Thursday, February 03, 2011

Egypt 101: A Primer (and more)

The latest news to confront the masses is in essence an open revolt against the despot who has run Egypt with an iron hand for nearly thirty years. (Mohammed) Hosni Mubarak came to power in 1981 following the death of Anwar Sadat. Needless to say, though to some he represents a stabilizing influence in the world's largest Arab country, there are some facts that can't be ignored. Most notably:

- Hosni Mubarak is a Cold War Relic
- He has ruled Egypt with an iron fist since being 'elected' (This term is used loosely.)
- The latest 'voting results' are rife with fraud.
- When even the military won't toe the line, it is obviously Mr. Mubarak doesn't rule by the will of the people.

This is all well and good, but what exactly is Egypt these days? Egypt is a stark (and dangerous) mix of a small minority of haves and a large majority of have nots. The best way to describle the current economic mix in Egypt is by stating the following: 10-20-70. In other words:

About 10% of the people there live high on the hog and have a  well-off lifestyle

About 20% of the people have a decent lifestyle ( Mostly merchants and such)

The remaining 70% consider a full belly and a roof over their head a luxury, let alone anything else.

While the top ten percent enjoy all of the perks that come with their wealth, the wealth has to come from someplace. Even though the official Egypt unemployment rate is about 9.4%, unofficially it could be as high as 30%, and a very large portion of the employed are younger with college degrees. If you are born into the elite, you are guaranteed not only work, but education as well, but if you are born poor, you will remain so for your life. Any economist can tell you that a situation like this will never hold.

Egypt has a long history behind it, from the Empire days to its (relatively) modern era, but most of that history (surprise!) has been under the bootheel of one ruler or another. What is most surprising is that a successful uprising hasn't happened before, but now it is here for better and (possibly) worse.

The Players

(Muhammed) Hosni Mubarak

This embattled Cold War Relic needs to go. Any support for him in any way whatsoever will weaken  not only those who support him, but potential relations with a future Egypt as well. He has not only stomped on any political representation (other than his own), he has done the same to other various elements in Egypt as well, such as...

The Muslim Brotherhood

Why is this outlawed organization being listed in second place? Because they hold a lot more power than anyone can imagine. The have been banned as the MB since the 1950's for their attempts on the life of Gamel Abdel Nasser, but they still exist and they are still present albeit under a variety of 'independent' parties. The Muslim Brotherhood has officially endorsed the current uprising, but the biggest question is how their (considerable) power base will translate into politics. Though the MB has shown that they can function under a political framework, their creed can't be taken lightly at all in this day and age:

“Allah is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.”

No matter how the Al-Taqiyyah spin doctors wish to ameliorate the above, that credo is NOT peaceful in its utterance at all. The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in 1928 as an initial anti-colonialist faction with official (and unofficial) chapters in numerous (mostly Muslim) countries. An appropriate analogy is thus:

"When an invading General was apprised of the danger and violence of a country wracked by poverty, he was asked how he would proceed. "I will not make war upon them; I will feed the hungry who will then make war for me."

The MB has helped and supported the poor in Egypt for a long time even while it suffered under the bootheels of whoever was in charge of the country. They don't even really have to grab power if a vacuum forms; all they need to be is unbanned. Once that is done, they can then use the electorate base they have succored to halp them gain power.

Pro-Democracy Forces

Despite many people thinking that such could potentially gain power in post-Mubarak Egypt, history tends not to agree with that assertion. Not only are  the contingents fractionated, they lack a central figure to focus their aims. Though some perceive Mohammed El Baradei as such a figure, there would be many who say he is too closely allied to the west in mindset.

Mubarak's Cronies

If you are going to have a revolution against a ruling party or regime, it is always best to clean house; if you don't the dirt that remains can arise to create something even worse than was before. ( Russia anyone?) If the revolution in Egypt is to be successful, the elite will need to be watched closely to prevent any attempts at oligarchy.

Other Groups

Past the ones mentioned, there really are no other groups of consequence in Egypt. While the poor will march for whoever feeds them, non Muslim minorities in Egypt face a potentially dangerous time. Coptic Christians represent about 10% of Egypt's population, but their relations with at least Catholics and especially Muslims have never been warm and friendly. Though they have done their best to stay below the radar, more presecutions could result if the wrong sort of government gains power in Egypt.

Cairo Facts

Though Cairo proper has only 7 million or so people, the area they occupy is only 175 square miles (NYC in comparison has roughly 8 million people on 305 square miles) If you add the surrounding areas of Cairo to that total, the city population is more than many US States. The crowding has led to violence in many more ways than one, but it has also fueled the protests that show no sign of winding down. Despite the attempts of Egypt to diversify its economy, the grinding poverty, illiteracy (30%), and the stark inequality will have to be addressed before the country can move forward.


Though the optimist in me would like to believe in a positive outcome in Egypt, the realist in me can't do so. As much as I would like to see a democracy oriented government, the truth is that the Muslim Brotherhood is better organized and more capable of taking over the reins of government. Whether they choose to disavow or modify their credo is another matter entirely.

A Jaded Bard