What Could the Protests In Egypt Result In?

Whither democracy?



Egypt erupted in protest over the weekend, on the one year anniversary of Mohammed Morsi's inauguration as president. The headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, with which Morsi is affiliated, were stormed this morning, although no one was left in the building. Nineteen people died in the demonstrations yesterday and pro-Morsi clerics warned tensions could lead to civil war. The army, on the other hand, has threatened to intervene on behalf of the opposition. Similar protests in 2011 helped topple Hosni Mubarak, the longtime Egyptian strongman. Egypt's first democratically-held elections concluded with the election of Morsi in the second round. Protests previously erupted in Egypt late last year over the Muslim Brotherhood's effort to push through an Islamist constitution that enshrined the president with what many considered too much power. Those protests were unsuccessful, and the constitution was approved at the polls.

There have been large-scale protests for several weeks too in the more democratic Brazil. In that country, the president Dilma Rousseff promised her government was listening to protesters, though that did little to alleviate a protest that started about bus fares but became a wider complaint about corruption and government spending on the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

The Brazilian economist Rodrigo Constantino last week explained in an op-ed for O Globo, a Rio newspaper, why he, a self-described (classic) liberal, was not optimistic about what the protests might accomplish. Via Google's machine translation*:

I am very critical of this government. My judgment was PT [the ruling Worker's Party] is the worst possible. Never before in the history of this country have so many blunders joint, so incompetent, so much mediocrity and naughtiness. The PT segregated the country, bought votes with handouts… and demonstrates strong authoritarian bias.

We are paying a high price for this ineffectiveness, now that the external winds stopped blowing in our direction. Dilma has not made a single major structural reform, overplayed populism and allowed even the return of high inflation. My verdict is as hard as possible against the president and her team.

That said, I can not dive with a lot of optimism in the demonstrations in the streets, because I have serious doubts whether this is also the diagnosis of these people. Many people end up demanding more state intervention as a solution. Want more poison! …This definitely is not the way.

The demand that the solution to corrupt or ineffective government should be more government is not exclusive seen Brazil. We saw similar inclinations arise in protests at Occupy Wall Street and around the world.

Constantino ends with a suggestion to his fellow Brazilian that works just as well for the Egyptians who flooded the streets in protest this weekend and even the ongoing protests in Turkey:

Be outraged, but in the polls! Not be the ideal choice, but the ideal exists only in our illusions. And they are dangerous when we believe that they are viable. Let us do what we can, keeping our fragile but necessary democracy. No use to roar like a lion in the streets and then vote like a donkey in the polls.

As George W. Bush said, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, won't get fooled again! Buyer's remorse may be a feature of democracy, but it ought to be one that informs better choices in the future, be it felt by Brazilians, Egyptians, Turks, or even Americans.

*You can suggest better translations of the original in the comments!

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  1. Arab Spring 2.0 will bring in a new regime whose lesson from the last regime was that it wasn’t heavy-handed enough in its control.

    1. Hey, maybe we should support these rebels also – if we keep picking the same lotto numbers, eventually we’ll win right?

  2. Better translation: Because FYTW.

  3. What Could the Protests In Egypt Result In?

    Bans on green lasers?

  4. Egypt is going down the tubes, and there’s nothing we can do about it. The economy is massively screwed up from decades of government meddling. Their agricultural sector is dismal, they import half their calories, and their major source of foreign exchange is tourism (which is declining, obviously). They have high illiteracy, lots of unemployed college graduates, and a large fraction of the population are crazy Islamists.

    Even if libertarian-leaning, secular democrats took full power tomorrow, I don’t see how they can avoid chaos. For more gloomy detail, see David Goldman.

    1. It couldn’t happen to a nice bunch of animals.

    2. The economy is massively screwed up from decades of government meddling

      Well, if the people believe that the way to fix that is more government meddling, then we already know what the result will be, and it won’t be good. Until people finally learn that government is the problem, not the solution, things are not going to get better for them.

      We learned that lesson here, over 200 years ago, and then promptly forgot it.

      1. Extremely generous food and fuel subsidies are hard to get rid of once they are entrenched. Apparently a loaf of bread (which sounds like a piece of pita) costs less than one US cent, so it’s often used as animal feed.

  5. Why the heck didnt I ever think of that? Wow.

  6. Economically-motivated political revolutions seem to always lead to shit, because changing leaders doesn’t magically fix an economy and most of the revolutionaries want something unrealistic, so people get crazier and crazier with each failure.

    Political revolutions aimed at political reforms or non-economic civil liberties don’t usually go too well either, but it seems like they have the occasional success.

    1. What we need is something that combines religious zeal with free market enterprise. Maybe a new religion, eh? “There is no God but the Invisible Hand, and Adam Smith is its prophet.”

      1. Judaism?


        1. Objectivism.

  7. It seems to me that the problem, is that people all over the world have mysteriously been brainwashed into thinking that big government socialism is the answer, although it’s never worked anywhere. I don’t get it.

    1. It is one of the great paradoxes of the modern age.

  8. The bottom line is, you need a system that is divided enough to not allow economic or political interests to dominate markets, and well-engineered enough to weather revolts and protests of the type that crop up in bad times and encourage governments to take advantage of the crisis.

    You also need to provide people an outlet to address local concerns in a timely manner — local governments empowered to do such things as provide ROADZ or some semblance of ability to mediate disputes.

    Whether by accident or design, some places like the US and Switzerland developed something like the above, and others tried copying them with varying degrees of success. Then everything went to shit and people decided they’d rather have the promise of free stuff than the certainty of truly owning what they already have and trying for more in a free market.

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