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The Corner

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The Torch Has Been Passed to a New Generation



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In Egypt, the short version of the Arab Spring is that after 60 years the Nasser/Mubarak military has decided to throw its lot in with the Muslim Brotherhood. Given that for three decades the army was largely funded and its senior officers trained by the United States, at least we won’t have to waste a lot of time on “Who lost Egypt?” analyses.

The consequences for Copts, women, Israeli Embassy staff, etc, have been clear for some time. But just as important over the long run may be the loss of historical memory. A few days ago, during the recent military crackdown, the Institut d’Egypte was burned to the ground — mainly because young soldiers either joined in the gleeful savagery or declined to prevent it. Millions of manuscripts were lost.

This blogger (politically correct enough to use the terms “BCE” and “CE” rather than “BC and “AD”) compares it to the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. But I’d put it in the context of the Muslim world’s more recent retreat into ignorance represented by the Brotherhood, the Wahhabists, the Ayatollahs et al. The famous statistic from a 2002 UN report — that more books are translated into Spanish in a single year than have been translated into Arabic in the last thousand — suggests at the very minimum an extraordinarily closed society. Such openness to the world as exists was (as at the Institut d’Egypt) facilitated by the West. The journey from, say, Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, set in the ramshackle but pluralistic Egypt of Farouk’s day, to the city in recent years is a descent into ever more malign parochialism.

If you’re going to turn your country into a squat of theocratic totalitarianism, a stupid population is indispensable. Washington’s most basic problem in Afghanistan, for example, is that most of its upcountry villagers are too ill educated even to be aware of the existence of countries such as the United States. When, after 9/11, a bunch of guys in the full Robocop showed up and started blowing stuff up, your average rural Pushtun simply had no more idea who they were or where they came from than the Americans vis a vis the space aliens in Independence Day.

Egypt is now falling into the hands of men who revel in Taliban-scale parochial stupidity and are bent on imposing it. From 1922 to 2011, the country got worse. It’s now getting worser. 



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