Thomas L Friedman, the Pulitzer prize winning American journalist, columnist and author who writes a twice-weekly column for The New York Times has a few things to say about Egypt, not from the comfort of his own plush office in that city, but on the ground in Egypt, because he went to find out what is really going on. When it comes to middle east matters, he is worth paying attention to because he has lived there through war and conflict, he lived in Beirut during the civil war and then in Jerusalem for four years (84-88).
Things are dire and getting worse with each passing day, but I guess we knew that ..
I watched a scrum of men, women and children jostling to get bread. You have to get there early, because the baker makes only so many subsidized pita loaves; he sells the rest of his government-subsidized flour on the black market to private bakers who charge five times the official price. He has no choice, he says, because his fuel costs are spiking.
… These are difficult days in Egypt. It is running out of hard currency and can’t buy enough gasoline and diesel for power stations. Long lines are forming at gas stations, worsening Cairo’s titanic traffic jams, and electricity cuts are commonplace. Around the corner from the bakery, on an unpaved street, a small knot of men have two manhole covers lifted, exposing a sickening black sludge that has backed up almost to street level;
…This is Egypt in miniature — so many problems built up over so many years that are all about to spill onto the street. No one can agree on what to do about them — and the only tool they have looks like a 30-foot-long, jury-rigged, straightened coat hanger.
The conclusion is obvious, Egypt needs a revolution, Oh but …
Wait, isn’t that what happened two years ago? Not really. It is now clear that what happened two years ago was more musical chairs than revolution. First the army, using the energy of the youth-led protesters in Tahrir Square, ousted Mubarak, and then the Muslim Brotherhood ousted the army, and now the opposition is trying to oust the Brotherhood. Each, though, is operating on the old majoritarian politics — winners take all, losers get nothing.
Indeed yes, each faction thinks they can rule alone and cut the others out of the process, but unless they all learn to work together then whoever holds the reigns of power will simply drag everybody deeper down into the mud. There needs to be a peace process, no not with Israel, but within Egypt itself among its own divided society.
Oh and it gets worse, Ethiopia is building the biggest hydroelectric dam in Africa upriver on the Blue Nile. Since 97% of Egypt’s population need the Nile water, that means that if Ethiopia cuts them off while the water builds up behind the dam, then they are stuffed. Morsi’s solution, he is threatening to go to war against Ethiopia. Last Monday he declared, “We are not calling for war, but we will never permit our water security … to be threatened.“. In other words, yes, he is calling for war, and simply needs position himself to be able to blame them when it comes.
Mr Friedman suggests that a possible solution for Egypt may be the environmentalists, the folks who have the interests of all in mind; until all factions pull together and act for the common good, then they will continue on their current death spiral, and if unabated, that will bring as yet unseen levels of turmoil and even deeper level of poverty upon the entire population.
He is right of course they do indeed need to pull together, but sadly while the prevailing belief is one that endorses intolerance as a virtue, will it ever be possible? Right now, I am afraid that they are indeed going to continue on their slow drift down into ever deepening levels of strife and social stress, and this reality is one that Mr Friedman recognises …
it is what ails almost every one of these Arab Awakenings today, where one group or another thinks it can have it all and too few people are thinking about the common good and how it has the potential make them all better off. Syria is the most extreme version of this disease, but Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen are all struggling with the same issue.
… and yet he still nurtures hope …
The only way Egypt and the other Awakening states will have sustainable democracies with sustainable economies is to elevate an environmental ethic to the center of political thinking. Without that, it’s all just musical chairs.
… and in that respect, yes I agree with him.
It is easy to lament about the things that have not worked, but what use is that if you have no alternative to offer; telling them how bad things are and how much worse it will get is not telling them anything that they do not already know. Egypt however is a nation bursting with talented young people who understand that they need an inclusive, long-term, sustainable plan for national renewal; that is a resource that can be potentially tapped and focused so that they rise above the selfish interests of one faction and aspire towards goals that serve all. It is not about a specific religious belief prevailing and inflicting their “solution” that will of course fail, but rather about humans rising above all that – there lies hope for a better future.