The conservative understanding of Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt was that these places were backward because the culture of the people, their occupations, the way that they chose to live, kept it that way. But in the liberal understanding of history, they were backward because they had been denied access to modern processes for upgrading their societies. Give them democracy and they’ll be Europe in no time at all.It did not occur to them that the reason Egypt wasn’t England had nothing to do with elections and everything to do with the culture of a broken country that hasn’t gotten all that far past feudalism, and whose “modern” face was slapped together by European colonialism and local dictators borrowing European ideas and applying thin layers of them across the surface of a much older culture.Processes don’t move a society forward. The striving to learn and grow, to push beyond the next horizon and find out what is over the next hill. That innate organic expansionism, that creative dissatisfaction, cannot be transplanted or imposed externally. It either grows out of the soul of a culture or it does not. The historical processes that matter are a byproduct of such strivings.
The liberal puts structures before people while the conservative puts people before structures. Men are not numbers and there is no innate historical destiny to their processes that can exist apart from their whims, needs, urges, frustrations, rages, loves and unsettled ambitions. When we look into the structures of history we find that they, like the Trojan Horse, are filled with people.
We are not bound to move forward. It is quite possible that we are moving back. And even that sense of direction is a matter of opinion. To the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, backward is forward, as they push on toward the 7th century.
The sense of historical direction in Cairo or New York is not an abstract, but a function of culture, a product of the things we value and strive toward. It is possible to distinguish the healthy and unhealthy cultures through the outcome of these products, but it is not possible to make a culture want not only the things we want, but to want them in the same way and through the same means.
Egypt is where history goes to die. Beneath its sands, there are ages and ages of lost time, lost civilizations and lost pasts that might have been. They lie there untouched by the mantra of historical processes. They simple were and are no more.
The Arab Spring is nothing but another one of those many sedimentary layers of history that fall into the sands and crunch under the sandals of the cultures that take each other’s place. There was a time when Egypt moved forward, but those were ancient times and ancient days.
The modern Egypt is a jumble of crushed histories and broken pasts, its people combine the conquerors and the conquered, their histories lost and the futures unsought. Islam has cloaked them in its characteristic darkness that teaches its followers to strive for nothing except the subjugation of others to its will.
Egypt has not been an empire for a very long time. It is a colony of colonies, settled by foreigners, ruled by foreigners, surrounded by ancient history and detached from it. It is full of history and yet it has no history. It has no true past or future. Only the tedium of a present that never changes because the spirit that once moved the men of these sands forward has dried up. There is anger, fear and hate that follow the old familiar paths through the sand to the same destinations.There is no future here. There is no history here. Egypt is where history goes to die, buried in its tombs with its ancient kings, lying in wait for another time when the sands will shift, the stones will fall and time will begin moving again.