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Protests in Egypt: the real reason for Obama's two-handed game

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Egypt’s socioeconomic problems will probably destabilize politics well into the future. President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party built its coalition of support on two opposing yet interdependent legs. The first was a Nasser-era legacy of public-sector employees in the civil service and state-owned enterprises, many of whom lack the skills for successful reallocation to private sector jobs. The second is a pro-economic reform coalition of businessmen, financiers, and technocrats that came to occupy major economic portfolios after the inception of the government led by now-dismissed Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif in 2004. These powerful families became wealthy on partial economic reforms, especially trade and financial sector liberalization, which bankrupted the rest of the Egyptian population. Yet as the lion’s share of taxable income, this group is indispensable to paying the Egyptian government’s massive salary and social-welfare commitments. It is telling that during Friday’s Internet blackout, the only servers to remain online were those of the Noor Group, which services Egypt’s stock exchange.

There are also several things that are unlikely to occur, at least in the short term.

Egypt is unlikely to undergo a popular revolution. The late American political scientist Samuel Huntington defined revolution as a “rapid, fundamental, and violent domestic change in the dominant values and myths of a society, in its political institutions, social structure, leadership, and government activity and policies.” As such, revolutions are distinct from coups, rebellions, or any other conflict that results in only superficial changes (despite the popularization of the term “Jasmine Revolution,” recent events in Tunisia do not yet technically constitute one).

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