I have been gone too long, rearranging the nuts, bolts, and assorted hinges that comprise the Goldberg machine that is my life. That’s not done with by any means, but I’m at a place now where the urge to write in this format is too great to ignore.
I’m probably going to keep this broadly about politics and economics, and since I’ve gravitated toward the latter recently, this may reflect that shift.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about Egypt:
The revolutionary fervor that has spread across the Maghreb into the Arab world in recent weeks is by and large a function of two factors: 1) Kleptocratic, sclerotic governance and 2) hideously poor economic management. The myriad of Hosni Mubarak jokes that have gone into broad circulation over the three decades of his rule speak to the long-standing tolerance both within parts of the Egyptian populace and internationally of his regime’s corruption and willingness to use force to stifle dissent across the political spectrum. When such looting and disregard for human dignity continues in the face of massive unemployment and the widening of the chasm between haves and have-nots, however, people are rightfully outraged and are more than willing to sacrifice their personal safety to let their feelings be known publicly.
Before I continue, let’s be perfectly clear about one issue of confusion that seems to be plaguing both my peers and the nattering bobble-heads of talk news alike–this is not about religion. This, as the brilliant Juan Cole noted, is a textbook (or, in this instance, manifesto) example of class conflict in action. There is a glut of relatively skilled and educated (in comparison to their parents’ generation) workers under 40 in Egypt, and there are not nearly enough jobs being created to help them put their talents to good use. As such, unemployment and underemployment (engineers working as, say, food cart vendors) has been rife throughout Mubarak’s presidency. The global recession pushed a precarious situation into crisis, as the sizable gap between rich and poor grew into a chasm as the fledgling middle-class that had previously held a tenuous grasp on economic security essentially evaporated. To the detriment of Mubarak’s legitimacy (a dicey proposition to many from the jump) and the welfare of the Egyptian people, the ruling NDP has largely granted its members and associates monopolies on large portions of the national economy, enriching its members and the Mubarak family in particular.
So you ask: why does all this matter? What impact does a corrupt regime’s death throes have to do with my day to day life of drudgery and gruel?
How does $200 a barrel sound to you? Bad, right? Let’s consult the map for a moment, shall we?
See the top right hand corner of the map, that little blue line with the little dashes pointing out to the right? That’s the Suez Canal, probably among the five most strategically important stretches of water in the world (along with it’s Panamanian cousin, the Straits of Hormuz, the Straits of Aden, and perhaps the Yellow Sea). The mere possibility that commercial shipping traffic could be disrupted by this uprising sent stocks hurtling downwards last Friday–although, as I write this, the canal remains open for business. Of course, that hasn’t stopped the more risk averse from cutting bait.
The other significant factor here is of course Israel. Israelis from all walks of life are understandably skittish about the prospect of losing their only significant Arab ally–though some are far more willing to view the chaos as a strategic victory than others. From both an Israeli and US perspective, the relationship with Mubarak has always been seen as vital to maintaining a degree of stability in a region where peace of mind is perhaps the scarcest resource, save perhaps water. The divergence in the US and Israeli approaches to these developments, however, have laid bare a crucial truth–this regime, and the relationships fostered through US aid and other under-the-table dealings, was drowning in original sin from the beginning. Its perpetuation can be seen as the enabling of a corrupt bargain that the Obama administration, for all its vacillating, tacitly acknowledged as unsustainable given the sheer scale of the uprising. Israel’s math, however, is different, and even now Netanyahu’s government is continuing to call for Mubarak to stay in power. Bibi’s bargaining position, however, is seriously compromised; for any act of military aggression in such a circumstance is completely out of the question. Additionally, the internal instability of Israel’s politics and its precarious positions elsewhere dictates that the maintenance of the Camp David accords must be made Israel’s highest strategic priority. The United States, no doubt, will see to it that regardless of events on the ground in Egypt, that this linchpin of US hegemonic prestige is upheld by all sides.
So then: what of the events on the ground? What of the domestic impact of this on Egyptians? All and sundry worry about the possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood gaining power out of this, but it is vital to recall what I made quite clear earlier–this is about gaining the right to self-determination and a chance for better economic opportunities, not about a clamor for Iranian-style theocracy or some far-fetched Al Qaeda conspiracy to poison the well. Simply put, that possibility isn’t really on the table at the moment, and that we in the United States have been so misled and ill-informed by our media outlets is beyond shameful. Then again, it isn’t about us. It’s about the Egyptian people asserting their right to live life in dignity, free from a corrupt regime that has ransacked their treasury and deprived them of the most basic of rights. With that said: يسقط يسقط حسني مبارك