As Egypt continues its lurch toward dystopia and while the rest of the world watches, there are a couple of stories from history that should be remembered. One happened a little over 30 years ago and the other more than 60 years before that. And they both bear significant similarities to what is going on right now.
Of course, the more recent one has been discussed much in the past week or so, with its eerie resemblance to the current crisis in Egypt. A strong dictator, opposed by various elements in his country, has hung onto power far too long. Sure, he has been an ally of the United States, but everyone freely acknowledges that he should have long ago listened to the Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler—especially the part about when to walk away and when to run.
But we all know how the story played out in Iran. Out went the Shah and in came Sharia. To put it in Reagan-esque terms, we might ask: “Is the world better off than it was 30 years ago?”
By the way, just an aside here—but what’s the deal with President Barack Obama not supporting the people protesting in the streets of Tehran a while back, yet now supporting those in Egypt? Does he have a blind spot when it comes to Islamic states and a bias toward potential new ones?
The other relevant story from history happened in early march of 1917, when the city of Petrograd (the name had been changed from St. Petersburg in 1914), then the capital of the Russian empire, was in very much the same kind of turmoil as what is going on now in Cairo. Hungry people took to the streets demanding bread and demonstrating their overall contempt for the authoritarian Tsar, Nicholas II. The autocrat ordered his troops to suppress the strikers, but they soon turned to the side of the protestors and Nicky’s days were quickly numbered. Within in a few days the Tsar ordered the Duma (a largely benign parliamentary body) to suspend sessions. But remarkably, the Duma muscled up and refused.
Cue the music.
Nicholas II abdicated the throne and tried to put his brother Michael in charge in an attempt to pacify the protestors. Michael was slightly smarter than Nicholas (though the Tsar had not set that bar very high) and declined on the Ides of March that year, effectively ending the 300-year Romanov dynasty.
The whole thing was very much a spontaneous revolution, driven by passions that had been building for years during the Tsar’s out-of-touch and downright oppressive rule. His secret police, the Okhrana, had terrorized the people. They were very creative in their evil, the most notable example being their infamous forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion—a scurrilous anti-Semitic document that provided cover for various pogroms against Jews. A few years later, it would also be loved by a man named Hitler. And just a few years ago Egyptian television aired a 41-part series about The Protocols, a document of lies that even today inspires millions of people to hate Israel and the Jews. It is pretty much required reading for anyone connected with Hamas, Hezbollah, and even that group now in the news called the Muslim Brotherhood.
A provisional government took over in Russia in March 1917, eventually led by a man named Alexander Kerensky. You’ve heard of him, right? He and his government, though brought to power by the hopes of peasants who had been long oppressed, proved to be weak and ineffectual. They were certainly no match for the evil cabal waiting in the wings to make their political move.
You have surely heard of them—the Bolsheviks.
They promised things like, “Land, Bread, and Peace.” But history tells us that the people actually got none of it. The nation embarked on a tortured journey of collectivism, rationing, and perennial conflict. The Tsar’s Okhrana was gone, but just a month after the Bolsheviks seized power, the Cheka was up and running. This new state police arm would take the idea of cultural terror to a whole new level.
In other words, a movement driven by frustration and the desire to throw off a yoke of bondage—a well-meaning and sincere attempt on the part of many people to have more of a say in the living of their lives—soon gave way to a different kind of tyranny. It was a tyranny not only of a ruling elite, but also of a toxic ideology.
And that is what is very likely to happen in Egypt. Whatever the immediate developments, whether or not President Hosni Mubarak leaves now or later this year, the euphoria of such a moment will quickly give way to a different reality. And in this year’s version of what happened in another country in 1917, the Muslim Brotherhood will be playing the part of the Bolsheviks of old.
They have much in common and none of it any good. Instead of the dictatorship of the proletariat, there will be the building of a Sharia society. And just as it was very much the vision of Lenin, Stalin and comrades to take their show on the road and spread their cool ideas every where by any means necessary, so stay tuned for Egypt to become the staging ground for a renewed and emboldened drive toward complete global Islamist hegemony.
Does anyone else kind of miss the good old days of the Shah of Iran?