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Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Egyptian revolution

The incendiary forces of the 2011’s Egyptian revolution:

Were they socio-economic or political?

           Revolutions have changed the course of history; they have not only affected the countries of their origin, but their ramifications have been felt elsewhere. It is normally deemed that, the French Revolution provided an impetus for further movements, to include nationalistic ones, which led to the unification of Italy and Germany in the latter half of the 19th century.  Egypt has also witnessed revolutions, which continues to create an impact. It was the 1952’s revolution, which ousted not only the monarch, Farouk, but also the British; the latter had ruled Egypt since 1882. After that, the country was ruled by General Naguib, Gamal Abdul Nasir and later by Anwar Sadat.

        In 1981, Anwar Sadat was assassinated by soldiers led by Lieutenant Khalid; this brought Hosni Mubarak to power. Hosni ruled Egypt nonchalantly from then onwards. But, as we say in English that, for how long can the evil be put off. The populace protested in January, 2011 and soon it turned into a massive revolution, which culminated in the ouster of the abominable, Hosni Mubarak. I often do not subscribe to the fact that, the love for democracy compelled people to revolt; instead, I think that belly teaches all arts. This paper will delve into assessing the incendiary forces behind the revolution with a special focus on economic and social factors. This study aims to probe the following: I what caused the revolution after 30 years of Mubarak’s epoch? II why didn’t this happen in the 1980’s or 1990’s or even in the early 2000’s for that matter? Democrats around the world attribute the outbreak of the revolution to the dictatorial policies of Mubarak, to include curtailments on speech; police brutality and others. However, people lived under the tyrannical regime for 30 years; there was no mutiny to oust the government till 2011.Although, the regime was grotesquely repressive, but what actually kindled the revolution were the socio-economic factors, to include unemployment; high inflation; poor living conditions and other such grave aspects.

            No one can ever undermine the impact of economic and social factors, on the survivability of an incumbent government. Although, the revolution in Egypt happened recently, but still there have been studies carried-out to explore the reasons, which caused the upheaval in 2011.various studies have attributed the revolution to the socio-economic factors. A comprehensive study done by eminent scholars of the American University of Cairo, gives us a full list of socio-economic causes that, kindled the revolution. First, they delved on the income inequality and poverty levels in Egypt; backed-up with data, this factor was fully explained in the study. Certain other factors, to include overpopulation and youth unemployment, education and market matching, amongst other such indicators were discussed in the study. In the section of overpopulation and youth unemployment, the authors opine about the rapid increase in Egypt’s population during the epoch of Mubarak:

The Ex-president Hosni Mubarak ruled the country for nearly thirty years, during which the population grew by 90% from 45 million to 85 million, according to United Nations (UN) estimates, despite concerted government efforts to slow down population growth. The vast majority of Egyptians live in the limited spaces near the banks of the Nile River, in an area of about 40,000 square kilometres (15000 sq mi), where the only arable land is found and competing with the need of human habitations. (10-11)

The authors have clearly shown a vivid picture of the bulge in the population, overtime. This is not all that was dwelt with in this study; furthermore, they explained a very colossal problem that the youth confronted. They elucidated that “moreover, according to the Population Reference Bureau’s annual report in 2005 two-thirds Egyptians are under 30, and each year 700,000 new graduates chase 200,000 jobs” (11). These figures are certainly worrisome, to say the least. Job is a crutch for every individual and of course, the economy.

Similarly, another piece of literature gives vent to significance of socio-economic in the turmoil of 2011. Nick beams, national secretary of the socialist equality party (Australia), prepared a report, which was published in the World Socialist Website. The report outlined various socio-economic rationales for challenging the writ of the state. First, he calls the worker class in Egypt as the most potent; this inkles pretty much towards the economic element. Nick beams categorically discusses about the grievances of the workers: they were unhappy with the post-2004 neo-liberal economic policies of the Mubarak’s regime; the augmentation in the pace of privatization led to a crisis in the job market; the conditions of the workers became deplorable and wealth was being amassed by the higher echelons (par 6). Nick further backs his argument by putting the following lines in black and white “when the minimum wage rate was related to per capita gross national product, it had declined from nearly 60 percent in 1984 to 19.4 percent in 1991-92; and then to 13.4 percent in 2007.”(par 6). These evidences suffice the need to accentuate upon the socio-economic degeneration, while studying the fresh revolution. It would be pertinent to mention one other work on this topic. In an article “More than a political revolution”, Samantha Iyer has attributed the mutiny to high living costs; youth unemployment and cuts in social services (par 8).  The author of this piece has reasonably accentuated upon the economic factors; in fact, the societal dimensions of the economy were in limelight. Thus far, the aforementioned studies have corroborated the claim that, the triggering reasons were apolitical, to say the least however; the annus horribilis owed to the high-headed policies of Mubarak. Hence, one can find various scholars concurring upon the economic elements of the revolution; even scholars like Shadi Hamid, who vociferously attribute the mutiny to political reasons, also delve on socio-economic indicators.

Yet, there are some scholars that repudiate the socio-economic milieu as the incendiary force behind the revolution; they argue that, the Egyptian economy was relatively better than other countries. One such study is noteworthy; Andrew V.Korotayee and Julia V. Zinkina, wrote a paper in the Middle East Online Journal. They used statistical data to manifest that, economic stagnation; corruption and unemployment were not grave matters. Further, V. Krotayee and Zinkina bickered “economic growth rates accelerated particularly visibly after 2004 when the new government     managed to attract a group of talented economists who worked out an effective program of economic reforms.” (3).The study described the Egyptian economy as vibrant, only in relation to other impoverished countries, which eschews the gravity of the situation.

Apart from papers, articles and other literary pieces by learned men, one can find data galore to corroborate the very significance of economic relapse. The bulge in population became a persistent problem, for it emanated other emanated other impediments; graphs show the very existence of this phenomenon (see fig .1).

The bulge in the country’s populace may turn out to be a bane, to say the least; the economy may not have the requisite number of jobs, which obviously leads to the grave problem of unemployment. The pinch of being unemployed cannot be felt until one goes through the same mill. The figure below clearly depicts that, the Egyptian population comprises of relatively young men and women. This is a double- edged sword for the economy; the country’s economy  has the propensity to expand however; unemployment can result in societal evils.

                                    Fig. 1.  Youth bulge in Egypt (Neguib et al.10)

This, along with other figures speaks volumes of economic and social problems that led to Mubarak’s ouster from the office. In another data, provided by the World Bank way back in 1989, it was observed that, upper bracket income earners, got the lion’s share of Egypt’s national income (Neguib et al.6-7). This, without an iota of doubt, vitiates the relationship across sections of the society; Egypt was not immune from all these rifts. The results of all the tables and graphs that I scanned through were inkling towards lopsided wealth and poor living conditions. The studies have shown one eccentric phenomenon; the GDP and GNI of Egypt grew, but simultaneously, the level of inequality also increased. This is a harbinger of a grievous problem; the economic prosperity does not have a trickle-down effect.

Thus far, I have reflected upon previous research, pertinent to the titanic revolution; this upheaval was potent enough to dislodge the monstrous dictator. I would refer back to the question, which happens to be the mainstay of this paper. What caused the revolution after 30 years? Why did Mubarak become a pariah in 2011, but not in the 1980, 1990 or early 2000’s? I vociferously refute the claim, that the Egyptians had a love lost for democracy; the immense love for democracy did not bring about the ebb of the dictator. It took nearly thirty years for the populace to endeavour to supplant the abominable autocracy, with the enamoured democracy.  The fact, that the nation was in slumber, inkles towards other reasons; those reasons were apolitical, so to speak. As aforementioned, the sharp increase in inflation; lopsided distribution of wealth and other factors left the country in a huff. Especially, if one considers the past performances of Egypt in the economic sphere, one can develop a link between economic downturn and grievances. Indeed, the worker class protested only because they were getting deplorable, by the day. If they were not deplorable; Mubarak’s regime would have been alright for them. Why would a youngster lambaste a dictator, if he acquires a job, commensurate with his credentials? Every tom dick and harry is not cognizant of political theories; he aspires to live with peace and prosperity. It would not take more time and space for me to repudiate, all those who try to put weight behind the political factors as the prime movers. Despite all his repressive measures, which anyways emanated societal problems; the nation never ventured- out against him. When the economic element was tinkered by his ill-fated policies, the tide turned against him; no one camouflaged him. We lived happily under a Pakistani dictator, till a point when the country was rife with inflation, terrorism and other issues. We Pakistanis, revolted when the above-mentioned impediments plagued our country. Same goes for the Egyptians; in fact, all revolutions, barring the Iranian were triggered by economic downturn and social disparity.

In sum, it may not be wrong to say, that the Egyptians were ripe for a revolution, not because of love for democracy or loath for dictatorship, but because of economic stagnation and youth bulge, which further had a multiplier effect on the populace. Mubarak would have clung on to power, had labour been prosperous or young graduates found apt jobs; he was ousted because people rightly deemed him and his lackeys as the culprits. The political reasons have their rightful place in causing a  mutiny, but they cannot supplant the economic and social as the incendiary forces behind the historic episode. One can identify certain limitations in this study; the paper has only looked into a few broad economic indicators. A few more graphs and tables would have gone down well with the readers; graphs and tables help, elucidate complex situations. The topic is broad and is open to multi-faceted research. The researchers should, try and go to Egypt to ask those who made history by participating in the event. No scholar can explain things, the way these ordinary people can do.

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