Egypt explained (updated)

As the Egyptian Army, and ordinary Egyptians gather around Cairo’s Egyptian museum, not to fight or clash, but to guard the museum against looters. It speaks volumes of who remains in power.

Since the 1950s, the Egyptian Military has been the power behind the throne. It has installed Hosni Mubarak some three decades ago. And its actions in this chaos would decide whether it would remain in power or not.

The Americans find themselves in not too different a position with Egypt as it did with the Philippines through the Marcos years. How does one navigate the balancing act of being for democracy, and geopolitical interests?

This is what the American relationship with Mr. Mubarak is like. The New York Times narrated how the U.S. changed tack on Egypt; how in Hillary Clinton’s first meeting with President Mubarak as secretary of state, the Egyptians had asked Mrs. Clinton not to thank Mr. Mubarak for releasing an opposition leader from prison because he was ill.

The Guardian, quoting Wikileaks wrote, Washington provides Cairo’s military with 1.3 billion dollars in foreign military finance stipend. The New York Times expounds on the close military ties of between the United States and Egypt. Cairo’s Officer Corps has been trained in the United States for the past 30 years. American M1A1 Abrams tanks are built on Egyptian soil, as part of the deal. American operations are allowed to be staged in Egyptian soil and Americans are guaranteed passage through the Suez Canal. It wouldn’t be a surprising thing to see Egyptian military officials at the Pentagon, having lunch or dinner with American Officer Corps.

The Egyptian military has not inflicted harm on protesters, and have remained guarding government institutions.

Is this a sign of restraint?

On the streets of Cairo, the clash between protesters were not between Military and citizen, but rather, Police against citizen. The police are particularly known to be brutal.

The Tumblr blog, Promoting Peace explained what’s happening in Egypt. It noted that Egypt ranked 138th out of 167 countries in the Economist’s Democracy index.

In the streets of Cairo, The New York Times quoted, Ali Suleiman. He graduated from university 16 years ago, and today he has three daughters, and make US$3.50 a day. “This is Mr. Mubarak’s Egypt,” Michael Slackman wrote for the New York Times, “a place where about half the population lives on US$2 a day or less, and walled compounds spring up outside cities with green lawns, and swimming pools and names like Swan Lake. It is a place where those with money have built a parallel world of private schools and exclusive clubs, leaving the rundown cities to the poor.”

Amidst the demonstrations, Credit raters are worried. Fitch and S&P warn that Egypt and other Arab nations may overspend to calm unrest.

The situation in Egypt is as volatile as we imagine it to be. What shocked the world as much is Egypt going offline. Computer security experts have declared this as “unprecedented.” How can a country simply become a black hole on the Internet?

The preemptive nature of shutting down communications is a strategic and tactical decision.

In all this, the role of Twitter, Facebook and other social networks remain the same, as they have in past “Revolutions,” and campaign, social networks serve not just the backbone of communication for protesters, but also their “air force.” They do not win revolutions, but as past battles have made known, commanding the air make it easier for forces to take the ground.

(update): Anonymous Internet users have teamed up to provide communication tools for the Egyptian people, wrote the Huffington Post.

“Internet not working, police cars burning,” sent out one Egyptian. “Today marks a great day for Egypt,” sent out another.

These messages weren’t coming from mobile phones or computers, but from an amateur radio sending out Morse Code somewhere amidst the chaos in Egypt. –Huffington Post

For those of us looking from the outside, in, shutting down internet and communications has made the Egyptian situation particularly volatile because of the uncertainty. This communications blackout has helped spawn the belief that Mubarak’s days is numbered. And that it maybe– it is still too early to tell.

But is there something deeper than that?

On the left hand you have the pro-American government of Egypt. On the right hand you have poverty for the people of Egypt.

“The history of the modern Egyptian republic haunts Egypt’s generals today,” STRATFOR reported. “Though long suppressed, an Islamist strand exists amongst the junior ranks of Egypt’s modern military. The Egyptian military is, after all, a subset of the wider society, where there is a significant cross-section that is religiously conservative and/or Islamist. These elements are not political active, otherwise those at the top would have purged them.”

But no coup scenario exists.

So far.

Unconfirmed reports have surfaced that Hamas has entered into Egypt and are closely collaborating with Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The latter, according to unverified reports have engaged in the demonstrations. In the same report, security forces in plain clothes have allegedly began destroying property to give the impression that it is the protesters who have caused the public disturbance. This is a great concern for the United States and Israel, and regional stability as a whole, particularly if an Islamist organization will find itself rooted, post-crisis.

Behind the scenes, according to STARTFOR, the United States and Israel and others are trying to shape the new order in Cairo. Egypt is a pro-American, pro-Israeli regime and a shift to a fundamentally Islamic republic would be a blow not only to regional security, but global security. The question remain: how do you balance the interest of the Egyptian public, with this global concern?

The Egyptian military is continuously seen as the one factor that could stabilize Egypt. It is the bedrock of the modern Egyptian state. For Mubarak to go, the military must decide on it. But how deep is the people’s resentment, and could they blame the military? Could the military stabilize the situation?

“Much is uncertain of what’s happening,” George Friendman said, “but let’s be certain of this much: what happens in Tunisia matters little to the world, what happens in Egypt is a towering significance.”

Photo credit:

Protesters, via Muhammad Ghafari from Giza, Egypt

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Cocoy Dayao

Cocoy is the Chief Technology Officer of Lab Rats Technica, a Digital Consulting company that specialises in DevOps, iOS, and Web Apps, E-Commerce sites, Cybersecurity and Social Media consulting. He is a technology enthusiast, political junkie and social observer who enjoys a good cup of coffee, comic books, and tweets as @cocoy on twitter.

Cocoy is also the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the ProPinoy Project.

Cocoy considers himself to be Liberal.


    “My sense has always been that the GDP accounts overdo their hedonics, but that’s very much a matter of opinion. Maybe the real point here is to remember, always, that economic statistics are a peculiarly boring sub-genre of science fiction; extremely useful, but not to be treated as absolute truth.” Paul Krugman

    The present government of the Phils now say that they would like to make the GDP growth more inclusive.

    Dp we have the time in the face of the very destruction of the institutions of the state over the last 25 years. Coups, instability and the ever rising tide of criminality. We have a state that drives economic growth without examining the collateral damage in its wake.

    Very dangerous as the number of people leaving every day will attest which has become state policy.

    Will a bachelor driving a Porsche who seems disengaged and detached to the challenges facing the country help change the direction. In sincerely doubt it. Arms yourselves at home the worst is yet to come.


    “Which is not to say that economics had nothing to do with it. Egypt had decent growth — but the gains weren’t trickling down, and youth unemployment was and is a huge problem.”
    “The moral is that GDP isn’t the whole story. Yes, sensible people already knew that, but this is a graphic reminder.”

    Ah yes, this serves as a grim reminder to the Philippines. Is economic growth (GDP) inclusive?

    The U.S. once again caught in another serious contradiction. Their espousing democratic ideals or values will have to be balanced by their strategic national self interest. Egypt had espoused a “let them eat cake” policy and the people want to settle for nothing less than a “off with his head moment.

    Allahu Akbar! Bring down the infidels who worship the God of Ammon.

    Off course the main organizing tool for the people will be their faith in Allah and the Arabic language.. The Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hizbollah, Taliban, Chechnyan Separatists, Al Qaeda, Jemah Islamiyah, all enabled by gross inequality in economics/politics and oil and gas.

    A former Venezuelan official called it the devils excrement.

    Egypt is the enabling pivot in the Middle East for the Western powers. From Turkey to North Africa and half of Africa to borders of China and down through the the M.E. and S.E. Asia till Indonesia. Islam and the large reserves of oil and gas reserves co-exist.

    The most potent civilian institution in all these countries are the religious institutions. The other is the military. The constant in all these countries except for Iran and some countries in Central Asia is the U.S. military alliance.

    Centcom and Africacom are Americas leading tip of the spear.

    Hey man I love my air-conditioning and need gas for my car.

    Tell that idiot Mubarack to start loading trucks with free food and start giving it away.

    • Cocoy

      J_AG, I point you to Bocchi’s Puzzle of the Philippines. re: why in spite of growth, it doesn’t tickle down to the population.

      • J_ag

        Cocoy, I am more a student of political economy rather than econometrics (mathematical and computer based modeling exercises.)

        I take you to the history of national income accounting. The man responsible for organizing this system of national accounting using monetary values was Simon Kuznets. He helped the US Commerce Dept in assembling this system.

        HE ALSO WARNED THAT THIS SYSTEM DID NOT MEASURE THE GENERAL WELFARE OF PEOPLE. It did not qualify these monetary valuations.

        They are mainly estimates based on educated guesses using statistics.

        Government then had to assemble a broad aggregate of monetary values to what the country was producing in both the productive and non productive sectors of the economy. (Final sales for all sectors.)This was when macro economics was still in its infancy. Government had to intervene in industrial economies to sustain the supply of credit creation. The great depression was caused by oversupply and a general contraction of the credit markets.

        These are broad aggregates. They only serve as guides and tools. They do not give a quantitative/qualitative picture on median incomes and distribution of growth. You could take these aggregates where while most of the economy is in doldrums a few are growing robustly so there is growth while 80% of the economy is stagnant.

        Hence there is uneven, narrow and shallow growth.

        It does not give you the depth of each sectors value added stream. A perfect example is the so called car manufacturing is is purely assembly and now we are so called manufacturing completely built up units and calling it the car industry. No depth from the raw resources to the conversion of these resources into intermediate parts to the assembly.

        Add to this the continuing R&D.

        The other thing is this. The Philippines does not have the capacity for actual data capture on the qualitative measures of growth. GDP figures for the Philippines include almost 50% estimates for the so called informal sector.

        For example out labor market participation rate is at 63%. Out of that 50% are unpaid workers and self employed. the rest are part time paid workers and the full time regulars in public and the private sector.

        Even the way we measure inflation is badly skewed by the wide gaps in income. The rich have a bigger propensity to consume – disposable income. Hence their basic needs are a small part of their income.
        While with the broad majority in the Phils it is the extreme opposite. Hence inflation in the Philippines is never a case of demand side pull. It is supply side based which monetary policy cannot cure. Life is at a razors edge for many.

        Kuznets warned that unless emerging economies industrialized there were be continuing gross income inequalities. This is where politics meets economics

      • Cocoy,

        I think it does trickle down, but the flood of new babies generates more need than this growth can keep up with. The screams of hunger make the sighs of relief a bare whisper.

        • J_ag

          Sir you are entitle to your opinion but not to your facts based on your thesis.

          Your thesis is based on the already debunked Malthusian idea.

          Ceilito Habito just came out with several glaring numbers on the share of the farmers in the Philippines of the wholesale price of their goods.

          The bulk of the poor in the Philippines are in the rural areas. The rest are the urban poor in shantytowns. The Phls has the lowest farmer share of the wholesale price amongst the region. China has the highest at 90%.

          Lower incomes means a lower rate of the ability of marginal consumption. Food and shelter first and education and health last. That stunts upward mobility.

          Family based farming becomes the social security net for the many poor. The larger the family the more income can be produced.

          The American should realize that industrialization destroyed the familial production relations relations and changed the production relations to one between labor and capital.

          But with that process also came mass production requiring mass markets. Technology and science increased food yields where seed productivity rose 40- 50 times. But the white men would like us to buy their surplus food and tell us we should not learn to raise our productivity levels in our productive sectors. It is a power mindset that has not been diminished yet.

          It is no wonder most Americans and for that matter most Pinoys will also point to that dangerous idea that the poor are the cause of our economic problems.

          Some White Men also used to say that all the black men were good for were making babies and supplying cheap labor.

          They were inferior in their thought processes and should not be considered full human beings.

          The idea was imbedded in the U.S. Constitution that black people could be counted for the census but they would be counted as 3/4th a person for the purposes of the number of representatives in Congress.

          The spreading of ignorance is most prevalent amongst people from advanced cultures. Have they not heard of the primary directive in the syfy series Star Trek?

          Joe America, what are you, An American, a white man or a human being.

    • UP nn grad

      “Tell that idiotMubarak to start loading trucks with free food and feeding the people.” — Ja_G

      Ha! Ha! Ha! Mubarak is even more cunning than that. Mubarak is making hakot Pilipinas style, bringing more Egyptians to Cairo. Mubarak has a targetted approach to this “free food” idea. Mubarak offers the poor especially the ones who are now out of jobs because of the demonstrators food — if they go to Cairo to throw stones at or to crush the knees of the demonstrators.

  • I think Egyptians are beyond seeing the US as kingmaker. This is about Egypt, thus no American flag burning.

  • Bert

    “Could be the philippines?”-JAMSETJEE

    Nonsense. Is our president repressive? Is he corrupt?

    So you want Charter Change. What has that got to do with what is happening in Egypt?

    • UP nn grad

      A few Egyptian (and Tunisian-) citizens have begun to look forward, planning for their new governments. They look to learn lessons from Pilipinas experience. What they want to prevent is what happened in Piliinas — after the “People-Power”-thingy, the old corruption, the old power-structure (oligarchs, politicians) returned so quickly.

  • Bert

    Mindanao is not ARMM, and ARMM is not Mindanao. Secessionists are in ARMM but not all ARMM are secessionists. 50% of secession votes from ARMM is not 50% of secession votes from Mindanawans. Even if Imperial Manila commits a horrendous blunder, it will be foolhardy for 100% Mindanawans to secede with the 50% ARMM secessionists. They will be “EATEN ALIVE”, :).

  • UP nn grad

    Side-News: CSMONITOR-dot-com reports :
    It’s official: South Sudan set to secede with a 99.57 percent vote
    “The vote for separation was 99.57 percent,” said Justice Chan Reec Madut, head of the southern bureau of the Referendum Commission, after reading the vote tallies for “unity” and “secession” for each of the south’s 10 states.

    70%-secession votes from Mindanawans happen only when bombs and terror forces out many communities and businesses out of the region, or when “Imperial Manila” just commits a horrendous blunder. Que sera, sera.

    • Cocoy

      Yep. Sudan bears watching… but not as much as Egypt. Cairo is really the pivot point.

  • manuelbuencamino

    That Egypt receives a billion or more a year in FMF from the US is no surprise. It is part of the peace deal brokered by the US between Egypt and Israel. Both countries receive an equal amount of FMF under that agreement signed decades ago.

    I think the US is looking for an acceptable replacement for Mubarak. By acceptable I mean one who is moderate, pro democracy and who will not upset the delicate balance in its relationship with Israel and the rest of theArab world.

    I’m sure the US is in deep discussions with moderate members of the Egyptian armed forces for an acceptable replacement.

    If none can be found then I expect no efforts will be spared to have some kind of transition period until a suitable replacement is found.

    However, the people are out in the streets and whether or not such an ideal scenario will happen is anybody’s guess.

    News reports say that the people hate the police but love the military so it would seem like the fate of Egypt will rest in the hands of the military. The problem now is which faction of the military will come out on top – the moderate pro democracy forces or the fundamentalists.

    The reports that the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas are joining forces means they will try to get hold of this yet spontaneous uprising against Mubarak. If they succeed in gaining control of the uprising, the chances of things turning bloody will increase.

  • jamsetjee

    Could be the philippines? corruption is rife, 40% live on less than $2, same GDP growth (6%pa), almost population size, location deemed strategic by US. Member of N-11. Whilst we are similarly dysfunctional, we have democracy of sorts. in 25 years our politicians have failed grossly to eliminate our national dysfunction. we need reforms. 1) charter change, now is best time 2) anti corruption and govt bureacracy 3) encourage savings and investments

    • Cocoy

      i think we were close to this at the early part of the last decade (2000s)… but it seem to have subsided. If Aquino fails to deliver even a fraction of the promises he made… I think we could be ripe for it in a decade.

  • Bert

    I think that Mubarak will fall only, only, if the military removes him by force, or, if Mubarak voluntarily resigns.

    Barring these, Mubarak stays to rule. Here’s why. Majority of the Egyptian people are used to the good life, they’re happy as it is. They will not dare to try living under an Islamist government because they very well know how it is to live under that system. They will fight tooth and nail against that.

    The present protest movement happening in the capital Cairo will not reach critical mass. Most of the protesters are the religious fanatics, Palestinian sympathizers, and members/symphatizers of the Muslim Brotherhood which are not much in numbers. The protest will not prosper, it will last two or three weeks then fizzles out provided the military does not use too much violence against the protesters.

    That’s according to my crystal ball. If my crystal ball is wrong then I will eat my words, :).

    • Cocoy

      I hope so too. There have been unconfirmed reports of Hamas entering Egypt. We do not want an Islamic republic to exist in Egypt. I don’t think normal people understand it that way.

  • Jeg
    • GabbyD

      the article says the balance of support shifted 2 the dissidents.

      • Cocoy

        I think it is too close to call whether or not Mubarak will fall.

        If Mubarak does fall… how certain are we that it would be a democratic government and not an islamic one that will take its place?

  • UP nn grad

    …..a place where about half the population lives on US$2 a day or less, and walled compounds spring up outside cities with green lawns, and swimming pools and names like Swan Lake. It is a place where those with money have built a parallel world of private schools and exclusive clubs, leaving the rundown cities to the poor.

    Cairo is witness to what happens when the very poor and distraught reach their breaking points against an oppressive society —- lawlessness and anarchy.

    • Cocoy

      Yep. scary stuff. This is what happens when we don’t uplift people’s lives. 🙁