Once Again – Trying to Make Sense of Egypt

BLOG #27, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
ONCE AGAIN – TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OF EGYPT
July 10, 2013

Like the rest of the world, we’ve been riveted by the sight of millions of Egyptians demanding that Morsi resign his presidency. At last, freedom for the Egyptian people!

But then the Military, seeing which way the wind is blowing, steps in, in a semi-coup, and arrests Morsi and key Brotherhood leaders. Freedom at last!

Not so quick: not necessarily—for how do you so cavalierly dispose of 30% of the Egyptian people? For this dispossessed minority howls their indignation that their legally elected president has been removed by force, without due-process of law. No matter that Morsi and the Brotherhood had abused their power and done their utmost to stifle all dissent—which had caused the public outcry in the first place.

The whole world watches, waiting for a counterattack from the leaderless Muslim Brotherhood. It doesn’t take long: in a confrontation, the Military fires on a Brotherhood crowd, resulting in significant casualties.

Meanwhile, there is nobody on first except the Military, for the civilians, Coptics, etc., in the middle seem paralyzed by indecision, unable to marshal behind a democratic leadership team. Sadly, reminiscent of an earlier scenario in imperial Russia when Czar Nicholas II’s soldiers fired on a crowd of protesters. By that act of firing on his own people Nicholas II lost his legitimacy. In the bloody aftermath, the leader of the moderates, Kerensky, dithered around long enough for the ruthless well-organized Bolsheviks, led by the steely-eyed Lenin, to triumph by default. And democracy lost out in Russia. Russia briefly regained that freedom after the fall of the Berlin Wall, only to lose it again to a former KGB operative, Putin.

But back to Egypt. Currently there is a standoff between two roughly equal powers: the Military and the Brotherhood, neither of which appears capable of tolerating a democracy to take center stage. The Brotherhood has been discredited by its Morsi dictatorship and the Military has been discredited by firing on its own people.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian people and the world can only watch helplessly while the stalemate continues. Can a miracle still occur, and democracy emerge?

No one knows. We can only wait—and hope.

A Trembling World, Part Two

 A TREMBLING WORLD
 Part Two

 WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

In earlier blogs, I have referred to my own fascination with the turning of zeroes, how every fin de siecle results in a fruit basket-upset of all the values by which society lives.

Well, the last eleven years have proved that my assumption remains valid.  Almost nothing is the same as it was back in the 1990’s.

For one thing, never before has our planet been more interconnected, with national borders meaning less than today.  The world wide web has nailed the lid on that old order.  Thanks to this web, dictatorships are falling like so many dominoes in the Middle East.  But what takes their place is anyone’s guess.

Perhaps the supreme question is this: Is democracy possible in the Muslim World?  Or does the theocratic nature of Islam preclude the establishment of a true democracy.  As I write these words, thoughtful Egyptians are extremely apprehensive about what may follow Mubarak.  No one knows if Tunisia is capable of establishing a free society.  The same is true of Libya.  Turkey has been tilting backwards from a secular free society towards theocratic governance.

What we do know is that all across the Middle East there is a yearning for the freedoms we westerners take for granted.

STAGGERING TOWARDS A NEW TEMPLATE

What is coming at us, no one knows.  All we know is that there are ominously deep cracks in the old one.  According to famed economist, Kenneth Rogoff, “Europe and the U.S. are not experiencing a typical recession or even a double-dip Great Recession. That problem can ultimately be corrected with the right mix of conventional policy tools like quantitative easing and massive bailouts.  Rather, the West is going through something much more profound: a second Great Contraction of growth, the first being the period after the Great Depression.  It is a slow-or no-growth waltz that plays out not over months but over many years. [Quoted by Rana Foroohar, in “The Decline and Fall of Europe (and maybe the West),” Time, August 22, 2011].

In the U.S., as elsewhere in the world, what is desperately needed is not politicians but statesmen: men and women who put the good of their country over mere re-election.  In times like these, weakness at the top will inevitably prove fatal.  Not a temporizing Chamberlain but a Washington, a Lincoln, a TR or FDR—a Winston Churchill.  This is why so many current “leaders” are going to be “weighed in the balances and found wanting.” (See William Broyles “Oval Office Appeaser” (Newsweek, Aug. 22, 29, 2011).

Foroohar is anything but optimistic in her analysis: “The euro is the only viable alternative to the dollar as a global reserve currency.  The British pound is history, and emerging-market currencies are still too small, volatile and controlled.  And while plenty of investors are fleeing into gold, the world gold market isn’t big enough to accommodate serious dollar diversification without massive inflation in gold itself. . . .  It is unclear at this stage whether the euro will even survive the debt crisis that has engulfed Europe, one that is in many ways worse than the one we’re experiencing in the U.S.”

So, will Germany be the white horse that rides to Europe’s rescue” Foroohar is doubtful: “Even in good times, it is never easy to balance the fiscal needs of a high-cost exporter like Germany with those of cheap and cheerful service economies like Greece, Spain, and Portugal.  In bad times, it’s impossible.”

What about the U.S., are we likely to be the white horse again like we were after World Wars I and II?  Foroohar’s assessment of that likelihood is bleak: “both Europe and the U.S. will continue to struggle with the crisis of the old order.  Populations will have to come to terms with no longer being able to afford the public services they want.  Investors will have to cope with a world in which AAA assets aren’t what they used to be.  Businesses will deal with stagnating demand, and workers will face flat wages and high unemployment. . . .  It’s the end of an era in which the West and western ideas of how to create prosperity succeeded.  The crisis in Europe and the challenges yet to come on either side of the Atlantic take us into a whole new era.”

So, with Japan still reeling in the East, does that leave China as the answer?  Not likely.  China’s current growth rate of 8% will inevitably stall, and ominously its people are pouring billions into a housing bubble that may be even worse than those experienced by Japan and the U.S. (See Niall Ferguson’s “Gloating China, Hidden Problems,” Newsweek, August 22, 29, 2011).

So what are our options?

Next Wednesday, we’ll discuss some of them.