In Egypt the seeds of a new world order and the end of Western supremacy

An Egyptian woman cries as she celebrates the news of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

Some think the Middle East isn’t ready for democracy — in truth it’s the West that isn’t ready.

Nicholas Kristof duly notes:

Egyptians triumphed over their police state without Western help or even moral support. During rigged parliamentary elections, the West barely raised an eyebrow. And when the protests began at Tahrir Square, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the Mubarak government was “stable” and “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”

Commentators have repeatedly referred to the Obama administration playing catch-up during the Egyptian revolution, yet its seeming inability to track fast-changing events was merely an expression of its unwillingness to embrace the direction those events were heading.

Immediately after Hosni Mubarak resigned, Jake Tapper from ABC News tweeted that he couldn’t find anyone in the administration who thought that whatever comes next would be better for U.S. interests than Mubarak had been.

The dictator’s departure is not being celebrated in Washington. The leaders of the free world have a singular lack of enthusiasm for freedom.

The administration has not merely repeatedly stumbled, but has functioned as a dead weight, attempting to slow the pace of what may become the most significant transformation in world order since the birth of Western colonial power.

America’s friends in Israel have been equally unenthusiastic about the turn of events. After Mubarak’s defiant speech on Thursday night when he insisted he would sit out his term as president, “Israel breathed a sigh of relief,” according to Israeli commentator, Alex Fishman. The respite must have felt dreadfully brief.

But if Americans want to grasp the significance of the Egyptian revolution, they need look no further than this country’s much bloodier assertion of people power: the American revolution.

For the first time in Egypt’s history, the Egyptian people have made a declaration of sovereignty and claimed their right of self-governance. Is that not something that every person on the planet who cherishes life and liberty can joyfully celebrate?

As Western leaders now line up, having no choice but to express their support for the revolution, while sagely offering guidance and assistance in managing an “orderly transition” to a democratic system, they do so with a palpable ambivalence.

People power is in jeopardy of sweeping the Middle East and undoing the carefully constructed “stability” through which for most of the last century the West has managed the control of its most vital resource: oil.

Worse for the United States, the Egyptian revolution now undermines the US government’s ability to sustain an unswerving loyalty to the preeminence of Israel’s security interests.

A democratic Egyptian government will not have the autocratic latitude that until now enabled Mubarak’s complicity in the siege of Gaza or his willingness to participate in the charade of a peace process going nowhere.

Stepping back from the most obvious regional implications of what is now unfolding, there is a more far-reaching dimension.

When in 1990 President George HW Bush used the phrase “new world order”, his words had an ominous ring both because they implied that this would be an American-defined order but also — on the brink of the first Gulf War — a militarily-imposed order. The new order was synonymous with the dubious claim that the collapse of the Soviet Union represented an American “victory” in the Cold War.

A new world order worthy of the name, however, should represent something much more significant than the strategic reapportioning of power on a geopolitical level. It should involve the reapportioning of power through which global affairs become the people’s affairs. It should mean that international relations can no longer be conducted within the confines of intrinsically undemocratic arenas where ordinary people have no voice.

The people-power unleashed in Egypt has the potential to serve as a democratizing force that not only threatens autocratic leaders in the Middle East but also technocratic and nominally democratic leaders in the West — those whose complacent style of governance has depended on the political passivity of the populations they nominally serve while providing ready access for corporate interests to exercise their undemocratic influence.

The West, far from representing a model of democracy ripe for export has instead long been mired in a post-democratic phase where the foundational concept of demos, the people, has withered.

Individual wealth has supplanted the need for social solidarity as citizenship has been substituted by consumerism. Our material self-sufficiency has robbed us of the experience of mutual reliance and worn thin the fabric of society.

In a new world order, a new democracy might spread not just further east but also further west.

There is also a bittersweet note in this moment.

The Western exporters of democracy delivered the war in Iraq and yet as we witness events unfold in Egypt, it’s hard not to wonder what might have been possible had the people of Iraq, without Western help or hindrance, been allowed the same opportunity to claim their own freedom.

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15 thoughts on “In Egypt the seeds of a new world order and the end of Western supremacy

  1. delia ruhe

    I worry about the Egyptian military in charge over the next few weeks and months. Obama and Bibi are almost certainly burning up the trans-atlantic phone lines working out a strategy whereby to shape events in Israel’s favour, via the Egyptian military, over the next weeks. Item #1: support the going-nowhere peace process and the continuation of the occupation into infinity. Item #2: support the continued imprisonment and impoverishment of Gazans in the Strip. Item #3: figure out a way to marginalize the Brotherhood in the formation of the next government. If Egypt does not respond in the right way, it can kiss goodbye the yearly bribe of $1.5 billion US dollars the Egyptian military has been enjoying since Egypt signed the peace treaty with Israel. Egypt may surprise them and agree to give up the USD, but if they do, there will be more pain from the US down the road. Obama lives to serve the Zionists, and that’s not going to change.

    The Egyptians respect elBaredei, but they want to draw the next leadership from the younger generation – and who can blame them. And Israel’s smear campaign against elBaradei started over a week ago. By next week, they’ll have made him a child molester and an embezzler of IAEA funds. However, elBaredei has been an important, tough-minded internationalist, and he has serious experience in dealing with the sly and utter ruthlessness of Washington and Israel. Deposing Mubarak was the easy part. Now it gets interesting.

  2. scott

    Delia, here’s where your fears are unfounded. You’re arguing for some kind of minimal stability. Well, the Egyptians are appropriately skeptical of this transition, and I think they have no qualms about protesting again. I know we all hope there’s no bloodshed, but even if this is less than they dreamed, I don’t think they will return to the way things were.

  3. eddy mason

    The one spin-off result that may eventuate from the people of Egypt’s victory is that those who believe “they lead because they are born to rule” will now spend a bit of time looking over their shoulder instead of persuing their blind ideological pathways to power and riches at the expense of the people. We can but live in hope!

  4. Andrew M Prue

    “A ‘right’ is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life.

    “The concept of individual rights is so new in human history that most men have not grasped it fully to this day.

    “It was the concept of individual rights that had given birth to a free society. It was with the destruction of individual rights that the destruction of freedom had to begin.

    “Any alleged ‘right’ of one man, which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right.

    “The term ‘individual rights’ is a redundancy: there is no other kind of rights and no one else to possess them.”

    “Any group or ‘collective,’ large or small, is only a number of individuals. A group can have no rights other than the rights of its individual members. In a free society, the ‘rights’ of any group are derived from the rights of its members through their voluntary, individual choice and contractual agreement, and are merely the application of these individual rights to a specific undertaking… A group, as such, has no rights.

    “Any doctrine of group activities that does not recognize individual rights is a doctrine of mob rule or legalized lynching… A nation that violates the rights of its own citizens cannot claim any rights whatsoever. In the issue of rights, as in all moral issues, there can be no double standard.”

    “Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).”

    “The end does not justify the means.
    No one’s rights can be secured by the violation of the rights of others.”

    “Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational.”

  5. Colm O' Toole

    Great piece.

    Indeed even in the short term the number of effects from the revolution will be huge. From dictators in Bahrain and Yemen and Algieria/Libya becoming alot more concerned about looking good to there people, to the collapse of the moderate axis against the resistance axis on the Iran question, to the improvement of links between Egypt and Gaza.

    Over the long term I think Saudi Arabia will be under enormous pressure (just a few days ago Wikileaks published memos from the US Embassy there citing sources in Saudi Oil as saying oil production in the kingdom will likely peak next year)

    Israel has shot itself in the foot obviously by refusing to apologise to Turkey for the flotilla shootings. It has now lost 2 hugely important allies within the last year alone and outside of the Middle East is facing a gradually increasing boycotts campaign in Europe and the worst relations with a US President in 20 years.

    To top this all off Hezbollah has become a governing party in Lebanon after the Pro American Hairri regime collapsed. A Story that was majorly underreported due to the Egyptian revolution story occuring at the same time.

  6. charles zeller

    How panglossian. Democracy is a western construct that doesn’t transfer well South and East of the Mediterranean. Moreover, Democracy is in conflict with traditional Islam. The danger is theocratic rule. It would be the same if Rick Santorem became president here. Any Abrahamic religion that institutes theocracy is antithetical to democratic impulses. Islam is probably a little worse than Christianity and Judiasm. (But not much.) If the Muslem brotherhood gains power, liberals who want to believe it has become civilized will be in for a great surprise. Any true believer govt. will immediately take away the rights of all women and outlaw all non-believers. Punishment will oftimes be death. Nice people you want in power. Truly “a revolution the world can celebrate!”

  7. Frigga Karl

    One can be sure that the transatlantic phonelines will go hot the next days and military aid is now the stake of the transition power. But I am confident, the people from the Tahrir Square are carefully watching, even not knowing well the behind of the scene. Maybe wikileaks will leak some cables? The egyptian people went through of such a lot of different strategies to destroy them. They are now well prepared for the next traps. They won’t be catched, be sure! They are aware of the perversion of power.
    We all witnessed a great moment in human history and it came from the South. From now on it is the South which will give lessons to the North. it was really in the air, because of this energy unfolded, which the North do not have. Yesterday people gathered in some place in Italy (Milano?) to shout “Berlusconi step out!” But there was clearly a lack of strengh or energy people here in Europe or in the USA suffer, let alone the racist old fashion colonial Israel with its pure negative energy.

  8. S. Strauch

    Charles Zeller sarcastically describes the Islamic Brotherhood as “nice people”. Yet he seems to find nothing objectionable in the barbarities perpetrated by his brothers in Israel.

  9. esteban

    epitaph for a nations zeal
    sowed the seeds for the real
    new one world order
    like from space
    no nasty lines
    for her figure
    to disgrace
    no army’s
    no opposition needed
    and never any found
    we all must look
    out for each other
    that’s what this life’s about
    it’s there in the waves cascading
    and in the rooftop shout

    i think the lesson here
    is it can be done

    violence is over
    the people said so

    the tanks didn’t fire
    they turned away

    this is the morning
    of a truly new day

  10. eddy mason

    The best entertainment is still to come! The Zionists will recover from their current “stunned mullet” state and move their spin-doctors into top gear to inform the world of the dire negative effects of this revolution.

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