How Reform Won’t Happen

26Aug06

Kifaya’s most recent close-but-no-cookie oneupmanship campaign (see my comments at the Arabist post) reminded me of something i had written not long after May 25. Here it is, slightly amended:

We has just finished off our ta`meyya and batates sandwiches and were waiting for our shishas (we were biding time not too far from the press syndicate where at that point some thirty people had assembled long before schedule). My american journalist friend (now in Lebanon) who was covering the 25th of May protest, proclaimed his belief that history has proven the effectiveness of protests in creating regime change. I dont know what the statistics are, but the statement strikes me as probably untrue. Someone else later pointed out, and i would tend to agree, that while it may be true that a lot of regime change was catalyzed by mass protests, that says nothing for the category of protests that we’ve seen recently. Yet, another conversation yielded the highly speculative guesstimate of requiring something in the order of 50,000 participants.

I dont think street activism will solve Egypt’s problems – not least of which is a defunct regime. At least not any time soon. And people that take this path often pay a hefty price.

Anyhow, later in the afternoon, at a favourite downtown haunt, a friend related the opinion of a foreign AUC professor. They had been discussing protests and activism. The professor, as i understood, stated that if he were a disenfranchised youth in Egypt today he would emigrate. The reasoning, was that there is no hope until Mubarak dies, so you may as well leave.

Cop out? To each his own, i suppose, and that’s fair enough. That aside, i will bitch about it. First, this is what is commonly known as brain drain.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume you are interested (whatever that may mean), disenfranchised (and probably young) Egyptian. I cant understand how a history professor can make a statement that seems to demonstrate a frighteningly naive perception. Can he possibly be so deluded as to think Mubarak’s death is going to change anything? Common belief seems to acknowledge Gamal’s heir-ness (not to be confused with MJ). Perhaps; perhaps not.

Regardless, barring a miracle, there will most likely be some form of orchestrated handover be it to Jimmy or other. As one recent column pointed out, there is a strong historical tendency in this country. Personally, i think that if you leave expecting to come back when things get better, you’ll be gone for life. Besides, Mubarak is well on his way to six feet under. My guess is, if you stick around for a while, he’ll kick the bucket before the current state of emergency elapses.

And even if he dies before he’s finished paving the road, and even if there is some form of regime change, Egypt isnt ready for it. I think it’s a little silly to assume that anything will really change beyond a little reshuffling at the top as patronage ties are realigned. But even assuming that somehow a large enough hole is blown through the structure; that the entire corrupt system collapsed entirely, there is no visible, viable alternative. None that doesnt suffer from mostly the same flaws of the regime. But aside from widespread corruption and a generally autocratic, patriarchal and uni-directional discourse, the opposition remains completely immature (or aged to the point of senility) on the political, organizational and intellectual levels.

Placing the Muslim Brotherhood aside for a moment, the Egyptian opposition has for all practical purposes no connection with the general population. Despite decades of bold proclamations and vows of championship, the vast majority of the population have absolutely no idea who these people are. They are little more than ideologue remnants of an age (or several) gone by. I’m sure many may be well-intended, but that only goes so far. There is undoubtedly a severe deficit in their thought. As far as i can tell, and i’m sure i could always be wrong, there are no elaborated programs for the economy, political and social life, foreign relations or otherwise. Nor is there any real organization, no public mobilization. In sum, they are far from mature. While they bear a large portion of the blame, the last fifty-some years havent been particularly fertile times for political organization or developing theory.

Though i’m probably far from qualified to comment on the Muslim Brothers (not that that’s ever stopped me before), i will say that despite their seemingly well-leveraged position in Egyptian public life, i am skeptical of their ability to consolidate power, let alone run a country. Hizbullah they are not. But even if they could pull it off, we all know how healthy one-party systems are.

Since i seem to have rambled, I’ll come to the point: Egypt requires much more than sporadic protests, half-baked propaganda by the opposition or timely deaths.

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5 Responses to “How Reform Won’t Happen”

  1. and your point is?

    we all know that, hell every single person who participates in the protests knows that. and it’s been said hundreds of times all over the press, blogosphere, and even on activist websites and mailinglists and I’m sure in other mass and alternative media outlets.

  2. This was just a response to things people said to me. Like every other blogger, i have little that’s new to say. I’ve just stumbled onto a soap box and am proceeding to use it.

  3. I understand tab3an, I’m not saying you should have anthing new to say, or that you should not express something that has been expressed before.

    I’m just making sure you realize that the opposition knows about it’s weaknesses and talks about them.

    in fact the very existance of something like kefaya is an attempt to respond to these problems, IMO it is incrementally improving the performance of the opposition (the improvements are just so small that it’s easy to get frustrated).

  4. Hey fellows,

    Regime change is thrown around all over the world.
    It sounds much like here in America. we all have men at the top who say theu know whats best.
    And… then there is the rest of us who work.
    always been that way ,probly always will.
    I don’t see much chance of some new world order being any better than the old world order.Every empire started small. by some who saw things wrong, they set about to correct, get popular ,get big, get strong, get fat, then get lazy and corrupt,
    on and on it has gone..
    anyway nice to see folks,
    everybody in america aint whats portrayed by the so called “powers’ that be.
    The King who hands out the most beer and pretzels gets the most votes.

  5. I support that argument entirely.

    In fact, I’ve written something very similar (but pertaining to the Lebanese-Israeli War).

    Can be found at:

    http://snefru.wordpress.com/2006/08/29/when-political-analysis-goes-wrong/


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