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February 01, 2011

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Well, one more thing: for all the talk of Twitter and Facebook, the situation hits me as intensely ancient in its form.

The people gather in the square to protest to the dictator. To show he still has the power to dominate them, he calls on the army to massacre them.

And the army does, and the people die or run in fear and they know that he still does have the power.

Or the army does not, and the dictator is instantly an old fool who must run for his life.

This story has been ongoing for ten thousand years. This has happened so many times before and in exactly this form, I feel it's a fundamental story of humanity, this appeal to a sense of justice in the face of terrible threats of violence, and the decision to exercise compassion. It's as old as we are.

I don't think we do a very good job governing ourselves here in this democracy, and I think that very few other countries do a very good job of it either, and most of us are getting to have a pretty fair amount of practice at it now. So I regret to say that when I say that I certainly believe that Egyptians, as much as any other people in the world, deserve democracy if they want it and can get it, it is with as much apprehension for them and their future as anticipation of new freedom that I say those words. We have the democracy we deserve, and they will have it too. I wish them good luck.

For a knowledgeable, nuanced, and generally informative take on the administration's handling of the whole situation, see Marc Lynch here.

Of course, democracy is not simply achieved by overthrowing a dictator or holding an election. Based on history, it appears to require the existence of a free press and a vibrant middle class, neither of which exist in Egypt (or most Arab nations) currently. That's not to say that Egyptians don't deserve democracy -- only that it is not going to be easy for them to achieve it. Sadly, those are exactly the kind of things the US should have been pressuring Mubarak to put in place.

If the military-supported government falls, the result is likely to be a repressive Islamist government.

You know, you don't have to limit yourselves to commentary on this. You can actually watch it real time. And see where all the people are.

We have a free press in the US, I'm told, but is it showing us what is happening? No. Ask your cable company for Al Jazeera.

We don't have a vibrant middle class -- it's been under attack for 30 years -- but our democracy has been corrupted by lobbyists and corporate apologists, so Fuzzyface, you may have a point there.

Sadly, those are exactly the kind of things the US should have been pressuring Mubarak to put in place.

Quite right, but then again, if the public statements of US Administrations for the last 33 years have any relevance (myself, I'm not sure they do, but never mind...) we have been doing just that WRT Egypt - and other countries - with a conspicuous lack of practical effect on how they order their own governance. Well, there IS Iraq, of course, but that was a different sort of "pressure"...

"Based on history, it (vibrant democracy)appears to require the existence of a free press and a vibrant middle class, neither of which exist in Egypt (or most Arab nations) currently."

We don't have that here any more.

Democracies are hard to start up and hard to sustain. I think there might be something about the predominant basic values or attitudes of the citizens that shapes the progress of the democracy. I have very little idea what Egypt is like these days.

if the public statements of US Administrations for the last 33 years have any relevance (myself, I'm not sure they do, but never mind...) we have been doing just that WRT Egypt

Bullsh!t. We've been propping up the Egyptian dictator for decades with a multibillion dollar payment every year. Never, not once, have our platitudes about the democracy been serious. We mumble the platitudes but then make abundantly clear that ignoring them won't endanger the cash, so no worries. If my boss insisted on paying me but never actually directed me to do any work, I probably wouldn't get much work done; it is up to the guy writing checks to impose some accountability. The check writer is not powerless.

This Financial Times page has information about US aid to Egypt and Israel since the Peace Treaty. It is interesting that while aid to Egypt has dropped, it has all come out of the economic aid, while the military aid (just eyeballing it) looks relatively constant.

We pay them to remain at peace w/Israel, IIRC. And to beat up on the Muslim Brotherhood or whichever other Islamist organization we currently fear may take over if our boy falls. Devil we know...

I get it. I don't like it, of course, but I get it.

Expecting the USA to be an agent of change here is unrealistic. The best I think we can realistically hope for is that our government is quietly pushing Mubarak to step down and go elsewhere, and then offer help to the new government (hopefully more democratic, if not actually a liberal democracy).

The legitimacy of government rests on the consent of the governed. It's an idea with legs.

I'm very, very happy that the military has stated, publicly, that they will not fire on protestors. To the degree that the US had anything to do with that announcement, good for us. Beyond that, we should stay the hell out of it.

Right, no free press and no middle class here in the US. Everyone knows that. Just a few wealthy and everyone else drinking out of the gutter, picking through trash, no elections. It's all pretty horrible. Maybe, using Egypt and Tunisia as an example, the people here will finally rise up and install a truly representative leader

There is democracy and there is liberal democracy. The former may happen in Egypt, but not the latter. If the Muslim Brotherhood becomes a major player post Mubarak, Egypt will be suitably anti-American, anti-Israel and all the rest. War becomes more likely.

Whether Mubarak is the world's worst dictator or just one tyrant among many, what reason is there to believe that the next gov't will be, in its own way, any better? The likelihood of a good outcome is remote.

Let's talk about it

no thanks.

good luck to them. but it's not my fight, and my opinion is irrelevant.

"...a free press and a vibrant middle class, neither of which exist in Egypt ... currently."

But there are at least the seeds of a free press in Egypt. There are a lot of independent information channels (which is what we are actually talking about when we say "press"), even if they don't produce news on paper currently. So perhaps there is some cause for hope on that front.

As for a middle class (vibrant or otherwise), well perhaps we will see how critical that is, and how big a one is actually required. Certainly there seems to be a demand for democracy at the moment. And it occurs to me that the yeoman farmers who mostly populated the United States in its early years wouldn't fit most definitions of "middle class" that I have run into.

Whether Mubarak is the world's worst dictator or just one tyrant among many, what reason is there to believe that the next gov't will be, in its own way, any better?

It's not our country.

The legitimacy of government rests on the consent of the governed. Are you governed by the Egyptian government?

It's not our country, it's theirs.

Don't know anything. I suspect two things: the first, that it's not going to stop because a lot of the reason for the uprising is economic, and second, the U.S. will never ever try to get in front of things like this.

If the Muslim Brotherhood becomes a major player post Mubarak, Egypt will be suitably anti-American, anti-Israel and all the rest. War becomes more likely.

Um, shouldn't Egypt become more anti-American? I mean, the US did prop up a brutal dictatorship there for decades. So why shouldn't people be anti-American? If you were Egyptian, wouldn't you be anti-American, especially if the Interior Ministry's shock troops murdered your family?

Whether Mubarak is the world's worst dictator or just one tyrant among many, what reason is there to believe that the next gov't will be, in its own way, any better?

Legitimate governments tend to be more stable and resilient than dictatorships. As Yglesias pointed out, Sadat cut a peace treaty with Israel because it made sense to do so for a million and one reasons. All those reasons and more remain valid today: Egypt is not going to start a war with its nuclear armed neighbor. But dictators taint everything they touch with their illegitimacy, so people begin to look askance at even good policy like the peace treaty.

Beyond that, the fundamental problem in Egypt is a stalled economy and Egypt's biggest economic problem is that the kleptocrat in chief has been rigging economic deals to benefit his cronies (so he can stay in power and enrich himself). Do I really need to explain how crony-capitalism hurts economic growth to a conservative?

If the Muslim Brotherhood becomes a major player post Mubarak, Egypt will be suitably anti-American, anti-Israel and all the rest. War becomes more likely.

I have to add: I find the hating on the Muslim Brotherhood kind of funny. We're talking about a group that is not a terrorist organization according to the State Dept. It publicly renounced violence years before I was even born.

By rights, Americans should love the MB. Here's a group of people who have quietly worked behind the scenes to rid their country of an evil dictator. They've followed all the rules, gaining popularity with the people, but at every step of the way, the rules were changed to deny them their just deserts. Faced with terrifying enormous problems in their society, they didn't turn outward and beg a handout: they turned inward, recommitted themselves to God, and dedicated themselves to the hard work of fixing their society from the inside, in a group brought together by faith.

If these guys were white and Christian, there would be crowds in the streets of every American city supporting them.

It would be a farce to claim that the US had moral standing to comment. And in practical terms, I can't see what it would do to help the situation.

At TPM someone drew the parallel to the Philippines, and in that light this does make sense. When the US finally tells the dictator that they've supported for decades that it's time to go quietly, the fat lady has sung. If there ever was an opportunity to bloodily cling to power, it's gone when Big US Daddy publicly disavows you.
So it's not so much about moral standing as a practical barometer. Like when your drinking buddy tells you that even he thinks you have a problem.

Right, no free press and no middle class here in the US. Everyone knows that. Just a few wealthy and everyone else drinking out of the gutter, picking through trash, no elections. It's all pretty horrible.

When you manufacture grossly inaccurate caricatures like this of comments that anyone can scroll up and read for themselves to see just how inaccurate your caricature is, it makes you look like a troll with nothing useful to say that nobody should waste time taking seriously.

If you're not in fact a troll with nothing of value to say, you may want to reconsider your approach.

If the Muslim Brotherhood becomes a major player post Mubarak, Egypt will be suitably anti-American, anti-Israel and all the rest. War becomes more likely.

Also useful in being taken seriously is demonstrating that you have any idea what you're talking about on the topic at hand. Statements like this demonstrate the opposite.

This:

We have a free press in the US, I'm told, but is it showing us what is happening? No. Ask your cable company for Al Jazeera.

We don't have a vibrant middle class

And this:

"Based on history, it (vibrant democracy)appears to require the existence of a free press and a vibrant middle class, neither of which exist in Egypt (or most Arab nations) currently."

We don't have that here any more.

Russell, no, I am not subject to Egyptian governance. The topic is "let's talk about Egypt". That's what I was doing. I don't have a dog in that fight. I'd like to see stability and economic development there. I'd like to see people's lives improve. However, I am not optimistic.

Whether the Muslim Brotherhood turns out to be moderate, using that term somewhat loosely, remains to be seen. I suspect it will be more radical than moderate. Max Boot writes today in the WSJ that Mubarak's repression of the Muslim Brotherhood caused it to become radicalized. Everyone has their own guess. Whether you find Boot palatable or not, he recounts a number of troubling issues underlying the current crisis. None of them bode well for peaceful coexistence with Israel.

Legitimate governments tend to be more stable and resilient than dictatorships. As Yglesias pointed out, Sadat cut a peace treaty with Israel because it made sense to do so for a million and one reasons.

Sadat was assassinated for his efforts. Dictatorships, by definition, are one bullet away from regime change. Which is the polar opposite of stability. Yes, a popular gov't, by definition, is more stable than an unpopular dictatorship. A gov't can be popular, yet repressive and a threat to peace.

If these guys were white and Christian, there would be crowds in the streets of every American city supporting them.

Probably so, but they aren't. My prediction is they will be unfriendly. If I'm wrong, great. We're all reading tea leaves here.

None of them bode well for peaceful coexistence with Israel.

I think Israel's vast array of nuclear weapons bodes pretty well for peaceful coexistence.

Sadat was assassinated for his efforts.

He was? You're sure about that? You know for a fact that his assassins were motivated specifically by the peace treaty and not the fact that he was a brutal dictator or his economic policies or his corruption?

You do realize that many people in Egypt think that Mubarak was ultimately behind Sadat's assassination, right? This is not a crazy notion. The two men were standing next to each other. The attackers came at them firing automatic weapons and hurling grenades. And Mubarak walked away without a scratch.

When Coptic Christians were being harassed recently, members of the Muslim Brotherhood stood guard outside the churches so they would not be disturbed. Coptic Christians, in turn, have been surrounding Muslims who are praying, to keep them safe. The crowd in Alexandria today has been saying that both Muslims and Christians are Egyptians. This willingness to look beyond religious identity to create a new society is a hopeful sign.

Sadat was assassinated for his efforts.... A gov't can be popular, yet repressive and a threat to peace.

Not to derail things, but Rabin was assassinated for his efforts as well. Does this inform your views of the Israeli polity in the same way?

As for the free press and middle class point, you quote people saying we don't have a "vibrant middle class", not saying that we do not have a middle class at all...

I just can't understand how any freedom-loving person can look at what's happening in Egypt and not be moved and excited. This is Lexington and Concord without the violence. This is the Salt March, Tiananmen Square, "I have a dream". People are voting with their feet, their bodies, and their voices for freedom.

Tune it in. Really. Don't mistake the cloud of words in western media for the reality in Egypt.

It may not turn out well. But if my first reactions to this story had been cynicism and negativity, I would start to worry about where my life had gone wrong.

My first reaction is fear, but then, I was 12 years old in 1989.

The latest appears to be that the Obama Administration has told Mubarak he's done. Stay tuned...

What Amos said

Mubarak may not be "done" just yet: though he HAS announced that he won't run for another term at the next election.
Which of course, isn't until this September, I think.

I'm not sure this is going to pacify many, if any, of the protesters; but we will have to wait and see...

Not that too many people here (with one or two possible exceptions) need to read this, but still--

A guide how not to say stupid stuff about egypt

Gunfire in Alexandria. Mubarak might be bringing the violent crackdown. Of course, reports are on AJE, not US media.

Check that, now it looks like gunfire is aimed at crowd dispersal...not directly at crowd. Yet. Let's hope.

The "how not to say stupid stuff" list - well, not that it matters much in the grand scheme of things what some random blogger says, but "The women are so brave" is a stupid thing to say? "The people are so nice" is stupid?

I understand those can be offered in a patronizing way, but that's often the way with compliments. Learning to take even patronizing compliments graciously is one of those important life skills.

Latest update: pro-Mubarak "protesters" (read: armed men dressed in civilican clothes) are beginning to form in groups near actual protesters.

This could get ugly.

Not to derail things, but Rabin was assassinated for his efforts as well. Does this inform your views of the Israeli polity in the same way?

To an extent. Israel's gov't is more stable than Egypt's, and more liberal internally.

"armed men dressed in civilian clothes"

You mean these murderous, anti-American vermin?:

http://www.redstate.com/

Read in the Strife and Vaster Bullshite threads how these armed redrum vermin yearn for millions in the Mideast to be nuked, including American liberals who just ought to leave the U.S.

You know, if you could shove a tactical nuke up Moe Lane's ass and time it to detonate at the next Redrum f8ckfest, millions of Americans who will be murdered by Republican policies in coming years would be saved and freedom could go forward.

That last paragraph reads "I love my family" for the resolutely and so innocently literal among you.

Countme- you're trolling, and also outside of the posting rules I believe.

Is anyone picking up reports of calls from various quarters for General Sami Enan to take over as leader? Reportedly a 'liberal' and incorruptible, western outlook, focused on fixing things domestically,etc. If true, could be a real positive sign.

To an extent. Israel's gov't is more stable than Egypt's, and more liberal internally.

"more liberal internally" if you are not an Arab. For Israeli Arabs, ymmv.
More to the point, it doesn't make you think that Uncle Sam ought to maybe get a nice stable strongman to run the place, keep the religious extremists in line, and negotiate a practical peace?
I mean, *I* certainly don't want that. And you haven't out and said that you'd prefer to see Mubarak stay in power rather than seeing a more democratic Egypt. But you seem to be leaning that way, so I was wondering whether this rule of thumb applied to ME countries in general.

And you haven't out and said that you'd prefer to see Mubarak stay in power rather than seeing a more democratic Egypt. But you seem to be leaning that way, so I was wondering whether this rule of thumb applied to ME countries in general.

I am pretty sure, somewhere upthread, I expressed my hope that things would work out well for Egyptians. I think pretty much everyone wants that. I am pessimistic, generally, that uprisings produce stable, liberal gov't, but as I noted at 6:28, there may be signs of hope. I think I also noted upthread that there is an argument to made that Mubarak's repression of the Muslim Brotherhood caused that group to radicalize. There are others who point out that maybe the MB isn't all that radical. I have no fondness for Mubarak or any other dictator. It's what follows his downfall that has me concerned.

Good grief, Jacob, way to miss the point. "Learning to take even patronizing compliments graciously is one of those important life skills"--wtf? The blogger isn't talking about someone at a dinner party who is accosted by a well-meaning, but slightly clueless individual--she's talking about clueless Americans who have patronizing, condescending attitudes towards Egyptians. Even complimentary things can grate on one's nerves if it is set against that background. I agree that the brave women comment is inoffensive, but that's one comment out of a whole list.

I am pretty sure, somewhere upthread, I expressed my hope that things would work out well for Egyptians. I think pretty much everyone wants that.

Sure. But that's not incompatible with wanting the US to push to keep Mubarak in power rather than face the uncertain consequences.

I have no fondness for Mubarak or any other dictator. It's what follows his downfall that has me concerned.

And everyone else, I think- even optimists understand that there are downside risks here. My strongest argument against any support for repression is this: when it going to be a better time to overthrow the tyrant? When is repression not going to radicalize the oppressed?
I think that supporting dictators and oppressive groups works out badly in the long run, usually worse than if the original problem had been tackled head on. Again, not that you're taking the opposite position, just my 2 cents. If there's some pain or some downside risk, the alternatives have been, and will be, worse.

My strongest argument against any support for repression is this: when it going to be a better time to overthrow the tyrant? When is repression not going to radicalize the oppressed?

Yes, you are correct.

My strongest argument against any support for repression is this: when it going to be a better time to overthrow the tyrant? When is repression not going to radicalize the oppressed?

If not now, when?

I don't think I missed the point, Donald. I don't think that kind of ultra-hostility is very good at persuading or informing people, which is its stated purpose. It's a hostile, angry rant that takes aim at everyone from opponents to sympathizers.

What we have going on here is an episode of consciousness-raising. By definition that involves a lot of clueless people stumbling their way toward a better understanding, in the course of which they reveal their embarrassing prejudices and misconceptions in an atmosphere of acceptance and gentle correction. That's how it works. Yelling at people is not an effective means of persuasion.

The United States. Let's talk about it.

http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2011/01/excising-the-judiciary.html

The United States. Let's talk about it.

On another thread, please.

Donald, thanks for that link.

The pointers take quite a bit of the ranty edge off -- the 'brave women' comment, for instance, seems mainly a chance to link to Nawal el-Saadawi.


"Yelling at people is not an effective means of persuasion."

I don't altogether agree with this. Rants about how even liberals can harbor unconsciously condescending racist or sexist or heterosexist beliefs have their place. I sometimes wince when I read such things because I find I'm guilty. I would not like to be singled out by name for my own shortcomings, but I have learned a lot by reading angry denunciations of exactly this type, sometimes in the comments sections at ObiWi.

I'd probably agree with you on a couple of other examples besides the "brave woman" remark, but I posted that because I've seen those attitudes in the past few days--the condescension, the immediate assumption that the revolution will be taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood and that this would automatically be a total disaster, and the idea that for an Egyptian to be angry at the US in any way makes him "anti-American" and therefore not to be trusted.

Donald, I think the link was well worth reading and posting. I had commentary, not a complaint that it wasn't a worthy link. You're right about rants in general. They can work. But when your big problem is already that people think you're too angry, your message gets lost when you get angrier at people who are debating whether to sympathize with you.

I completely understand where the person is coming from, in their anger at American prejudice and ignorance. I've posted any number of similar rants myself. But I haven't found them very effective.

In this case since the group in question is not one that benefits from automatic sympathy, it is probably sensible to make as many friends as possible. That's all I'm saying.

Okay, Jacob, that makes sense. I have been annoyed at much of the commentary in the US press, which is why I posted it.

Angry rants can sometimes be effective though. I find them helpful when I recognize, with a distinctly uncomfortable feeling, that some of what the ranter says applies to my attitudes. It's not a tone of voice that should be adopted habitually, but it has its place.

That's fair. A good rant can be a shock to the system that gets your attention. I just feel like I spend all my time (politically and professionally, actually) saying the same thing: "Your anger is completely justified, your points are valid, but you'd be more persuasive to the people you say you need to persuade if you made an assumption of good faith on their part."

(By professionally I'm talking about software engineering. People think software is about algorithms, but it's really about personal interactions.)

People think software is about algorithms, but it's really about personal interactions.

Oh. Wow. It appears I've been interacting with my counterparts over in the software community in a completely inappropriate way.

But I have to agree that software isn't about algorithms, in general. Algorithms are the job of the algorithmist. It's software's job to (among many other things) encode a given algorithm in a way that, hopefully, sucks the least.

Software is about personal interactions to the point of ensuring understanding of the exact task, but the same could be said of lots of other disciplines.

Re: rant, I think Jacob has a certain point. It's not an absolute rule that people have to like you, but neither is it strictly a good idea to convince them simultaneously of a) your point, and b) that you are an obnoxious person.

I'd choose a), unless there was no way to accomplish a) without b).

Or, shorter me: I'd try and imagine how hilzoy might make that same point.

I think you're missing the larger context here. In my experience, most people are encased in a protective layer of ignorance, often deliberate ignorance that they must work hard to maintain.

The issue really isn't that some random person said at one time 'oh, those Egyptian women are so brave' -- its the years of frustration from hearing deliberate ignorance about Arab women directed at you. The truth is, most of what Americans know about the state of women in Arab or Muslim countries is either wrong or so incomplete as to be utterly distorted.

And in my experience, people don't react well when I try to politely explain to them that they're mistaken. Most of the time, they dig in their heels and explain to me how wrong I am. I don't know if a little brashness will be more effective, but I've learned the hard way that polite and quiet explanation really isn't enough to break through the ignorance shield.

Finally, I have to say, this whole notion that Jacob Davies knows the optimal way to convince anyone in any situation of any fact seems absurd. I personally subscribe to the notion that in different contexts, different techniques might be more or less effective, and that you haven't really established any credibility at all as being effective in convincing the target population that DJ's article was directed at about that particular subject.

Finally, I have to say, this whole notion that Jacob Davies knows the optimal way to convince anyone in any situation of any fact seems absurd.

It does now. But wait until he convinces you of it.

Software is about personal interactions to the point of ensuring understanding of the exact task, but the same could be said of lots of other disciplines.

Sure, but not all disciplines, and some more than others. But there is likely a popular image of "software people" sitting in front of computers typing out code and not really speaking to anyone much, rather than working in a group to solve problems, requiring effective communication and persuasion.

If only we could get those software people to just sit in front of their computers and code.........but OBwi calls

[...]
It didn't start out that way. On Tuesday Jan 25 it all started peacefully, and against all odds, we succeeded to gather hundreds of thousands and get them into Tahrir Square, despite being attacked by Anti-Riot Police who are using sticks, tear gas and rubber bullets against us. We managed to break all of their barricades and situated ourselves in Tahrir. The government responded by shutting down all cell communication in Tahrir square, a move which purpose was understood later when after midnight they went in with all of their might and attacked the protesters and evacuated the Square. The next day we were back at it again, and the day after. Then came Friday and we braved their communication blackout, their thugs, their tear gas and their bullets and we retook the square. We have been fighting to keep it ever since.
[...]

Egypt, right now!

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