By Robert Folsom | August 20, 2013
This past January I discussed declining social mood in Egypt and the apparent self-destruction of then-President Mohamed Morsi (“The Undercurrent of the Arab Spring“).
Since then the country’s social mood has declined even further, as Egypt’s stock index (EGX-30) trended steeply southward through late June. At this point Mr. Morsi is mostly old news — mass demonstrations swelled against him in June, and on July 3rd Egypt’s military forcibly removed him from office.
When large pro-Morsi counter-protests erupted in July and August, aggressive political violence followed between Egyptian security forces and the Muslim Brotherhood. August 13 alone saw mass bloodshed (600 to 2,000 civilian deaths, depending on who you ask). Subsequent days have seen hundreds more killed and dozens of churches and police stations set ablaze.
All the elements that can produce civil war are in place in Egypt. The demographics of its large population (some 85 million, 15th in world) make it painfully clear that the nation has one foot in the present and one in the past. Egypt’s median age is 24.3. Young adults represent a conspicuous youth bulge: Many are college educated, digital natives (virtually all own cell phones), secular in their world view, and vastly underemployed. At the same time much of the rest of the country’s population is less educated, rural, and adheres deeply to traditional Islam. Then there’s the military — which is not especially well-educated or friendly toward the Muslim Brotherhood.
So: What has brought Egypt to the brink? And, if the country does erupt into civil war (a la Syria), will we be able to understand why now? It’s easy to anticipate what the conventional replies will be:
- Economists will say the turmoil is because Egypt doesn’t reward saving and individual initiative, encourage open markets, or private ownership and new business development.
- Urban planners will say the problem is the country’s infrastructure, lack of public transportation in Cairo, and millions of slum dwellers who have no path out of poverty.
- Political scientists will say Egypt has failed to establish a means of self-government, especially a process that produces stable elections and peaceful transfers of power.
- Sociologists will list the socio-economic factors I delineated above and decry them as combustible.
Obviously all these observations have some merit. But in truth, what they describe has been mostly true in Egypt for many decades. More to the point, what’s missing from such why now answers is a grasp of the trend in social mood.
“As Mood Goes, So Goes the Arab Spring and the Middle East” from the December 2012 Socionomist will shed an all-new light on how you see current events in Egypt. Read an excerpt from the publication right now via this link.
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