Egypt. Again.

Some Egypt commentary.

Game Over: The Chance for Democracy in Egypt is Lost” asserts that the military is firmly in control, and Egypt’s future, now that Mubarak’s civilian  son Gamal is out of the picture, will be “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”:

The threat to the military’s control of the Egyptian political system is passing. Millions of demonstrators in the street have not broken the chain of command over which President Mubarak presides. Paradoxically the popular uprising has even ensured that the presidential succession will not only be engineered by the military, but that an officer will succeed Mubarak. The only possible civilian candidate, Gamal Mubarak, has been chased into exile, thereby clearing the path for the new vice president, Gen. Omar Suleiman….

The last challenge remaining is economic. Even before demonstrations broke out a few weeks ago, the economy was just limping along. It is now broken. Even in the best-case scenario of a rapid return to stability, Egypt faces a cash crunch. Capital flight, loss of foreign direct investment, drying up of tourist revenues, downgrading of sovereign debt and commensurate increase in interest, and lost earnings from interrupted production will all hammer the revenue side of the balance sheet. The expenditure side will be placed under yet more stress by acceleration of inflation already running at 10 percent, devaluation of the currency, and need to repair damage resulting from the clashes. Egypt will have to turn to its “friends” if it is to avert economic disaster and if the regime that just narrowly survived defeat is not to be challenged yet again.

Game Over!” views the protests as an outgrowth of exponential population growth

Nothing symbolizes the fact that this is Generation Next Rising more than the widely used slogan “Game Over!” The generation who grew up playing video games and whose language incorporates international-video-game-English is turning against the gerontocracy.

In 50 years, less than two generations, Egypt’s population has exploded from less than 30 million to close to 75 million. Its population pyramid looks like a pyramid sitting on a huge raised dais as the vast majority of the population are under 30 years old, with a median age of 24….

I spoke with many highly educated young people who chafe at their economic marginalization, who are alternately depressed and angry about the fact that their talents, ambitions and best years are going to waste and who want out, nothing more than out.

Without wanting to compare Iran and Egypt in any way, population pressure is real across much of the Middle East, and indeed the global South, and it has generated masses of angry, frustrated and largely hopeless youths….

To date, the marginalized youths of the global South have mostly been kept at bay by plying them with video games and virtual worlds – the social equivalent to parenting-by-TV. English has been part and parcel of those virtual worlds….

The most sensible analysis comes from “Why Mubarak is out“:

Many international media commentators – and some academic and political analysts – are having a hard time understanding the complexity of forces driving and responding to these momentous events. This confusion is driven by the binary “good guys versus bad guys” lenses most use to view this uprising. Such perspectives obscure more than they illuminate. There are three prominent binary models out there and each one carries its own baggage:  (1) People versus Dictatorship: This perspective leads to liberal naïveté and confusion about the active role of military and elites in this uprising. (2) Seculars versus Islamists: This model leads to a 1980s-style call for “stability” and Islamophobic fears about the containment of the supposedly extremist “Arab street.” Or, (3) Old Guard versus Frustrated Youth: This lens imposes a 1960s-style romance on the protests but cannot begin to explain the structural and institutional dynamics driving the uprising, nor account for the key roles played by many 70-year-old Nasser-era figures.

The dynamics of the power groups are then explained, the police, the gangs, the divided military, the generals who are not allowed to fight wars any more, but are “granted concessions to run shopping malls in Egypt, develop gated cities in the desert and beach resorts on the coasts” and “are encouraged to sit around in cheap social clubs.” The same generals are “blood rivals of the neoliberal ‘crony capitalists’ associated with Hosni Mubarak’s son Gamal who have privatized anything they can get their hands on and sold the country’s assets off to China, the US, and Persian Gulf capital.” A group of “new businessmen” whose interests overlap somewhat with the business generals, labor movements, and “new leftist political parties that have no relation to the Muslim Brotherhood” have joined the “new nationalist capital alliance”, along with the “new leftist, feminist, rural and worker social movements,” all aligning themselves with the protesters.

Mubarak is already out of power. The new cabinet is composed of chiefs of Intelligence, Air Force and the prison authority, as well as one International Labor Organization official. This group embodies a hard-core “stability coalition” that will work to bring together the interests of new military, national capital and labor, all the while reassuring the United States. Yes, this is a reshuffling of the cabinet, but one which reflects a very significant change in political direction. But none of it will count as a democratic transition until the vast new coalition of local social movements and internationalist Egyptians break into this circle and insist on setting the terms and agenda for transition.

So why do they continue to demonstrate? It seems like a fast transition would only consolidate the military (and U.S, influence) in power, while a slower transition with Mubarak as a weakened lame duck president until September elections would give the smaller groups time to jockey for a democratic niche in the New World Order.

And via Marginal Revolution:

Hernando de Soto on Egypt:

• Egypt’s underground economy was the nation’s biggest employer. The legal private sector employed 6.8 million people and the public sector employed 5.9 million, while 9.6 million people worked in the extralegal sector.

• As far as real estate is concerned, 92% of Egyptians hold their property without normal legal title.

• We estimated the value of all these extralegal businesses and property, rural as well as urban, to be $248 billion—30 times greater than the market value of the companies registered on the Cairo Stock Exchange and 55 times greater than the value of foreign direct investment in Egypt since Napoleon invaded—including the financing of the Suez Canal and the Aswan Dam. (Those same extralegal assets would be worth more than $400 billion in today’s dollars.)


2 Responses to “Egypt. Again.”

  1. Steven Lubman Says:

    It’s a terrible situation, hopefully the sane forces will prevail. I like your point about more prolonged transition giving the smaller political forces time to flourish.

  2. Nijma Says:

    I fear the worst. We know a strongman is capable of keeping political stability for 30 years, because that’s exactly what Mubarak did. The military is certainly capable of putting in another strongman. But intuition says “the times they are a-changing'” and these new economic groups must be part of the equation if the political situation is to be sustainable.

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