Egypt’s future

Mark’s cold shower is entirely correct.  But I think he may be insufficiently pessimistic.  The pieces haven’t been all thrown up in the air to fall back randomly; the system has a lot of structure and the dice are heavily loaded in favor of the army, which is the only institution to come out of the recent upheaval intact, even stronger having shed  its Mubarak and Suleiman front men and more important, having shown that it can do the same with the next set.

Before Mubarak was thrown under the bus, Robert Springborg published this very sobering reflection, and this afternoon Professor Sunshine was on NPR describing the pervasive dominance of the Egyptian economy by the military.   Before we get all grateful to this enterprise for sparing us a Levantine Tienanmen Square or Mexico City ’68, it’s worth reflecting that it is more like the Chinese PLA than a normal country’s military.

The top levels of the Egyptian army (and other forces, presumably) have been pruned of democrats and troublemakers for three decades, and the guys who remain are  bought and paid for with a flood of loot. Mubarak and Suleiman are, it seems, more properly regarded as the generals’ (cashiered) agents than the other way around.  The soldiers are just conscripted citizens, and may or may not follow orders to enforce oppressive policies, but the idea that the brass is going to go along with a constitution (in practice or on paper) that threatens their beach houses, Swiss bank accounts,  and townhouses in London and New York bears a lot of scrutiny.  Mubarak didn’t accumulate a fortune in the billions without letting generals, and probably colonels, get in the habit of wetting their beaks.

The Interior Ministry troops/thugs/cops and their officers are a wild card that’s received little attention since the camel and horse performance.  But they haven’t gone away.  And it’s they and the army that have the guns and pliers  and oubliettes, and a long habit of being comfortable using them. It is more than a little likely that the latest military coupsters in that unhappy country will be able to get back to business as usual, and that Mubarak’s last bitter legacy will be his successful suppression of political institutions and organizations that could have stood up to them.  This story is so not over yet.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

2 thoughts on “Egypt’s future”

  1. Not that this means all is back to normal, but Al Jazeera was covering a tennis match this morning before cutting to the weather report. There was an interesting piece on the situation on their website at . Our lame-stream media, as Sarah Palin calls them, have not discussed Egypt in any kid of wider perspective, either geographic or historical. I had been struck by the pictures of Nasser carried by the protesters in Cairo, and this article puts it in the context of pan-Arabism new and old.

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