After midday prayers on Wednesday, just about the time the army were heading over to the presidential palace to evict Mohammed Morsi, the last king of Egypt was laying to rest his aunt, Princess Fawzia, who died in Alexandria on Tuesday at the grand old age of 91. She was born in 1921, a few months before the imperial civil servants of London and Paris invented the modern Middle East and the British protectorate of Egypt was upgraded to a kingdom, and seven years before Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood.
A long life reminds us of how short history is: Princess Fawzia outlived the Egyptian monarchy, and the Nasserist fascism and pan-Arabism that succeeded it, and the doomed “United Arab Republic” of Egypt and Syria, and the fetid third-of-a-century “stability” of the Mubarak kleptocracy. And she came within 24 hours of outliving the Muslim Brotherhood’s brief, disastrous grip on power. In the days before her death, it was reported that 14 million people took to the streets of Egypt’s cities to protest against Morsi (and Obama and his ambassador Anne Paterson). If so, that’s more than the population of the entire country in the year Princess Fawzia was born. The Mubarak era alone saw the citizenry double from 40 million to 80 million, a majority of which live on less than two dollars a day. The old pharaoh was toppled by his own baby boom, most of whom went for Morsi. The new pharaoh was toppled by his own stupidity. The Muslim Brotherhood waited 85 years for their moment and then blew it in nothing flat.
And so the “Arab Spring” ricochets from one half-witted plot twist to another. Morsi was supposedly “the first democratically elected leader” in Egypt’s history, but he was a one-man-one-vote-one-time guy. Across the Mediterranean in Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan could have advised him “softly softly catchee monkey” — you neuter the army slowly, and Islamize incrementally, as Erdogan has done remorselessly over a decade. But Morsi the “democrat” prosecuted journalists who disrespected him, and now he sits in a military jail cell (next to Mubarak’s?). And so the first army coup in Egypt since King Farouk’s ejection in 1952 is hailed as a restoration of the idealistic goals of the “Facebook revolution,” although General Sisi apparently has plans to charge Morsi with “insulting the presidency.” That’s not a crime any self-respecting society would have on its books — and anyway the Egyptian presidency itself is an insult to presidencies. Morsi’s is the shortest reign of any of the five presidents, shorter even than the first, Mohamed Naguib, who was booted out by Nasser and whose obscurity is nicely caught by the title of his memoir, I Was an Egyptian President.
In the 2011 parliamentary elections, three-quarters of the vote went to either the Muslim Brotherhood or their principal rivals, the Even More Muslim Brotherhood. So, statistically speaking, a fair few of the “broad-based coalition” joining the Coptic Christians and urban secularists out on the streets are former Morsi guys. Are they suddenly Swedish-style social democrats? Human Rights Watch reports that almost 100 women were subjected to violent sexual assault over four days in Tahrir Square, which suggests not. The Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick argues that the coalition that’s supplanted the Muslim Brothers will wind up controlled by neo-Nasserite fascists.