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La Pietra Dialogues On the World On-Line
Notes on The Arab Spring: The Promise of Democracy Dialogue with Professor Robert Springborg
Mariana Cameli, Caitlin Ryan and Jonathan Hunter
La Pietra Dialogues
October 21, 2011


Which of the three historical analogies can be used to compare the situation happening in Egypt to?

  • The Fall of the Ottoman Empire
  • 1989 collapse of communism and then the rise of democracy
  • 1848 Garibaldi´s failed attempts to free Italians which brought about fundamental political change

Three Issues to consider in the Arab Spring:

  • Constructional constraints
  • The acts of political leaders are currently, more or less, responsible for what is happening
  • The world´s response to the Arab Spring (in 1989 the EU and US were very influential in the democratci uprisings)

What are the struggles faced by democratic transitions? ("transotology" - the study of transitions)

Seven Indicators: "Demographic Democratic Deficits""

Factors associated with the success of democratic transition (Egypt does not do well on these)

1. Too Young- Statistically, an average age of 30 years old is needed to succeed in a democratic uprising.

2. Population too Rural- In 1986, Egypt was 53% rural. Now it is 56% rural and without industrial growth.

3. It is too Poor- Capital needed to sustain democracy is a PPP if 9,000. Egypt´s PPP is 4,500.

4. Too Poorly Educated/Trained - world economic forum Egypt ranked 124 out of 133 on training rates. There are more administrators in the education system than there are teachers. And as far as training, Egypt spends the 2nd least amount on training in the private sector.

5. Too Few in the Middle Class - the tremendous growth of the public sector has created Egypt’s middle class we see today. Private sector growth has not expanded rapidly enough to pick up the slack.

6. Too insecure in Employment – This is not only in the public sector. The World Bank defines Egypt to have “vulnerable employment.” Informal jobs (that are without benefits) have absorbed 2/3 of overall employment and 3/4 of all current entrances into the labor force. The micro and small firms barely employ anyone. Employment opportunities are not expanding in the formal sector and instead, manifest in the informal sector.

7. Too Dependent Upon Government - 90% Egyptians are eligible for subsidies. Public employment is not just an urban issue, in 2005, with 5000 urban Egyptian residents showed that the plurality of heads of households as 40%. The primary source of income has a 37% reliance on agriculture. Other forms of government dependence are seen in non performing loans granted on a political rather than a collateral basis.

So, why do we have these profound deficits of demographics?

They are largely due to the failure to industrialize

▪ Egypt’s exports are seeing 40%-20% drops across the board

And why is this all happening?

Poor Government

▪ “Egypt has real problems.” The February 11th “coup-volution” led to the military power takeover. What has this government takeover done to begin to address Egypt’s structural deficits? It comes down to issues of security of both person and property. What has been done for property rights and collateral in banking?

▪ Tourism was severely affected by the transition.

▪ Manufacturing has halted, and production plants are closed.

What have they done to address these economic challenges?

▪ Employing economic populism with increased subsidies.

▪ Egypt has its own borrowing program and has been printing vast amounts of money.

With Regards to security of people and property:

▪ Crime has increased.

▪ There are confrontations on the boarder, attacks on the pipeline, and some domestic instability has boiled over from the Sinai.

▪ Security of property (at lower level) is not provided. But in broader terms, the people are not confident that they will not be subjected to unfair punishments (as evidenced by the store owners in “cahoots” with the former president’s son)

What is the outside world doing to help Egypt?

▪ As a surrogate to the rest of the world, we look at what Washington has done. Financially, Washington has offered little. But we have maintained our “linkage” to the Egyptian military. What has been done to maintain the security focus of Washington? The American government is fatigued - domestic and foreign policy fatigue. The idea of further engagement is met with very deaf ears. We have withdrawn, we do not want to fight anymore. The middle east is a difficult and dangerous place. And now the US has an international standing slightly lower than IRAN. The countries in which we are helping are not thanking us. With such factors, it makes sense that we are wary to get our hands too dirty in the Egyptian affairs.

▪ The bureaucratic politics of Washington are preventing engagement.

▪ The Department of Defense and other security agencies play role in foreign policy-making decisions more than before. DOD has a very high budget.

What could have happened in Egypt with the external support?

It would have seemed to be appropriate to change US foreign policy if it this is as “cataclysmic” as we think. Last time there was a major foreign policy change was the Carter Doctrine in 1980. In this case, we needed an “Obama Doctrine.” There needed to be a commitment to the Middle East like that of Carter.

IN CONCLUSION: Springborg considers Egypt’s outlook to be dim – ends on a “pessimistic note.”

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