Thursday, July 4, 2013

It is capitalism, not democracy, that the Arab world needs most

by Fraser Nelson

Daily Telegraph

July 4, 2013

To watch events in Egypt is like seeing a videotape of the Arab Spring being played backwards. The ballot box has been kicked away, the constitution torn up, the military has announced the name of a puppet president – and crowds assemble in Tahrir Square to go wild with joy. The Saudi Arabian monarchy, which was so nervous two years ago, has telegrammed its congratulations to Cairo’s generals. To the delight of autocrats everywhere, Egypt’s brief experiment with democracy seems to have ended in embarrassing failure.

Normally, Western leaders would be lining up to deplore a coup d’etat, but yesterday even William Hague seemed lost for words. As a rule of thumb, he says, Britain prefers civilian rule. But when asked to condemn the Cairo coup, he declined. The Arab world’s Twitter accounts, once full of revolutionary optimism, have turned into a depository of despair. “Egypt has taught me that democracy is a lie and an elected president is a myth,” wrote Ahmed al-Husseini, a Sunni preacher from Bahrain. “No parliament, no elections, no ballot boxes. All lies.”

He has a point. Egypt’s election turned out to be like an Irish EU referendum: voters could give any answer they liked, as long as it was the right one. The army didn’t like how things were going, so it has asked voters to choose again. While the West was celebrating Egypt joining the comity of democratic nations, Egyptians themselves were sliding into an economic abyss, with terrifying shortages of fuel, food and security. Sectarian violence has been thrown into the mix, with persecution of the Coptic Christians followed by Sunni v Shia strife. The murder rate trebled. Things were falling apart, which is why the generals were welcomed back.

But the Arab Spring was a demand for freedom, not necessarily democracy – and the distinction between the two is crucial. Take, for example, the case of Mohammed Bouazizi, who started this chain of events by burning himself alive on a Tunisian street market two years ago. As his family attest, he had no interest in politics. The freedom he wanted was the right to buy and sell, and to build his business without having to pay bribes to the police or fear having his goods confiscated at random. If he was a martyr to anything, it was to capitalism.