The Facebook caliphate

Whatever one feels about the sharia-enforcing, Jew-hating, genital-mutilating enthusiasts of the Muslim Brotherhood, they do accurately reflect a significant slice — and perhaps a majority — of the Egyptian people. The problem with the old-school dictators was that in the end Mubarak, Ben Ali, and Qaddafi didn’t represent anything other than their Swiss bank accounts. The question for the wider world is what do “social media” represent? If they supposedly embody the forces of progress and modernity, then they’ve just taken an electoral pounding from guys who haven’t had a new idea since the seventh century…

A century ago, the West exported its values. So, in Farouk’s Egypt, at the start of a new legislative session, the King was driven to his toytown parliament to deliver the speech from the throne in an explicit if ramshackle simulacrum of Westminster’s rituals of constitutional monarchy. Today, we decline to export values, and complacently assume, as the very term “Facebook Revolution” suggests, that technology marches in support of modernity. It doesn’t. Facebook’s flat IPO and Egypt’s presidential election are in that sense part of the same story, of a developed world whose definitions of innovation and achievement have become too shrunken and undernourished. The vote in Egypt tells us a lot about them, but it also tells us something about us.