Monday, March 7, 2011

Hitchens on the "Revolution" in Egypt

In the new issue of Vanity Fair Christopher Hitchens joins those of us who have been sounding a cautionary note about the “revolution” that seems to be occurring in Egypt. Link here.

After comparing the Egyptian awakening to those of other countries, Hitchens offers some cogent analysis of how and why the situation in Egypt differs from seemingly similar events at other times and in other places.

In his analysis: “This really is a new language: the language of civil society, in which the Arab world is almost completely unlettered and unversed. Moreover, while the old body may be racked with pangs, and even attended by quite a few would-be midwives, it’s very difficult to find the pulse of the embryo.”

I confess that I am not entirely sure about what Hitchens means by “the language of civil society.”

He might mean that the dominant institutions in the Arab world are military and clerical. Thus, that people feel greater loyalty to these institutions than to the state.

He might mean that the Arab world does not have a tradition where people respect the results of democratic elections. Change through violent insurrection does not bespeak civility. As I have said, when Egyptian politics does not turn out to be quite as democratic as the Tahrir Square protesters imagine, will they feel obliged to mount another insurrection?

Will they to act like the decidedly uncivil forces in Madison, WI who refuse to fulfill their civic duties as legislators and who refuse to accept the outcome of the last elections.

Or else, Hitchens might mean that Arab cultures lack civility, in the sense that they do not practice the systematic courtesy and respect for other people that grounds Western civil society.

Keep in mind that women are systematically harassed in Egypt and that nearly all Egyptian women are genitally mutilated. And let's not even think about the attitudes toward religious pluralism.

Hitchens does offer us a glimmer of hope: “This doesn’t mean that the Arab world is doomed indefinitely to remain immune from the sort of democratic wave that has washed other regions clean of despotism. Germinal seeds have surely been sown. But the shudder of conception is some considerable way off from the drama of birth, and this wouldn’t be the first revolution in history to be partially aborted.”

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