The Catch-22 in Egypt

To implement a revolution is no easy feat.  Just look at Egypt for corroboration.

I don’t know if the protest movement there is losing momentum due to the people’s survival needs taking precedence over their ideological principles or because of outside forces exerting influence to satisfy their own goals.  Additionally, the internal turmoil that produced this rebellion shows no signs, via experienced and schooled leadership both of the existing government and in the folds of the revolt, of  organization.  Whichever the reason, I sense the fervor lessening.  Perhaps this phenomenon is necessary for real change to take hold, but it also might be the first signs of defeat for the people.

The people’s insistence that Mubarak leave office seems somewhat stalled, mainly because there is no one to step into his role.  Mubarak made sure to have no process of succession because his son, Gamal, was eventually going to take over.  Equally derelict in the business of considering the future though, are the opposition forces.  Given: the existing administration has, by threat and use of force, discouraged any opposition leader from taking the stage.  Nevertheless, the freedom fighters have no one to act as their agent at the bargaining table.

The young people are the impetus for this freedom movement.  Many other demographic groups have joined forces.  However, when food, gasoline and available cash become non-existent, even the most loyal protester has to do what he has to do to survive.  The Mubarak administration has surely banked on its strategy of starving the people into submission.  Not only is it a cheaper strategy than using tanks and guns, but it is also more “sensitive” to the issues of human rights.  NOT.  It is a play for time and it is working.

Additionally, given the fact that there is no means for political succession, foreign interests are also backing the strategy to stall the ouster of Mubarak.  Of course with no designated, trained successor, there is some method to this madness of holding on to Mubarak.  A vacuum of power might be better than having some extremist faction rush in and provide leadership that would be even worse than that of Mubarak.  At any rate, the energy of the revolution is fading.  Some will view this as a necessary breather; some will consider it capitulation by national and international forces to maintain the status quo.

Two asides to this.  First, have you noticed how reticent our GOP and Tea Party has been with regard to events in Egypt?  Could it be that this issue is too complicated for them to consider?  You know, just like their main criticism of our new health care law is that it is over 2000 pages long, thus being way too detailed.  To be required to read such a law is just too time consuming and takes away from the time these lawmakers could be spending wheeling and dealing with lobbyists.  Closer to the truth, their silence on Egypt is emblematic of their reactionary thinking and fondest hope that we are still living in the America of the 1700’s, an empty platform devoid of considerations of today’s problems both domestically and foreign.  Even more telling is the fear that the lack of economic and social equity in Egypt is a warning to America.  Why deal with the problems when we have for so long successfully ignored them?  Why not?  Look what has happened in Egypt, not to mention the rest of the Middle East.  In fact, it might be wise for the GOP and Tea Party to acknowledge and comment on the events in Egypt if for no other reason than for “practice” when they will have to deal with a similar revolt here at home.

My second aside has to do with our own as well as the international criticism of Barack Obama in relation to his response to the Egyptian uprising.  This passing of judgment is unreasonable and out of line.  Sorry.  First off, he already has a job.  Here.  In America.  Secondly, for a revolution to have validity and staying power, the solutions and leadership have to come from within, not from outside interference and/or occupation.  At last, we have a President who is thinking and talking before he sends in the troops.

Back to my main commentary.  My take is that there is no leader on the Egyptian horizon because there is no apparent leader.  This revolt was initiated by the younger generation in Egypt.  Their discontent with the political and economic reality of Egypt reflected that of many other groups also.  However, the difficulty in implementing reform is magnified because none of these  factions have a leader.  Who will sit down at the table with Mubarak and other old-timers to negotiate what will be?  Even the religious extremists, the Muslim Brotherhood, were not interested nor invested in any change prior to this upheaval.  That said, it does not mean that they are not willing to step into the political void if given the chance.  The young people have no one they look to as their principal, so the process of change is very much up in the air.

Have a look at some statistics.  The government announced yesterday that they will be giving government employees a 15% raise.  I don’t know what those workers make, but for the 40% of the population who earn $2 a day, if this raise was to apply to them also, the extra 30 cents a day would mean squat.  The citizenry do not want a handout; they want the opportunity to make a decent living.  College tuition in Egypt is cheap; it costs only about $60 a year.  As a result, between 600,000 and 700,000 graduates are thrust into the job market every year.  Only about half of those were able to find employment last year.  Thus, there is major discontent because the state’s funds are being funnelled into those political and financial kingpins’ pockets running the state instead of being used to create job opportunities.  Sound familiar?

I hope that the Egyptian reform effort will not peter out.  Real change based on a new structure takes time.  The Egyptians’ main demand is that Mubarak leave office now.  Would that leave-taking help matters, or would it bring even deeper unrest?  These are complicated questions that demand time to work out.  My fear is that this careful consideration may have the side effect of wiping out any chance for measurable change.  Playing for time may open the doors for new leadership to emerge, but it may also shut the door on the one thing that the Egyptian people agree on, that being the removal of Mubarak.  And until Mubarak leaves office, there is no chance of relevant leadership taking hold.  Quite the catch-22.

Whether this revolution will fly or not, the sin is that a stalemate could replace any measure of reform.  This is the real danger to a  revolution when faced with prospects  for progress.  Habituation could hobble the quest for justice and be the downfall of the movement.  The efforts to invoke change must support the nature of public sentiment to ensure that the need for reform is addressed, and not left to die because of the complicated, tough and risky issues at hand.

This revolution in Egypt is still in its infant stages.  Is the fixation on removing Mubarak more important than undertaking nothing short of a major constitutional overhaul?  Will choosing one over the other eliminate the need for both?  Can Egypt take this dilemma by the horns and deliver a fair and just solution in a reasonable amount of time?  Can that sovereign nation overcome the basic inertia that would satisfy no one and provide for the continuation of massive revolt?  This maintenance of the status quo, this Catch-22, is the real devil with which to wrestle.


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