The weekend before last I was away sunning myself in beautiful Gozo, and thus I missed the very silly piece in the Observer written by Nick Cohen, in which he castigates the Pope, for, among other things, making reference to Masonic lobbies that may (or may not) be operating in the Vatican. You can read Mr Cohen’s piece here and you can also read the letters in reply that the Observer has published, most of which are very sensible, apart from one from Dumfries.
While Mr Cohen’s anti-Papal article betrays a woeful ignorance of the Catholic Church, I would not like to suggest that Mr Cohen himself is silly. Only yesterday he produced this piece on the situation in Egypt, which perhaps more than any other amongst the acres of commentary, says something useful and true.
The West is in a bind about Egypt, and has allowed itself to overlook its supposedly deep rooted belief in democracy and effectively sanctioned an army coup. This will have damaging long term effects, because from now on every protestation by a Western government about the promotion of democracy abroad will look like hypocrisy. For the truth is that Morsi was democratically elected, and the West did defend him.
People in the Middle East, unlike in our own country, have long memories, and they can point out that the West has form in this matter. The West has long been friendly with undemocratic regimes like that of Saudi Arabia; and it was Britain and the United States who got rid of Mossadegh back in 1953; that may seem like a long time ago to us, but to Iranians the overthrow of a democratically elected leader by foreign powers seems recent. Indeed, its effects are still with us all. Britain and America are still paying the price for this intervention in the internal affairs of Iran. Of course, no Western power is intervening in Egypt, but, and it is a huge but, the Egyptian army receives massive subventions from the United States, which the States is in no mood to cut off. If people in the Middle East seem to believe in conspiracy theories, their history, and the history of Anglo-American interventionism, gives them some excuse.
Right now Egypt is a land of burning churches. Alas that this should be so! Once more one fears that the Islamists, looking for someone to blame, blame the Christians. Just what we can do to help seems far from clear. Meanwhile, the military rulers of Egypt have said that the army will rebuild all the destroyed and damaged churches. Will this mean that the Islamists will see the Christians as the natural allies of the army, even more so than before? It is a nightmarish situation for all Christian minorities in the Middle East, where the choice lies between Islamism on the one hand, and brutal secular dictatorship on the other. In truth, it is not much of a choice at all. Perhaps by letting the Muslim Brotherhood run riot and burn down churches and attack other buildings, the Egyptian military want to send out a clear message: back us, accept us, for the alternative is chaos. That may well convince the wavering middle classes of Egypt. It seems to have convinced the Coptic Church leadership which has come out with a strong statement of support for the army.
It cannot be easy for the Copts. But why on earth the American government should give over a billion dollars per annum to this military machine is something that we should all be discussing urgently.