Monday, January 31, 2011

Dreams of freedom

I have no expert knowledge of Egypt or of other countries of North Africa and the Middle East and so am, and will remain, just another observer of events as they unfold. I do, however, express the hope that the protesters realize that the euphoria many of them are feeling as they topple or seek to topple repressive governments (a mixture of high expectations and the sense of power?) will fade, and the subsequent reality won't measure up to today's dreams of freedom. It never does. Even if these movements don't end in tears (like the Iranian revolution which ousted the Shah), they will end in compromise and relative dissatisfaction.

Ultimately, I suspect that what most of the non-Islamist protesters want approximates to a European-style welfare state. What is insufficiently appreciated is that European and American societies have for more than two centuries been sustained not only by a complex tradition of political and religious thought and custom, but also by wealth (derived largely from invention, manufacture and trade). The balance of wealth in the world is now shifting dramatically away from the US and Europe, but not towards North Africa and the Middle East; rather, towards East and South Asia.

In my view, the best the people of the non-oil-exporting countries of North Africa and the Middle East can hope for is peace, modest economic progress and gradual political reform. No cause for euphoria, but no cause either for despair and continued submission to secular or religious tyrannies.