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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Final Thoughts on Egypt

I can't end discussion of this trip to Egypt without reviewing a few things.

Egypt does have an enormous poverty problem. And it has a tiny population of very wealthy people who made large amounts of money via government connections. But it also has, to this point, a healthy middle class. That middle class largely is the merchant population and those who work in the tourist industry. Many smaller contractors and craftsmen are included too. These are the folks that Linda and I know very well. I've talked economics, business and politics with them for several years.

There is no support for Mubarak among these people. But, they have resigned themselves to living with him as "Pharaoh" as they put it or "President for Life." Why? Because he has thoroughly eliminated any significant opposition - sometimes with great brutality. And the general attitude to alternatives is, "Who else should take over, the crazies with the beards?" This means the Muslim Brotherhood, in case you don't recognize the description.

Many Americans think that Mohamed ElBaradei is an alternative. Not so among the Egyptians that I know. They don't think he is an Egyptian - he has lived in New York too long. He is not taken seriously as a political figure by anyone that I know.

Already, at this point, the Egyptian Tourist economy has been destroyed. When do you think tourists will begin returning to Cairo? How important is tourism? According to this article:
In 2008, there were more than 12.8 million visitors to Egypt and they brought in almost 11 billion US dollars of revenue according to TravelDestinationTips.net. Approximately 12 percent of the Egyptian workforce is employed in the tourism sector.
What are most Egyptians' complaints about the current government? Corruption. Simply explained, that means they pay something on the side for everything. To get a license, a permit, etc. The police stop you to write a traffic ticket. But the officer is only making $80 a month on salary. The officer and you both know that $20 here and now will fix things and there will be no ticket. This is life in Egypt. Everything takes "a little extra" to make it happen.

The Egyptian government supplies free medical care, almost free bread and $0.92 per gallon gasoline. Reducing subsidies will produce riots. Thanks to the U.S. devaluing its currency and burning corn for fuel, however, most food prices are rising world-wide. Rice is on the rise. Change is going to come slowly and be very painful.

If you hear any Egyptian on a news report (as on this Christiane Amonpour report) saying they hate Americans, don't take it as typical. Egyptians love Americans. They hate the American government for supporting the Mubarak police state. The last American president they really liked was Jimmy Carter. The fond memories date from Carter, Sadat and peace with Israel. Of course this was all before the majority of today's Egyptians were born. Ask anyone in the travel business when things were best and they will tell you it was back in the 1980s when the tourists were Americans and Israelis. And they always ask, "Why don't more Americans come to Egypt?"

So, when things settle down, come see this country with the friendliest people on earth. Come and help rebuild the economy. Build the middle class. And let's just hope that a democratic government can somehow be built up to support those wonderful people's aspirations.

See this Cairo speech by Condoleezza Rice in 2005 for this quote:
"For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region — and we achieved neither.”
Read/watch some analysis of how that was received within the "professional" diplomatic community here.

Then pray that the "crazies with the beards" don't end up in charge next.

Obviously, I am with the "let's get back to normal," older crowd. For a very different perspective presented by a young activist, read Sandmonkey's most recent post, reproduced here. Sandmonkey is Egypt's most famous blogger. (He is occasionally found in prison. He appears to have significant contacts among both U.S. media and bloggers of all political leaning.)

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