The end of the Arab exception?

Looking at the downfall of the dictatorship in Tunisia, and the exploding protests against the Mubarak regime in Egypt, it’s obviously hard for Western/Northern commentators, let alone Australians, to say much about what is happening now and will happen. In part that reflects the cultural and political distances involved, and in part the opaqueness of political and cultural life that is inevitably associated with dictatorship and censorship. But it seems clear that some basic premises of US policy towards the region have been rendered invalid.

Most obviously, the Mubarak regime is finished in its role as the key US ally in the Arab world. If the regime survives at all, it will be through brutal repression which makes it clear once and for all that the dictatorship is held in place solely by military force. That in turn will make the provision of substantial economic or military aid politically untenable (the Republicans were already keen to cut aid to Egypt). But without continuing aid, there is little reason for any Egyptian government to support US foreign policy in the region.

The bigger casualty is the ‘Arab exception’: the idea that the concept of democracy is not really applicable in Arab countries and that foreign policy therefore amounts to a choice of which dictator to support. [1][2]

The autonomous emergence of democratic governments in Tunisia and Egypt would fatally undermine this exception, and leave the remaining dictatorships and monarchies in the region as anomalies, for which the question about the end of the regime would be “when?” rather than “if?”. A traditional foreign policy based on the presumed continuance of the status quo would become highly problematic, with high potential costs when the crash came[3]

More generally, the whole approach of US foreign policy towards the “Middle East” rests on assumptions that will be hard to sustain when the existing dictatorships are gone. Most fundamentally, how can the idea that the US has “strategic interests” in the region be justified? In some sense, this idea rests on the assumption that the existing governments are less than legitimate, and can be dealt with in terms of traditional Great Power politics, with spheres of influence, secret deals and so on. Even weak democratic states display much more effective resistance to external interference in their domestic affairs than do typical autocratic regimes.

The point applies most obviously in relation to oil. The idea that the US can legitimately use its military power to ensure continued access to oil resources rests, in large measure, on the (not entirely unfounded) assumption that those controlling the resources are a bunch of sheikhs and military adventurers who happened to be in the right place, with guns, at the right time. Without the Arab exception, the idea of oil as a special case, not subject to the ordinary assumption that resources are the property of the people in whose country they are found, will also be hard to sustain.

Finally, of course, there is the Israel-Palestine dispute. The current crisis may well have a direct impact here. But the indirect impact of the emergence of democratic governments in the Arab world (if this happens) will be even greater. Without the special status that comes from being the only real democracy in a region full of autocracies, the idea that Israel can continue indefinitely over subject peoples and expropriate their land will be even harder to sustain, as will any attempt by the US to back that claim. On the other hand, you don’t have to believe strong versions of democratic peace to conclude that the long-term prospects for a just and sustainable peace would be enhanced by the emergence of democracy. Whether this is right or wrong, the end of the Arab exception would surely undermine the idea that the US has some special role to play in all this.

Finally, the EU is much nearer to the action than is the US, and I think it’s clear that all kinds of debates within the EU (over migration, the admission of Turkey, further integration with the Mediterranean and so on) have been colored by the Arab exception in one way or another.

Those are some strong claims, and not fully worked out, so feel free to set me straight.

fn1. There were a lot of other exceptions until recently, applying to South Americans, non-Arab Muslims, Asians in general (this one much promoted by advocates of ‘Asian values’ like Lee Kuan Yew). And before that, the exceptions were the rule, and democracy was seen as something specifically Anglo or Western European).

fn 2. There was a shadow debate on this topic under the Bush Administration, which issued a lot of pro-democracy rhetoric as part of its case for . In practice, however, the Bushies continued to rely on friendly dictatorships in the Arab world (and beyond, in Pakistan and the former Soviet Union) as leading allies in the Global War on Terror. For these allies, token gestures towards democracy were encouraged, provided there was no possibility that they would actually give rise to governments responsive to popular opinion. The reasoning behind the Iraq war embodied yet another version of the exception, namely the idea that democracy would never arise from the ‘Arab street’. Instead, democracy had to be exported by armed US missionaries, with the happy side-effect of ensuring that the grateful beneficiaries would elect a pro-US government.

fn3. Iran being the paradigm case. That said, Iran is something of an outlier. In many places where US-backed dictators have been overthrown, the subsequent level of anti-American sentiment has been surprisingly modest.Looking at the downfall of the dictatorship in Tunisia, and the exploding protests against the Mubarak regime in Egypt, it’s obviously hard for Western/Northern commentators to say much about what is happening now and will happen. In part that reflects the cultural and political distances involved, and in part the opaqueness of political and cultural life that is inevitably associated with dictatorship and censorship. But it seems clear that some basic premises of US policy towards the region have been rendered invalid.

50 thoughts on “The end of the Arab exception?

  1. We certainly live in interesting times. I’ve heard two variations of the Arab exception. The first is – as you say – that democracy couldn’t arise in the Arab world on it’s own. The second variation is that democracy could exist, but shouldn’t – that the opinions expressed by the majority of Muslim Arabs are untenable to citizens in the rest of the world. In essence, even a weak form of the democratic peace hypothesis fails in the middle east, and the West’s proper task should be the prevention of genocidalist democratic regimes in favour of merely misanthropic ones.

    While this is certainly a horrific notion and offends one’s every internationalist instinct, various Pew studies on social attitudes in the Arab world are not encouraging. When asked a range of questions regarding the role of women in society, homosexuality, Islam’s proper relationship with the state and other world religions, the acceptable use of violence to achieve political ends etc, Muslims consistently give the wrong answers.

    Of course, it may be that sunlight is the best disinfectant, that in a freer, open society, bad ideas get weeded out. I certainly hope so, but I see little evidence of moderation on the part of Hamas post election. Is there any reason to think the Muslim Brotherhood will be different?

  2. Amazing is it not that these spreading potentially democratic developments have occurred in the Arab World without the assistance of the West, other than as the active supporters of the tyrannies that have given rise to the protests.

    Regardless of what happens from here, the significance of the continuing protests in Egypt is that the fear created by the police state has been negated for now, and that the protesters will be motivated to ensure that it does not return. Will the Egyptian Army take the same decision as its Tunisian counterpart?

  3. The thing is, Sam, that until the Arab peoples are allowed the exercise of the rights we claim are universal, there is no reason for them to hold any other attitude. The advocates of apartheid used to preach something very like the Arab exception, accompanied by predictions of utter doom if apartheid were ever dismantled or even if that terrorist Mandela were ever released. South Africa is not the most perfect society, but there was no bloodbath and no utter doom when apartheid ended.

    Human rights are universal. That is and should be the end of the argument.

  4. Sam, it’s a pity Pew never did those kinds of studies in 50’s Australia, might have shown similar responses.

  5. Actually, dex, I lived in Brisbane a lot more recently than the 1950s.

    Dreadful conservative attitudes on women, sexual preverts, foreigners, the works.

    I propose the Brisbane exception. It would not be undoing our democratic heritage or the principle of the universality of rights to enact this into law. We should take the vote from the lot of ’em!

  6. @Alan
    You’re right of course. Human rights are certainly universal, and what I wrote was distasteful, especially to me. I’d be overjoyed to find out that my fears are unfounded, and to see a liberal democratic flowering in the middle east. Secular progressive movements in Tunisia are very encouraging.

    There is reason to think though, that social attitudes to women and gays in (say) modern Saudi Arabia are much much worse than 1950’s Australia. Rape was never considered a property crime for example. I also don’t know of any public stoning taking place in the RNA showgrounds.

    And still, I worry about people with nuclear weapons who don’t believe that another nation should exist at all.

  7. The use, sam, of the phrase ‘RNA showgrounds’, proves that you are from Brisbane. I understand the Brisbane exception may leave you feeling uncomfortable, even perhaps exploited, but really, it is for your own good.

  8. A concern will be how long any democracy that replaces these dictatorships will remain a democracy. Neither of those recent induced success stories, Iraq or Afghanistan, are looking particularly healthy in this regard.

    The US, historically, has had a preference for working with dictatorships. Hopefully, they are now out of the regime change industry.

  9. If weird al M’ remains in power while the rest resign, I don’t think democracy in the most basic sense is going to arise. And I’m not too sure that the Israeli politicians old enough to remember are going to stand idly by and watch the entire dynamic of Egypt change overnight. On the other hand, even if a democratic solution is found for Egypt, it may take decades to cement, if ever – a concern that Freelander and others have identified. Democracy is too closely associated with westerners, the USA in particular, for its own good. Its existence seems to inflame emotions whenever the US react to something. Perhaps the urban Egyptian is more moderate now, and more receptive of democracy. On the whole though, democracy in the middle east should be possible in at least some of the states. Things change, after all.

  10. Democracy is in a very parlous state within the Anglophone West. The majority of Australian and UK residents did not want their nations to go to war in Iraq II nor in Afghanistan and yet we went. The will of the majority was thwarted. The case mounted for war was bogus and our respective governments were guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

    The West continues to be (barely) democratic at home yet entirely dictatorial in its foreign policy. It is untenable for us to adopt a “we are the light of the world” attitude when dealing with other regions of the world. It would be better, for the West and for the Arab nations, for the West to stay out of Middle East politics entirely.

    I would advocate complete disengagement from Middle East politics. This would include endng the arms trade. Whenever we interfere, our claims about democratic concerns are just a fig leaf for our naked self interest. The Arab peoples can see through our greed and hypocrisy. Disengagement and retrenchment of the arms trade, properly undertaken, would free enormous resources for better uses both in the West and in the Middle East.

    Of course, none of the above will ever happen. Or perhaps disengagment will happen and we will leave the Arab peoples in peace… when the oil runs out.

  11. @Ikonoclast

    I entirely agree. The speeches by Obama and Hilary Clinton on the situation in Egypt were breathtaking in their hypocrisy and in their studied ignorance of how far off the mark their own much vaunted democracy is. Unfortunately, the rest of the democracies, including our own, in the Orwellianly designated ‘Coalition of the Willing’ are not much better.

  12. bear in mind that the world’s largest Muslim country is Indonesia, which in 1997 was where Egypt is now.

    The “Muslim Brotherhood” is a bogeyman. they had nothing to do with this uprising.

    this is the al jazeera live stream

    the regime has gotten quite desperate. the police have vanished or joined the looters, the army are using this as a reason to tell people to stay home. the people have been forming vigilante units to protect their neighborhoods.

  13. The real problem is the US exception. For a very long time the US maintained a level of intervention in Latin America that dwarfed what they have ‘achieved’ in the Middle East and with much the same threadbare justifications. Teaching the Latin Americans ‘to elect good men’ did not work any better than teaching Arabs or Iranians to do it.

    sam mentions his worries about nuclear states that deny the right on an entire nation to exist. There is only one nuclear state in the Middle East at this time and they do not seem eager to recognise the right of the neighbouring people to nationhood. There is a second state in the Middle East that is pursuing nuclear weapons. You have to ask if we would be seeing Iran doing this if Mossadegh had not been deposed back in the 60s, in the name of stability and democracy.

    The only example of a nuclear state abandoning that status is South Africa after the transition to democracy.

    Repressing democracy was a spectacular failure in Latin America. It is still a spectacular failure in the Middle East. If the US were to act on what they claim are their core values they would not be in bed with a chain of military and royal dictatorships from Morocco to Jordan.

  14. An outbreak of democracy in Arabic-speaking countries will be highly problematic for Israel, which has always played up its claims to be the only democracy in the middle east as a basis for moral exceptionalism in its aggression abroad and ongoing dispossession/repression of Palestinians at home. As Prof Q says, this talking point will no longer be available to Israeli propagandists, and more attention may be paid to the manifest deficiencies of Israeli democracy.

    I doubt however whether the collapse of friendly tyrannies in its neighbourhood will divert Israel from its course or alter the general tenor of US foreign policy. Instead we will probably see a re-run of the 1950s demonisation of pan-Arab nationalism and its leaders, and covert subversion, on the Chilean and Iranian models, of democracies whose political stance is not to Washington’s or Tel Aviv’s liking. Remember that Nasser was the New Hitler long before Saddam was given the role. Meanwhile, the fact that propaganda is at variance with observable reality will probably only cause it to intensify. Israel will move swiftly to seal the Gaza-Egypt border by re-militarising the ‘Philadelphi Corridor’ in south Gaza and may well engage in military adventures in the Sinai on security pretexts.

    The likely collapse of the collaborationist Palestinian regime in Ramallah will present Israel with more difficulties in that it will have to return to overt and direct occupation of those areas where its proxies repress the population on its behalf. This will be expensive and will further degrade the fighting capabilities of its military, which may well give Israel long term grief. In summary – little change in the short-medium term.

  15. The optimist in me likes to think that democracy is possible after a popular uprising – however in order for that to happen there needs to be leadership committed to democracy. The trouble is that power corrupts. While Iran might be different, it might also be the example that in a power vacuum created by dictatorship, it is just as likely to be followed by another dictatorship because the democratic mechanisms are not available to the people; and the people do not understand nor have the capability to ensure that those mechanisms are established.

  16. I am more interested in the economic distance between exploitated workers in Egypt compared to the OECD.

    Last year the minimum wage payable (for lower intermediate education degrees) was;

    112 Egypt Pounds per month = $A19 per month.

    In October it was increased to 400 Pounds = $69 per month.

    Labour activists want 1500 pounds = $A258 per month.


    This ain’t some cultural battle for “democracy”. Its a battle for a fair deal.

    How would you like to work for $A19 per month? Would you take to the streets?

  17. Chris, plus you have to buy your job. The price can go as high as 2 years of the expected salary. Unemployment is extraordinarily high and the chance of finding (and being able to buy your way into) employment are very small.

  18. It is typical of conservatives’ hegemonical thinking to assert the universality of the human rights which they have invented. I prefer to advocate that the people of a nation have the right to determine their own interests, including the nature of the society and political system which they prefer. Such a right springs from a rational framework of ethics in which the peoples of all nations treat each other as they would themselves like to be treated, as opposed to the patronising conservative ideology that privileges the opinions of self-appointed philosopher kings (and the blogosphere has revealed just how many volunteers there are to fill that role!).

    It is inevitable that a nation’s decision-making process will involve a considerable amount of conflict; attempts by outsiders to influence the outcome, no matter how well-intentioned, will almost certainly prolong achievement of a stable resolution.

    This will not of course be the view of the send-in-the-troops armchair strategists, who are already hailing events in the Middle East as vindication of the neocon agenda. One doubts that Israel is impressed.

  19. It seems that the whole region is experiencing a common problem, which ultimately gives political opportunistsan openning. An openning that may well be the slow beginning of the end. The problems are overpopulation, wealth disparity, global reluctance to share, political arrogance, and a failure to recognise the consequences of Global Warming.

    Here is the clue

    Global weather might moderate in the next few years, but then again it might not. If it does not then this slow beginning of competition for food/wealth will progressively oescallate (oescallate = oscillate with an escalating trend) into the worst of our fears.

  20. The revolution in the Arab world seems to be more of a struggle for some kind of economic prosperity rather than democracy which may be very dangerous if this prosperity is not achieved. The people of Tunisia and Egypt will possibly make accusations of the Western world for having promised something which is impossible to obtain.

  21. What developments in tunisia and Egypt make clear is that dictatorships are on very shaky ground despite holding all the guns once the tipping point of withdrawal of consent is publicly withdrawn by the population at large.

    Hard to be sure from here but the Muslim Brotherhood may have lost street credibility and moral authority by remaining on the sidelines during the initial stages.

  22. Democracy loses value if economic freedom is withheld – no good having the vote if you are starving.

  23. @BilB

    If we are listing problems, then oil exports falling to zero last year in Egypt has to be in there as well. As oil exports drop across the middle east there will be more unrest as the relied upon revenue rapidly disappears.

  24. Limits to growth! It’s that simple. Egypt has hit its limits for sure if its oil exports have fallen to zero as iain says.

  25. Sam, 1, they are not of a separate species. If we were in their shoes we would react with absolute frustration . Our grand parents were not barbarians for defending themselves agains the Japanese and G……..y and neither are these masses of people in the Middle East keen finally end the pilfering of their resources and interference from the US and its spoilt brat, Israel. And if we dont like it, tuff tits they’d say, who are we to judge, we have proven ourselves to not be their friends, according to them.
    Why should our self-interest be their concern, anyway, what have we ever done for them?Personally I feel the best hope could rest with Al Baradei, as a sort of Mandela figure. But only if the various competing interest inside and outside somehow dont poison it.

  26. @iain

    As Iain has said.

    I think it’s not so much a cry for democracy as a cry for food and other basics. However, the bottom line is that Egypt is a terminal basket case unless perhaps it can move into solar energy big time and export it to Europe. (Lots of desert for solar.)

  27. @paul walter
    I see things very differently. I don’t see Islam as a religion of the oppressed, and I don’t think of Arabs as victims of colonialism. Instead, they are simply another failed colonial power, as brutal as any other. They just happened to lose the great imperial race long ago. I get quite sick of hearing the same group of people whine about western domination, and in the next breath indulge totalitarian fantasies of the global caliphate.

    I don’t believe western policy keeps the middle east in the dark ages, I think they do it to themselves. I think their religion and culture keeps them in a vicious cycle of repression, wars, grudges, and revolution.

  28. Islam, Arabs, al-Qa’ida. Three different groups. Not all Arabs are Muslims. Not all Muslims are Arabs. A vanishingly small number of Arabs and and a vanishingly small number of Muslims adhere to al-Qa’ida. If a people or a culture are going to be held responsible for what happened a thousand years ago, then your defence about stonings in Brisbane collapses utterly. Europeans get judged by your standards also, and much worse things than stonings were happening in Europe at that time.

    I think everyone gets sick of hearing claims of Western domination and advocacy of a global caliphate, but only a tiny minority of Arabs or Muslims talk about a global caliphate. If there is any serious threat of a global empire it is us. It is unclear whether you think a global empire is a good thing or a bad thing, so long as it is people like us who rule it.

    As it happens I think a vast amount of tripe is written about Islamic civilisation, which was never anything like the multicultural paradise that keeps getting described. But that has nothing to do with now. If the test for human rights is whether your ancestors were nice people 1000 years ago then we all face fairly grim prospects.

  29. Some tricky issues here for the US – they’d prefer to have Mubarak but want to appear to support democracy. Expect US calls for a Mubarak appointed successor as the limp ‘reforms’ continue to underwhelm Egyptians.

    The catalyst for all this, which I haven’t seen mentioned much, was the last round of elections (December 5) in which Mubarak and the NDP got over 90% of the vote. The disgust engendeed by this has been quite widespread. While the regime has targeted the MB mostly in its election rigging, this time it was against everyone, leading some wags to talk about the emergence of ‘equal-opportunity’ election fraud in Egypt (also described as ‘rigging with a hint of elections’). Only 1 MB parliamentarian (M offiically boycotted the election) was elected this time around, from what is the largest political party in Egypt. Back in early Dec, some senior MB figures were publicly talking of ‘taking to the streets’. The degree of popular anger at the lack of free elections seems to be underecognised in western perceptions of Egypt.

    Others earlier have pointed out the economic factor in the current unrest – it’s not an either/or situation. There is widespread anger at low wages, rising prices and poor job prospects, but also very widespread disgust at the regime and a desire for free elections. As is often the case with tyrants, a happy confluence of events and moods finally topples them.

    What comes next will be very interesting.

  30. @Alan
    I deliberately didn’t mention Al-Qa’ida because the attitudes of a tiny minority of extremists are irrelevant to this discussion. On the other hand, it is not true that only a tiny minority of Muslims adhere to the ideology of some kind of extremist organisation..

    I certainly don’t hold people responsible for what their ancestors did 1000 years ago; I was only pointing out the hypocrisy of people on the other side of this argument who do so. On the other hand, it is a legitimate concern if society has not advanced appreciably during that time. The above link, for instance, claims that 3/4 of the Egyptian population support stoning for adulterers, amputations for thieves, and beheading for apostates.

    It is unclear whether you think a global empire is a good thing or a bad thing, so long as it is people like us who rule it.

    I’ll bite the bullet here and say I think it is a good thing, however I’d define “like us” very broadly. I would want the empire to be non-interventionist most of the time, and to represent the global community’s interest. It would avoid military confrontations with sovereign states except when just war theory demanded otherwise. I don’t care what colour the people in Earth’s superpower are, what economic ideology they follow, or even what culture, so long as they take universal human rights seriously. It just so happens that right now that requirement excludes every major contender except the US (on it’s best day) and Europe. The global caliphate would certainly fail my test.

  31. My money is on a brutal repression not for Mubarak’s sake but pour encorauge les autre’s? through the Arabic world. I’m sure this has been suggested by the other Arabic regimes.

    And I hope I’m wrong.

    If the Egyptians can do this there is the possibility it could spread world wide.

  32. My money is on a brutal repression not for Mubarak’s sake but pour encourage les autre’s? through the Arabic world. I’m sure this has been suggested by the other Arabic regimes.

    And I hope I’m wrong.

    If the Egyptians can do this there is the possibility it could spread world wide.

  33. Egyptians are not arab,neither are Persian nor are Turkish people or Tunisians.

    if i was Egyptian i’d be considering arabs to be blow ins.

    islam couldn’t hold itself together for more than a couple of years before the sunni/shiíte split we all know and (——) came to replicate itself to the detriment of the poor old Sufi.

    i have a feeling the Scholars of Qom (whose original role was a council for the support and advice to the caliph) and the political,social and economic mess they have perpetrated on Persia are at the back of the mind of the long suffering people who are at the moment ,showing just how they feel.

    more power to them.

    in my simplistic and humble opinion.

  34. I lived through one revolution, and studied a few others. They are not predictable. But I doubt that democracy as we know it institutionally will emerge in Egypt. If what does emerge is more responsive to the broad population, it is unlikely to be as accommodating to Israel as the Mubarrak regime. It will undoubtedly have a more Islamic cast, but that can take many forms.

  35. Without reading the comments section yet, I’d have to say that it does seem a very careful thread starter, from JQ, more an IR realist reality check than a “liberal”stance in the internationalist sense. Not that am against “realism”, a fundamental plank of international affairs theorising, particularly when practiced by experts like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in the US, for example.
    At the “Public Opinion” blog, for example, Dr Gary Sauer Thompson is quite comfortable in letting Harvard professor Stephen Walt, a self-proclaimed “realist”in the comment cited by Sauer Thompson,
    do some talking for him, in his current thread starter “Goodbye Mubarak?”
    “Realism” is often conflated to centreism or (small”c”?) conservatism in populist circles, but I don’t think folk who get read Walts’ latest will find anything that cretins like Sheridan or Bolt would have written, even in a unpredicted and convulsive fit of, egalitarianism.
    Now, back to Sauer Thompson, to find out the answer, via a provided link, to a (very) long standing question as to why mid eastern affairs are not often dealt with honestly, even at many self proclaimed “independent”public affairs blogsites (then a read of the comments, back here).

  36. buggar! Got this thread mixed up with one on US decline. Never mind, Walts’article applies to both…

  37. @Marisan
    You are not wrong. Mubarak has lost control of the army so he has decided to pay thugs, give them guns and horses to ride in on the pretext of being Mubarak supporters.
    The old bastard isnt going to go quietly at all and he isnt going to go if he can possibly help it

    even though the Egyptian people want him gone. He is obvioyusly hated and detested by his people for the demonstrations to last this long.

    My thoughts are with the Egyptian people and I pray they get the change they obviously need.

  38. Alice, I am not sure that the regime has lost control of the army – and there is still the Republican Guard. To me it seems that the army has gone along with the brutal methods of the regime simply by standing back.

    The army is going to critical to the final outcome, which hopefully will be the embrace of substantive representative democracy rather than continuation of the dictatorship. I am a concerned about the exercise of American influence established over a long time over the army in brokering the resolution of the demands of the Egyptian people for social justice.

  39. @wmmbb
    I think Mubarak is playing every dirty trick to keep himself in power (and his son and family who have already amassed a 40 million fortune on the backs of the Egyptians)…that he can.

    he says he will go in three months after an orderly election (rigged by him). He says he is fixing the “constitution” (when he is ready). He says he will “talk” to the opposition (as if he has final say on who the opposition will actually be. He has put in avice president of his own choosing. The army is sitting on the fence…right now playing it careful…so how did the “pro Mubarak supporters” get hold of the horses if it wasnt for Mubarak himself paying them? You cant tell me horse owners naturally gravitate to supporting a dictator?

    These guys were paid well to ride into that crowd and someone is advising Mubarak to hold and wear down the anti Mubarak protestors if he wants to keep power.

    This is what we see over and over again. The politics of the people tampled by power mongers wbho just ignore what the people want, ignore what they are protesting about and just sit it oyut with carefully crafted speeches until they exhaust the crowd…into going home (and then the powerful get back to the business of looking after themselves).

    Frankly…I think the people will have to kill him (Mubarak) to get him to leave. That is the reality.

  40. The way I see it, if we take the figures of 20 million for the population of Cairo and 8 million for that of Alexandria, there are plenty of reinforcements for popular cause. But the government’s strategy, and control over the mass media is a instrument, will be turn the population as economic distress starts to hit home with the disruption caused by the uprising. On the other hand the population has been subject to terror for long, by subtle minds, and so they well choose empowerment over fear. I would be surprised if the Egyptian people triumph.

  41. I meant to say I expect the Egyptian people to prevail. One of the interesting things to witness is the self organizing aspects of the social movement. A lot has been accomplished, but will be lost if repression is reimposed.

    As for the wider significance, Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed ( writes:

    What is happening in Tunisia and Egypt is only a manifestation of a deeper convergence of fundamental structural crises, which are truly global in scale. The eruption of social and political unrest has followed the impact of deepening economic turbulence across the region, due to the inflationary impact of rocketing fuel and food prices. As of mid-January, even before Ben Ali had fled Tunis, riots were breaking out in Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, and Jordan. The key grievances? Rampant unemployment, unaffordable food and consumer goods, endemic poverty, lack of basic services, and political repression.

  42. Let’s hope the Egyptian people do prevail. At the moment they carry a struggle for all of us, from millions of poor not only in their own country biut across the world, even down to ordinary people in the west who want better than disenfranchisement, dumbing down and sterility of being commodified consumers wallowing in a tub of Macdonalds fat and their own consequent Hansonist hangups.

  43. @paul walter
    Yes Paul – I do hope the people of Egypt prevail. If they dont now…they surely will later. You can only push people down so far but when they cant feed their children or make a decent living…then as President Kennedy said…if you (a society) cant help the poor, then god help the rich. He was so right.

    The Egyptian people are sending strong warnings to their ruling elite that not all is right in the Egyptian society. The people should prevail. They deserve to prevail.

  44. Oh and the reason Mubaraks son Gamal is so unpopular is that
    since 2002 Gamal Mubarak (the ruling party’s top policy maker) has presided over trade liberalisation programs that saw some growth before the GFC but it came with rapidly rising inequality and high inflation that hit the middle class (in other words growth for the rich only?). Mubarak senior insists it trickled down but it seems it trickled sideways and out the door.
    Corporate tax rates were cut to 20% from 40%.

    What would you expect from a Bank of America executive?
    Odd how these pro liberalisation advocates seem to end up with the same sort of efficiently blank expression. Reminds me of the Roozendahl stare (?would I lie to you).

  45. @paul walter
    Paul – its looking good for the Egyptian people. The people did not tire and did not go home and the scenes are now quite amazing. Mubarak expected to step down within the hour and the army seems to be giving him a push…the only shame is the people (or their new government) cant get back some of the extraordinary 70 billion or so of wealth the Mubarak family has managed to extract and move out of Egypt over their 30 year rule.

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