Apocalyptic Egypt

It turns out I have written another column over at The Catholic Thing; & as it happens the first thing I have written on the Middle East for a long time.

So much has happened, especially in Egypt over the last half year. But nothing new has happened. The Muslim Brotherhood continue to consolidate their power, & by now President Morsi, who quickly gathered to himself as much power as President Mubarak had, has more. His constitutional coup, confirmed by low-turnout quick referendum, provides a wonderful illustration of how democracy is used to legitimate tyranny, all neatly ordered in a short sprint of time. Too, how it can be used to befuddle Western statesmen, who will grant a pass to anything that is arguably “freely elected.”

The Western media, which showed no understanding of what was happening in Egypt during the “Arab Spring,” have learnt nothing since. They continue to take protests against Islamism seriously, from Egypt’s very tiny secularized middle class. The threat to Morsi comes almost entirely from the other side: from the even more ruthless men of the even more fanatic Salafist party — who are delighted with any kind of street demonstrations, & as happy to exploit them as was the Muslim Brotherhood to exploit the “democracy rallies” against Mubarak. The idea that these convulsions have anything to do with the new “social media” is particularly obtuse. Cellphones are certainly used in tactical communications, but the planning of public demonstrations is in no way spontaneous, & they could easily enough have been directed by more traditional means. Western journalists, & the U.S. State Department for that matter, are simply unable to grasp that “technology” has no will of its own.

In my column for the Thing, I focus on the gathering fate of Coptic Christians. Throughout the Middle East, as Islamists come to power, or merely into a position to terrorize, ancient Christian communities are put to flight. They don’t leave casually; they leave because their homes & businesses & churches are firebombed, & their walls are decorated with slogans to communicate, “You’re next!” Most of Iraq’s million-&-a-half Christians are now gone; Syria’s Christians have started their exodus in anticipation of Assad’s fall. With the advance of Islamism throughout the Muslim world (including Bosnia & Albania), it becomes open season on them everywhere.

The Western media are not interested in this story; & the West more generally doesn’t want to know. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is almost alone among Western politicians in trying to call attention to this international crisis, as well as the consequences to European countries where these poor benighted refugees are trying to pile in.

I fear that the fate of the Copts will be worse, than that of others who got a head start on them, & behind whom the doors now close. There are just too many Copts for the West to assimilate, given shrinking immigration quotas everywhere: something in the order of 10 million Christians, in a country of 80 million Muslims, actually hungry for Shariah & becoming unhinged by the Islamist propaganda.

For here is another huge fact, that we in the West are incapable of acknowledging. “Islamism” — a fanatic, violent, ideological & very modern cult of a religion in which “church & state” were never separated — is not being forced down the throats of the unwilling. By now, great masses are crying for it. Among the ruling classes, it has filled the void left by the failed nationalism & socialism of a previous generation, but it is larger than that. It has struck broader & deeper because of its religious affiliation. And it is far from having been played out: all the evidence is of a transformative crisis within Islam itself. Westerners naively hope for some “Reformation” or “Enlightenment” moment within Islam. They do not realize that this is it. The Christian world was transformed in one way; the Islamic in quite another by its collision with modernity. I do believe it will finally burn out, but can only do so in a cataclysmic way.

But back to the Coptic Christians of Egypt. They have no place to go; & they are being demonized. Wherever the slightest altercation occurs between a Muslim & a Christian in rural Egypt, a massacre of Christians is quite likely to follow. The Copts are among the poorest of Egypt, but also among the richest: resentment for the latter, & avarice for their wealth, provides meat to the demagogues in a culture already accustomed to blaming “the other” for every domestic failure.

And of course, the Egyptian economy, such as it was, has been disintegrating since the Arab Spring began. It is a country without oil money to fall back on; & now without tourism, or any other way to earn the foreign currency it needs to import basic foodstuffs, as well as fuel & the luxuries to which its elites have become accustomed; a country whose limited stock of arable land is already dangerously over-burdened; which is approaching ecological catastrophe on several fronts. The Nile Valley, since the Aswan dam, no longer benefits from the replenishment of soil; the great river now only washes it away. (That, & not global warming, accounts for the accelerating recession of the Mediterranean coast: the Nile Delta is gradually dissolving.)

Someone must be blamed, & since Nasser, there have been no Jews left to kill. This leaves the Koran-denying Copts for the historical role of scapegoat. Lord have mercy on them.