When the young people gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square, my Middle Eastern friends assured me, and so did the BBC and CNN, that this was only the educated, Weternized, urban young. Out in the countryside, it was likely that everyone lstill loved Mubarak.
A few days ago, both my Middle Eastern friends and the BBC were saying almost the same thing about Libya and Ghaddafi. Okay, the folks in Benghazi didn't like him; but he was wildly popular. It was just a tribal conflict. They would never riot in Tripoli.
My Middle Eastern friends have been saying the same, of course, about Iran for years. Even though everyone I know who has actually been to Iran in the last few years comes back saying they cannot find anyone who will admit to supporting the Ahmedinejad regime. But my Middle Eastern friends assure me quite forcefully that he is very popular. The people love him; the people support his programme. It is only a few Westernized, educated urban types who are rioting in the streets.
And they belive the same about China, my Middle Eastern friends.
But surely the flaw in this logic is obvious. My English-speaking, professional, well-educated Middle Eastern friends—they are themselves precisely the type of people they are insisting is pro-Western and anti-regime. So are the Middle Eastern reporters on the BBC. And if you meet this type, you find them to be, like my friends, actually resolutely anti-Western and pro any leftist regime. Something here has gotten reversed.
Yet this is what one would expect: that they would be anti-Western and pro-regime. After all, these urbanized, educated types are the ones doing best in the system as it is; why would they oppose it or want to overthrow it? They are the ruling class. Moreover, as the ruling class, they have every reason to scapegoat the West. If everything is not the West's fault, if the West is not secretly controlling everything, then they are in power and in charge; the necessary alternative is then to blame themselves.
And so when we see protesters gathering in urban squares in countries like Egypt, Libya, China, or Iran, in any generally underdeveloped country, and they seem to be well-educated and articulate in English, we are very wrong to suppose this represents only a tiny minority of opinion. It does, in a sense—but it represents the ruling class. This is especially true in a leftist regime, becuase leftist regimes councentrate power in the urban, well-educated, which is to say the bureaucratic, class.
It is pure leftist fantasy, if not a conscious lie, to suppose that the poor support leftist regimes and oppose rightist regimes. The poor, whether in city or countryside, essentially always support regime change. If you are poor, there is nowhere to go but up, so any change is likely to be an improvement. And the poor are by definition those who are not doing well under the present regime.
So when we see this wealthy, well-educated, Westernized, urban elite too turn against the regime, in particular if it is a leftist regime, we see a regime that has lost the support of even its natural constituency. It is a pretty likely sign of a regime in its death throes.