The Dance is on in Egypt, following a somewhat successful engagement in Tunisia last week. The Dance does not involve men in colourful costumes and zithers, instead this Dance involves regular folks going into the street and demanding freedom.
Tunisia decided to start the Dance last week, with President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali taking off with a ton and half of the gold from the Central Bank vaults. Next door, President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt looked at the Jasmine Revolution and said “Ruh Roh!” The news networks go wall to wall with the Crisis in Egypt and here we are.
Overthrowing dictatorships and striving for something resembling freedom is always a good thing for a country. However, there is often a downside that the population sometimes overlooks in their well-intentioned zeal to be ‘free’, whatever the hell that means. As an example, when Germany reunified, East and West in the 90’s, there was a stunning string of gaps between the two Germanys that you could tangibly see, even as an outsider. The Osties were the equivalent of the local hillbillys, gawking at flush toilets and restaurants with blank-eyed incomprehension: Such things were only the purview of the ruling class at the appropriate level of the Politburo.
Will the same happen in Tunisia or Egypt? Of course it will, the disenfranchised suddenly having at least a half of one tenth of vote, will likely see the rise of niche political parties catering only to the newly franchised. Expect the first ‘free’ ballot to be three meters long, listing 31 different parties.
Economically, both Tunisia and Egypt will go into the shitter. They don’t have far to fall, but that is to be expected, as the big multi-nationals like dealing with dictators: The bureaucracy in a dictatorship gets simplified when all you have to do is deliver a suitcase of money to get the contract. Using India as an example, ‘free’ bureaucracies take forever to decide to take a piss or a shit at lunch, then strike a Federal Commission to study the possibility of investigating the potential of establishing a Standing Committee with a complete terms of reference to consider taking a piss or a shit at lunch. Things get done, but they take lifetimes in the free system.
The real difficulty with the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are twofold. One, the other Arab countries in the neighbourhood don’t really like the idea of people having votes, changing governments, personal freedom, untaxed flatbread or heaven’s forbid, acknowledging there’s some joint called Israel.
The second problem is Israel. To say that Israel is wrapped a little tight is January’s Understatement of the Month Club Feature Understatement. With little provocation, or imagination, Israel could feel threatened by any number of curious turns of phrase or political orientations in the newly free countries that could easy escalate into the usual foaming hostility, live-fire exercises and bloodshed.
Which leaves us with a situation where we watch and wait to see what happens, hoping at the same time that the various participants don’t decide to kill each other.