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2011 February 07 Monday
Egyptian Reign Of Terror Seen Possible

Historian David A. Bell has an essay in Foreign Policy that is worth a read: Why We Can't Rule Out an Egyptian Reign of Terror.

There are, of course, many different ways of categorizing historical revolutions. But for the purposes of understanding what is happening in Egypt -- and the challenges it may pose for the United States -- one simple, rough distinction may be especially useful. This is the distinction between revolutions that look more like 1688 and revolutions that look more like 1789. The first date refers to England's "Glorious Revolution," in which the Catholic, would-be absolute monarch James II was overthrown and replaced by the Protestant William and Mary and the English Parliament claimed powerful and enduring new forms of authority. The second is, of course, the date of the French Revolution, which began as an attempt to create a constitutional monarchy but ultimately led to the execution of King Louis XVI, the proclamation of the First French Republic, and the Reign of Terror.

He says the revolutions that are like 1789 are less common. Most revolutions are noted for their brevity. The 1979 Iran Revolution was more like 1789 in that the mullahs killed a large number of people and greatly reordered Iranian society. Will that be Egypt's fate? He argues that revolutions that are long lasting are not necessarily initially led by those will eventually get power and initiate far more violent and wrenching changes.

Already in Egypt the secularists who started the protests are starting to lose ground to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Though it was not a driving force behind the demonstrations that began Jan. 25 and grew into a popular uprising, the Brotherhood has wasted no time setting the groundwork for a political resurgence. Its leaders have now claimed their place among those who met Sunday with Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's newly appointed vice president, to discuss constitutional reforms and a transition plan.

The development has left some of the more liberal, secular protesters visibly unnerved.

Bell says the risk of a revolution going down a more radical path rises if the first leaders to take power can't deliver meaningful reforms that better the conditions of the people. Well, I am very skeptical that a regime change can do much to improve conditions in Egypt, where half the population lives on $2 or less per day (or maybe only 18% of Egyptians live on $2 per day). In such a parlous state these people can ill afford for the government to cut food price subsidies. Yet Egypt will soon shift to being an oil importing nation. The costs of imported oil and the need to also import more food for a rapidly growing populations suggests that Egyptians are going to become poorer regardless of who rules. So any initial round of replacements for Mubarak will inevitably disappoint the poorer and more religious peasants. If they are given the right to vote will this placate them? Will a democratically elected Islamic slate of politicians

The consensus of left wing liberals and right wing liberals is that economic growth can heal all the world's political troubles. I am skeptical of this consensus for a number of reasons. I see Peak Oil approaching and expect it alone to rip the heart out of the world economy. Also, suitable land for expanded agricultural production is in short supply in a growing number of countries.

Tyler Cowen's new Kindle book (a mere $4) The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History,Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better makes the argument that the rate of innovation has slowed down due to a slow rate of fundamental discoveries that enable new industries. So, for example, mid 20th century discoveries such as the transistor, laser, and some other technologies that enabled great economic growth in the 1950s and 1960s have not been followed up by as many enabling discoveries in recent decades. So the world's economy is running off of too any refinements of old technologies.

I think we are headed for a period of greater revolutionary upheaval because political reforms won't be capable of meeting rising expectations. As those expectations collide with declining living standards governments will fall.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2011 February 07 09:12 PM  MidEast Insurgencies


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