Many, especially on the left, believe that popular revolutions have their own momentum – and that the action of ‘the people’ over an oppressor will by necessity lead to progress. So the act of overthrow is, in itself, something to be celebrated. I’ve never been persuaded by that. Those of us on the right, from Burke onwards, tend to ask what happens next. How, I’ve always wondered, can Bastille Day be celebrated? The 1789 French Revolution led to mass murder, a reign of terror and the eventual restoration of the monarchy. The 1917 Russian Revolution led to one form of despotism being supplanted by another (as was clear within four years). Ditto the 1979 Iranian revolution. The 1989 European revolutions were unusual in their success - but fuelled false optimism in the Francis Fukuyama-style argument that history was on a one-way march towards freedom and liberal democracy (the ‘end of history’ as he famously called it). But, as Fukuyama himself said in a Spectator cover story in 2009, history has since started springing nasty surprises. The Ukrainian revolution, for instance, did not have a happy ending.
Twitter means we can see pictures of heartening scenes: Egyptians linking hands to protect the museum, etc. The Spectator was the only British publication to report on another hugely encouraging Egyptian event: when Muslims formed a human chain to protect Coptic Christian churches from attack (read the piece here – you won’t find it anywhere else). So we can see all the good, far more clearly than we used to be able to. We can hear, in Egypt, Muslim voices who reject the Muslim Brotherhood – saying that Muslims and Christians are the right and left eye of Egypt. So it gives us a means of looking at the Egyptian story in all its dimensions.
But just because we in the West can see both sides more clearly, it doesn’t alter the chances of success. In Egypt, the army look like they are settling in. If there is regime change, I doubt that whoever takes over will be pro-Western (the crowds will likely remember that the tear gas used on them was dispensed in canisters saying “Made in USA”). The grim fact remains that Iran is racing towards the bomb, and if they succeed then the Sunni world – in Saudi Arabia and Cairo – will likely follow suit. I’d love to see some wind of change blowing through Arab street, but I still fear that we’re heading for a multi-polar nuclear standoff in the only part of the world which is mad enough to use nuclear weapons. I do hope I’m wrong.