Monday, January 31, 2011

The Political Economic Basis Of The Egyptian Uprising

Yesterday, Juan Cole posted on "Class Conflict in Egypt," As usual, very insightful on the poltical economic foundations of this uprising. He argues that the original base of support for the Nasserist regime that took over in a coup in 1952 was rural land reform, with the rural middle class that got land still the base of the regime. However, over time with urbanization and slow growth and the rise of corruption since Mubarak took over, that base has eroded. Nasser also gained credibility for throwing out the British and standing up to other outsiders (with the US and Soviets ironically siding with him in the 1956 Suez Crisis against the UK, France, and Israel).

Real wages doubled between 1960 and 1970, when Nasser died, but stagnated after that until 2000, with nearly zero real per capita income growth and a worsening income distribution. Neo-liberal policies, including relaxation of food price controls in the 1990s, did not produce much, although growth did increase after 2000, running at a 5-6% rate. But it has not been enough to provide jobs for the many urban youth, particularly the better educated ones.

Also, since 1980 the regime has been seen as supported by outsiders, particularly the US, Israel, Britain, and France, in contrast to the Nasser period. As economic problems surged with the food price spikes in 2008 and the subsequent Great Recession in the world economy, this made for a weak foundation of support for the regime. We should expect any successor to take a more independent line, especially the moderate El-Baradei who was so badly treated by the US previously.

I must note, however, that while inequality has increased, it is not all that bad compared to many other countries, with Egypt's current Gini coefficient of 34.0 putting it in 90th place in terms of inequality in the world.

Finally, I note that the chances for Mohamed El-Baradei succeeding Mubarak (eventually anyway) have increased with him receiving the support of the Ikhwan, the Muslim Brotherhood. However, there are other more radical Islamist groups in Egypt calling for an Islamist state with Shari'a imposed as law, although they appear to be a minority on that side, even though they are more moderate than the expelled Egyptian Islamic Jihad, whose leaders include the #2 and #3 figures in al-Qaeda.


Barkley Rosser said...

Juan Cole reports this morning that the Ikhwan has withdrawn its support for El-Baradei. That is not a good sign, although the "march of millions" seems to be going peacefully so far.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Egypt is experiencing an energy and a water crisis, as are many other nations.

In Egypt cotton exports are reported (as of last month) to have risen 52%. Egypt is one of the most inefficient places to grow this crop due to its dry climate and the high rate of evaporation. there are currently no consumer signals in the developed world to price the water used on cotton adequately. Ditto energy and other resources, I should add. So 'governance' issues cannot be constrained to those within Egypt itself.

The list of nations experiencing energy shortages appears to be growing quite rapidly. See:

It figures that the social dislocation from global peak oil, peak water etc would be felt first in the 'developing' world.

Peaks of resource depletion accelerated by unsustainable levels of urbanisation and unproductive lifestyles I tend to think.

Barkley Rosser said...


You are right that there is probably mispricing of water for cotton in Egypt. OTOH, Egypt has been an exporter of cotton for a very long time, centuries.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

"The UN estimates that tens of thousands of people die each year in Egypt from water borne diseases or dehydration." (17th July 2007)

Seems like the limit has been reached in Egypt on human intelligence, imagination and wonder.

"“There are no such things as limits to growth, because there are no limits to the human capacity for intelligence, imagination, and wonder” "
Ronald Reagan