Freedom is responsibility. In reality even Western citizens are happy to give up most of their political responsibility if in turn they live in comfort. Personal liberty is essential for Westerners but political liberty is important for us mostly as a guarantee that we can rid ourselves of those who we think harmful to our personal liberty or responsible for our countries’ economic problems. The role of the state is to ensure the collaboration or at least the coexistence of its citizens. The state has the right to limit the personal liberty of a citizen in order not to allow him or her to harm the liberty of others. <?

People living in different cultures, however, have different standards regarding how much personal liberty they require for themselves and how much liberty they want to allow to others. In Western liberal democracy a relatively high level of both liberty and tolerance are required, but there are other cultures that are ready to renounce some liberties in order to maintain the norms. This could be perfectly democratic, but less liberal. Nevertheless we should not forget that in most societies in the history of humankind were absolutely satisfied with living under the rule of a just monarch. (What we consider just is of course relative and shows what the actually accepted social norms are.) If we look sincerely at our democratically elected leaders, they are not much better than former dynasts and usurpers. We usually consider democracy as the greatest achievement in the West, but the rule of law can be seen as even more important. What people in the Arab countries really want (Muslims and Christians alike) is not the fatigue to rule each-other and the risks to be ruled by each-other, but to live in predictable and acceptable conditions in a just society with clear norms. The Arabs want to get rid of parasite tyrants and oligarchies, they are attracted by Western comfort and personal liberty, but they do not want Western liberal democracy with openly loose social norms.

In spite of the astonishing impetuosity of the recent revolutions, what the people of the Arab countries desire and what they will get does not evidently coincide. The revolutions were successful because the armies did not crush them. In Cairo, the largest metropolis of the Arab world, the apparent neutrality of the army resulted in absurd scenes like the “Tahrir Square battle of the camels” while soldiers were sitting in their tanks as mere spectators.

Since the beginning of organised agriculture, the Egyptian society was always pyramidal and dominated by the bureaucracy and the army. Rulers often came from the military, like Nasser, Sadat or Mubarak in the modern times.

From 525 BC up to 1954 AD the armies that controlled Egypt were composed of foreign troops. It is possible that a national army was less willing to massacre their countryman, but more importantly, they did not intervene because the commanders knew they remained in control. Thus there was no need for violent engagement, which would have made them unpopular in the eyes of the people and possibly even in the eyes of some of the troops. The army has the guns (real guns) and their privileges are so strong that their unity is unlikely to be dissolved by revolutionary propaganda.

As long as the Egyptian army is the main power in Egypt, the uninvited God-fathers of the Egyptian people (the use of the paradox image is deliberate), Western governments (including Israel) do not have to worry at all. Egypt is under control. If the Egyptian army was not loyal to its commander, the president of the country (the role of Mubarak in deciding not to use them against the people is still an open question), it remained faithful to its real boss, the government of the United States of America. This is perfectly logical. They need the American money and they could not confront the American army. Since the Americans support Israel even against their own interest, it is against the interest of the Egyptian army to allow any political force to rise to power that would put them in real conflict with Israel.

In addition to this Egypt is one of the most militarily vulnerable countries in the world, when facing an enemy with nuclear weapons. The balance of force between the Israeli and the Egyptian army is absolutely asymmetrical. But chaos in Egypt would only lead to another asymmetrical warfare (commonly called “terrorism”) against Israel and against a much easier target, the Egyptian Christians. There will be no chaos in Egypt. It would serve only the interests of a few extremists who gain power from conflict. What we can expect is some kind of democratisation channelled by the army and indirectly by Western governments.

In most Arab countries any foreign military intervention would lead to disastrous consequences. Intelligence services are pretty busy finding out how to ensure some control over the uncontrollable regions of Yemen, and to put things back on the right track in Libya. If the conflicts between institutionalised and state sponsored Wahhabi Islamism, Jihadi extremists and the discriminated Shiites of the Arabian Peninsula intensify, it could have global consequences. Similarly, serious unrest in patchwork countries such as Morocco and Algeria, with their large territory, huge geographical ethnical and social diversity, could lead to a terrible turmoil of violence.

So the mission is far from completed: It is a shared duty of Western and Non Western thinkers and peoples to collaborate in ameliorating our future, building up on what is common in our cultural heritage and learning from each-other when it comes to the differences. Realistically, however, we can only hope that the self-sacrificing courage of the revolutionaries all over the Arab world will push Arab and Western leaders to cook up alternative ways for the political, economical and cultural collaboration of the peoples they represent.