October 20, 2011

Decolonizing Democracy

The Egyptian Democratic Academy in Cairo is one of the local organizations that made the Jasmine Revolution possible, educating Egyptians about alternatives to dictatorships and military rule under Mubarak. A recent story in The Nation describes one of the teachers at the Academy, a 25-year-old woman, Esraa Nouh, whose father was imprisoned under Mubarak for many years. Nouh believes in liberalism and John Stuart Mill, and teaches the history of liberalism beginning with the Greek origins (more on them in a moment) and John Locke, drawing a thread connecting that history to recent Egyptian political trends.

The irony is that J.S. Mill’s views on politics and economics were dominant in Britain and other countries at the height of the colonization of Egypt. In fact, John Locke was as strongly supportive of slavery as the Egyptian pharaohs were, which makes him even less of a pretender to democracy than Mubarak was. Locke’s profits from his investments in English slave trade ships led him to support private property as a central right in democratic representational governance.