January 28, 2011

Dictator Watch: Egypt on the brink

The Middle East is full of countries with an almost feudal societies.  Money and power are concentrated in the hands of a few elites, in countries not just like Egypt but even Saudi Arabia. Oil revenue is funneled into few hands, and there is often a very large, young, impressionable and very poor class in many countries.  It's a recipe for disaster, and thanks to a perfect storm of factors, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and perhaps some other countries are on the brink of a change that has as much a chance of being an unequivocal disaster as any sort of awakening.

What has allowed this to happen is the combination of factors such as Facebook and Twitter (like what happened in Iran) allowing communication in ways that apparently only the Chinese seem fit to hamper, and an underlying current of anti-Western sentiment fuelled by a ruling class intent on distracting the poor in their own countries from the real issues by having the West as a scapegoat.  In  countries where illiteracy is prevalent and Imams are allowed to pander to the populace by proclaiming all of the world's problems stem from a lack of an Islamic hegemony, the confluence of craziness was bound to erupt at some point.  With the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan and social media allowing instant unfiltered communication there is as much probability that the anti-government activities in countries like Egypt could be directed towards the West as towards the governments of those oligopolistic nations. 

The nature of those governments pointing to the West as the enemy have created a self defeating system.  They may have managed to keep the populace distracted for decades but ultimately the approach they have taken will lose out and they will find themselves replaced with a radical and possibly unalterable dynamic that is a threat to a broader theater than just the Middle East.  The outcome isn't inevitable but it is a distinct possibility.

The governments of the West should intercede to promote freedom and democracy.  Particularly in the case of  hostile regimes like Iran.   That was a missed opportunity.  Which brings us back to Egypt - the most important piece of the world's geo-political dynamic currently at risk.  President Obama is now in a situation where he is supporting the idea of democracy in Egypt after blatantly eschewing the opportunity in Iran and further decrying it at home in the face of Tea Party angst.  The difference is now that democracy could be coupled with that radicalism in Egypt and Tunisia and the volatile situation could spread like wildfire. It has become even more important and the President seems ill-equipped or disinclined to do something about it.

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