In Cairo, a demoralizing spectacle

This time ‘people power’ returned Egypt to the Mubarak era, only worse.

Since I spend most of my writing time denouncing the Israeli public for its rotten political inclinations, I think I have the right to call it as I see it about the Egyptian public, which has really put on a show these last few days.

One of the polite hypocrisies of democratic society is that the public, in any country, is fundamentally good, that it wants good things, that it’s entitled to have what it wants, and that when masses of people are suffering and crying out for an end to their suffering, they are the good guys and all good people everywhere should root for them to win, to get their way. I had no problem going along with that idea in January-February 2011 when the Egyptian people overthrew Mubarak. But this time?

Look at what “people power” just did in Cairo. It overthrew the first elected president in Egypt’s history – a year after he got elected. It was a military coup – backed deliriously by the people. And look at what’s happening now – the army has arrested the elected president, Mohammed Morsi, and all the other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and is calling the shots again with its old buddies from the pre-revolution era, who are back in business. And “the people,” the millions who filled Tahrir Square this week, are triumphant. They willed the return of military dictatorship to Egypt, after willing its downfall two-and-a-half years ago.

And good people everywhere are supposed to sympathize with them. Sorry. This is demoralizing. The Egyptian people have just demonstrated the fatal flaw of left-wing idealism – which is that the people are no better than their leaders, and the injustices of the world are rooted in the basic workings of human societies.

I understand that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were not a stellar bunch; I can very well understand why masses of Egyptians would have wanted to get rid of them. And from what I read, the original goal of the Tamarrud (Rebellion) petition movement was to compel Morsi to call elections, which would have been completely legitimate. But it seems things got out of hand – the people put on an awesome show of strength in Tahrir Square, their leaders teamed up with the military, and new elections were no longer enough; they wanted upheaval now. And the army gave it to them.

And now, with the army in control and the Muslim Brotherhood – a year ago the most popular political movement in the country – on the run, it’s as if Mubarak never left. The difference is that the threat of civil war is much greater, and the dream of free elections is now a joke. Elections have just been grossly devalued in Egypt. The losers are no longer under any compunction to respect the results. I don’t know if elections are worth anything in that country anymore. And if elections aren’t worth anything, neither is democracy. We’re back to might makes right.