Saturday, February 12, 2011

24 - Egypt - Smoke and Shadows

Kebash Road - Karnak
Could Egypt become the first-ever, Arab democracy?
The parties are winding down in Cairo and Alexandria, and soon will be over. Besides the symbolic resignation of its leader, the armed forces are still in power, as they were since the fall of the sultanate.
Give the people smoke and shadows: instead of the British-supported Sultans, give them military-appointed Pharaohs, to love first and hate later. Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, figureheads change, the real power remains in the same hands. Give the people a whistle to blow, let them dance on the streets and they will eventually go home.
What to expect this time? Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, Sadat made peace with Israel and Mubarak protected foreign investment and tourism. All of them entrenched a privileged military caste, lined their own and their cronies pockets, wrested external help, mostly economic. The military will now oversee the "transition"...
The fire of the demand for people empowerment is spreading throughout the region. Two much smoke and some shadows haunting the remembrance of Iran-like unqualified disasters, local wars, terrorism, religious extremists, betrayed promises. After the appearance of victory, starts now the real effort to actually move forward some political, social and economic improvements. “Allah Akbar” is not a government program.
The Arab autocrats and dictators (with a couple of minor exceptions) do not have the minimum saving grace of some other authoritarian regimes, who used their powers to reform the society and fight the most egregious forces of retardation.
Ataturk’s "young Turks" reined in the religious harmful superstitions keeping the people ignorant and the women oppressed. The Chinese stopped the population explosion with the one-child policy, without which there was no hope of ever feeding everybody and improving the economy.
Alas, democracy is not the end of the road to social progress and fairness. Both China and India are extreme examples of one an authoritarian regime and the other a democracy: each of them equally ridded with corruption, a growing chasm between the privileged few and the starving, slave-like majority. Real democracy takes time, and education, and work, and justice. Real democracy is always born in pain.
Most of the world, notoriously the Arab family of nations (as well as their neighboring Asian and African ones, led by committees, stooges or chieftains), still live with a medieval mindset: patriarchal, tribal, theocratic, aristocratic, mafia-like, chose the name, the functioning is the same: the few living out of the work of the many, using the forces of weapons, ideology or religion, to coerce people to comply with extortion practices.
The spoils of power take many forms: raiding directly the national Treasury, selling the country's natural resources for private profit, controlling the economy, requiring local and useless sponsors for foreign investment (or partners who share the profits without real work or actual capital), demanding bribes for every administrative or bureaucratic procedure. All this is done proportionally to power, rank, connections, as well as prodding or disruptive capacities.
Real democracy is not likely to happen yet there, but hope springs eternal.
On the other hand, doesn’t at least some of the above sound somewhat familiar to our own, "developed" countries?

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