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Friday, February 11, 2011

WILL FREEDOM REIGN IN EGYPT?

By now you've heard that President Hosni Mubarak gave up and there is euphoria on Tahrir (Liberation) Square, Egypt, and most of the world.  Powered by the internet, peaceful (although, perhaps, 300 died over the past 18 days) fury succeeded.  Twenty one years ago on this day Nelson Mandela was released from prison (where he spent 27 years of his life), and his inaugural address is remembered for "Let Freedom Reign."  Will freedom reign in a future Egypt?  Probably, but I think back more than a decade to when Pearl and I were in the Nile Hilton.

Gazing out one afternoon in our nightmarish visit to Cairo, I noticed that a short distance across a disheveled square was what looked like a Kentucky Fried Chicken sign.  So I decided to walk for our dinner.  When I first stepped out of the hotel I noticed that everything, including people and the Nile, was a spectrum of shades between tannish brownish gray and grayish brownish tan.  I carefully strolled through them and everyone stared at me.  It seemed like they were all men.  I wondered why they were just sitting around doing nothing.  I eased my way to the KFC, and this was across the street from Tahrir Square.  It was so uncomfortable that I thought about catching a cab back, a walk of less than ten minutes.  Then I remembered a warning from the hotel:  don't catch taxis in Cairo.  I somehow made it back to our room.


Today, there was unbridled happiness in and around this square.  I even shed some tears watching this all unfold. The military will replace Mubarak, and all will be well from the USA point of view because we trained almost all their officers.  Minister of Defense, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, left, is 75 and not particularly respected in the ranks, while Chief of Staff Sami Hafez Enan, right, is 63 and progressive.

We also annually give them $1.3 billion in defense aid, so their loyalty will be deep.  Should some fundamental Islamic crazies gain control through the ballot later this year or next or later, the military will find a way to maintain control.  For a billion or two every year, Egypt could be messy, but will not be a major problem for a long time to come.

Everyone wants democracy.  Some countries will not function under democracy.  Democracy is not the answer to all nations today.  

The best run countries with satisfied people and progressive economies tend to be benevolent dictatorships or something similar.  They're not perfect, but Singapore (Lee Yew Kuan, who has maintained a sense of order even though he retired more than 20 years ago) in Asia, Qatar (Emir al-Thani, who deposed his father in 1995, left) in the Middle East and Botswana (elected President Seretse Khama II, from their Royal Family, right) in Africa are all doing quite well.

I suspect Egypt will have meaningful elections in a couple of years, but the military will maintain at least partial control over matters until 2020.  If Singapore can succeed with no resources, no reason why Egypt can't in a decade become the mid tech center for Africa.  

What next?  First, any country in Africa is vulnerable, particularly, Algeria and Libya, but a swarm of Middle East dictatorships will undergo a combination of significant reform or outright rebellion, especially Jordan, Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.  This coming Monday, Valentine's Day, February 14, could be a crucial day for this region, as the opposition has called for a public rally to commemorate the 1979 revolution.

Three thoughts:

1.  Watch out for a coming crisis dealing with water, as the Nile has origins in Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, with the White and Blue Niles merging in Sudan, then going on to Egypt.  A few wars will be fought about control over this flow.

2.  As the USA consolidated in 1776 and Europe in 1993, will we see a United Nations of Africa?

3.  Likewise, as the Soviet Union fractured in 1989, will we see a similar breakup for China?  Europe?

4.  What are these implications for Israel?

4.  Is the USA immune to another revolution?

I've long felt that the world wide web was the key to saving Planet Earth and Humanity.  I was never able to galvanize anything through my Huffington Post articles, but the hero of Egypt is Wael Ghonin, who works for Google, and specifically identified Facebook as the catalyst for the uprising, which was supplemented by Twitter.  I guess this is why China squabbles with Google and won't allow Facebook and Twitter on their internet system.

The lesson I learned was that it is not sufficient to just galvanize the visual world.  To affect change, you still need a lot of real people yelling, screaming and acting courageously.  Okay, now, about our broken government...what next?

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The Dow Jones Industrials rose 44 to 123,273, while world markets were mostly up.  The New York oil price is $86/barrel, while London is at $100/barrel.

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Tropical Cyclone Bingiza, already at 50 MPH, just popped up east of northern Madagascar, will attain hurricane strength and crash into the island tomorrow.

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