So how’s that old Arab Spring going? You remember — the “Facebook Revolution.” As I write, they’re counting the votes in Egypt’s presidential election, so by the time you read this the pecking order may have changed somewhat. But currently in first place is the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi, who in an inspiring stump speech before the students of Cairo University the other night told them, “Death in the name of Allah is our goal.”
In second place is the military’s man Ahmed Shafiq, Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister and a man who in a recent television interview said that “unfortunately the revolution succeeded.”
In third place is moderate Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, a 9/11 Truther endorsed by the terrorist organization al-Gama’a al-Islamiya. He’s a “moderate” because he thinks Egyptian Christians should be allowed to run for the presidency, although they shouldn’t be allowed to win.
As I said, this thrilling race is by no means over, and one would not rule out an eventual third-place finish by a rival beacon of progress such as Amr Moussa, the longtime Arab League flack and former Mubarak foreign minister. So what happened to all those candidates embodying the spirit of Egypt’s modern progressive democratic youth movement that all those Western media rubes were cooing over in Tahrir Square a year ago? How are they doing in Egypt’s first free presidential election?
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I don’t know about you, but I have the feeling that Messrs. Morsi, Shafiq, and Abolfotoh are not spending much time on Facebook, or even on Twitter. Indeed, for a “social-media revolution,” the principal beneficiaries seem to be remarkably antisocial: Liberated from the grip of Mubarak the new Egypt is a land where the Israeli embassy gets attacked and ransacked, Christians get killed and their churches burned to the ground, female reporters for the Western media are sexually assaulted in broad daylight, and for the rest of the gals a woman’s place is in the clitoridectomy clinic. In the course of the election campaign, the Muslim Brotherhood has cast off the veil of modernity and moderation that so beguiled the U.S. State Department and the New York Times: Khairat el-Shater, the deputy leader, now says that “the Koran is our Constitution” and that Mubarak-era laws permitting, for example, women to seek divorce should be revised. As the TV cleric Safwat Hegazy told thousands of supporters at a Brotherhood rally in the Nile Delta, “We are seeing the dream of the Islamic Caliphate coming true.”
Thus, the Facebook Revolution one year on. Status: It’s not that complicated. Since the founding of the Kingdom of Egypt in 1922, the country has spent the last nine decades getting worse. Mubarak’s kleptocracy was worse than Farouk’s ramshackle kingdom, and the new Egypt will be worse still.
At a certain level, there’s nothing very new about this. In the early stages of revolution, students are often on the front line, mainly because they’ve got nothing else to do all day. But by the time the strongman is being sworn in at the presidential palace they’re usually long gone from the scene, supplanted by harder and better-organized forces. Was it ever likely that Western “social media” would change this familiar trajectory? National Review’s editor Rich Lowry, from whose byline picture the pixie twinkle of boyish charm has yet to fade, was nevertheless sounding as cranky an old coot as I usually do when he declared that “Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is to uselessness what Henry Ford was to the automobile” and deplored a world in which millions of people spend their time “passing around photos of pets in party costumes, telling us whether they are having a good or bad hair day, and playing the farming-simulation game FarmVille.” It is not necessary to agree with the full majestic sweep of Lowry’s dismissal to note that neither Lenin nor Mao is known to have taken a photograph of his pet in a party costume, or even a Party costume, and that both men played their farming-simulation games for real, and on an industrial scale. Putting aside its deficiencies in revolution-mobilizing, Facebook, until its shares headed south this week, had a valuation of over $100 billion — or about two-thirds of the GDP of New Zealand. Which seems a little high to me.