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Western liberals fail to back democracy in Egypt

Talk like an Egyptian

Thursday February 10, 2011

Is it any wonder that successive UK governments have been able to erode civil liberties so easily when liberal middle-class professionals fail to support democracy around the globe, asks Jason Smith
People who are concerned about the erosion of civil liberties in Britain and are interested in seeing the extension of full democratic rights to all, wherever they are, should take heart from the protests in Egypt. The protests should also be a reminder or wake-up call that striving for what is best for society as a whole, for what is right, can mean taking matters into our own hands.
The attacks on our civil liberties, perpetrated by New Labour and continued because of a lack of any other ideas, it seems, by the Coalition, are a serious issue, for one because British people have already gone through the process of fighting for and winning our liberty. It is worth asking ourselves if we would be prepared to take similar measures to the Egyptians, if necessary, to defend the historic, fought-for rights, that many now view as obstacles to be
overcome rather than as the basis for all our freedom.
At the end of the third English Civil War Charles I was found guilty of high treason, as a “tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy”, by parliamentary authority, and his beheading took place on a scaffold in front of the Banqueting House of the Palace of Westminster on 30 January 1649. It seems likely that Mubarak will be allowed to leave Egypt with his head intact and will get to spend the estimated $25billion of the Egyptian peoples’ money abroad.
Unfortunately, rather than celebrating the opportunity that the Egyptian people have created, much of the debate in Britain has suggested caution. You cannot have democracy overnight, warns Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips. It takes time, you need institutions and a free press. There needs to be a peaceful, contemplative period of handover and change. Others, such as ‘liberal’ intellectual David Cessarini on BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze, argue for what amounts to crushing the Egyptian people’s will.
“If you were to take the wholly pragmatic view, the expedient view of those sitting in the White House and possibly here in Whitehall, stability, the outcome of a Tienanmen Square-style crackdown is desirable and is predictable. If you allow this popular, democratic movement to run unchecked you cannot predict what’s going to happen. But you can predict probably that after a short, sharp massive clampdown, at huge human cost, there will be a sullen stability.”
Protests for democracy should be curtailed in case they lead to a backlash, he argues. It’s best for everyone to live under a dictatorship in order to avoid the possibility of violence, and instability in the region. It seems that western commentators are only in favour of democracy when it’s supposedly being delivered down the barrel of a gun to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan by western armies but, not when middle eastern people fight to bring it about themselves.
The ordinary people of Egypt are making it very plain that they have far more of an idea about what democracy is than London University professors or Daily Mail columnists. Much Western commentary has shown contempt not only for the Egyptian masses but for democracy itself.
The setting up of bureaucratic mechanisms for the dispersal of power is not democracy in action, it’s a way of managing operations. Actual democracy is not in the institutions of the state, but in the people. The most important part of political change is that which takes place overnight. The institutions set up afterwards are in many ways window dressing.
One of the most inspiring pictures I have seen in recent years is one from the beginning of last week showing young protesters on the top of tanks arguing with the Egyptian army that they should support them. This is democracy in action. Democracy is not the stifling atmosphere of tradition and pomp of the British parliament but, the struggles of the people themselves, the demos, lest we forget.
Is it any wonder that successive UK governments have been able to erode civil liberties here so easily when liberal middle-class professionals fail to support democracy around the globe? With friends like Prof Cessarani, and Melanie Phillips, democracy needs no enemies.

Published by The Free Society.


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