Back in February 2011, as angry crowds thronged Tahrir Square in Cairo, calling for President Hosni Mubarak to call time on his 30 years of military dictatorship, Western political leaders, accompanied by an assortment of the nominally liberal and sort-of leftish, could barely contain their democratic urges. This wasn’t just the Arab Spring, it was Western politicos’ spring, too. In the jubilant overthrow of decrepit, hair-dyed tyrants, they saw a chance to pose as champions of democracy.
As Mubarak stumbled from power, American president Barack Obama beamed: ‘Egypt has changed, and its future is in the hands of the people. Those who have exercised their right to peaceful assembly represent the greatness of the Egyptian people.’ The European Union’s foreign-affairs chief, Baroness Catherine Ashton, was similarly quick to pen her message of support. ‘I have called on the Egyptian authorities to embark on a transition towards genuine democratic reform, paving the way for free and fair elections’, she wrote in the Guardian. ‘The challenge is to lay down the roots of deep democracy; there, too, the EU stands ready to help.’ Even Mubarak’s mate, the ex-British prime minister, Tony Blair, was prepared to admit that ‘this is a moment of huge opportunity, and not just for Egypt’.
Pundits from the left side of the tracks were also eager to issue their undying approval of the Spring-time Arabs. A New York Times columnist wrote that ‘democracy is good for Arabs as it is for Israelis and Americans’. In the Observer, an op-ed began: ‘It must be bliss to be alive, young and Arab in this dawn of revolution.’ Laurie Penny, the faddish embodiment of middle-class leftism, enthusiastically proclaimed her solidarity with protesters in Tahrir Square. The difference between protesters overthrowing degenerate despots in the Middle East and 150 anti-cuts protesters stood outside Camden Council offices on Euston Road ‘is one of scale, not of substance’, she waxed.
But in June 2012, something terrible happened – at least in the eyes of Western politicians and pundits. The Egyptians, enjoying the freedom to vote in the first free presidential election in Egypt’s history, did something wrong. They voted for the wrong candidate, the one the West wasn’t keen on. The election of Mohamed Morsi of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood, with 52 per cent of the vote, was too much for those in the West who, just 16 months earlier, had been the biggest cheerleaders of democracy. The Arab Spring was no longer to their liking; democracy was not yielding the right results.
Yet the downbeat reaction to Morsi’s election was nothing compared with what happened in July this year. After days of anti-Morsi protests in Tahrir Square attacking the president for his Islamism and his economic failures, the army moved in and deposed Morsi. Morsi supporters launched counter protests, but they were crushed by the military. As it stands, hundreds of Morsi supporters have been beaten, tortured and killed, and Morsi now faces conspiracy charges and, if found guilty, he could be executed.