On Egypt

I have seen on the Internets: “The Iraq War cost $3 trillion. We could have saved $2.99 trillion and given the rest to Al Jazeera to get the same net result.” I am not positive it’s a misplaced sentiment. Free and unfettered political speech combined with political corruption is a terribly powerful force for change.

What Happened in Egypt?
Food insecurity is at the root. Food prices have risen as much as 30% in much of the Middle East. When people live on $5 a day are faced with food insecurity, people riot. The root is right here in CNN.

In Egypt alone, food prices soared 17% — in part because of the worldwide surge in commodities prices but also because of local supply imbalances.

Egypt also has a recorded unemployment of ~9.5% but the real numbers are likely much harder.

Then there was the story of Khalid Said. Young businessman Khalid Said saw a drug deal go down between two corrupt policemen in Alexandria, caught the video on his cellphone, and uploaded it up to YouTube. The police came around and beat him to death. It was a year ago — but long enough for him to become a symbol.

And then there was January 25th, a date Hosni Mubarak put on the map for the very first time as “We Love the Secret Police Day.” No really.

Mix in Tunisia, Wikileaks, Facebook organization, a little bit of twitter, SMS, Al Jazeera, and *kerpow*

What Next?
Mubarak is playing the Iranian waiting game. He believes he can wait out the people in the streets by shutting down the banks, unleashing prisoners, destroying property, pulling the police out to allow mayhem, and terrorizing people with the military. But people with no jobs and no food have no where else better to be. And thus there is an impasse. It’s not even clear a Tienanmen Square-style massacre would disperse people at this point.

Perhaps Mubarak is simply waiting for the protesters to starve.

Either way, he is critically weakened as a strongman. He no longer has the backing of his people and his leverage is rapidly vaporizing.

On the other hand, Egypt has never had anything resembling a democracy. It’s unclear it can get there itself without some help. But, unlike lots of people who are wringing their hands, I’m sort of certain where there is a will there is a way and once people have a taste of lovely free speech and freedom to assemble and free press they have a hard time giving it back up. We’ll see.

Everyone is talking about the Muslim Brotherhood. If there were parliamentary elections in Egypt, they would take a number of seats. That is certain. Mubarak carefully terrorized and destroyed all of the secular political parties that might have threatened his reign but left the Brothers in a stunted state. They are the only ones with a political apparatus in place. The Wikipedia page isn’t bad. If they will be become crazies or if they will participate in the political process is to be seen.

The clear winner in all this is Al Jazeera. They have had a 2500% (yes, the number is right) growth in traffic to their site, most of it from the US. The servers came down for a while on Friday but donations and half the IT in Qatar is busy trying to keep them online. They’ve always been goofy but no goofier than our cable news — they just have a different point of view.

  • I’d also mention that Mubarak has been one of our go-to guys in the Middle East for many, many years now. And while I’m not saying that we were propping up a dictator to further our interests in the area, we were at the very least turning a blind eye to a situation we know wasn’t good for the Egyptian people.

    • Me

      And his boss before him. And his boss before him back to Independence in 1952. This has been in place for 60 years. It’s the story of the entire Middle East.