And if Ben Ali sounded like a tribute to longevity, there is the latter-day Pharaoh of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, in power – can you believe it? – for 30 years. Don’t they get tired of their own images? And until Tunisia set an example and Cairo’s Tahrir Square became the focus of resistance, he wanted to pass on the mantle to his son, Gamal, now wisely having decamped to Britain.
It’s the same all over the Middle East and much of the world of Islam. We are not very happy with democracy and the idea of representative rule is only a fig-leaf to cover a whole line of monarchies and emirates sustained by police rule as in the case of Morocco, Algeria and Jordan, and by oil and US protection as in the case of the Gulf Emirates and the mightiest monarchy of all, Saudi Arabia. Oil and US protection, the common theme running through them all.
So America is right to be worried about the popular uprising in Egypt – although we still don’t know how it will end. Its Middle East world is falling apart. Egypt was the centrepiece of the design the US had woven for this region since the Camp David Accords…which led to Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and cemented Egypt’s status as leading US client in the region. Israel does things in its national interest. Arab and Muslim brothers have made a cult of dancing to American wishes.