Pankaj Mishra warns that the roots of despotism run deep.
I wonder if western leaders, shamed into moral bluster after being caught in flagrante with Mubarak, will, when we relax our vigils, tip the balance towards “stability” and against real change.
I grow a bit apprehensive too, recalling the words of an extraordinarily perceptive observer of Egypt’s struggles in the past: “The edifice of despotic government totters to its fall. Strive so far as you can to destroy the foundations of this despotism, not to pluck up and cast out its individual agents.”
This was the deathbed exhortation-cum-warning of the itinerant Muslim Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-97) who pursued a long career in political activism and trenchant journalism. Travelling through Afghanistan, Iran, Egypt and Turkey in the last half of the 19th century, al-Afghani saw at first hand how unshakeable the “foundations of despotism” in Muslim countries had become.
That they were reinforced in the next century, even though many of the “individual agents” of despotism were plucked up and cast out, would not have surprised him.
He spent eight years in Egypt at a crucial time (1871-79), when the country, though nominally sovereign, was stumbling into a long and abject relationship with western powers.