Posted by: theheartlander | February 11, 2011

Egypt’s “perfect storm”: Population, economic structure, and political system

Victor Davis Hanson is always worth reading, and I’ve linked to him before on this site.  One of the great things about Pajamas Media, where he blogs, is the caliber of commenters it attracts.  In a comment thread on one of Hanson’s recent articles, a person who goes by “ETAB” gave one of the most brilliant analyses of the situation in Egypt — and other Muslim countries — that I have ever come across:

The key variables that must be considered [with respect to Egypt] and that are, strangely, ignored, are: population, economic structure and political structure. These are entangled.

The Egyptian population has exponentially doubled from 40 to 80 million since 1970. But the economic and political structure has remained the same: a two-class (tribal) one of Rulers and Ruled.

This has operated as a statist economy made up of massive public institutions (the Suez Canal, the bureaucracy, all services) which functions as a public ‘redistribution’ of income to subsidize and serve the people. The problem is that such an economy does not generate enough wealth to support such a population growth; the result is that the majority of the population live in poverty, [and] there is enormous unemployment (you get a job with the state bureaucracy only if you know someone, have family there or can bribe someone).

There is no middle class, that is, a sector of the population engaged in private capitalist small- and medium-size businesses which would support this increased population.

And – the political system doesn’t enable a middle class to emerge, to take power (via democracy). Result? Unrest – and Mubarak has taken to brutal means to repress the people, outlaw all opposition parties, reject a free press, intimidate and coerce submission.

[T]he most impoverished turn to ‘magical solutions’ or the utopian dreams of fanaticism, Islamic fascism, which promises that IF only you are pure, THEN, everything will be OK. Unfortunately, utopianism is an activity confined to the imagination and cannot set up private businesses or run a country.

Mubarak has enabled the appearance of ‘magical solutions’ by his refusal to acknowledge that a statist economy cannot support 80 million people. We in the West, with our support for him, have enabled him to maintain power and repress the people. It can’t last. You can’t have those three systems — population, economic and political mode — ‘out of sync’ with each other.

Further down in the thread, “ETAB” confirms his thesis by contrasting the Middle East with China and India:

Both those regions [China and India] had [until recent decades] the same situations [as the Middle Eastern Muslim countries]:  massive population growth in a short period of time; out-of-date economic systems operating in the old two-class rural statist structure;  and political systems that of course, privileged the Old Elites. That left the majority of the population totally out of the economic and political picture.

But – China and India did things differently. They enabled the emergence and robust strength of an economic middle class – of private small- and medium-size businesses. This capitalist economy took over the well-being of that increased population. India has moved on to politically empower this increasing ratio of the population within democracy. China will, in its time, have to do the same. Neither nation is ‘out of the woods’ yet for there is still a strong rural/urban imbalance – but there is no comparison with the decay and entrapment of the Middle East.

The Middle East moved down a dead-end road; it retained that old statist two-class economic and political system. Why and How? Because it had oil..and could subsidize the emerging population and keep it quiet. Up to a point.

Then it went down another road as the population began to increase even more; the Middle East moved into repressive tactics. Military repression in Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran. And the most brutal repression – theocracy – for you cannot argue with the inarguable axioms of ‘god says so’.

Now, the population pressures have reached a critical threshold. The statist economic mode of public industries and employment simply cannot generate the wealth to maintain this massive population. And, the repressive measures are no longer viable – for the electronic communication systems allow the people to see that things are very different in other parts of the world. So, the whole thing starts to crack – that tectonic shift…

The Middle East can’t repress this enormous change. I don’t think that Islamic fascism will continue in any strength when this region enables a middle class to emerge into economic strength. So, the way to combat fascism is not to maintain the old dictatorships – for that actually is the breeding ground for fascism. The way to combat Islamic fascism is to enable the growth of a middle class capitalism.


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