The Arab world is endeavoring to topple its governments. At the time of this writing the extent and the success of the effort is still undetermined. Comparable occurrences in other world neighborhoods are not unlikely.
The attempt to bring about change against resistant dictatorships is understandable. Being that, it is, therefore, also predictable. When the chapter is closed, some of these oppressive systems might continue to hold on. After all, beyond a ruthlessly applied machinery of suppression, significant supportive forces stand behind them.
None of those reinforcing factors needs to be of the tyrant’s own making. Nevertheless, the rallying potential of secular nationalism, the ideas of innate supremacy and the unifying and disciplining force of religion was prevalent and skillfully exploited by them. All of these, especially since they frequently appeared in the form of a mutually enhancing amalgam, made submissive obedience easy to demand and to give. At the same time, the illusion of serving a cause that towers over the individual, made the deprivation caused by retrograde systems bearable.
Inadequacies can be made into an expression of a virtue. Backwardness can be defined to mean “unspoiled”, poverty becomes “simple life in unity with nature” and ignorance can be converted into “pure commitment to self-evident virtues”. If one can be the carrier of such ennobling qualities just by being a member of some group, then the implied deficiencies become acceptable and even a cause of pride. The more so, since any critical identification of a man-made internal cause for backwardness, such as the ineptness or corruption of the rulers, can be dismissed. It is easy to translate such critique as evidence that demonstrates a lack of commitment and even the treason to the “cause” and the “people”.
Quite frequently in such cases, the underlying problem is one that regime change cannot solve. Even the ongoing protests demonstrate that the population, whether part of it riots or submits, wants the wrong thing from its masters. The telltale sign is that the demands are limited to a change of leaders. Bosses are supposed to be redeemers that will provide the “street” with a fairer distribution of the community’s wealth. In code the meaning is that, the dissatisfied will be allotted greater, and the beneficiaries of the past lesser, portions of what is available. Not infrequently, the program’s core is “till now you had the right to steal; now it is our turn”. In practical terms, not a better system that is more productive and less limiting for the enterprising is demanded. Damagingly, “better” is defined as implying enlarged benefits for a new, hitherto ignored militant group in exchange for its support.
The generalization helps to explain the disappointing case of some of the less successful national communities that emerged after the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. People that are tempted to want from freedom something other than its essence and that wish not for unhindered economic opportunity. Instead, they desire more generous allotments and so they might wind up having neither to enjoy. It can be one of the lasting inheritances bequeathed by corrupt, inefficient and thieving regimes that their practices and assumptions are retained after the people running them were chased away.
In the case unfolding before our eyes, the process or “wrong thinking” begins with Arab pride. The less the “state of the nation” conforms to self-enamored ethno-centric expectations, the greater the frustration and with that the stubborn pride. The magic wand that enables infected communities to ignore the source of its reverses is also one that resents and rejects critique whether its origin is internal or external. Included are most references regarding the degree of contribution of local ways and thought patterns to the inability to move forward in the tow of a progressing world. In this context, the critique that suggests that the locally accepted approaches to problems need to be altered mutes into “insolence” if it comes from abroad and “treason” if its origins are internal.
This is anything but surprising. Once a community decides that it is superior and therefore chosen by a higher power to serve as its agent to redeem mankind that has taken the wrong road, it loses the ability to adjust to its challengers. The more so since these challenges will not only be ignored but also declared to represent the fruits of “sin” and, therefore, predestined to fail. Internal problems are, through this reasoning, not a reflection on the inability of the system to cope with its responsibilities. The reason will be attributed to a conspiracy between the “enemy” abroad and its local agents. In terms of this logic, those that criticize in order to improve are ostracized at worst and overlooked at best. The messengers bearing unwanted news are tainted. After all, they imply that to keep up, one needs to learn from those outsiders that are regarded as morally inferior enemies. Becoming more like them cannot, may not, be the answer to the handicap of missed development. The upshot of these processes is simply put: change can be successfully resisted.
Let us remember here a few fundamental verities. Rage is no program. Vandalism is not a revolution. Anarchism’s turmoil is not creativity. Destruction is no concept. A mass united “against” does not equal unity of purpose. Euphoria is not lasting. Those who do not know this will be content, instead of freedom, with a better, more generous dictatorship.
In the case of Egypt, the “revolutionary” rioting that is used as an opportunity for looting is a sign that indicates the limited goals of the “movement”. It also demonstrates the inclination to pursue unproductive ends. Concerns are especially warranted by the attack on museums. Stealing the nation’s irreplaceable treasures for a minor personal advantage are not indicators of a general commitment to the kind of ideals that a new beginning demands. The same applies to the motivation of the participants by a set of principles, which are the precondition of a break with the past. Movements that really wish to implement a renewal do not steal because their sight is directed towards higher goals. In contrast to mere overthrows, genuine revolutions that can bring lasting results must aspire to more than unhindered looting. The observer might consider the lack of spontaneous discipline as an expression of a moral void that points toward a stunted communal consciousness. Trying to build a house without a plan that the masons agree upon is only likely to result in a shack.
The rioting of the Arab street will not necessarily produce politically more democratic and economically better performing systems. The result of the action could only be limited, at least initially, to a government that is, thanks to its promises and the street’s unfunded expectations, more popular. This latter quality might also be the one that guarantees more dictatorship at home and, thanks to emerging Islamist know-nothing equalitarians, increased bellicosity toward the outside world. In doing so the new beginning will attempt to make the old ways to work to the advantage of new beneficiaries. In doing so, the new system imposed will enjoy the support of a slowly wilting majority that feeds on its initial hopes.