Uprising in Egypt isn't just about freedom and democracy
The discontent boiling to the surface in the Arab world is as much driven by complex demographics as politics. So politics alone won't restore stability. The US must come to terms with its reduced role in the region and reassess strategic partnerships.
(Page 2 of 3)
Mr. Mubarak’s place in history is yet to be decided. With all the current references to the Iranian revolution of 1979, we must understand that Mubarak was not Egypt in the sense that the Shah was Iran. But the specter of Iran’s revolution has long haunted Middle Eastern governments. In Egypt, both the military and civilian officialdom have much to lose, including, possibly their heads, if Egypt dissolves into unchecked anarchy as happened in Tehran.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Egyptian protests
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Mubarak’s government has also long kept Islamist factions like the Muslim Brotherhood on a short leash, banning any political threat to his regime, but also keeping extremism at bay. That status is rapidly changing. Though Egypt’s Islamist parties were not directly responsible for angry bursts of violence on Cairo streets, they appear to be the beneficiaries of current anarchy. The Islamists’ protestation of peaceful intentions aside, the evacuation en masse of large numbers of Westerners from Cairo suggests people just don’t believe in their good intentions. There is nothing reassuring about the mass prison revolts that let hundreds of Islamists escape from prisons, allowing them to slip back into Egyptian society.
Arab world's angry youth
What has happened in Egypt was driven as much by demographics as politics. Nearly a third of Egypt’s 76 million people are under 15 years of age. Even educated young Egyptians are jobless or underemployed. The demographics of the entire Arab world weigh against them. There’s a similar situation of discontent in Saudi Arabia and most other Muslim countries in the region, where 60 percent of the population is under 30 – the highest percentage of youth of anywhere in the world.
More than 25 percent of Egypt’s people live below the poverty line. Only billions of dollars in US aid has kept Egypt afloat for decades, and now the country’s economy is stalled precipitously. The vital tourism industry is crippled. How many tourists will be booking Nile cruises after seeing the images coming out of Cairo?
The present combustibility is undeniable, and it is now fueled by those who have had access to education mingling on the streets with those who have next to no schooling all trying to figure out how to survive in an economic basket case. This situation has been a time bomb in search of a spark for years.
Though his regime exacerbated and failed to address the country’s problems, Mubarak cannot entirely be to blame for Egyptian unemployment and poverty because these problems are endemic.
But Mubarak’s regime and many other Arab governments have callously squandered their people’s futures by grossly overspending on expensive weapons purchases rather than on public services such as education.