Those of us ensnared in litigation without end will surely feel a measure of sympathy and perhaps a dreadful portent in the manner of Mohamed Morsi's passing: He collapsed and died in court. I don't doubt that, as a group of British barristers found, the conditions in which he was held by his successor meet the definition of torture, and his various trials and re-trials were a joke. But, other than in his confinement and demise, he was not a sympathetic character, at least not to any non-Egyptians other than Turkish strongman Erdoğan, who hailed him as a "martyr".
Beyond Ankara Mr Morsi will be remembered as the dead end of the Arab Spring, in which the young saplings of "the Facebook Revolution" were soon choked by all the usual malign weeds of that arid land. From yours truly seven years ago:
How's that old Arab Spring going? You remember — the "Facebook Revolution." As I write, they're counting the votes in Egypt's presidential election, so by the time you read this the pecking order may have changed somewhat. But currently in first place is the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi, who in an inspiring stump speech before the students of Cairo University the other night told them, "Death in the name of Allah is our goal."
In second place is the military's man Ahmed Shafiq, Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister and a man who in a recent television interview said that "unfortunately the revolution succeeded."
In third place is moderate Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, a 9/11 Truther endorsed by the terrorist organization al-Gama'a al-Islamiya. He's a "moderate" because he thinks Egyptian Christians should be allowed to run for the presidency, although they shouldn't be allowed to win it.
As I said, this thrilling race is by no means over, and one would not rule out an eventual third-place finish by a rival beacon of progress such as Amr Moussa, the longtime Arab League flack and former Mubarak foreign minister. So what happened to all those candidates embodying the spirit of Egypt's modern progressive democratic youth movement that all those Western media rubes were cooing over in Tahrir Square a year ago? How are they doing in Egypt's first free presidential election?
You have 0 friends!
I don't know about you, but I have the feeling that Messrs Morsi, Shafiq, and Abolfotoh are not spending much time on Facebook, or even on Twitter. Indeed, for a "social-media revolution," the principal beneficiaries seem to be remarkably antisocial: Liberated from the grip of Mubarak the new Egypt is a land where the Israeli embassy is attacked and ransacked, Christians get killed and their churches burned to the ground, female reporters for the Western media are sexually assaulted in broad daylight, and for the rest of the gals a woman's place is in the clitoridectomy clinic. In the course of the election campaign, the Muslim Brotherhood has cast off the veil of modernity and moderation that so beguiled the U.S. State Department and the New York Times: Khairat el-Shater, the deputy leader, now says that "the Koran is our Constitution" and that Mubarak-era laws permitting, for example, women to seek divorce should be revised. As the TV cleric Safwat Hegazy told thousands of supporters at a Brotherhood rally in the Nile Delta, "We are seeing the dream of the Islamic Caliphate coming true."
Thus, the Facebook Revolution one year on. Status: It's not that complicated. Since the founding of the Kingdom of Egypt in 1922, the country has spent the last nine decades getting worse. Mubarak's kleptocracy was worse than Farouk's ramshackle kingdom, and the new Egypt will be worse still.
Mr Morsi was a man of modest birth who went to school by donkey. From that unpromising beginning, he nevertheless became an engineer and did his PhD at the University of Southern California with a dissertation on "High-Temperature Electrical Conductivity and Defect Structure of Donor-Doped Al2O3". That's certainly more demanding than most California college diversions, at least to those of us for whom "donor-doped" is mainly a condition that afflicts Republican presidential candidates. Morsi stayed on in America (where two of his children were born as US citizens) and found employment as a professor - and also from Nasa, where he worked on Space Shuttle engines. He was a clever and accomplished man, and in his suit and tie he had the bland and unthreatening mien of a bonhomous business executive.
But he was also a Muslim Brother married to his first cousin, and in every aspect of his life other than Space Shuttle engineering he was an all too conventional specimen. No sooner was he Egypt's "first democratically elected president" than he started making public pronouncements about Jews being "bloodsuckers" and "descendants of apes and pigs" and that Egyptian children must be "breastfed hatred" for them, which seemed a tad superfluous given the way things are going without any customized breastfeeding program. Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali explained that these remarks had been "taken out of context", and were really just a call for a moratorium on settlements, or an expression of concern about disproportionate response, or a vague feeling that that Netanyahu guy is a bit extreme or something. Whatever.
Still high on the Facebook Revolution fevers, Obama, McCain, Hillary Clinton et al all insisted that democracy is a beautiful thing and Mr Morsi was entitled to billions of American taxpayers' hard-earned dollars. Hillary's jet was barely out of Egyptian air space before the new president issued one-man constitutional amendments declaring himself and his Muslim Brotherhood buddies free from judicial oversight and announced that his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, would be retried for all the stuff he was acquitted of in the previous trial. By this stage he wielded total control over parliament, the judiciary, and the military to a degree Mubarak in his jail cell could only marvel at. Old CIA wisdom: He may be an SOB but he's our SOB. New post–Arab Spring CIA wisdom: He may be an SOB but at least he's not our SOB.
But don't worry. As America's director of national intelligence, James Clapper, assured the House Intelligence Committee, the Muslim Brotherhood is a "largely secular" organization. The name's just for show, same as the Episcopal Church.
Morsi, supposedly "the first democratically elected leader" in Egypt's history, was a one-man-one-vote-one-time guy, and sufficiently insecure to arrest journalists who "disrespected" him. But he started out with plenty of support: In the 2011 parliamentary elections, three-quarters of the vote went to either the Muslim Brotherhood or their principal rivals, the Even More Muslim Brotherhood. Alas, Egypt's First Democrat was a good example of what happens when full-blown Islamic rule is put into effect in a country without the benefit of oil. For purposes of comparison, when King Farouk was overthrown in 1952, Egypt and South Korea had more or less the same GDP per capita. When Mubarak fell six decades later, Egypt's was about one-eighth of South Korea's. Morsi figured there was no reason that couldn't go lower still. He was your go-to guy when it came to ramping up the clitoridectomy rate, but not so effective when it came to not letting you starve. In February 2013, his government advised the people to eat less, and then cut back the food subsidy to about 400 calories a day — which even Nanny Bloomberg or Michelle Obma might balk at. Amidst all the good news of the Morsi era — the collapse of western tourism, the ethnic cleansing of Copts, sexual assaults on uncovered women, death for apostasy, etc. — amidst all these Morsi-era success stories, even a Muslim Brother has to eat occasionally. Egyptians learned the hard way that, whatever their cultural preferences, full-strength Islam comes at a price. The country had a wheat crisis, and a fuel crisis, and the World Food Program estimated that forty per cent of the population was suffering from "physical or mental" malnutrition.
Morsi's answer to the lack of bread in the shops was "Let them eat Islam". Across the Mediterranean in Turkey, Prime Minister Erdoğan could have advised him "softly softly catchee monkey" — you neuter the army slowly, and Islamize incrementally, as Erdoğan has done remorselessly for a decade and a half. But Morsi was a Brother in a hurry and wound up precipitating the first army coup in Egypt since Farouk's ejection. On July 3rd 2013, at more or less the precise hour the army were heading over to the presidential palace to evict Morsi, the last King of Egypt was laying to rest his aunt, who had died in Alexandria the day before at the grand old age of 91. Princess Fawzia was born in 1921, a few months before the British protectorate of Egypt was upgraded to a kingdom, and seven years before Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood. A long life reminds us of how short history is: Fawzia outlived the Egyptian monarchy, and the Nasserist fascism and pan-Arabism that succeeded it, and the doomed "United Arab Republic" of Egypt and Syria, and the fetid third-of-a-century "stability" of the Mubarak kleptocracy. And she came within twenty-four hours of outliving Mohamed Morsi's brief, disastrous grip on power.
In tiara and off-the-shoulder gowns, Princess Fawzia looked like a screen siren from Hollywood's golden age — Hedy Lamarr, say, in Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945). After sixty years of "modernization", no Egyptian woman could walk through Cairo with bare shoulders without risking assault. President Morsi's widow, Naglaa Ali Mahmoud, is not only his first cousin but covered from head to toe. If you were a visiting foreign minister, you were instructed not to shake hands, or even look at her. If you did, you'd notice that the abaya-clad crone bore an odd resemblance to the mom of the incendiary Tsarnaev brothers. Eschewing the title of first lady, she preferred to be known as "first servant". Springtime in Araby, after the cooing cameras of NBC, CNN et al have packed up and moved on.
General Sisi jailed his predecessor and charged him with "insulting the presidency". That's not a crime any self-respecting society would have on its books — and anyway the Egyptian presidency itself is an insult to presidencies. Morsi's was the shortest reign of any of the six, shorter even than the first president, Mohamed Naguib, who was booted out by Nasser and whose obscurity is nicely caught by the poignant title of his memoir, I Was an Egyptian President. I always hoped Mohamed Morsi might write a Volume Two. Egypt's new first couple - the Space Shuttle engineer and his First Servant - embodied only the parochial, inbred dead end of Islamic imperialism: what remains when all else is dead or fled. The Muslim Brotherhood waited 85 years for their moment and then blew it in nothing flat.
~Mark will be back later today with the latest episode of our current audio adventure, The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers. If you've yet to hear any of our monthly radio serials, you can enjoy Steyn's take on The Time Machine, Jekyll and Hyde, The Prisoner of Zenda and more in our Tales for Our Time sampler.
For more on Tales for Our Time and other Mark Steyn Club special features, please see here.