Friday, February 04, 2011

Skepticism, Hope and the Egyptian Revolution

While there have been a number of inspiring voices for liberty under the repressive regime of Mubarak. That something better will necessarily come out of this however, is far from certain given how organized the militants are and the likely influences of Iran. From Walter Russell Mead (read the whole thing):

On balance, the US administration has probably helped the government, and Washington’s intervention in the crisis is not (yet) turning out very well. Public pressure on President Mubarak to step down has allowed the Egyptian authorities to wrap themselves in the national flag. “Let’s find an Egyptian solution to Egypt’s problems,” they can say. “President Mubarak will not be running for re-election; do not let the Americans dictate our timetable for change.” Many in the Egyptian army who normally might have wanted to shed Mubarak quickly will now want to let him hang on through the fall to spite Obama if for no other reason. At the same time, foreign pressure gave the government an opening to crack down on foreign (and domestic) journalists, helping to deprive the revolution of the attention and television coverage vital to keeping public excitement and mobilization alive.

In revolution, momentum matters. In a poor country like Egypt, mass demonstrations cannot continue indefinitely. The middle class can stay in the streets, but the poorer people need to feed their families. A few days’ pay is all that stands between many families in Egypt and hunger. Beyond that, the kind of excitement that gives people the courage to defy authorities and risk death depends on an emotional surge that tends to fade as time drags on.

The Egyptian authorities needed to stall for time and slow down the clock. That they seem to have done; if they can hold the line, the regime (though not the Mubarak family) has a reasonable prospect of riding out the storm or of forcing a longer term stalemate.
And also from Jeffrey Miron:
But another component seems to be that the demonstrators want economic freedom, which is limited under the economic system in Egypt.

Milton Friedman’s view was that economic freedom is as important as political freedom: the right to vote in open elections is valuable, but so is the ability to run a business without oppressive regulation or earn an income without paying most of it in taxes.

A related point is that democracy does not necessarily produce economic development; rather, work by my colleagues Ed Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer suggests that better institutions, by themselves, do not systematically lead to economic growth. Rather, countries adopt better politicial institutions as their level of development progresses.

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