12 January 2014

Egypt's problems wont be solved by elections

You see in Egypt the problem comes from the politicians and they arise from the culture.

Unfortunately Egypt has a culture of  kleptocracy, corruption and favouritism. 

When he was President, Hosni Mubarak enriched himself to the tune of US$42 billion.  This is scandalous but hardly unexpected, because politicians in absolute power will both use violence to retain power and will be thieving bastards one and all.  Yet this is what politics does.  By granting unlimited power to people elected or otherwise, they do violence to others, they collect money through violence and can use it to corrupt, and can be corrupted to change laws, grant contracts and the like. 

It is what politics can do and does, and liberal democracy doesn't contain it, culture does.  In the US, politics is corrupted because people seek favours from politicians in the forms of money or privileges granted by the state.  However, there is an independent judiciary and free press, so there are institutions in place that can contain this.

In Egypt this doesn't exist.  It is stuck between the kleptocratic authoritarian culture of the army, which has deep roots in business and the economy well beyond what should be its core role.  

However, Islam also has deep roots that mean that a significant plurality of Egyptians are quite happy for the state and religion to be as one, meaning non-Muslims in Egypt face serious risks of oppression and discrimination by the state.

So when foreign observers call for free and fair elections, that's all very well, but what is the reason for this?  What do they want for Egyptians?

For without a secular state, they are asking for non-Muslim Egyptians to face discrimination and possibly persecution because of religion.  A state of affairs that I doubt anyone who advocates for human rights in the Western world would tolerate for a moment in their own countries.   Why are they largely relaxed about whether Egypt has an Islamist government?

So what I want for Egyptians is what those of us in the Western world take for granted.  Governments that don't judge on the basis of religion, governments that enforce laws based on protecting individual rights, property rights, contracts and torts, and a political system (and media) that allows for free and frank debate about options to address the issues that arise.

I want a system that enables exposure of those who use the state to enrich themselves  or grant favours for them and their families and lackeys.  I want a system that lets people worship the religion they wish, including no religion, and to abandon the religion they previously had because the no longer believe in it.

Egypt is a very long way from that, and like so many other countries where the "human rights" response is to call for free and fair elections, that simply isn't good enough.

Elections that mean the majority (or the main plurality) elect people who expressly oppress or deny rights of a minority, are not useful or productive.


Egypt's army has rescued the country from a looming Islamisation, but has decided to oppress Islamists by claiming they will oppress everyone else.  Oddly of course it is only rhe Muslim Brotherhood that have been shut down, not the Salafists (who are more extreme and more terrifying, but have much less support).

Given the choice between Islamists and the army, I might pick the army, but it is an appalling choice.  Egypt's army is far too big for the country, which faces few real existential threats from its neighbours.  However, to expect a constitution that isn't partially theocratic and an election that enables a secular liberal future for Egypt, that addresses corruption, is a bit optimistic.

Egypt remains a tinderbox.  Without a legal outlet for their unpleasant views, the Muslim Brotherhood may present a substantial risk for the whole country unless and until, elections can be won by those who reject them, and create improvements not only in the economy, but in addressing corruption and the role of the army.

To do that requires a cultural change, with tolerance for non-Muslims, and willingness to take on institutional corruption.

1 comment:

Angry Tory said...

In the US, politics is corrupted because people seek favours from politicians in the forms of money or privileges granted by the state.

Right. No representation without taxation!.

And we must keep repeating that by far the largest group of these people, who get by far the largest amount of money, are not corporates or the Koch brothers or the military.

They are people on Medicare and Social Security, not to mention "No Child Left Behind" schools and Medicaid and SNAP and TANF and all the rest.

In other words; bludgers

independent judiciary and free press, so there are institutions in place that can contain this.

Independent judiciary and free press do not contain bludgers. Not at all!