The problem was that under the autocrats – Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak and whomever Washington blesses next – the Egyptian people skipped two generations of maturity. For the first essential task of a dictator is to "infantilise" his people, to transform them into political six-year-olds, obedient to a patriarchal headmaster. They will be given fake newspapers, fake elections, fake ministers and lots of false promises.
Fisk is right, of course. Which is not usually something you can say about him. When governments become all pervasive, citizens no longer have to take any sort of responsibility. In a dictatorship, everything is the leader's responsibility and he paints himself as the father of the country. People become like children. They can whinge, and frequently do, but if they misbehave they get smacked or worse.
Sadly, though, almost all governments have this effect on people, even though, in a democracy, it is to a much lesser degree. The more government there is, the more people cease to take responsibility. When something goes wrong, we complain about our rulers but seem strangely unwilling to do things for ourselves. The present Conservative-led government is having trouble selling its idea for free-schools, localism and less bureaucracy for this very reason. It turns out that there are always plenty of people who have done very nicely attached to the teat of the state.
Of course, it is widely accepted that governments infantilise their citizens, which is from where we get the phrase "the nanny state". But many of the left think this is a good thing. Alain de Botton, the pop-philosopher, defends a paternalistic state on the BBC's website. It all sounds terribly reasonable but what he is really saying is that we all need a bit of dictatorship to defend us from ourselves. I doubt Hosni Mubarak would disagree.
UPDATE: My post above implies that Alain de Botton is arguing for dictatorship. Of course he isn't, and I'm sure he would not. The linked article is well worth a read and a rather more considered response than the one I gave it.
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