Egypt's Future Depends on the Creative Imperative

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Enter the Muslim Brotherhood

“The crowd initially included a mix of women, most of them veiled, and children. But as the marchers rolled through the streets, they shouted to the apartments above, “Come down, come down!” and “One, two, Egyptians where are you?” More men filed out of the buildings as the women and children fell away.”

Today’s New York Times

“Plugging in: There’s a lot riding on Egypt as an emerging high-tech market. ‘Well positioned for growth and thus ready to undertake country transformation,’ Cisco’s general manager there remarked on the company’s 10th anniversary in Egypt in 2009.”

Today’s San Francisco Chronicle – Bloomberg Business

Read more:

Democracy in Egypt?

Don’t forget that Hitler[1] won an election.

“Why”, I was asked, “after 30 years of relative peace and stability, would Egyptians choose to rise up now?  After all, it was such a nice place to visit, was it not?”

The same was said of the Shaw’s Iran.

I believe I’ve found the answer in the unfortunate combination of four converging forces:

  1. Egypt is a bivalent society, poised on the edge of modernity but held in the grip of a backward substrate.  Growing resentment within that deeply ingrained cultural substrate is a pathology saturated with elements of malignent narcissism.
  2. A thin overlay of deeply naïve sophisticates, the hope of Egypt’s future, live in a protected bubble.
  3. The authoritarian security apparatus has failed to “upgrade” that cultural substrate, and has been working around the sensibilities of the naïve sophisticates in order to achieve security.
  4. A destabilizing event pattern emerged in the last few weeks, and it is actively being exploited by a hostile ideology (radical, fundamentalist Islam, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood) intent on exploiting the weaknesses in the Egyptan polity.  This is a major prize for them.

What did that mean?

1.  Okay, I might have used the term Islamic resentment.  Why do I say malignent narcissism?   Malignent narcissism refers to a dysfunction in which one’s chronic failures are externalized to the point that the successes of others are seen as the cause.  A drug addict recruits others into the addiction in order to validate his own condition.  A fired employee goes on a shooting rampage, not only against the boss, but also the other fellow employees whose continued job success is an affront.

Fundamentalist Islam is a barrier to modern economic development.  Sorry, I’m not able to tread lightly here.  While I acknowledge the individual exceptions, the generalization stands.  In spite of a steady influx of oil money, the Middle Eastern populations subject to the strict, fundamentalist form of Islam are poor, and will remain so until and unless their education equips them for functional modernity.  It is hard to argue that a repressive environment, including the subjugation of women, is the path to prosperity.[2]

Here’s the rub.  A truly devout fundamentalist Muslim is psychologically incapable of blaming his adherence to the word of Allah for the failure of his culture or nation.  Here’s the malign dynamic: External forces, particularly the culture and prosperity of the West – and those who ape the West, are held responsible for his failure, the failure of his Muslim friends and the problems of his country.  Anger and seething resentment follow.  This psychological dynamic also explains the attraction of an overarching Islamic super state, preferably equipped with nuclear weapons: It represents validation through power.

2. Egypt, like most partly developed countries has a productive subpopulation of educated people (in the Western sense), most of whom are plugged in to the rest of the world.  They are inherently predisposed (as you of I probably would be) to resent the brutal tactics of the security forces that allow them to live normal lives.  They tend to forget that the expectations and rules of behavior of their day-to-day existence are based on a precarious balance of power.  The naïve among them are easily persuaded that a giant wave of good feeling can sweep away oppression, and that a much better life will follow the elimination of the hated security apparatus on which their lives depend as surely as the dawn follows the night.  Few are sober enough to contemplate the reality: Democracy is the natural consequence of a civil society in which liberties are secure, not the means of bringing about that society.  The only functioning democracy in the Middle East (other than Israel) is Iraq, a result achieved via a bloody struggle and with the outside help of a superpower.  The only outside force that will come to the aid of the insurgents in Egypt are the agents of fundamentalist Islam; and the result of their “success” will shock and dismay those who were hoping for liberation…if they even survive.

3. Under general Mubarack’s leadership, security forces were only effective in keeping a lid on militant Islamist terror (a follower of fundamentalist Islam having assassinated Mubaraks’ predecessor, Anwar Sadat).  But no one in Mubarak’s administration did nearly enough to prepare the culture for modernity, and the economy has lagged behind its optimum performance because of governmental incompetence.

4.  What were the destabilizing event patterns I alluded to?  They include an earlier uprising in Tunisia that actually forced the ruler, Zine El Abidine, from office.  There were other – so far not successful – rumblings in Jordan and Algeria.  The Tunisian dictator faced unrest over rising food prices. The apparent flashpoint was an incident where a merchant set himself on fire after police seized his food cart. Two more suicides followed, and the elites finally joined the protest.  The fact that Abidine abandoned power under popular pressure caused the ripple effect.  Militant Islamists have swarmed to Egypt like sharks to a bleeding swimmer.  They will consume the naïve idealists if they are allowed to take over.

Here’s the Deal

The apparent darling of the opposition, Mohammed Elbaradei, should be remembered as the UN functionary who professed to doubt that Iran had any atom-bomb making plans.  He is either a useful fool, ready to be manipulated by the Iran sponsored jihad, or he is a willing stooge.  In either case, he is not to be trusted.

New York Times February 1, 2011

“The street protests were gearing up again, but with a notably different face. For the first time the Muslim Brotherhood stepped to the fore as the protest organizers called their most reliable foot soldiers as reinforcements.

“Though outlawed here because of its Islamist ideology, the Brotherhood is the only group in Egypt able to call out a large and disciplined network of experienced organizers, and their presence on Monday was unmistakable.

“Most of the week’s protests appeared to represent a nearly universal cross section of the public, coming together spontaneously with little leadership or direction. But as hundreds poured out of midday prayers at a mosque in the neighborhood of Mohandeseen and marched toward Tahrir Square on Monday, they were shepherded through the streets by seasoned organizers, often middle-aged men with beards or bruises on their foreheads from prayers. They arranged for rows of marchers holding hands to keep their cohorts packed together within single lanes of traffic. Others linked arms in rows as they marched.

“The crowd initially included a mix of women, most of them veiled, and children. But as the marchers rolled through the streets, they shouted to the apartments above, “Come down, come down!” and “One, two, Egyptians where are you?” More men filed out of the buildings as the women and children fell away.”

Unfortunately for the jihadists, the Egyptian army remains a popular institution.  Whatever economic problems Egypt is experiencing, a fundamentalist Islamist regime would doubtless make matters even worse, and we can be reasonably sure that the army’s leaders are aware of that.

But Egypt is experiencing 17% food price inflation against the backdrop of 10% overall inflation, and that but 40% of the population is living on the dole.  Not good.

On the bright side, the overall Egyptian economy is growing faster than the US.  Egypt is a mid-level oil producer, exporting petroleum, cotton and textiles, but has a chronic trade deficit.  Tourism and the Suez Canal traffic account for significant income.

For a host of reasons, the calls for “democracy” are premature in Egypt, but the need for economic progress is urgent.  A premature democracy can be dangerous.  Recall that Hitler won his first election. The more pertinent question (see “Creativity and Survival” posted yesterday at – is this: Where are the nodes of creativity and what can the government do to protect and nurture them through this crisis?

The thrust of US policy should be to press for a hard nosed crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist cousin of Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, and to bring about real economic reforms.  With an emphasis on stability, careful structural changes should be encouraged along a realistic timeline that would install the needed civil infrastructure (rule of law, legitimate avenues for dissent, protections for property, liberty and creative freedom) on which  a viable democratic republic can be built.

San Francisco Chronicle, February 1, 2011

“Google confirmed numerous media reports that its Middle East and North Africa head of marketing, Wael Ghonim, has been missing since Friday. ‘We care deeply about the safety of our employees,” a Google spokeswoman said in an e-mail, “but to protect their privacy, we don’t comment on them individually.’

“From his Twitter account (@Ghonim), it’s apparent that the Google executive was in Cairo, and participating in the demonstrations. ‘Heading to Tahrir square now. Sleeping on the streets of Cairo, trying to feel the pain of millions of my fellow Egyptians. #Jan25,’ he tweeted on Jan. 25, by way of a proxy server.

“Plugging in: There’s a lot riding on Egypt as an emerging high-tech market. ‘Well positioned for growth and thus ready to undertake country transformation,’ Cisco’s general manager there remarked on the company’s 10th anniversary in Egypt in 2009.

By then, more than 11,000 Egyptian enrollees had passed through the Cisco Networking Academy, learning IT skills. Oracle and HP offer similar professional and business training courses. Intel’s “Teach Program” has worked with 80,000 Egyptian teachers on integrating technology in the classroom, according to the Santa Clara company.
Read more:

“Egypt is one of five countries – with Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Malaysia – in which the VC firm Global Technology and Innovation Partners says it will invest a total of $250 million and set up Plug and Play centers to “create a sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem in each target country.”

Read more:

Where are the creative nodes in Egypt and how can they  be saved? The first goal is to protect them.  The primary tasks of the Egyptian Army and the responsible forces of governance in that country are to find, nurture and protect the creative nodes.   Democracy will come in due course.

Egypt’s future is the creative imperative.


Its future will depend on it.


[1] Hint: Hitler was an anti-creative force.  See my discussion at the end of this peace and yesterdays’ article on Creativity and Survival.

[2] These regimes are the death of creativity in general and of helpful creative innovation in particular.

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