Egypt’s heartless economic growth

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)

 By Osama Diab

Economic growth in Egypt has mainly benefited the well-off, with many of the poor falling off the tightrope of the poverty line.

18 October 2010

Two and a half years ago, a usually hectic Cairo became quiet and empty. It was the afternoon on a working day, when streets are normally congested with endless queues of cars. Government officials blamed the lull in activity on a sandstorm. But it wasn’t sand that kept people at home – it was a storm of anger, sparked by textile workers in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla.

On 6 April 2008, Mahalla carved out its name as a centre of labour resistance. A hundred kilometres away, much of Cairo went on a general strike in solidarity with Mahalla’s textile workers. Many across the nation also went on strike at home or protested in solidarity with them. And many have continued to commemorate the date of 6 April in the years following by staging demonstrations. There is also a prominent opposition youth movement named after the 6 April events.

While the city of Mahalla was literally set on fire due to clashes between the police and the public, government officials in Cairo were busy concentrating on their goals of achieving high economic growth rates and attracting foreign investment. The Egyptian cabinet prides itself on recent signs of economic wealth. Egypt’s economy (nominal GDP) has tripled in less than 10 years, from LE373.6 billion in 2001 to LE1,008 billion in 2009. All economic performance indicators have been positive, especially since the appointment of Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif’s cabinet (aka the ‘businessmen cabinet’) in 2004. 

Investment has also been flooding into the country in large amounts, making Egypt a major destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the Middle East and Africa. In 2001, Egypt received US$500 million in FDI, which increased 24-fold to US$12 billion in 2007, according to the World Investment Report.

It wasn’t long before the new money became visible. North Coast resorts, Italian designer shops, international high-end cuisine from all over the world, and mansions and luxury compounds springing up in New Cairo and 6 October City are all signs of this newfound wealth. Ahmed Ezz, businessman and National Democratic Party secretary-general for organisational affairs, famously argued that the increasing sales of luxury cars are living proof that Egypt is much more prosperous now than before. But, more accurately, these increased sales are living proof that the 1% of Egyptians who can now afford luxury cars are more prosperous.

No one can deny the rapid expansion of Egypt’s economy in the past decade. Egypt saw high growth rates of 7% for three consecutive years prior to the global economic downturn. The government is proud, but is the average Egyptian also proud?

Not really, because it was only when Egypt was witnessing this impressive yet questionable growth that labour strikes spread like wildfire. Social tension, if not social unrest, is on the rise, and political stability is at stake. 

Despite significant growth and the flow of large amounts of cash, many Egyptians still struggle to put food on the table. Labour strikes have been increasing in number as a new way of demanding change. It is obvious to any observer that something has gone wrong: the new money was not enough to stabilise the country socially and politically. On the contrary, an increase in negative social and political vibes have coincided with positive growth, an irony many experts and analysts are trying to grasp.

“We want to reach the poverty line”

Hundreds of strikes have been calling for the settlement of overdue payments or an increase in extremely low wages. A climax was reached on labour day this May when Egypt’s workers collectively demanded a minimum wage of LE1,200. Their slogan was “We want to reach the poverty line.”

With all the ostentatious signs of wealth and prosperity surrounding Egypt’s poverty-stricken, and with high inflation triggered by rapid economic growth, LE1,200 seems to be only just adequate for workers to survive. But the government does not agree.

It seems that Egypt’s government suffers from its businessman mindset. It is happy that the country is making profit, but fails to recognise there are other aspects to a country that need to be addressed: a nation is not just an enterprise.

The missing link in Egypt’s development formula is the social and political dimension neglected by the Nazif cabinet . The cabinet runs the country in the same way its members run the companies they own, where the only goal is to make profits on the balance sheet at the end of the year.

They also see a booming economy in the circles of the other businessman they are surrounded by, and it can be observed, from their statements – such as Ahmed Ezz’s pronouncement on luxury car purchases – how isolated they are from reality.

Trickle-down should not be left to nature

The government has been promising Egyptians that trickle-down will eventually happen and that citizens must wait and be patient before they can reap the harvest of economic growth, when the wealth trickles down to all layers of society.

We have been patient, but everything seems to be going in the opposite direction. According to the Human Development Report of 2010, Egypt ranks 123 out of 182 when it comes to income equality, with the richest 10% controlling 27.6% of Egypt’s wealth. Egypt ranked 111 out of 177 in the 2006 report.

According to Ahmed el-Sayed el-Naggar, economist and editor-in-chief of the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies’ annual economic report, there are two things that are vital if the whole of society is going to benefit from economic growth and if income is to be distributed more equally: taxes and wages.

One of the main objectives of taxation is redistributing wealth. In most tax systems, the more you make , the greater the percentage the government charges you in order to carry out its infrastructure projects and offer social services, such as pensions, healthcare, and so on.

In Egypt, there are only three tax brackets, with the highest starting at LE40,000 a year (LE3,333 a month). In other words, citizens making LE40,000 a year are positioned in the same bracket as those who make hundreds of millions. According to el-Naggar, the fewer tax brackets there are, the less efficient and the more unequal the system is. Imposing higher rates on upper-bracket income is a conventional and well-known way to redistribute wealth, he says.

Let’s compare the tax system in Egypt with that of other countries. In the United States, the bastion of capitalism, the highest income tax band is 35%, while it reaches 52% in some European countries, such as the Netherlands. In Egypt, Law 91/2005 reduced the highest income tax band from 42% to just 20%, as part of the government?s tax reform plan.

el-Naggar believes the current wage system in Egypt is one of the worst in the world. “It forces people to take bribes and steal, because it’s impossible to live off that income,” he says.

According to el-Naggar, the minimum wage in the government for a university graduate is LE108, which is only enough to buy 2.5kg of meat. In contrast, in 1979, the minimum wage for graduates was LE28, which was worth 35kg of meat. “So even if we have growth, the upper class is in total control of the newly obtained wealth,” says el-Naggar.

“The growth was more in the financial economy than the real productive economy,” explains el-Naggar. “The other thing is that growth is not real unless accompanied by social policies that improve the distribution of wealth through having a fair wage system, a fair taxation system, and a fair subsidy system.”

 This article was first published in the al-Borsa newspaper on 26 September 2010. Republished here with the author’s permission. ©Osama Diab.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)

Related posts

I say you want a revolution, Egypt

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Osama Diab

Activists in Egypt should look to the hippy movement of the 1960s for a successful model in bringing about long-term social change.

Since the establishment of the Kifaya (Enough) movement in 2004, the Egyptian political scene has changed dramatically. If this continues, political resistance in Egypt is likely to become much more dynamic than it has been since the 1952 revolution, which overthrew the monarchy and established a republic.

Movements such as Kifaya, the April 6 youth movement and the national coalition for change headed by Mohamed Elbaradei, have all played their part in making the political life of Egypt less stagnant. They have managed to increase the margins of freedom and push for political reforms and will continue to do so, but they can’t do it alone.

These groups all focus on short-term political gains. Their demands focus on short-term goals – constitutional change, free and fair elections, putting an end to emergency law – but they often ignore the most important element that could drive real change in the future: social change.

With a society that is reversing social progress and embracing conservative values, the drive for democracy and equality may find few supporters. Many in Egypt still do not recognise the equality of women and embrace discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities. Some discard democracy and human rights as a western invention and as part of an imperialist agenda. What Egypt needs, rather than a few groups preaching against the current regime and political system, is a durable social movement that decades from now can influence politicians and decision-makers.

Look, for example, at the social and political impact the hippy movement had in the US and, arguably, the entire world. Some argue that America wouldn’t have had a black president if it wasn’t for the social progress and momentum built in the 1960s.

The reason behind the hippies’ success in changing the course of history is not only their anti-war sentiments, care for the environment, or their criticism of middle-class values and big corporate practices. These are values that were all preached by others long before the hippies.

No, what made the hippy movement attract millions of youth in the United States and globally was the subculture to carry their messages, rather than the value of the message itself. Their hip and exotic fashion, music and lifestyle is what appealed to tens of millions of young people confused by the Vietnam War and examining the values of their parents. The new fashions they created, and the focus on art and culture in their movement, made it easier for their message to spread.

Whether we agree or disagree with the values of the hippy movement, one can’t deny that it had its own distinctive culture, creating one of the strongest social revolutions in history. Its emphasis on equality and environmental and pacifist values still influence the world today, and its subculture became part of American mainstream culture in the 1970s.

Here in Egypt, a country that puts so much emphasis on people’s gender, social class and religion, a strong grassroots social movement and a subculture needs to emerge with a list of social, political and environmental demands. Ayman Massoud, the keyboardist of the Arabic rock band Massar Egbari (“Compulsory Direction”), explained to me what they mean by the name of the band. In his view, society draws a compulsory direction for us to take in order to fit society’s idea of what is proper and successful.

“If someone wants to become a drummer, their parents will tell them to finish college first and then they can do whatever they want. But after they finish college, society will force them to find a job and practise their hobby on the side. After that, they will become too drained from their jobs and gradually forget about their old dream,” says Massoud.

Egyptian dissidents don’t have to – and should not – follow in the footsteps of others, but establish a culture that will make it easier to promote their beliefs. I wrote before in Egypt Today about how an underground music scene is emerging in Egypt focusing more on societal issues. This appeals to those who are tired of a pop scene dominated by attractive singers chiming love songs to western beats: music that avoids issues facing Egyptian youth today. This can be the root from which a new subculture can stem.

A movement like this would likely face huge social condemnation. It is inevitable it will be described as a threat to national security by the regime and a threat to society and its values by religious groups, but new ideas and social change are often faced with resistance.

Khaled Diab pointed out in Brian Whitaker’s book, What’s really wrong with the Middle East, that Egypt has a million Mubaraks – meaning that authoritarianism in Egypt exists not only in the political leadership, but also in families, schools and workplaces. As long as people themselves don’t believe in the values of democracy and liberty, no number of political groups lobbying for change will succeed in pushing for reform.

This column appeared in the Guardian newspaper’s Comment is Free section on 17 July 2010. Read the full discussion here.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Related posts

Egypt’s uneasy political truce

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Osama Diab

Egypt’s secularists and Islamists agree on one thing: Mubarak must go. But when he does, how long will they stand united?

3 April 2010

The current political debate in Egypt can be summed up in one sentence: parties and activists of all political colours are campaigning to end almost 30 years of President Hosni Mubarak’s rule and stop his son, Gamal, from inheriting power and returning Egypt to the dynastic era. 

For the time being, the opposition is united by anti-Mubarakism, despite comprising elements that have traditionally been fierce rivals, such as Islamists, liberals and Nasserists. Umbrella movements like Kifaya and the 6 April Youth Movement are a good example of broad-based groups which draw Egyptians from different political, religious and social backgrounds. 

In fact, the unity of the opposition is not a sign of love or matching ideologies but merely reflects the realisation that breaking Mubarak’s stranglehold on power requires the kind of broad-based popular alliance last seen during Egypt’s resistance to foreign occupation. The different parties also understand that the emergence of democracy in Egypt is their only realistic chance of reaching power through legitimate means and by way of a smooth transition. 

This means that the current alliance’s shelf-life is linked to the emergence of democracy. Once that is achieved, the gloves will come off and the traditional rivalries will float, once again, to the surface. 

This poses an important question: when the time comes, what kind of post-Mubarak political scene will emerge? 

Egypt’s increasing religiosity has coincided with a globalised society in which modern concepts of human rights are being adopted by more and more Egyptians. This discrepancy will make it harder for secularists and Islamists to find common ground. 

The negative view of secularism in the mind of the majority of Egyptians would be central to the future debate. In our religious society, people confuse secularism with Ataturk-style anti-religiosity and sometimes with atheism. Ironically, many practicing Muslims believe in the separation of religion and state without calling it secularism or even recognising that this makes them secular.

This misguided understanding of secularism in Egypt is a barrier to democracy. This is because, although most Egyptians profess to being religious, many fear the intolerance and potential totalitarianism of Islamic rule if Islamists, including the ostensibly “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood, gain power. For that reason, they prefer authoritarian secularism to a democratically elected Islamic government which they fear would transform Egypt into a radical theocracy. 

Ismail Sherif, who is studying to become a filmmaker, thinks some people are resistant to change out of the fear that it might lead to unfavourable consequences. “Even though most people in the film industry would prefer a secular authoritarian regime to an elected Islamic government, we have to accept that risk in order for democracy to happen,” he says.

 How can we overcome all this fear and resistance to change? In order for change in Egypt to be broadly supported, it should not be radical. While it is still fighting dictatorship and a state of emergency, the opposition in Egypt should keep one eye on the future and agree the framework they all want to work under. 

The huge popular support for Mohamed Elbaradei, former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Nobel peace prize winner, gives hope that change in Egypt doesn’t have to be led by Islamists with questionable democratic credentials. In fact, it reveals that, despite the government’s better efforts in recent decades to crush viable secular alternatives and present the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists as the only alternative to frighten secularists and the international community, secularism is far from dead in Egypt.

The Mubarak regime has a long history of stifling the emergence of a viable and popular secular opposition. Prior to ElBaradei, Ayman Nour, despite all the hurdles placed in his path, gave Mubarak a respectable run for his money during the 2005 presidential elections. Afterwards, he was thrown into jail on trumped-up charges. In addition to allaying the fear of Egyptians that the only alternative to Mubarak is an Islamist theocracy, secular Egyptians need to correct the misconceptions ordinary Egyptians have about secularism.

They need to explain that ilmaniya (Arabic for secularism) is different from antipathy to religion. For instance, Barack Obama is a proud Christian, yet he is also the president of a multifaith secular country.

Egyptian secularists also need to remind people that Egyptians were never as united as they were when they fought occupation and a monarchy under the slogan “Religion is for God, and the nation is for everyone”. Moreover, in order for Egypt’s opposition to gain support and win ground internally and internationally, it has to be based on universal human rights and not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, etc. An Islamic regime won’t provide this, but secularism based on e equality for all will.

This column appeared in The Guardian Unlimited’s Comment is Free section on 29 March 2010. Read the related discussion.

Published here with the author’s permission. ©Osama Diab. All rights reserved.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Related posts

Splitting Egypt’s political atom

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 8.0/10 (1 vote cast)

By Khaled Diab

Can Mohamed ElBaradei’s campaign for the Egyptian presidency save a country close to political meltdown?

Monday 15 March 2010

Mohamed ElBaradei is no stranger to explosive – even nuclear – situations. As head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), he managed, using his legal and diplomatic expertise, to diffuse tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme between the bomb-ho George Bush in Washington and the hot-headed radical President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran. His astute diplomacy even earned him the Nobel peace prize in 2005.

Now, having given up the helm of the IAEA, he is being propelled forward by an unexpected and spontaneous wave of popular support that is breathing new life into Egypt’s staid political landscape. In an unprecedented contrast to the typical, top-down politics of Egypt’s ruling and mainstream opposition parties, ElBaradei has been persuaded, through grassroots activism, to come home and launch a campaign to clean up the country’s radioactive political decay after nearly three decades of toxic rule by the Hosni Mubarak regime.

His return to Egypt has felt more like a state visit by a world leader than the coming home of a senior international diplomat. At the airport, he was treated to a hero’s welcome, with jubilant supporters cheering him on, as if he had already been elected president. The crowd included ordinary Egyptians from across the country, as well as opposition figures, actors and novelists.

And if ElBaradei is allowed to run in the 2011 elections and manages to win – two very big ‘ifs’ indeed – he will be Egypt’s first ever democratically elected leader, four presidents and almost 60 years after the 1952 revolution promised to bring democracy and freedom to Egyptians.

But for the time being, this accidental hero of Egypt’s profound desire for change is being cautiously daring. His feet had hardly touched the ground when he was elevated by Egypt’s diverse and broad-based anti-Mubarak movement to head a coalition for political change, the establishment of which he had reportedly wanted to put off for a few months. Its mission is to lobby the government to make the constitution more democratic and to promote social justice. ElBaradei has even indicated his willingness to enter the presidential race but only if he can run as an independent candidate and if free and fair elections can be guaranteed.

His potential candidacy is a sad condemnation of the Egyptian regime’s unspoken policy of stifling meaningful opposition and engineering the political landscape so that Mubarak appears to be the only show in town. In addition, ElBaradei’s meteoric rise to the upper echelons of the opposition movement is a reflection of the disarray of opposition parties and their failure to tap into popular discontent and mobilise the population to take effective action.

But how has a lawyer from a family of distinguished lawyers, who is not a career politician and who has worked outside Egypt for decades, become the face of reform in Egypt?

Part of the reason is his international standing, which has earned him a great deal of respect and admiration at home. More profoundly, it is a sign of the ageing Mubarak’s failing grip on power, popular frustration at the rotten state of Egyptian politics, socio-economic inequality and widespread opposition to the idea of Gamal Mubarak inheriting the presidency (with a little behind-the-scenes help from his father). This desperation is reflected in the names of grassroots opposition efforts, such as Kifaya (Enough), the Egyptian Campaign against Inheritance of Power, and in the increasingly popular refrain: “Anything but Mubarak”.

The decision to rally around ElBaradei is born of the realisation by activists and the opposition – with the notable exception of the Muslim Brotherhood – that they lacked a charismatic figure to represent people of all classes and political stripes. They are also gambling that ElBaradei’s international standing will protect him from the wrath of the regime and spare him the fate of the previous challenger to Mubarak’s hegemony, Ayman Nour.

So far, the regime has been doing its best to ignore the new pretender’s return and downplay the extent of Baradei Fever. As one blogger put it: “I’m going to enjoy sitting back and watching how the Mubaraks deal with this wildcard.”

But what are ElBaradei’s chances? Many experts are doubtful that ElBaradei will be able run as an independent candidate and time is running out for him to attach himself to a political party. Moreover, joining a party would rob him of his unifying appeal. Amr Hashim Rabie of the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies believes that the best ElBaradei can hope for is to embarrass the regime at home and abroad and to galvanise popular opposition in 2011.

But perhaps it’s too early to write off ElBaradei’s chances. Several months ago, few would’ve suspected the Nobel laureate would be in the situation he’s in today. Besides, we should never underestimate the power of the people, even in a semi-authoritarian regime.

And therein lies ElBaradei’s most powerful weapon. He is a popular figure in Egypt – with over 122,000 members of a Facebook group supporting him in a country where internet penetration is still fairly low. And he understands the power of the people and the need to win their support and backing. A reflection of this savvy is that he wasted no time in meeting the young advocates who first floated the idea of his candidacy and even recorded a Facebook message to them. In recognition of Egypt’s youth bulge and the power of the young to change and innovate, he has also invited young people to become active members of his coalition.

Of course, even if ElBaradei becomes the next president, Egypt will not be magically transformed into a prosperous democracy. That, as I pointed out in my vision for a democratic Egypt, will take generations of concerted effort. Encouragingly, many of his aspirations correspond with other reform-minded Egyptians’ views – and he has indicated that he would not seek re-election if he failed to deliver results. I would go one step further and urge him only to seek a single term in office during which he can democratise the country’s institutions and then hand over the baton to new generations of elected leaders.

This column appeared in The Guardian Unlimited’s Comment is Free section on 1 March 2010. Read the related discussion.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 8.0/10 (1 vote cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)

Related posts

Tehran syndrome

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Khaled Diab

Despite its dislike of the Ahmadinejad government, Egypt fears the spread of the Iranian protest contagion to its own borders, but why are Egyptians not showing any symptoms of the ‘Iranian flu’?

July 2009

That Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has his back up against the wall and is fighting for survival should trigger joy and jubilation in Cairo’s corridors of power, as well as in some other Arab capitals. After all, this is the man whose radical anti-western and anti-Israeli rhetoric plays well with certain segments of the Egyptian public frustrated at their own government’s US client status and acquiescence in cutting off Gaza during the recent Israeli invasion.

Ahmadinejad is also the face of the hardline regime that has been positioning itself to become a regional superpower – a position Egypt covets – and whose ambiguous nuclear ambitions and backing of radical Islamist movements is a threat.

But there has been a deafening silence from the Egyptian regime. Even the loyal scribes of the government-owned segments of the press have sheathed their vitriolic pens and stopped lobbing their poison arrows at the Iranian leadership. What could be putting such a damper on the party? Well, the Egyptian leadership finds itself caught between the rock it would like to lob at Ahmadinejad and the hard place of smashing its own glass house by openly criticising election fraud. After all, although not as blatant as the 99% approval ratings of yesteryear, the regime still can’t kick its election fraud compulsion.

Perhaps more importantly, President Hosni Mubarak and his cabal fear that Egypt – similar to Iran in terms of demography, inequality and repression – is susceptible to the Iranian protest virus. The regime “fears the ‘Iranian flu’ contagion … especially as such dangerous ideas spread faster than the swine flu virus,” Ali Bresha wrote on the Al-Arabiya news channel’s website.

So far, the Egyptian people have revealed a remarkable immunity to the Tehran syndrome (in fact, some conspiracy theorists believe it’s a western plot), and the feared political pandemic has failed to materialise. Has the government’s political inoculation programme proven more effective than its botched response to avian flu or do the Egyptian people possess some kind of socially innate antibody against mass protest?

The question of Egyptian political apathy is one that has intrigued me for many years. Egypt suffers enormous socio-economic inequalities, widespread youth unemployment, and the political marginalisation of the masses, and yet Egyptians tolerate an unresponsive government plagued with rampant corruption and a poor human rights record.

There is, of course, opposition to the regime, with many political figures and activists, such as those operating under the umbrella Kifaya (Enough) movement, not to mention the workers unions, taking great risks in calling for reform. And yet they have failed to inspire mass momentum.

Young people are showing more determination than my generation. My youngest brother and his friends are politically aware and some are active in the opposition. Unlike the majority of Egyptians, Osama was even determined to cast a vote against Mubarak, the only political father his generation have ever known, in the 2005 elections, despite attempts to dissuade him outside the voting station.

However, such people are still a minority as was demonstrated during the largely unsuccessful call for a second general strike made by the Shabab 6 April Youth Movement (whose membership on Facebook alone stands at more than 75,000).

I’m not really one to criticise as the political rebel in me has rarely ventured beyond the written word into the realm of direct action, but why this inability to mobilise? Of course, there is the fear factor, but the Egyptian regime is hardly the most repressive in the world.

Maybe it has something to do with the Egyptian government’s ability to aptly blend the use of enough terror to dissuade people and enough progress and freedom to keep the pressure cooker from exploding. Perhaps it is related to Egypt’s opposition being weak and divided, as well as there being no inspirational leader, like Mir-Hussein Mousavi, around whom a broad-based reform movement can form.

Egyptian apathy might also be linked to the fact that, despite all the upheavals of major change the country has endured, things seem stubbornly and frustratingly much the same. In less than a century, the country has gone from monarchy to a one-party socialist republic to a free market neo-liberal oligarchy which may soon have a hereditary president. Yet freedom, despite some minor gains, has been an elusive prize. And like the tired old nation that it is, Egypt has had trouble keeping up and is no longer even the richest Arab country, nor the region’s most powerful nation.

Egypt’s relative decline was driven home to me recently in Accra when a South Korean journalist surprised me by debating me on why Egypt in the 1950s was far more developed than Korea and today has fallen so far behind it.

Some hold that the Egyptian people possess some sort of cultural gene against rebellion and risk taking, and the profusion of popular sayings we have against rocking the boat – such as “Stay away from evil and sing to it” – provides some credence to this idea.

Egyptians tend to prefer to get on with their lives outside the system rather than overturn it. This could have something to do with the fact that for more than two millennia Egyptians were ruled by a long succession of foreigners who generally cared little for their well-being. Initial jubilation at self-determination and self-rule has given way over the decades to the sinking realisation that Egypt’s native rulers are just as alien.

This column appeared in The Guardian Unlimited’s Comment is Free section on 28 June 2009. Read the related discussion.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Related posts