Friday, February 18, 2011

Egypt going forward

Hamza El-Nakhal wrote a letter to The Davis Enterprise, today, regarding the situation in Egypt, his native country.

He wrote:

I am so proud of all the defenseless Egyptian youths who stood up to the dictator and his terrorist regime for 18 days in Tahrir (Liberation) square in downtown Cairo. They endured the shutting down of communication means such as the Internet and mobile phone services, thugs on horseback, criminal drivers who plowed through the pedestrians, rock throwing, rubber and live bullets, tear gas and cocktail bombs, and freeing criminal prisoners and ordering them to cause as much chaos as possible in the civilian population.

I too feel good about the peaceful demonstrators in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt. They behaved admirably. However, it should be noted that, as brutal as the Mubarak government (and the thugs within his political party) could be, that regime was tame compared to most Arab and Muslim governments. It is pure hyperbole to call Mubarak's government a "terrorist regime," when it is seen in the light of Syria, Algeria, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Iran.

Protests have spread recently to Libya. Not surprisingly, Col. Kaddafi's response was much more violent than Gen. Mubarak's was:

The severity of a Libyan crackdown on its so-called Day of Rage began to emerge Friday when a human rights advocacy group said 24 people had been killed by gunfire on Thursday and news reports said further clashes with security forces were feared at the funerals for the dead.

A later report from the AP says 84 have been killed by Col. Kaddafi's goons.

Mr. El-Nakhal adds that, "Egyptians lived under the iron fist of that regime for almost 30 years." That is true. But it's not the case that before Mubarak Egyptians had legitimately elected or liberal governments. Nasser and Sadat were, like Mubarak, military leaders who became dictators. Before them, Egypt had a king in power.

While Mubarak was no more democratic than his predecessors, he was no less. And in fact, Mubarak had started to liberalize their socialist economy. That liberalization led to the creation of new industry in Egypt, and its byproduct was a rising economy and a new middle class. The protestors in Tahrir Square were not peasants. Nor were most of them workers in Egypt's socialist enterprises. A great percentage of them were educated, middle class people whose fortunes were improved by the liberalization.

I hope the coming elections will be democratic. I have a small wager that they will be. However, because of the widespread illiteracy and bad education in Egypt, the ubiquitous poverty--the L.A. Times reports that about 40% of Egyptians live on $2 a day or less--and the lack of a tradition of democratic governance and the troubling influence of Muslim extremists, I don't have a lot of hope for much democracy after the elections.

One problem is that the military in Egypt is an independent entity which wants to end liberalization and return to the socialist ways which were adopted in the 1950s when Soviet planners directed the Egyptian economy:

The Egyptian military defends the country, but it also runs day care centers and beach resorts. Its divisions make television sets, jeeps, washing machines, wooden furniture and olive oil, as well as bottled water under a brand reportedly named after a general’s daughter, Safi.

From this vast web of businesses, the military pays no taxes, employs conscripted labor, buys public land on favorable terms and discloses nothing to Parliament or the public. ...

Field Marshal Tantawi, the defense minister, and other senior officers were all commissioned before Mr. Sadat switched Egypt’s allegiance to the West in 1979. They trained in the former Soviet Union, where sprawling business empires under military control were not uncommon. ...

(American ambassador to Egypt), Margaret Scobey, wrote of the plans for economic liberalization: “The military views the (government owned enterprise's) privatization efforts as a threat to its economic position, and therefore generally opposes economic reforms. We see the military’s role in the economy as a force that generally stifles free market reform by increasing direct government involvement in the markets.”

One probable political change in the next year, whether there are democratic elections or not, is that Egypt will become more socialist in its economy. The trend toward liberalization will end. And many of those protestors who helped to topple Mubarak will be disemployed as their new industries are shut down and replaced by government companies under the control of the military.

Socialism is not compatible with democracy. A stagnant, uncompetitive economy is not compatible with democracy. A military in charge of an economy is not compatible with democracy. In the end, it looks very unlikely that Egypt will soon be a truly free, democratic country.

No comments: