Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Egypt: Rebellion to Where?

I'm signed up to take a trip to Egypt this spring as a tourist.  While I highly doubt I'm likely to see the pyramids and sphinx as scheduled, along with the rest of the world, I am indeed a spectator watching its history unfold.

The Egyptian protests appear to be a revolution with no "there there" as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, because it's more about casting out than heralding in.  Reading accounts of the relatively peaceful protests brings only a cascade of questions about an array of possibilities--some frightening.  How this will turn out may be more how this will turn over, a rolling and rumbling of changes and resistance with ultimately little hope that the root of the rebellion is foreseeably fixable.

That root, from what I can tell, reverts to issues of unemployment and underemployment.  With Egyptian joblessness at least 12% according to the International Monetary Fund, and with college-educated Egyptian youth apparently 10 times as likely to be unemployed as those with merely a grammar-school education, frustration and energy--which might have spurred innovation and entrepreneurial ventures in a different culture--were stifled and thus became the source of present demand for change. Any change. Get the old out and the new in.

The problem is that "the new" isn't known, isn't decided; there's no consensus and no direction--just that President Hosni Mubarak must go, preferably now.  But what then?

A culture clash foments the brew. Women's rights, efforts to abolish female circumcision, and movement beyond Islamic preoccupation with the past conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood's sectarian interests--despite their claim to want a pluralistic government. And protesters don't seem placated by the presence of Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei as the face of a calmly transitioned regime. Will Egypt move to an egalitarian, less elitist, democratic future, or will religious pressure and the traditional power of the police help a military-dominated variant of Mubarak's leadership slip in?

As a psychologist, I've worked with troubled marriages, and find it worrisome when partners run from, but have no to.  Coverage of the protests by Fox News included several comments by participants like a teacher who after 22 years earns $70 monthly, and a 30-year-old bus driver forced to share his lunch and run errands for police.  They want more opportunities for financial success and independence. But the protesters cry merely, "Leave! Leave!" directed to Mubarak, who hangs in effigy over Tahrir Square in Cairo.  Interviews I read find few involved offering means to achieve their goals, or suggestions for leadership.  Without shared aims, the region teeters.

That effigy of Mubarak hanging from a traffic light in Tahrir Square, by the way, bears a Star of David.  Egypt's peace treaty with Israel has allowed stability and growth; anything that threatens it brings plenty to fear, not only for Israel but for the hopes and dreams of the teacher and bus driver in Tahrir Square.  As George Gilder wrote in his book The Israel Test, nations who resent and envy Israel flail while those who emulate its economic industry succeed.

We spectators watch the action in Egypt nervously. But observant Jews remember every day God's role in Egyptian history, and so perhaps there's more going on than we can readily observe.

1 comment:

  1. insightful post (as usual). i'm fascinated by the potential Egypt has regarding their recognition of private property rights.

    there's an excellent book ("the mystery of capital") by Hernando de Soto that speaks presciently about the ability of the lowest and middle classes in the most impoverished nations to rise up based upon the rule of law, especially in regard to private property.

    if your hubby wants to get an outstanding interview re: Egypt from another perspective, he might do well to reach out to de Soto. food for thought.