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A Crisis in Competence

One group of people who have probably run out of luck are the Egyptian Copts. The start of their persecution in recent times dates from the advent of Nasserism and increased with the accession of the Muslim Brotherhood which Obama so heartily endorsed. Now, with the return of the army and the increased influence of Saudi Arabia, Obama's influence may have diminished but the Copts can hardly hope for better. As Peter Day writes in his chapter in Free the Copts!, the Copts actually had a "special place" in pre-Nasser Egypt. The advent of Nasserism was marked by the same strident media fanfare and mass demonstrations that we have become familiar with. But mass upheavals do not always bring good news.

Harvard scholar Leila Ahmed remembers the drumbeat of the government-controlled media -- "We are Arabs! We are Arabs!"--  in Nasser's day. She noted that the Copts were Copts "precisely because they had refused to convert to the religion of the Arabs and had refused, unlike us Muslims, to intermarry with the Arabs." They were, if you like, the Native Americans of Egypt. And at a stroke Nasser redefined the nation by their exclusion.

But as the New York Times belatedly realized, the real story of the modern Middle East is exactly that: the tale of minorities struggling against authoritarian majoritarianism, a story in which the saga of the Jews plays only a small part. It is the Copts, Kurds, Druze, Maronites, Allwaites, Sunni and Shi'a (and perhaps even the secularitists) -- all in their way struggling to survive against the tyranny of the majority -- who provide the majority of the dramatis personae.

Not that many in academia would notice. The obsession of Western intellectuals with the outdated tropes of the 1960s, as faded and curled at the edges as the halftone portraits of Yasser Arafat and Edward Said, speaks volumes about what Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal called Obama's Crisis of Competence. "The White House seems more comfortable stage-managing the news than dealing with the uncomfortable crises that inevitably crop up." And since its only competence is at making speeches on a stage, you may not notice that the speech is not only out of date, but from the last century altogether:

President Obama returned last night from a weeklong trip to Africa, seeking to position himself as part of ailing Nelson Mandela's legacy and generating strategic photo-ops. On the other side of the continent, Egypt is awash in revolution, with hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square railing against the American-backed president, with some chanting slogans against the American passivity in the face of crisis. The Washington Post editorialized Tuesday: "For months, as the Morsi government has taken steps to consolidate power, quash critics and marginalize independent civil society groups, President Obama and his top aides have been largely silent in public. No effort was made to use the leverage of U.S. aid to compel a change of policy."

I have an idea. Find another video on YouTube to blame.

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