American Elephants

The Illusion of an Arab Spring is Long Gone. by The Elephant's Child


Sunrise at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt

Egypt has problems. Cast your mind back to May of 2011. Egypt is the 15th most populous country at 82,079,636 according to 2011 estimates. Cairo had a population of an estimated 10.902 million, and the median age was 24. Half the population lived on less than $2 a day, and a spike in food prices leads to real trouble. Egypt is the world’s largest grain importer. To rephrase that, they cannot feed their own population. The Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto has estimated that 92% of Egyptians hold their property without normal legal title. Egypt is dependent on revenue from tourism.

If you remember, Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26 year-old Tunisian street vendor helped to start what became known as the Arab Spring, by an act of desperation by setting himself on fire in a public square. That act led to spontaneous uprisings in Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria. The White House and the media spoke breathlessly of Western-style democracy sweeping across the Arab desert. They ignored polls that showed that large majorities of Egyptians were yearning to vote in Islamic law. Skeptics pointed out that the Arab world has no experience whatsoever of democracy, and radical Islamists would soon sweep in.

Obama urged on the rioters and pressured Mubarak to step down. They held elections, the Muslim Brotherhood got 60% of the vote, and Mohamed Morsi was elected President, and promptly dismissed the Generals of the Egyptian Army.

President Morsi has now handed over control of a tourist destination to a party that loathes tourists. On Sunday President Morsi appointed Adel al-Khayat of the Gamaa al-Islamiyya party as Governor of Luxor, a region that is home to the ruins of two temples and several monuments. The party holds conservative views against sunbathing, women wearing shorts, alcohol, and is responsible for the 1997 attack in Luxor that killed 60 tourists. The New York Times reported:

“A fatwa, or religious decree, published on the Gamaa al-Islamiyya’s web site advised members of the group not to build tourist accommodations. ‘Because tourist villages have aspects that anger Allah, including alcohol, gambling and other forbidden things, building these hotels and villages is considered aiding their owners in sin and aggression, and is not permitted,’ the decision read.”

Tourism accounts for more than 11% Egypt’s GDP, and 90 percent of Egyptians employed in  Luxor work in industries that depend on tourism to stay afloat. The revolution and the political turmoil following it has already nearly ended the country’s tourist economy, and this move won’t help.

To cap that off, President Morsi has escalated a fight with Ethiopia this week over a dam on the Nile River. Ethiopia is building a dam upstream from Egypt and expects to start filling in a 74 billion cubic meter reservoir in 2015. Egypt fears the dam will choke off its main supply of water.

Speaking to hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo Monday, Mr. Morsi said that Egypt was ready to “protect every drop of the Nile water,” for which it was ready to spill “our blood.” Conjuring up a conspiracy by domestic and foreign “enemies” to impoverish Egypt, he called on Egyptians to face up to the “threats to the country.”

The combative speech turned up the volume on bellicose noises from Cairo. Last week, the president held a meeting with opposition figures who, unaware they were being filmed live, said that Egypt may need to act militarily in Ethiopia to stop the construction of the dam. The video went viral.

Ethiopia dismissed the Egyptian threats as “psychological warfare” and said it will continue to build the dam.

Morsi has been in office for only 12 months, and none of the promises to make the streets safe or revive the economy have been realized. Youth unemployment is extremely high, and the government’s foreign currency reserves have been depleted. Egypt now depends on handouts from friendly nations like Qatar and Libya to buy food and fuel. The opposition has called for mass rallies across the country on June 30.

Secretary of State John Kerry has promised $4 billion in aid, and airplanes, but this is not an Arab Spring, and our government does not seem to grasp the nature of radical Islam. Now Mr. Morsi has turned to conspiracy mongering and nationalistic posturing. Didn’t work for Mubarak and his generals, and is unlikely to work in the current situation.

What our adventures in Syria will add to the mix remains to be seen. Our government seems remarkably naive in their approach to the Islamist governments in the Middle East.

Pat Condell Has Advice for Rioting Muslims by The Elephant's Child
September 23, 2012, 9:49 pm
Filed under: Democrat Corruption, Freedom, Islam, Middle East, Politics, Terrorism | Tags: , ,

Pat Condell, British comedian and political commentator is not one to be put off by excessive politenesse. He’s inclined to speak his mind, and it’s always refreshing to get a little clarity, or one might say political sanity.

Shifting Sands in the Middle East by The Elephant's Child

Osama bin Laden has, according to some stories, been holed up in his compound in Abbottabad for six years.  His goal ,we were told, was a return to the seventh century Muslim Caliphate.  He fought with he mujahadeen in Afghanistan and with American help they drove the Russians out. When the Soviet Union collapsed, he came to believe that he had a big hand in the Soviet collapse.  The Soviet Union was a paper tiger, projecting far more strength than they actually possessed. Osama assumed that America was also a paper tiger and by attacking what he saw as the central symbol of American power — the World Trade Center, he believed he could bring down America.  How bringing down America would restore the Caliphate is unknown.

The sands are surely shifting across the Arab Middle East, but they are not shifting in the direction of al Qaeda. The demonstrators are energized by an opposition to the corruption and repression of their former leaders.  They want jobs, justice, modernity, and perhaps even democracy.  These desires would seem to be the very opposite of the aims of bin Laden and al Qaeda whose goals are even more restrictive, harsh, and narrow.

Yet these countries and these people have no experience of democracy. None. They have no experience of real freedom, of private property, of entrepreneurship, free markets, all those things that we take for granted that are part and parcel of modernity. They have known only corrupt police states or corrupt playboy monarchies.

Last week the Egyptian caretaker government brokered a deal between Iran-backed Hamas in Gaza, and Fatah in the West Bank.  Cairo didn’t bother to tell either Israel or the Americans. The agreement will be signed today and it empowers Hamas, which is a terrorist group. The Muslim Brotherhood is the best organized political group in Egypt.  It condemned the bin Laden killing.

Cairo also plans to establish diplomatic relations with Iran , and an Iranian destroyer was allowed to pass through the Suez Canal for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Not signs of a government deeply interested in democracy. Both the US and Israel will face some tough choices.  If Cairo wants closer ties with terrorists, America’s long support for the Egyptian military would have to be reconsidered. Have we delivered that blunt message?

We will come to regret our lack of support for the anti-Mubarak forces. Robert Kagan remarked that “It is not pragmatic to cling to the status quo in a revolutionary ers.” In Bahrain and Yemen, the outcome of uprising is far from certain.  Kagan warns that so-called pragmatism may not be the safest course.

What’s Next for Egypt and the MENA Countries? by The Elephant's Child
February 11, 2011, 4:00 pm
Filed under: Capitalism, Economy, Islam, Middle East | Tags: , , ,

Mubarak has departed. Cairo is celebrating.  It has been 15 days of dramatic protest.  British Prime Minister David Cameron made an appropriate speech, very brief, in which he said “we stand by, ready to help in any way we can.” What comes next remains to be seen.  The military has promised to move toward elections in September.

Westerners have been inclined to view the protesters as demanding liberty and democracy. It is probably more accurate to say they are demanding a jobs and an economy.  Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal outlined the problems in his column yesterday. “In Egypt, the percentage of the working population employed by the state is 35%.”  Think about that.

Everyone points out the example of Turkey. Turkey got Ataturk and free market economist Turgut Ozal as prime minister in the 1980s. Turkey’s percentage of the working population employed by the government is 13%.

Mr. Henninger relies on the work of the Swiss business school IMD. They produce a comparison of public-sector employment as a percentage of total population for their Competitiveness Yearbook. They show a striking correlation between economic success in emerging economies and relatively low populations of public employees. The public sector, everywhere, is non-productive, high benefit and a drag on an economy.

Korea, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand and even China (8.3%) have low public employment as a percentage of total population.  In Singapore it is under (3%).  In South America, Columbia, Peru and Chile are all under 15%.  A small public sector is not a guarantee of strong growth, but a high percentage probably kills growth.

In Tunisia, many of the rioters were unemployed college graduates, as they were in Egypt.  All of the Middle East/North African (MENA) countries have large public sectors.  Jordan’s is nearly 50%.  The MENA countries have used public work as a form of social security and a tool of political stability.  The armies are public sector employees.

Hernando de Soto, the Peruvian economist, has been a tireless advocate for private property.  If you have a little business, but cannot borrow, build wealth or establish a real business, there is not going to be any growth.  In America, risk-taking entrepreneurs often get their ideas out of the garage and on to the next stage of growth by taking out a second mortgage and cashing in their nest-egg.  Where does the capital come from when you don’t even own the property where you live or the fruit of your own labor?

Dan Henninger suggests that there may be a tipping point in the percentage of the population employed by the public sector, and at a certain point the economy starts to choke.  It is a vast misallocation of public energy, and much of the energy of the public sector is necessarily dedicated to controlling a restive private sector population. When an economy is reduced to depending on tourism, they’re in trouble.  It will be a while before tourists are once again coming to see the pyramids.

California, New York and New Jersey are drowning under the weight of their public sectors. Our country is taking notice of the ideas of  Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo, but they haven’t yet solved anything.

Ronald Reagan noted the phenomenon many years ago.  “Man is not free unless government is limited. As government expands, liberty contracts.” It is apparently a hard lesson to learn.

For Some Reason I have The Housemartins’ “World’s on Fire” running through my head by American Elephant
January 28, 2011, 12:01 pm
Filed under: Foreign Policy, Music, News, Politics, Progressivism | Tags: , , , ,

Hmm. Wonder why.

At least Obama is on top of the situation!  Paper: “[events] moving too fast for Obama administration”.

Sigh. The country’s in the very best of hands. “Smart Power!”

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