A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Is Egypt "Too Big to Fail?"

Issandr El Amrani, known in the blogosphere as The Arabist, has a new weekly column for Al Masry Al Youm English. This week's asks if Egypt is "too big to fail."

I think he makes an important point here. Of course there are uncertainties involved when a President has ruled for nearly 30 years and seems about to leave the scene. And Husni Mubarak has been a President whose stock in trade was caution: none of the surprise reversals and dramatic gestures of Anwar Sadat (throwing out the Russians, going to Israel, etc.) Some members of Mubarak's current regime (Safwat al-Sharif, for one) have served throughout his tenure in various positions. It has been a stable system, perhaps too stable.

The military, the security services, the business establishment, the official religious establishment, and of course the ruling party apparatus and the state bureaucracy all have a lot invested in that stability. Even the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition parties have stakes.. Some of these (the military and security services, business) are not going to allow a descent into chaos.

And Egyptians have a stoic ability to muddle through. It's a conservative society, usually under centralized rule since King Scorpion 5000 years or so back. We just marked the 58th anniversary of the 1952 Revolution. Before 1952 there was — well, the thawra of 1919, which was aimed at the British, and the Urabi revolt in the 1880s. I think Issandr is also on target in hoping for some progress, though:
But being too big too fail can also be a curse. Egypt’s problem is not that it teeters on the brink of an abyss, as the alarmists would have it, but that it is too complacent, too certain of a rescue, too ready to choose the path of least resistance and just muddle along. Just as financial institutions assured of a bailout can eschew necessary reforms, so can political systems. Future leadership, hopefully, will be able to both steer a course away from regional extremes and to make a clean break with an unhappy status-quo.


Anonymous said...

Phoroas are still alive :)

.... a President has ruled for nearly 30 years and seems about to leave the scene HIS SON (JAMAL) IS BEING PREPARED TO BECOME THE NEXT PRESIDENT (DESPITE, ALMOST, THE WHOLE NATIOEN)!!!

Anonymous said...


After 2 days of rather spontaneous uprising in Egypt when upwards near a thousand protesters were arrested (and probably as we speak getting their skulls cracked), there seems to be another day of rage ahead. But how extensive are Egypt's detention facilities? What are the risks of spending time in them? How much time might a detained person expect to stay in them?

We must keep in mind that there are a lot of young unemployed people in Egypt, where the population has tripled in 40 years. So it's an even more spontaneous uprising than in Tunisia where the labour unions play a strong leadership role. Egypt's uprising is by contrast very fragmented and cannot depend on organized labour because such destabilizing organizations have long been outlawed. But the Muslim Brotherhood should be weighing in soon.

Is Mubarak's Egypt too big to fail? It's a serious question. The rulers have after all received upwards near a trillion dollars in US military subsidies over Mubarak's quarter-century tenure - an amount that has nearly underwritten Egypt's entire military expenditure over the same period. This naturally renders Egypt's police force extremely well stocked with light-weight weaponry that can easily be turned against all those noisy young hand-phone wielding dissidents - a graphic scenario that no doubt prompted a very high ranking IMF official who was interviewed by CNN today at the annual Davos Billionaire's fun faire (and where a bomb had incidentally just gone off) to admonish Egypt's battered rulers to "target its subsidized spending well".

Will we see another Sadat reaction where pretty much everyone is locked up - from fundamentalists to feminists?

The Suez Canal is the real International Nile.