Muslim Brotherhood waits in the wings

Ehud Kaufman

If the new Egyptian regime does not get to grips with poverty, then the Muslim Brotherhood will strengthen.

The Egyptian revolution, which took so many in the West and in Israel in particular by surprise, was mainly motivated by the demand of the masses for economic justice. This transcended calls for freedom of expression, the right to organize politically, and relief from the rampant repression of the establishment including Mubarak, his family and cronies, the army and the ruling party.

Above and beyond the Tunisia effect, which certainly influenced the timing of the Egyptian revolution, western commentators have ignored Egypt's long tradition of protest. It was very sexy to simplistically talk about fashionable social network tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Google as an organized infrastructure for protest to the point that it became a cliché that the western media never tired of using. The exaggeration behind this was revealed when the Egyptian regime cut off the Internet and yet the demonstrations only grew and the circle of protestors widened both geographically and in terms of population sectors.

Hope for political stability hangs on the mistaken impression created by the western media that the demonstrators were the "Facebook generation." In other words the middle class, almost "yuppies," - that is to say people like us.

The truth is that there are millions of university educated young Egyptians who are unemployed and hungry, some of whom belong to electronic social networks. The socioeconomic profile of social network members varies from country to country and that of Egypt is far different from the US.

The struggle over the character of the future of democracy in Egypt will, in addition to transparency and freedom of political organization, be based on the meaning of "social justice" in a democratic equation. In contrast to the West, where social justice is limited to economic constraints, in a poor country like Egypt, social justice means that the state provides food, health, education, and jobs to a large part of the population. This commitment is not unique to Egypt; Mubarak's government increased subsidies to put out fires and prevent outbreaks of protests.

Even if the demonstrators in Tahrir Square appear to be a leaderless public, negotiations will now commence between the ruling Army on one hand and representatives of other institutions that have historically carried the banner of protest and criticism in Egyptian society on the other.

Institutions that will probably participate in the negotiations include:

  • The Army and its economic branches.
  • Associates of the ruling party, some of whom infuriated the masses, but who will continue to play an economic role.
  • Unions and professional associations.
  • Social and religious organizations, beginning with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Economic success or Islamic success?

If Egypt cannot deal with its poverty and create a structure of social justice acceptable to the majority, the Muslim Brotherhood will inevitably become more powerful

The Egyptian economy achieved what were ostensibly encouraging growth rates in recent decades. However, the fact that the beneficiaries of the fruits of this growth were limited to a small elite, a process characteristic of the neoliberal economic model everywhere. It brought Egypt, where this phenomenon was especially extreme, to a situation of public fury and revolution.

The support of the US and the West will be critical, but if it is in the form of so-called IMF reform formats, it will cause chaos and is doomed to failure. The US and European monopoly to influence the Egyptian government will be broken, and China, India, and Brazil will have something to offer. In truth, advice by these countries is more suited to Egypt's needs than US aid. Whereas the US has only the market model to sell, these other countries have a better understanding of the needs of developing countries.

The issues and sensitivities of US President Barack Obama for the first time give the US flexibility. If not, then when the debate returns to the question of social justice, the young Egyptian Facebook friends will level their criticism at the US, and to the electronic networks that the US sees as marks of success the economic model it propounds, and they will become a weapon against the neoliberal concept.

Ironically, Egypt has a better chance of achieving growth based on social justice, if it adopts economic policies like Israel applied in its early years: policies based on institutions that have become loathsome in the Israeli economic dialogue.

An Egypt with subsidies and a distribution of influence between institutions like the Histadrut (General Federation of Labor in Israel), the government, the ruling party, the army, and religious groups has a chance of meeting the economic challenges that will ensure the success of the revolution.

The author is the editor of No Bloomberg

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on February 13, 2011

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011

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