May 21, 2013
Egypt’s New Pharaoh
Posted on Dec 16, 2012
By Chris Hedges
Leon Trotsky explained this mentality when he described the role of the Bolsheviks, who he admitted had been a distinct minority, in 1917.
“The Bolsheviks,” he wrote, “took the people as preceding history had created them, and as they were called to achieve the Revolution. The Bolsheviks saw it as their mission to stand at the head of this people. Those against the insurrection were ‘everybody’—except the Bolsheviks. But the Bolsheviks were the people.”
In short, the revolutionary elites give liberty only to those who they believe deserve it. And all revolutions, even purportedly secular ones such as the Bolshevik Revolution, are in essence religious experiences. They hold out glorious utopian visions and insist they have harnessed the forces of history, racial purity, destiny or God. They bifurcate the world into good and evil. They are exempt, as revolutionaries, from everyday morality. They embody an absolute truth. To tolerate differences is to abet evil. It is to permit those who are misguided to squander their lives. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine argued this point in 1600 when he ordered the Dominican friar and astronomer Giordano Bruno to be burned at the stake for blasphemy. The longer heretics live, he said, the more damnation they heap upon themselves.
Revolutionary governments invert morality and the rule of law. They believe, as Maximilien de Robespierre wrote, that they pit the despotism of liberty against tyranny. This is why Morsi increasingly mirrors the dictator he replaced.
Revolutionary governments are adept at playing on class hatreds and the self-righteousness of true believers. The middle class proved vitally important to the Egyptian revolution, as in all revolutions. But the largely secular middle class and especially the upper class are despised by the masses of poor that make up most of Egypt’s population. The only effective form of resistance to the secular Mubarak regime was to retreat into the strict tenets of orthodox Islam. The embrace of orthodox Islam became for many of the poor an identity and the sole source of hope. There is no need to enforce dress codes or the mores of orthodox Islam in impoverished Cairo slums such as Imbaba. But in the upper-class neighborhoods of Cairo such as Zamalek, where the old regime was in economic terms more generous, orthodox Islam never had the same cachet, even as upper-class women donned the hijab and orthodox Islam made inroads into the economic elite.
This revolution, like all revolutions, has called poor believers into the streets to battle the party’s opponents. The opposition is branded the enemy of the revolution and, more ominously, the enemy of Islam; the anti-government protesters, in the words of Morsi, are the stooges of foreign embassies and Israel. And the poor—the Lumpenproletariat—are only too happy to lend their services as shock troops in defense of sacred beliefs and the promised future of glory and bread. They already detested those they are now being rallied against. Once released by the state from traditional forms of restraint, the mob willingly becomes vicious.
The last three weeks of street violence presage a period of blood and repression. The opposition, which at first wanted to boycott the referendum, is mounting a beleaguered effort to defeat it. The lines are drawn. Morsi and the Brotherhood have been exposed as the heirs of the old dictatorship in new garb. The struggle for an open society is being waged by the betrayed on the streets of Egyptian cities. It will be a fight to the death. Brotherhood posters put up throughout Egypt in support of the pending constitution urge people to vote yes to “Supporting Legitimacy and Shariah [Islamic law].” Those who oppose legitimacy and Islamic law, it goes without saying, are heretics.
Previous item: Unreason on Health Care
New and Improved Comments