Friday, March 30, 2012

The more things change ...

Theodore Roosevelt would not have been terribly surprised at how the "Arab Spring" is turning out, particularly in Egypt. (Tunisia is a bit more promising.) After a post-Presidential visit to Cairo and Khartoum, he wrote to longtime friend and correspondent Sir George Otto Trevelyan:
Perhaps what the French are now doing in Algiers, what the English are now doing in Egypt and the Sudan, will in the end result in failure, and the culture they have planted wither away, just as the Græco-Roman culture which flourished in the same lands-a couple of thousand years ago afterwards vanished.
And further:
The real strength of the Nationalist movement in Egypt, however, lay not with these Levantines of the café but with the mass of practically unchanged bigoted Moslems to whom the movement meant driving out the foreigner, plundering and slaying the local Christian, and a return to all the violence and corruption which festered under the old-style Moslem rule, whether Asiatic or African.
Between Nasser's destruction of the commercial middle class; the grinding, corrupt authoritarianism the continued under his successors Sadat and Mubarak and the Islamist surge, the burden of history is great in Egypt, and in the region generally.

Just how much the economic life of the region is distorted by its corrupt, authoritarian politics is nicely set out in this paper (pdf) by a couple of Arab economists. A weak and dependent commerce makes it even harder for the politics of the region to escape from the "mosque or military" as the only bases for organised political power.

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