Friday, June 25, 2010

Benjamin Disraeli on Middle East Democracy, 1830

By Barry Rubin

In one of his novels, the young Benjamin Disraeli, future British prime minister and romantic Zionist among many other things, records a meeting between a character and Muhammad Ali, founder of Egypt’s modern monarchy, whose descendents ruled the country until the Arab nationalists seized power in 1952. Many historians think the episode is based on a real encounter between the two during Disraeli’s visit to Egypt around 1830.

The Egyptian soldier-ruler asked Disraeli if the young man thought the British political system was adaptable to Egypt. Disraeli responded that Britain’s institutions had been evolved over a very long period of time and that there was no political system that requires more social self-discipline and long-term preparation than choosing a government through democratic elections.

Almost two centuries later, this same topic continues to be at the center of debates on the Middle East and the basic argument remains the same.

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