"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What Would Burke Say About Egypt?

Hosni Mubarek, the President of Egypt, is supposedly stepping down today, after widespread demonstrations for "democracy" in the streets of Cairo.   A "joint military council" will take over, comprised of the minister of defense, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi -- who stands atop the military hierarchy -- along with the military's chief of staff, the chief of operations, and commanders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Air Defenses.

This means, for an undetermined period, that the Egyptian Army will control the country.   Is this a good or a bad thing?  Does it tend toward more democracy?   And, most importantly, in a country where radical Islamists under the umbrella of the Muslim Brotherhood are a significant, organized and highly vocal minority, is "democracy" necessarily a good thing?

It is at times like these that one reverts to the wisdom of earlier times, and specifically, Edmund Burke's 1790 classic, Reflections on the Revolution in France:
When I see the spirit of liberty in action, I see a strong principle at work; and this, for a while, is all I can possibly know of it. The wild gas, the fixed air is plainly broke loose: but we ought to suspend our judgments until the first effervescence is a little subsided, till the liquor is cleared, and until we see something deeper than the agitation of the troubled and frothy surface. I must be tolerably sure, before venture publicly to congratulate men on a blessing, that they have really received one.


Well, Mubarek didn't quite step down, and it doesn't seem like the protesters are going to buy his charade of handing off power to his Vice President, Omar Suleiman, who after all is Mubarek's right-hand man.   The mob is angry (see below -- showing the bottom of your shoes is a grave insult in the Arabic world) and what happens next is anyone's guess.

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