Archive for January 29th, 2011

Breaking a Rule: The Devil on Egypt and the Middle East

January 29, 2011

I have tried during the last eight and a half years to restrict this blog to Venezuela and related subjects for the simple reason that this is not only the subject of the blog, but additionally because there are so many other significant and important subjects out there, that I did not want to distract attention from my main subject. Thus, I have tended to ignore in my writings, not in my mind or in my readings, other subjects, even when they had something to do with Venezuela.

I am breaking that rule today because of a personal story that made me follow Egyptian politics for the last ten years. Roughly ten years ago, give or take two years either way, well known investor Jim Rogers came through Caracas in his second drive around the world. (His first one was on a motorcycle). It was a very pleasant evening with Jim telling us about his recent experience around the world and asking us about Venezuela, trying to understand Chavez and the dynamics of our country.

At the end, he gave us a sort of overview of the world and he noted that he thought the Middle East was a powder keg and he worried most about Egypt, an explosion waiting to happen, whose impact would change the face of the Middle East forever. Egypt, he said, was the most worrisome, because unlike many of the other important countries in the region, it not only had the most ruthless dictatorship, but it was also the poorest country. His fear was that Egypt would explode and the impact would be felt all over the Middle East, toppling Governments everywhere, including places like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Thus, I have kept up with the somewhat dysfunctional and complex politics of Egypt over the years.

But as the world watches Tunisia and Egypt asking for more freedom, it appears to me that the protesters in both Egypt and Tunisia, know clearly what they don’t want, their current or recently overthrow Governments, but don’t have a clear definition of what they want or where they will end if their protests are effective and succesful.

Because the truth is that while the movements leading the unrest are pro-democracy, freedom and pro-human rights, what lurks in the background is not only more of the same, another strong man looking to control the population, but one that embodies either the militaristic or the religious leader, if not both.

Remember that most of these countries have no democratic tradition and do have a strong religious influence, mostly fundamentalist ones. Thus, it would appear to me that few of these countries are on the road to a democratic Government. Perhaps something like a more benign Dictators will be more like it, but the religious factor clouds any prediction.

Perhaps the military will simply oust Mubarak and replacing him with a string of new military rulers that will promise more freedom, but not deliver it. Perhaps the democratic movement will manage to have the new rulers hold elections. But in the end, the winners of those elections will not be them and under the guise of of a democratic mandate, the people will continue to be repressed and dominated.

It is hard for me to see any other outcome. From what I have learned over the years, the region is sadly unlikely to move into more democracy and freedom. There is simply no tradition of that. Maybe all one can hope is that the new rulers truly strive to improve people’s lives, if only for fear that their stay in power will not be brief.

I hope I am wrong, but as I follow the events in Egypt in fascination, I can’t help but remember other examples where the people knew what they did not want and acted accordingly, only to get an equal or worse alternative.

For now, just remember you are watching history and no matter what the outcome, these historic events will likely change the Middle East region forever.