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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Careful What You Wish For: The Cost of Revolution In Egypt

Two weeks ago not one in a thousand Americans could have found  Tunisia on a map.

Most still can’t. 

And I will bet you even money that if you ask the ten people nearest you right now who the recently ousted Tunisian evil dictator was, you’ll get nine answers that are the equivalent of “uh, um, I dunno” and one guy who fakes a heart attack to get out of answering.

But today, they’re cheering for democracy in Tunisia.

Two weeks ago not one in a hundred Americans could have found Egypt on a map without help from Google.

Most still can’t. 

And if you’d have asked most Americans who Egypt’s Grand Pananjurum (King? Sheik? Prime Minister? Or is it President?) was last Monday, most of them couldn’t have identified Hosni Mubarak if his name was spelled out on their palm in magic marker. 

There are damned few Americans who used the word “Egypt” in the last year (prior to this week anyway), and damned few outside the state department or the Egyptian expat community who’ve given Egypt a second thought in the same period. Or in the last two years. Or three. Or thirty.  I don’t recall Egyptian democracy being a big topic during the last election cycle. Did the President mention it during the State of the Union address? Did the Republicans bring up Egypt during the Rebuttal and I just missed it?

In fact, I had to go back nearly ten years to find “Egypt” mentioned above the fold on the front page of any major newspaper in the US. 

Frankly, damned few Americans could give two shits about Egypt.

Prior to this week anyway.

But now? What do we want? We want Whathisname-the-Evil-Pananjurum (King? Dictator? Sheik? Prime Minister? President?) out! When do we want it? We want it now! Oh yes, Whathisname has got to go, hey hey ho ho! Freeeeedom!

Suddenly, democracy in Egypt is a big deal.  To Americans.

Last week we were worried about our precious tax dollars being squandered on abortion for liberal welfare cheats.

The week before that we wanted the government out of our healthcare, by God!

The week before that it was jobs.

And the Week before that it was the debt, and the deficit, and China, and 2nd Amendment rights!

But, all that pales when it comes to our burning desire for Egyptian democracy.

Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak became President of Egypt in 1981.  I remember the day. I remember watching him on the news. He was sworn into office on October 14, 1981, to be precise, but he really assumed power on the 6th – it was kind of a big day. Lots of noise and hoopla. Now, that’s about thirty years in power, for those of you not good with the math. Thirty years. And in all that time, I can recall damned few Americans getting spun up over “democracy” in Egypt. I’m trying to remember the last time I saw a bunch of Tea Party types waving “Free Egypt!” signs. Or a bunch of liberal students marching on the Berkley campus demanding free elections in Egypt.   Near as I can figure, the closest most Americans have gotten to thinking about Egypt in the last two decades was watching Brandon Frasier and Rachel Weisz battle the evil undead during the first two installments of The Mummy (frankly, I don’t remember who Frasier and the replacement chick fought in the third one, was it flying monkeys maybe?).

And the reason Americans don’t give a shit about Egypt has a lot to do with Hosni Mubarak.

Used to be we thought about Egypt a lot.  When I was growing up, Egypt appeared above the fold all the time.

See, prior to Mubarak there was Anwar Sadat. You may have heard of him, he got blown up in a grenade attack and then shot – along with about thirty others, including the country’s Vice President, Hosni Murbarak – by his own troops on October 6th, 1981, during a parade celebrating the Egyptian Army’s crossing of the Suez and invasion of the Sinai during the Yom Kippur War. Sadat was hated by a lot of Egyptians, including his own army and a lot of other people in the Muslim world – in fact, three former American presidents showed up for his funeral (Ford, Carter, and Nixon) but only one Arab leader – because first he got his ass handed to him by the hated Israelis and then he went and made peace with them.  Everybody in the world was awestruck by those pictures of Carter and Sadat and Menachem Begin at Camp David, well, everybody except for the shamed and defeated Egyptian Army and the Pan Arab Nationalists that is. While the peace treaty was generally popular in Egypt, it resulted in that country’s expulsion from the Arab League who saw peace with Israel as a betrayal and pandering to the Zionists and to Evangelical Christians (and in fact, Pat Robertson gave Sadat the Prince of Peace award, which, you know, really helped his image in the Arab world). His government was a corrupt mess. During the last decade of his presidency, Egypt was in constant turmoil with rampant rioting and unrest.  Sadat’s attempt to implement the so-called Free Market in Egypt resulted in the 1977 Bread Riots after he lifted price controls and government regulation.  Revolution was the watch word, and in fact it was revolution by the parents of the current  batch of revolutionaries who swept Mubarak to power in the chaotic days after Sadat’s assassination at the hands of an enraged Army Officer and his troops.

Before Sadat, it was Gamal Abdul Nasser Hussein, the great pan-Arab nationalist and hero.  I once spent a couple of years sitting off the coast of North Africa, much of it north of the Libyan/Egyptian border city of Gamal Abdul Nasser.  Nasser was a big deal, hell, half the kids in the Middle East are named after him, including one of Mubarak’s own. He raised a lot of hell and scared the shit out of the West and the United States on more than one occasion – people got all sweaty about Saddam’s ambition and Ba’athist talk of unified Arab States?  Saddam was a pissant compared to Nasser – and in point of fact, worldwide Arab Nationalism all during the 50’s and 60’s was called Nasserism and Saddam’s Ba’ath Party was a direct descendent of that movement.  And if Muslim military forces hadn’t gotten soundly trounced by the Israelis during the Six Day War, today you might be buying your oil from the United Arab States of Nasser.

Before Nasser, it was Muhamad Naguib, who (along with Gamal Nasser) led the 1953 Egyptian Revolution against his predecessor, the Sultan, King Farouk and the ruling Muhammad Ali Dynasty (Muhammad Ali? Where have I heard that name before?). Naguib didn’t last long, Nasser got sick of sharing power with him and had him locked up for the next two decades until he was freed by Sadat. Before the kings and the Sultans it was the British and before them it was the Ottomans and before them it was the Romans and before them it was the Pharaohs and nobody gives a crap who it was before that.

If you’ve been paying attention, you might notice something, to wit: the longest period of peace and stability in Egypt since the time of the Pharaohs has been this last thirty years under the rule of Hosni Mubarak.

Big deal, Mubarak is an asshole.  We want him out and democracy in!

Yeah, yeah, I hear you.

Couple of things you might have missed though:

First, I waited to write this piece for a reason. What could that be? Well in a word, stones. Sticks and stones actually. See, a whole lot of very na├»ve folks seemed to think there was going to be some kind of peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy.  This delusion baffles me. Peaceful transition?  Egypt has never had a peaceful transition of power. Ever. And by ever, I mean all the way back to the Pharaohs.  And I am hard pressed finding even single example of a peaceful transition from authoritarianism to democracy anywhere, including our own history here in the US.  And sure enough, this morning the protests turned violent. Today it’s stones and Molotov cocktails and shots in the air.  Tomorrow, the next day, the bullets won’t be into the air- and hell, they aren’t already. Buildings are burning and the looting has started and the revolution is in full swing. Hamas, Al Qaida,  and those who thrive on war and terror and revolution won’t be far behind.  The kids rioting in the streets don’t have leaders, they are a mob, somebody will move to fill that vacuum, watch and see if they don’t.  The army swore to stay out of it, they’ll never be able to live up to that promise.

I’ve heard and read dozens of interviews with the rioters.  You can’t call them revolutionaries, not yet anyway. Revolutionaries have a plan, a goal, leaders. These people are rabble.  The interview I heard this morning on NPR is a perfect example: Question: What do you want? Answer: We don’t know, we just want Mubarak out.  Right.  Create a power vacuum in the Middle East, see if democracy fills it. Good luck, don’t forget your galoshes, because you’re about to be up to your neck in shit.

Here’s a funny thought, a whole lot of the Americans clamoring for democracy and freedom in Egypt right now are the exact same folks who thought Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship was a fine, fine place to conduct “enhanced interrogation” precisely because it wasn’t a democracy.  An outbreak of freedom there is going to put a real crimp in the old Rendition program now isn’t it? Looks like we’ll have to send detainees to Bulgaria and Jordan instead. But I  digress.

But here’s the real kicker:

How much is democracy in Egypt worth to you?  $4? $5? $6? Because that’s where the price for a gallon of gasoline is headed. Go check the pumps, it’s up ten cents already and climbing fast. Oil last week was about $75 a barrel, today it’s over $100 and soaring.  Suez canal, you know. Runs through Egypt, past Cairo. Or did you forget about that? And a rather large percentage of Middle Eastern Oil bound for Europe and the US passes through that channel.  The Commodities Market is in full blown panic and the oil companies are busy fanning the flames despite the fact that there has been absolutely no disruption of supply. Yet. What? Why would oil companies stir up panic?  Because it’s nothing but pure profit, that’s why, and that’s how it’s done. And it’s not just Exxon and BP, it’s Wall Street too. Sound paranoid? Sound crazy? Sound like something Glenn Beck would say? Let me draw it out for you: the huge jump in oil stocks this morning allowed BP to project a profit for their shareholders for the first time since the Deep Water Horizon explosion – this is a direct result of the revolution in Egypt. The more of Egypt that burns, and the longer it takes, the better for the oil industry and the worse for you.  None of the industry’s equipment or supply is in Egypt. They lose nothing, and gain everything

Now, consider this: The US Midwest and the East Coast are in the grip of one of the worst winters on record and as of this morning Texas has resorted to rolling blackouts because of dramatically increased power consumption due to the cold weather – what do you think is going to happen to the price of heating oil? Followed by the price at the pump? Followed by your electric bill?  Or didn’t you think that far?  It’s not just Egypt – that’s just icing on the cake. Industry analysts started talking about $5 dollars per gallon of gas a month ago – and that, my friends, is a dirty trick, a market manipulation and a self fulfilling prophecy. Oil Execs engage in it all the time.  It’s a standard tactic. Talk about price increases, just hinting at a price increase from some obscure industry expert, and the market reacts and prices increase. Understand, the physical cost of getting the oil out of the ground, shipping it, and refining it doesn’t increase, what increases is the price of oil shares on the market and that is how money is made right out of thin air  – throw in a refinery malfunction or a pipeline failure or a convenient revolution on top of the Suez Canal and see what happens.  The $5 dollar a gallon talk started because the oil companies were pissed about the Fed’s moratorium on deep water and coastal drilling.  Then winter and revolution happened.  Happy days. For investors. 

Then there’s Israel. 

Israel and Egypt have been at peace for nearly 40 years, since that day Sadat and Begin and Carter all shook hands in the Rose Garden and earned themselves the Nobel Peace Prize.  Whether or not a new revolutionary government in Egypt, one padded with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the fiery passions of Islamic revolutionaries, chooses to honor that peace remains to be seen.  Peace, war, or something in between, it’ll be a while – maybe even years – before we know for sure. 

Think the oil market is soaring now?  Let there be even a whisper of conflict between the new powers in Egypt and Israel – or even continuing and sustained uncertainty – and see what happens to the price of oil. 

Two weeks ago, not one in a hundred Americans could have found Egypt on a map.

Maybe one in a thousand could have named Egypt’s president – after all, he’s never been on Dancing With the Stars.

Today, they demand revolution.

You want Mubarak gone?

You love the sound of revolution in Egypt? In Tunisia? And the rumbling of it in Jordan and Yeman?

How much is it worth to you?

It’s one thing to call for revolution in Middle East without personal consequence to yourself, but I’m wondering how long this righteous fire will last once the bill comes due.

31 comments:

  1. For the record:

    I know where Tunisia is -- no idea who the ousted guy was.

    I'm pretty familiar with Middle East geography (including where Egypt is), and while I couldn't tell you much about the inner workings of Egyptian politics or society, I could name the "leaders" and approximate dates back to Nasser.

    And I'll just repeat what I said on FB the other day:

    I may be a hypocrite.

    I'm all for the "will of the people" and "self determination". Yahoo!

    I'm also really concerned that the Egyptians are going to get rid of Mubarak and then freely and democratically elect a bunch of assholes.


    I don't know enough else about the situation to be more predictive than that.

    And I've always been a little amazed that a predicted slowdown in oil drilling could cause the gas that's already at the gas station to rise in price. Didn't they pay for that shit already?

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  2. Well, the general flim flam is that you're not paying for the gas in the gas station tank, you're paying for the next tank.

    Of course, that doesn't explain why when the price per barrel of oil drops the price at the pump doesn't drop immediately too.

    Yeah, that's the smell of oil industry bullshit.

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  3. I'm not Tunisian, I'm not Egyptian, I won't pretend I know what it's like to live in these countries, and I won't pretend I know what it's like to live under a dictatorship.

    So I understand why they want something to change (when the price of food in Tunisia is the same as in Western Europe and yet their salaries are 1/10th in comparison, I get why they would be angry, I probably would be too), I understand that once things gets going then there's a big chance it's going to spread.

    Are they wrong to want "something better" ? I don't think so. Yes, it would be better if they had a more precise idea of what the "something better" could be, but well, if wished were horses...
    Is "something better" really going to happen ? I'm not quite sure, I can only hope for them that it is.

    Ultimately it's not our choice though, it's not our lives.

    Sure, if there's an(other) oil crisis we're going to have to live with the consequences (considering in France the gallon of petrol is already at $7.8 , worse in the UK, I let you imagine how happy people are at the idea of the prices going up - again), but it's still not our place to tell them what they should be doing or not.

    If they were telling us how we're supposed to rule/lead our countries, what we - as a population - are suppose to accept, I don't think we would be happy about it. If they told us : "yeah, but if you elect this one, or that one, it's not going to be practical for us", we would probably tell them (were to stuff it) we don't really care about their comfort. So maybe it's time to give them the freedom to make their own decisions ?

    This said, I'm admittedly no expert
    at politics, so consider it a naive point of view if you will. I sometimes still think human beings should be able to leave all together in peace, that's how naive (and hopeful ?) I am. Call me crazy *shrug*

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  4. A friend of mine bought me Naomi Klein's, "The Shock Doctrine - The Rise of Disaster Capitalism".

    I have found it to be incredibly illuminating, and very pertinent to much of what is happening in Egypt.

    Folks, we may not want to admit it, but the greatest terrorists in the world aren't those blowing themselves up, but those who work in the shadows, instigating, stimulating, propagating, lies, fear and violence.

    There efforts aren't in the name of family values, religion, or politics. It's done to wipe out the very notion of a middle class. It's perpetrated by people blinded by a concept of economics that I find easily comparable with the worst kind of religious fanaticism.

    These folks have bought our media, and they dictate their terms to us in the form of fear. They tell a nation that for years had prepared for WWIII with Russia, that we must now focus that same measure of fear upon a handful of lunatics living in caves.

    This country has been reduced from a proud Eagle, to a simpering hen who is scared shitless of its own shadow let alone a few sparrows.

    That is the ultimate environment for those who promote, practice and profit from Disaster Capitalism.

    Were in trouble folks, you may laugh at the notion of a Sarah Palin becoming the President of this country, but I detect a bit of nervousness mixed in that laughter.

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  5. cjoelle: notice I didn't attempt to tell either the Egyptians or the Tunisians what to do. The point of this post is to point out the utter hypocrisy inherent in Americans calling for revolution and/or western style democracy in countries that up until a few days ago most never thought of. Their passion is manufactured outrage and nothing more, and if Egypt or Tunisia or Yemen fell off the face of the Earth tomorrow, most wouldn't give it a second thought.

    My larger point is that the current batch of hypocritical jackasses in Congress and their mouthpieces on TV and their political parties just spent six months going on and on and on about THE ECONOMY and getting government off the backs of people - and yet their first action upon taking power is a completely and totally useless attempt to deny 40 million
    Americans access to health care, followed by an attempt to legislate what women may or may not do with their own reproductive organs. I find it highly ironic, that this week the same batch of fucktards is demanding freedom and democracy in Egypt while attempting to deny the same to their own constituents. I also find it highly ironic that this same group of folks found Egypt and countries like it highly convenient when they needed a place to torture people in violation of US and international law. And I find it laughable and completely predictable that they are now demanding a course of action that will drive energy prices through the roof worldwide, likely destroying what economic recovery we have achieved and driving us right back down into economic depression yet again. Everything depends on the price of oil. Everything.

    Finally, Mubarak has been one of the very few folks in the Middle East that the West can count as a friend for the last 30 years. Now, suddenly, we don't know him? What kind of friend does that make us? What we should be doing is backing Mubarak's play. I.e. let him finish out his term and hold him to his promise not to seek further office, giving the new government time to form and time for the crowd to settle down. You want a peaceful transition and one that doesn't negatively impact the entire planet, that's the only way to get it.


    Joe: Yes, exactly.

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  6. "even single example of a peaceful transition from authoritarianism to democracy anywhere": see Canada

    Of curse there were a few raids launched from US soil after Confederation, and then there was Louis Riel, but that was after the transition.

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  7. They're not just trying to legislate what women are and aren't allowed to do with their uteruses, they're at the same time trying to legally redefine rape as "if she's not bruised and bleeding it doesn't count".

    I'm actually not certain whether this is a case of misogynic wording in an attempt to further their anti-choice crusade, or an attempt to use the "ZOMG ABORTION IS HORRIBLE" emotional kneejerk reaction to redefine what's legally considered 'rape' and therefore what's prosecutable and what isn't.

    (Farfetched? Somehow I don't think so.)

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  8. So, that's one...

    I can actually name a few others, Tim, but the odds are against it. Especially in the Middle East. It would be one thing if these people were going in with a plan and a proposed government and provisional leaders, but they are not.

    As I said, they are a mob, not a revolution. Mobs don't rule. Mobs don't create. Mobs destroy. They'll tear down this government and leave a vacuum - nature abhors a vacuum and so does politics, especially in the Middle East. In the Middle East that political vacuum, in the midst of crisis and at a crucial world crossroads, will be filled by whomever has the power to grab it - i.e. those that are ruthless enough and organized enough. There are only a few candidates for that role in Egypt, and none of them are going to be our friends.

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  9. I'm Just figuring the "fuck yeah democracy" stuff from americans will continue until the egyptians democratically elect someone that isn't interested in sucking up to us. And then there'll be a lot of cheering when that person gets assassinated. Just going by our hypocritical history of only supporting democracy if it gets people we like elected.

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  10. The term "fair weather patriots" comes to mind...

    I'm reminded of something Heinlein wrote in the novel Friday. I don't remember the exact quote but the gist of it was that dictatorships are very stable places until they collapse.

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  11. It seems to me that your president's response to the situation in Eygpt falls in line with your commentary.

    "Um...Democracy...right on!"

    Looks around a bit nervously.

    "But yah see...the thing is...could you, you know, maybe not have a shitstorm in the process? It'd kinda cramp our style is what I'm saying."

    Looks around.

    "Hey Joe...that Madela guy is still alive right? Maybe we can fly him into Egypt so's he can use that Mandela Mojo to make this happen nice and smooth like. What's that? He's says he 'frikkin tired'? Dammit!"

    Someone might want to point out to the current crop of bandwagonning 'Pro-democracy' windbags that all those folks in Egypt who want Democracy also happen to be 'Muslims' (yes I realize that the younger educated class who are spokespeople for this 'movement' seem at best tepid on the religion thing). I figure that would be enough to get them to think twice before they were all 'Democracy, fuck yah' (you know, seeing as how they'd suffer major cognitive dissonance running 'democracy' and 'Muslim' side by each).

    Sadly, as a Canadian, all I can see is the Tar Sands assholes licking their chops, as all reason is pushed to the back burner in the name of 'safe' oil.

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  12. To many steps to see the connection. Most people will just see it as "the countries that hate us" sticking it to us with the price of oil.

    The NPR story was interesting. El Baradei is kidding himself. And the thought that "Once Mubarak is gone, everything will be right with the world" (practically a quote from one of the interviews) is along the lines of me asking them, "You know, Santa Clause isn't real, right?"

    Yeah. Leaderless revolution. Let me see, that's step 4 or 5 in the terrorist handbook, isn't it?

    But then the Muslim Brotherhood and MEK are all reformed, aren't they? I mean, they're on our side, right? Bueller, Bueller?

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  13. Umm, I seem to remember Iran having 'em one of these suarees. They got democracy, right? Oh, right. No, they got some fuckstick who thinks the holocaust never happened, but that if Hitler had done such a thing, it'd been nice if he'd finished the job.

    Hell, even the good ol' U. S. of A. took the time to write out our intentions for our revolution & deliver it to virtually every world leader we could find an address for in our rolodex, but we weren't for certain what government we wanted to put in George's place. Democracy almost didn't happen here. There was a significant contingent amongst our Founding Fathers who wanted to install George Washington as king, following our fracas with England. I don't know what kind of poobah little lord Washington XIV would have made today, but I'll let that thought roll around in everyone's heads whilst we watch the goings-on in Egypt.

    What we have over there is a popular revolt. Democracy is a long ways off, if it ever comes to pass.

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  14. "notice I didn't attempt to tell either the Egyptians or the Tunisians what to do."

    I did notice that, in fact that's one of the things I liked in your post.

    I'm afraid once I began answering, I was the one who couldn't get off my soapbox actually, and I answered to things I had not read here but in other places. My apologies for that.

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  15. No need to apologize, I agreed with your observations.

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  16. As far as the geography goes, you might be right with the average American, but your readers are far brighter than that. I know I recently tested myself by sketching a map of the area from Egypt east to the Alaskan coast. I wouldn't want to navigate a plane by it, but it was close enough for argument.

    NPR has carried stories on the recent Egyptian elections, there were several stories during last November.

    I think we did the right thing by creating close military to military connections, and the military seems to be staying out of the oppression, even if they didn't intervene to stop it.

    I have a friend who has family still in Egypt, and he thinks that the Muslim Brotherhood isn't the boogeyman some people want to paint it, and if true democracy establishes itself, the voices of the brotherhood will be present, but diluted.

    Since Egypt does not have quantities of oil, they make a sizeable part of their money on two things, tourism and Suez canal fees. It will not be in the interests of the Egyptian people to have a government that endangers either of those. Egypt is an educated nation, I trust them to make a fairly smooth transition. It won't be perfect, and it won't be what W. would have designed, but I think that in 2 years time, we won't really be thinking too much about this.

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  17. Jim,

    There have been more attempts at democracy in the ME than most people have heard of. The failures thereof owe as much to outside influence, including direct intervention, as any purely domestic factors.

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  18. People seem to forget, or maybe they never understood in the first place, government is an evolutionary process. You can't jump from one evolutionary step up the chain to more advanced forms without going through the intervening process - or at least you can't very damned often.

    Many Middle Eastern governments are modernized versions of the historic tribal structures that were in place before the sudden application of modern technology and power. Those governments and societies are not going to suddenly jump from feudalism to western style democracy in a week, or a decade. And you can't impose such changes on a society, it will be rejected in favor of a less drastic change. Russia is a good example. So is Egypt under Murbarak - which is as close to democracy as many Middle Eastern countries are libel to get for a while.

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  19. I can't agree that there is a clear evolutionary path to democracy or any other certain outcome. That 19th c. Notion would not help a 19th century political scientist predict the 20th century history of Spain or India or Russia or Germany. think about Germany in 1945 and Germany now! There is always room for pessimism but you can' justify it on the basis of evolutionary steps that must be passed through. Heck even biological evolution doesn't work that way.

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  20. Steve, I never said there was a "clear" evolutionary path to western style democracy, but you certainly aren't going to jump from a type of feudalistic/tribal society in a nearly constant state of internecine warfare to a modern western style democracy - just as you're not going to jump from a australopithecus directly to Homo Sapiens in one evolutionary leap. There are intermediate steps, some are dead ends and there may be many many variations, but biological evolution doesn't produce one full blown species from another, i.e. an ape doesn't give birth to a human (which, of course, is the strawman creationists use to discredit evolution, but that's another conversation all together ;)

    It didn't happen in America either, our current republic began with a significant fraction of our population disenfranchised, everybody who wasn't a white male landowner for the most part. Yet we seem to expect other societies to jump right from authoritarianism directly to America in one peaceful swoop, it has never happened not even at gunpoint (Iraq being a rather obvious example), not even in America, and it's not going to in Egypt.

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  21. I see your point, Jim, but sometimes I would say that the developments that count are pretty much invisible. No one was paying attention to the domestic developments that allowed Spain to go from an apparently hopeless case of backwardness to peaceful and prosperous democracy. From the outside, it looked like an instantaneous transition. And Germany certainly went from being the most civilized country in Europe – in the eyes of one of my Eastern European in-laws – to betraying Western civilization – again in the eyes of the same in-law – in very short order. And once again the Germans are doing quite all right, and are not a menace to the world. Who would have guessed?

    More maybe going on in Egypt than anyone, even Egyptians, yet understands. And there's always luck. If someone else had been king of Spain in the 70s, Spain might be a backward hellhole yet. Instead of just broke.

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  22. Yeah, agreed, you can't calculate luck and random chance. But I wouldn't put money on it (which is probably why I never gamble for money as a general rule).

    Couple of corrections to my previous comment:

    I said: "we seem to expect other societies to jump right from authoritarianism directly to America in one peaceful swoop"

    I meant: we seem to expect other societies to jump right from authoritarianism directly to modern America in one peaceful swoop..."


    and I said "...and it's not going to in Egypt"

    What I should have said was, "and it's unlikely to in Egypt"

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  23. What? You've leaving? ;)

    That's probably a good thing, I should be in the shop instead of goofing off in front of this computer.

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  24. You know, the thing that had me hopeful in the early days of this was the cries of "Muslim, Jew, Christian--we're all Egyptian." And while Mubarak has been an integral part of regional security, I thought maybe this wouldn't turn out so bad.

    Yeah, well, let's just say I'm less optimistic now.

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  25. Naomi Campbell rocks.

    George Washington would have been a pretty good king most likely, given his values led him to refuse such a role in the first place.

    It's true, Germany was the most progressive (or "civilized") country in the world right before the rise of the Nazis. (Take note, the Nazis used the same propaganda techniques and rhetoric as the political right has been in this country for at least the last 20 years. Then they cobbled together enough smaller, less influential political parties to get them just enough support to put them over the top, surprising everyone when they won. They immediately dismantled the fledging democracy, after they used it to take power.)

    If the price of gas skyrockets, so be it. As long as Americans can get gas as cheap as it is, we will never be motivated enough to move forward and improve our air, economy, and even our wallets eventually, by embracing alternative energies. They're out there for the embracing, but Americans wait to do the right thing when we are in crisis, rarely before.

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  26. Uh...let me change that first sentence! I meant to write, Naomi Klein rocks!

    Why that other woman's name entered my brain instead is beyond me. She doesn't rock.

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  27. I would have had no trouble finding Tunisia & I could have drawn you a map of where Egypt was. Heck, we spent next to no time in my Art of Africa class on Egyptian art because it's covered so much in lower-level overview classes. I probably could not have told you who was leading them, though, as they weren't countries I was reading up on as they aren't known for their involvement in blood diamonds or environmental issues related to gold mining. I can only keep up with so much of the world at one time. I can discuss the differences in pyramid building in the Upper & Lower Kingdoms. ;-)

    If it raises the price on my gas, it's not the fault of the Egyptian people-- it's the fault of the oil companies & market speculators who will use any excuse at all to jack up the price. As you said, the Egyptians are unlikely to mess with one of their biggest sources of income & the oil barrons have already jacked up their prices so it's obviously nothing to do with the people. Personally, as a metalsmith, I think speculation on the commodities market should be outlawed, largely because I'm sick of gold being roughly 3 times higher than it should be & silver about 6 times higher than it should be, just because people are stupid & think gold will still be worth something during the End Of The World As We Know It(tm). Cowrie shells have also been used as currency- try hording those, assholes. (Sorry- just had to pay ridiculous sums of money for supplies).

    I'm a rebel. It makes my rebellious heart happy to see people rising up & overthrowing a dictator. OK, he was a stable leader. So were the Taliban when they came to power- they were still a bunch of religious extremists who forced women who'd previously been well-trained professionals to stay at home, even to the point where they couldn't seek medical care if they were ill unless they had a male relative to escort them to the doctor. There's more to life than just stable politics.

    We can't control who they elect. It's not our job to control it. It's only our own hubris that makes us think we can. And I'm not sure we're in any place to judge on the subject of electing a bunch of assholes.



    actriv- when Scooby Doo starts bouncing off walls

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  28. Hi,
    I am a recent visitor to Stonekettle Station

    There is an old adage in diplomacy, repeated so often that it's become a cliche:-

    "There are no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests"

    It does not matter whether you are motivated by your longing for the JebusLand, or the arrival of world socialism, in the end, you support or opposition to a political or social movement is based strictly on personal interest.

    National leaders, regardless of the time they have lived in, have payed for altruistic social policies with either their lives ,or offices, or political power, look at Alexander, or Carter, or Obama.

    The present political circus going on in the middle east seems almost comical, until you start reading reports of entire neighborhoods in Libya being slaughtered like non-kosher meat.

    Psychopaths like Quaddafi have had free reign for a generation now, but now that things are going south in a hand basket, the dictator and his cronies are behaving a lot like the Nazi "golden pheasents" and Senior SS officers did when Soviet stormtroopers came knocking into Berlin.

    The question is, what was the world doing all these years?

    I am from India, which has a proud tradition of persecuting minorities of every stripe, its like musical chairs from hell, sooner or later you will end up with out a place to sit.

    Why does the self proclaimed "largest democracy" try to ingratiate itself with a nation where women are stoned to death for being raped??

    Because at the end of the day, when i am a screaming about the 15 rupee hike on gas prices, the government has to get off its righteous behind and negotiate with the devil.

    Those who have what others want, and have the courage and power do defend it, will always call the shots, always.

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  29. Americans are no different than most people on the planet; the information we keep in our personal store of knowledge depends on our particular talents, interests, and need to know at any given time.

    The only reason citizens of other countries know more about the USA than Americans know about all of them, is that the United States had a much greater effect on what happened to them in their countries than their countries had on us.

    I agree that, ultimately, what and who we support is dependent on our own self-interests whether it is because it directly benefits us materially, or it doesn't but it does satisfy our sense-of-self. Even Mother Theresa was meeting her own emotional needs by living her values through sacrifice. Except for those kidnapped at gunpoint and forced into rebel armies, the same can be said of soldiers.

    Nevertheless, there's a difference between material self-interest and interest in what benefits others and/or our collective best interests. I support policies that do not benefit me personally because I believe they are ethically and morally right. There are also differences in opinion about what is in our collective best interests. Looking at the longterm and the complexities can lead to very different opinions from those who look only at their short-term profit margin or their next paycheck.

    Oil rich countries being important to us because we use their oil isn't in our longterm best interest, so the only self-interest being pursued is that of oil profiteers. Everyone else either doesn't support involving ourselves regardless of our need for oil, or they've been duped by the profiteers into ignoring alternatives and not pursuing them in favor of continuing down the oil-rat hole.

    Europeans were paying $5.00 a gallon for gas when we were still paying $2.00. They've paid much higher prices for a long time because they pay very high taxes on their gas. Europeans are willing to pay high taxes and drive tiny vehicles so they can get around while not polluting as much, and pay for their infrastructures. We are paying much less toward maintaining and improving our infrastructure, and we are still driving giant vehicles just because we can. They're also pursuing alternative energies much more vigorously than are we, so ultimately, they will make fewer sacrifices bending over the Saudis and intervening in oil countries' fights.

    I want President Obama and Hillary Clinton to just shut up about Libya and all the rest and let them fight it out.

    Libya hasn't been worth yapping about as a vital interest since American bombs killed one of Qadaffi's children and he slunk away from our focus. Now all of a sudden he is of such importance the Secretary of State and the President must make pronouncements that he "must" go? Or what? And what difference, really, does it make to us? He isn't immediately dangerous to us, we can contain him and whatever threat he or his son may try to be, so why not just shut up and let events take their course?

    Can't we, for once, not make the conflicts of these nations about us, for Christ's sake? When we make them about us, we give those corrupt leaders the opportunity to scapegoat us with their own people, making us their smoke screen. The Saudis have been doing that all my adult life, if not longer. Those nations, as well as others, have clear memories of their past attempts to elect better leaders, only to have us oust them and plant our own puppets in their stead, who then turned out to be brutal dictators. We have no credibility and need to lay low instead of making ourselves the center of attention all of the time. If we don't like who they elect, we wait them out and do our best to get along with them as long as they are popular with their people. If they aren't, their own people will oust them.

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  30. Several years ago as I pondered the usefulness of the Internet and its ability to allow me communicate effectively with people worldwide it dawned on me that it was a tool of change. I figured that as more and more of the global population was able to see the disparity between the haves and have not’s that the oppressive governments of the have not’s was going to quickly be in trouble. I don’t know if what’s going on in Egypt and several other Middle Eastern countries is related to that idea or not. I figured that only governments that prohibited it altogether would maintain their control over the population (like North Korea).

    The US has attempted to install democracy before, the one I know the most about is in South Vietnam. The people there live their life in a communistic life style, the land is owned by the village no individual owns the land; the idea is foreign to them. Each contributes to the good of all. They have no history of democracy and no real interest in it. What they seem to want is for the government to leave them alone so that they can grow their crop of rice. With luck they will raise enough to sell (trade) some for the needs of the village. Decisions are typically made by the village elders who have more experience and knowledge.

    The people in much of the Middle East have as little experience with democracy as the folks living in South Vietnam. A democracy has much too much overhead for the people who need to spend more of their time in subsistence labor. My father who was in the Navy for 20 years (retired 1968) told me once that a Benevolent Dictatorship was probably the most efficient and effective form of government known to man and generally the best for the widest range of people. Truthfully, it was many years before I came to understand his point of view, the trick of course is the “Benevolent” part of that government.

    I have to agree, that the chances that the people of Egypt will end up with a western modern style of democracy overnight is slim at best and astronomic at worse. I only hope that whatever forms it isn’t hostile to us when it’s all said and done. We really don’t need any more hostile neighbors.

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