity, and most of the neocons at FIXED news and elsewhere switched to an obsessive fear of the Muslim Brotherhood, and an orientation of the whole region to the effect on Israel. “Meteor Will Destroy Earth — Implications for Israel”, will be the final Fox news headline.
The spuriousness of seeing the Egypt uprising as having any positive connection to the Iraq invasion is so multiple and ridiculous as to beggar belief, but it’s probably worth briefly recapitulating. The Egyptian uprising was a popular grassroots uprising sparked by multiple events and conditions, organised by multiple networks of people, and involving a substantial self-regulation of force.
The Iraq invasion was an external invasion of one state by another, based on a spurious intelligence scare about WMD, and justified as a human rights intervention propter hoc. Even those who conceived it as that first and foremost had an utter indifference to any demonstrated will of the Iraqi people.
They were not different methods of achieving the same thing. They were utterly different types of things.
That difference came to the fore after the invasion, and of January 25 in Egypt respectively. After the Iraq invasion, social solidarity was zero — there was simply a vacuum of order created by mass violence.
Into that vacuum rushed the genuinely nihilistic and individualistic — thieves, looters and sectarians with scores to settle. Since the invading force was nihilistic as well — with planning to protect the oil industry, while leaving the National Museum, whose collection contains the roots of around half the world’s civilisations, to the wolves — the invasion was a perfect void, filled with PR photo opportunities.
After January 25, protesters worked together not only to control outbreaks of armed violence, but also — sometimes with the army — to protect museums and libraries.
The utterly different character of the events has been so marked that the right has had to come up with a different angle. The one they’ve chosen — as if all dribbling for the one bell — is the question of “Arab democracy”. This was the debate between neocons and realists as to whether democracy could “take root” in the Arab world, or whether its culture was inimical to the possibility.
The “realist” answer to this usually took a blatantly chauvinist form, muttering about Arab and Eastern dependency, etc, etc, conveniently ignoring the fact that democracy had been snuffed out by the West, in establishing the Shah, the Saud family and others as client rulers in the ’40s and ’50s. The neocon answer was, to quote the ever-wrong Mark Steyn, that Iraq would look like Connecticut in 18 months, and any doubts as to whether an imposed system could establish legitimacy was just racism.
The “Arab democracy” argument has returned as a way of trying to refute the argument that the left made at the time of the Iraq invasion — that people can only meaningfully liberate themselves, and that the Iraq invasion actively prevented that.
That it did, there is no doubt. In 2005, the Bush administration made some noises about no longer tolerating autocracy. In 2006, Mubarak cancelled municipal elections, and banned presidential candidates other than he and his son. Concerned by the enthusiastic way in which the Muslim Brotherhood had taken up the notion of “no longer tolerating dictators”, and facing chaos in Iraq, and Hamas in Gaza, they, well, this photo is from 2008.
January 16, 2008
Desperate to head this off, the right has tried to turn the Egyptian process into a neocon one. Thus Tom Heidi Switzer in The Drum, stages a debate between his conservative realpolitik self, and a “smug metropolitan” neocon buddy, the latter representing the only possible alternative interpretation. Melanie Phillips goes further suggesting that “the left are all neocons now”, arguing that the only rationale for supporting a popular uprising (Egypt) and opposing an invasion (Iraq) is hatred of the US.
Phillips — a pro-settler Zionist, climate-change sceptic, intelligent design advocate and proponent of the “MMR causes autism” theory — wrote a hilarious blog post on The Spectator arguing that Obama had been “jaw-droppingly incompetent” in handling the matter and that his efforts had “backfired: at time of writing Mubarak is digging in his heels against this American pressure and is refusing to step down”. It’s particularly funny when you see the date: Thursday February 10. Barely 18 hours later, Mubarak was gone. Phillips was so incapable of seeing Muslims as agents of their own lives, it never occurred to her that Friday — prayer day — might bring a renewed pushback.
It’s clear that no event will convince the Right that they need to look clearly at the world, without projecting their fantasies onto it. In the process over a decade, they’ve managed to discredit themselves across the Middle East and West Asia, to lose most of South America to the Left, and to see China spread itself deep into Africa through investment, while the US spent a trillion or two on futile wars.
Still the neocons did do one good thing in Egypt — they helped the resistance form a few years ago. The group Kefaya (“Enough”) that in turn formed many of the current uprising’s leaders came together around 2003, protesting against the US invasion.