Unrest in Egypt

Three years ago I lived in Alexandria for a month and taught admiralty law.  Since my classes were at night, I spent most of the day wandering around the city and talking to people.  (There’s really nothing to do in Alexandria other than sit in cafes and look at the water.)  The poverty in the city was clear, but what even more striking was how angry folks were at the regime.  As an American living there, I assumed that people would want to talk to me about Iraq or President Bush.  Instead, everyone wanted to talk about the corruption of President Mubarak and especially his son Gamal.  There was a sense of desperation; of people who wanted to get out; who had no hope. This was in sharp contrast to my students, who were extraordinarily nice but clearly came from the elite in society that was connected to the State.  They had family vacation homes on the beach and luxury cars.  Life was good.

I came away from that experience with the strong feeling that the country would blow up soon.  I thought it would be when Mubarak died, but the time is now.  It would be tempting to say that the Great Recession is the cause.  The trouble is that the Arab world has been in a great recession for decades.

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8 Responses

  1. Should anyone be interested, I have a select bibliography (books, in English), “Politics, Economics, and Culture in the Contemporary Arab World” that I can send along as a Word doc. on request. It’s not quite 300 titles.

  2. Correction: The above compilation is over 300 titles.

    I’ve also collected articles from sundry sources on Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution (about 40 pgs.) and for the Egyptian protests (about 70 pgs.) that I’ll send as Word docs. to anyone who requests them.

  3. A.J. Sutter says:

    Is it a great recession or a great repression? Why assume that economics, rather than politics, should be the chief issue?

    Not that one should get too sentimental about such rebellions. As the BBC remarked apropos of recent protests in Jordan, if there were “pure democracy rather than managed democracy” there, the peace treaty with Israel would be one of the first things to go. Maybe the same would be true in Egypt, though I’m optimistic that El-Baradei wouldn’t pursue that option, should he come to power. None of the media seem to have commented on the signs in Tunisia (which I saw onscreen briefly on either CNN or BBC) that read in Arabic and French “Juif dégage” — “Jew, get out”. (At the time the rebellion began, there were only about 1,400 Jews still living in Tunisia, of whom only a couple of hundred were in Tunis.)

  4. anon says:

    You need to be more specific about what you mean by the “Arab world.” Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, the Emirates… ??? How would you characterize their economic situation? The region is incredibly diverse, and while I appreciate your attention to what is going on in Egypt, it’s important to speak with more precision and care here.

  5. On the other hand, if they weren’t such repressive regimes, they wouldn’t have to encourage hatred of an outside enemy in order to divert their citizens from justly hating their own governments. So replacement by more democratic governments might cause a change in public opinion on that score, with an end to government efforts to keep the anger simmering.

  6. A.J. Sutter says:

    Brett, that’s an optimistic, but inapposite view of the Middle Eastern conflict(s). The repressive regime in Egypt may be blamed, and the current Jordanian government is indeed resented, for the peace with Israel, the repressive regime in Tunisia was blamed for toleration of Jews, etc. — the hatred of the outside enemy is grass-roots rather than fomented, and may contribute to upsetting repressive regimes, rather than to strengthening them as you suggest. See also the resentment against the repressive Saudi regime for allowing Americans to have bases in the country. Moreover, the Abbas regime in the Palestinian Authority isn’t so repressive in comparison to other regimes in the region, but it, too, is resented for (putative, and relative) cooperation with Israel. These countries’ circumstances are different from those in Reagan’s “axis of evil,” e.g. Iran, N. Korea and China, which seems to be your point (or axis) of reference.

  7. I think one thing those countries all have in common, is that when a regime is repressive, you have no reliable way of knowing what people who live there really think. Only what they believe it safe to say they really think. We won’t know what people in the Middle east really think about pretty much anything, until they feel safe to express their opinions without reprisal.

    This is encouraging, anyway:

    Israeli reports of ‘friendly atmosphere’ in Cairo

  8. JD says:

    Sutter is neglecting the fact that one of the few forms of dissent tolerated in places like Egypt is dissent for the regime not being sufficiently hostile to Israel. Not surprisingly, this becomes a focal point of dissent, but is unlikely much on the mines of the protestors when push comes to shove.