Wednesday Night #1510

Written by  //  February 9, 2011  //  Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  3 Comments

See also Egypt on Wednesday-Night.com

As was expected, events in Egypt dominated the lively discussion which was informed and stimulated by the presence of Egyptian-born economists Sam Boshra and our OWN Kimon Valaskakis.

Events in Egypt
When one reads about a popular uprising in the Middle East, what comes to mind is either an internecine dispute or a highly organized takeover attempt by a rival faction or dictator.  Neither appears to be the case in Egypt.  In this instance, it appears to be a truly ground-up revolt against the incredible gap between the wealthy and the poor, fueled by ever-higher food prices. Hosni Mubarak, the economy and food shortages constitute the problem.
Although Egyptian families pay only the equivalent of one cent for a loaf of bread, the disparity between the poverty of the population and the ruling class – including President Mubarak who is said to have amassed the equivalent of between forty and seventy billion dollars – and the Army which has a lock on many profitable business sectors provides added stimulus to the movement, a popular movement without a leader.
As every dwelling with a telephone in Egypt provides Internet access, it would appear that for the first time in history, we are witnessing a popular uprising fueled, not by the ambitions of a popular leader, but by individuals and families whom the Web has made aware of their common condition and the thread that binds them.  There is no reason to believe that analogous situations may not occur elsewhere as the Internet increasingly empowers the masses.
The protesters in Egypt are not demanding democracy; they are demanding to be treated with dignity and respect. It was noted that Gamal Abdel Nasser, the most popular recent (post-WWII) leader of Egypt, was a far greater autocrat than Mr. Mubarak. Nasser undertook a socialist agenda, including land reform and rapid large-scale industrialization, creating jobs and improving incomes for the poor – key demands of the recent popular revolt. When Nasser announced his resignation after Egypt’s defeat in 1967, massive demonstrations broke out across Cairo, the rest of Egypt and throughout the Mideast – demanding his return.
Some Wednesday Nighters believe that the food shortage, which is not limited to Egypt, can be at least partially traced to the increasing transformation of corn into ethanol and the inadequacy of the wheat crop in major exporting countries due to a series of natural disasters (drought, floods, etc.).  Unlike the biblical account of Moses, the Egyptian larder is bare, but the Army and the ruling class live well.  The banks and stock market have not suffered.

Déjà vu all over again
The President and the Army, supported by the U.S., have managed to neutralize and/or jail all opposition so that it not surprising that no identifiable leader has emerged to organize and direct the popular movement although there appears to be some support for the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (Will ElBaradei fill power vacuum in Egypt?).  While Mubarak is expected to resign, there is no provision for orderly transition under the existing constitution. Thus the constitution would have to be suspended and he most likely scenario is that yet another leader supported by (and possibly coming from the ranks of) the Army will be moved into the vacuum. Wednesday Night Mavens point out that given Mubarak’s objective of having his son replace him (now a non-starter), potential competitors have been jailed or gone into exile and there has not been the opportunity for an apprenticeship in leadership. Thus, the next cycle will commence and continue until the laureate is ultimately replaced in like manner.  In 1952, King Farouk (much criticized for a lavish lifestyle and ineffectual government) was forced to abdicate by the Free Officers Movement and was succeeded for a brief period by Major-General Muhammad Naguib, who was quickly removed and replaced by Gamal Abdel Nasser, in turn succeeded by his brother-in-arms and vice president, Anwar Sadat, and, following his assassination, his vice president and fellow officer, Mubarak.

Although successful in many ways, Egypt cannot be considered a true democracy. While some Wednesday Nighters were dismissive of the ongoing influence of the population, the cohesion exhibited to date by young and old, professionals and the much-less-fortunate, urban and rural dwellers and above all, the women of all ages and sects, appears to others to be a positive and long-overdue development.  The population is responding with reason and a new cycle is expected to begin, the real difference being the influence of the Internet on civil action.    The problem appears Egypt’s strategic importance and the army – the only cohesive group – is supported by the U.S.  Hosni Mubarak’s successor is predicted to remain a knight in shining armour for a couple of decades or less, when it is anticipated that a repetition of events will recur.  In the meantime, the distribution of sufficient money by a new leader will calm things down easily.
This scenario is not supported by all Wednesday Nighters, with some still fearing increasing Islamist influence on the population.  The complete picture is difficult to determine, in part due to the influence of the news media.  Sending live senior reporters to distant countries is expensive and consumers of news from abroad are not particularly interested in bland, peaceful or repetitive stories.  What happens in the square is probably a gross exaggeration of the larger picture, with the real power residing in the council of business, funded by the private sector and the stock market.  It is a mature economic system supported by the army.  The best way to hijack a revolution is to produce the illusion of change by installing yet another charismatic leader.  Today, the Egyptian voters are not informed; they are peaceful but angry at the  government.  The fundamental problem is viewing the army and the person in power as equating stability, but this is not necessarily reality.  However, it is probable that the sophistication of the middle class will decapitate but keep the government going.  Whoever takes control, whether it be business interests or a broad representation of civil society,  will find it in their own best interest to consult and settle the unrest.

The LSE-TMX merger
The proposed merger of the London and Toronto Stock Exchanges would bring down costs and produce a more efficient market.  The London Exchange has already been authorized to operate in Québec since 2007.  Certainly, the Minister of Industry will approve the merger which would constitute  the fourth largest exchange for natural resources and have the potential to provide twenty-four hour a day trading. [Updates: (The Telegraph) LSE-TMX merger prompts global jump in bourse shares Feb 10 ; (CBC) TMX-LSE merger stalled by politics: Caldwell Feb 19]

Prologue

For those who have been focused on events in other parts of the world, permit us to remind you that Chinese New Year (the Year of The Rabbit) is upon us and it is appropriate to wish your friends (in Cantonese) Gung Hay Fat Choy! However, you might prefer the Mandarin greeting favoured by children (and bankers) Gōng xǐ fā cái, hóng bāo ná lái – “Happy New Year, now give me a red envelope”. Whatever you opt for in terms of New Year’s greetings, it is undeniable that we are living in interesting times, which, it turns out is not an ancient Chinese curse, but in our case, a pure statement of fact.

Before we turn to what has been the obvious focus of most of our attention for the past week(s), there are other news items and issues worthy of your attention and contemplation.

First and foremost, congratulations to Felix von Geyer, who has now joined the ranks of The Guardian’s Greenblogfestival. His piece on the Tar Sands, with emphasis on the amounts of water consumed by the process is a MUST Read.

Continuing the theme of environment, we recommend Paul Krugman’s latest column Droughts, Floods and Food wherein he reminds us that despite concerns of rising consumer demand in emerging economies, speculation on commodity prices, etc., the real culprit in the looming crisis is climate change and the natural disasters that accompany it.

A companion piece on foreign investment and food security in Africa in the The Christian Science Monitor warrants attention. It points out that Africa could be a breadbasket to the world, with its fertile land, winding rivers and cheap farm labor. But most African countries import the majority of their food staples, spurring dozens of major foreign corporations and national governments to invest in African land in order to grow food and crops that could be turned into biofuels for export – a trend that could make the continent more food and trade self-sufficient, yet also could lead to unrest.

Feeding (pun intended) into the topic is the report that Social Forum slams Africa land-grab from Porto Alegre (aka The World Social Forum) which is meeting in Dakar this week amidst a climate of change from its earlier days. At the other end of the Mediterranean (yes, we do know that Sénégal is on the Atlantic) and the political spectrum, the 17th Arab Inter Parliamentary Union Opened in Doha – we can only imagine that there were some very nervous delegates in that gathering. Note the obsequious Welcome Address. For more on developments in the Arab world, please see The Arab/Middle East world in 2011

And that, of course, brings us to the topic of the Middle East in general and Egypt in particular. As you have all seen the 24-hour newsfeeds, we offer only a small number of items for discussion and debate.

The first would be Robert Fisk’s column in Monday’s Independent: US envoy’s business link to Egypt
“Frank Wisner, President Barack Obama’s envoy to Cairo who infuriated the White House this weekend by urging Hosni Mubarak to remain President of Egypt, works for a New York and Washington law firm which works for the dictator’s own Egyptian government.” This item has already caused a flurry of sometimes sharp exchanges among some Wednesday Nighters.

The second is The Financial Times’ piece on What Europe can do for the Arab World notably: “Europe has vast experience, having developed aid programmes at EU and national level, and having created institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to put central and eastern Europe on the path to democracy and a market economy. Working with the US, Canada (yes, even a role for Canada!), Turkey and other allies, the EU should engage in similar initiatives to strengthen an independent judiciary, competitive political parties, small and medium-sized businesses, free media and civic groups in the Arab world.”

For the many who are as confused as we about the aims and objectives of the U.S. in the current situation, Carl Bernstein offers a very cogent explanation of What the White House Isn’t Saying , while Frank Rich has an excellent column on the failures of North American media (he actually is too polite to mention Canadian media, but we will)  in reporting on events in Egypt Wallflowers at the Revolution  “more often than not we have little or no context for what we’re watching. That’s the legacy of years of self-censored, superficial, provincial and at times Islamophobic coverage of the Arab world in a large swath of American news media.” – we wish he would say what he really means! Meantime, Al Jazeera offers a vitriolic opinion piece on Suleiman: The CIA’s man in Cairo

And what about the HuffPost-AOL announcement? This news item indeed returns us to the initial thoughts about living in interesting times. We cannot help but wonder how long the blissful honeymoon will last – will the groom (Tim Armstrong) remain as enchanted by the mercurial Arianna? Stay tuned – we know this will be a highly public marriage.

Should we run out of topics, we can always revert to the Security perimeter that Mr. Harper went to Washington to discuss (and agree to) Harper, Obama announce ‘new vision’ for border – will their vision include a resolution of Stanstead’s problem? And there’s always Mad Max for a leitmotif. But more exciting is/are the proposed
LSE merger talks with Canada’s TMX

3 Comments on "Wednesday Night #1510"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson February 9, 2011 at 12:37 pm · Reply

    The FT’s What Europe can do for the Arab World is a very interesting article. On its main theme – EU responsiveness to events unfolding rapidly – there is I think still a unanimity rule in place as outside certain pre-defined sectors (such as trade in goods) the EU countries have not established a common approach, for the usual “sovereignty” reasons that also include stodginess on fiscal transfers. The really interesting bit for me is:
    Those Arab countries that courageously take up the cause of reform now face a long period in which they must strengthen, or construct from scratch, free political institutions, civic life and the rule of law. A business culture stripped of political corruption and military influence is essential.
    The article condemns the French revolution Terror and the even more murderous Bolshevik Red version of the same. But how otherwise to go from here to there (as described above) without a concentrated effort at dismantling executive kleptocracies that have succeeded in making multi-billionaires in countries where the average annual income is at or below western “poverty line” levels and which have virtually no modern industries outside the “loisir” sectors? So strong are the inducements to skim in order to insulate one’s (often significantly extended) family from the country’s otherwise non-performance and so weak are the assurances of any alternative economic strategies (e.g. a spell in high office, followed by a million dollar book deal and sinecure at some research institute endowed in one’s name – a common western practice) is just not on the menu. Perhaps this is another puzzle for the “governance” mavens.

  2. A Wednesday Night economist February 11, 2011 at 3:49 pm · Reply

    Dr. ElBaradei could be an effective leader during a period of transition, but the immediate concern is the mechanism by which the transition would take place.
    The problem is that by design the Constitution did not allow for an orderly transition of presidential authority. As has been noted in the press, the President could only delegate few powers to the Vice President, and, until only a few days ago, Mr. Mubarak had never seen to appointing one [to that post]. If Mr. Mubarak were to become incapable of serving, the Speaker of Parliament would become the Acting President, and could only do so temporarily, with limited constitutional authority. A presidential election would be held. However, the new President would be elected by Parliament, not a general election, as set out in the Constitution.
    When Mr. Soleiman said in an interview that if the crowds persisted in demanding Mr. Mubarak step down it could possibly lead to a coup, he was not making a threat. The only way to get Mr. Mubarak to step aside and not be replaced by another currently serving MP from his party, which the protesters would not have accepted, was for suspension of the Constitution.
    Now that the military leadership has taken over, questions relating to the transition mechanism will need to be answered. How will the return to civilian government take place, and how long will it take? Given the good will the military has with the general population, it is likely to act in good faith to restore civilian rule as quickly as possible. However, the military leadership may exploit that good will and its new-found political authority to extend its rule. Some commentators have mentioned Nasser’s succession of Muhammed Naguib, Egypt’s first President, as a possible scenario. I am not sure if that is the best example, as they both led the military in its overthrow of the monarchy, and Nasser went on to pursue a socialist agenda and become the most popular leader in Egypt’s recent history. The worrisome scenario is that of Pakistan in 1999, where the military replaced a civilian government, but its leader saw fit to overstay his welcome, eroding the institutions of civil government in the process. It took nearly a decade before civilian rule was restored in Pakistan.
    The Egyptian military could see fit to appoint an interim committee comprised of scholars and leaders of the protest movement, including Mr.
    ElBaradei, to rewrite the constitution, (re)build state institutions and oversee the transition back to civilian government.

  3. Yvette Biondi February 11, 2011 at 4:24 pm · Reply

    C’est ce que j’avais envie d’ajouter mercredi soir … Tu as donné la note. Heureusement ! C’est un article du Journal Forum de l’U. de M.
    Le pouvoir de la rue
    «Les soulèvements populaires au Moyen-Orient sont aussi importants que la chute du mur de Berlin et les évènements du 11 septembre 2001», affirme sans détour Najib Lairini, chargé de cours au Département de science politique de l’Université de Montréal.

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