There is no simple answer to Egyptian turmoil

A reasonable question is asked

Somer, could you please explain the diversity of the protesters if that was the entire story?

I’m going to try and answer without my characteristic snark, please forgive me if I fail.

In using the phrase, “the entire story”, the questioner is evidencing a common attribute of many – it is sometimes called ‘binary thinking’; that is, a belief that there are only two sides to a question – Yes or No, Either this or that, My way or the hiway – which in combination with the all too common desire for simple answers even when discussing highly complex subjects leads many of us to see statements by opponents as all-encompassing.

That many Egyptians have fared poorly during a time of economic growth is indisputable, the same holding true in the US. The day to day life of the urban poor in Egyptian cities provides them with evidence of their growing inequality. Living in a city, they will see the luxury cars of the elite increasing in number, they may have a job in one of the clubs or restaurants or shops that cater to the new economic aristocracy. Jobs that allow them insight into the lifestyle of the elites and in their home districts they probably have to deal with the local thugs and corrupt police. Then on top of this exposure to the lifestyles of the ‘rich and famous’ with the hardships of urban ghetto life, they are now paying a higher percentage of their measly income simply to feed themselves and their families. So we have the poor.

The poor in Egypt are both Muslim and Christian, no surprise that both beliefs would be represented.

Why would some of the educated, affluent elite also be participating? Well, in Western societies we certainly have the same demographic advocating for various liberal, progressive programs and solutions to society’s ills. You know – the infamous Hollywood elite that certain commentators like to rail against or those ‘self-hating’ billionaires like Soros and Gates who spend their money promoting democratic reform. So why shouldn’t some of the crowd in Tahrir Square and elsewhere originate in the elite faction that has benefited from the growing Egyptian economy? Often they have attended university in western nations and seen first hand the differences.

Were rising food prices alone sufficient to spark a revolution? No, but they may have been the straw.

One might as well blame the modern interconnected world for exposing to a repressed people the ways in which the actions of similar groups in other nations have dealt with their problems. Even though few of the urban poor in the middle east can afford even ‘cheap’ cell phones, they do have, or had, the opportunity to sit in the local coffee houses and cafes to watch TV. A media that owing to the growth in Arabic language satellite broadcasting brings them visions of what might be their future and at the same time shows them the reality of the street in their neighbouring nations.

In a situation of political turmoil such as that taking place not only in Egypt and Tunisia but also in Jordan and Yemen and the south of Sudan, one should never expect to find a simple explanation. Humans are far too complex for anyone to think that simple answers will give us easily understandable reasons for revolution.

In Egypt alone we can see that growing inequality should be combined with basic political dissatisfaction over the repression of democracy by a strongman government. These factors have been stirred in with a growing awareness of how daily life provides more to the populations of free nations. Add to the mix, religious fanaticism and a dislike for the results of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Put on the fire, Western support for the strongman and the failure and what is seen as the hypocrisy of the West in talking democracy but supporting repression and now the cauldron is bubbling and about to boil over.

Nice to see that Secretary of State Clinton agrees with me:

from CNN

Clinton warns of ‘uncharted territory’ in wake of Egypt unrest

Washington (CNN) — In the midst of mass uprisings and historic change in the Middle East, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a gathering of U.S. diplomats Wednesday that “we are all in uncharted territory.”
(…)
Turning serious at the end of her remarks, Clinton added: “There are too many forces at work, some of which we are only beginning to understand. Too many cross currents and complexities.”

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