Saturday, March 26, 2011

We Love You...

Picture Perfect
One of the principal myths that allowed the January 25 movement to achieve the goals that it did, was creating the sense of a loving relationship between the military and the people. This fiction conveniently glossed over the common knowledge of widespread misappropriations by the military, the fact that Egypt's military spending is wildly disproportional to spending on basic services, the deadweight loss of forced service for those Egyptian men who cannot pay their way out of it, and the reality that the military has not really done much of anything for Egypt for almost the past forty years (and there is a strong argument of even longer than that, but let's not go there).
We don't trust you Papa Smurf

Be that as it may, the fiction worked, and the military was hoisted up on a pedestal and returned the favor by giving the movement the space to push out the sitting president and parts of the ruling structure around him (not including, naturally, those expansive segments of the system under direct and indirect military control). Since then, however, the reform movement has splintered along innumberable lines with innumerable demands, which not only has resulted in a loss of unity and purpose, but also given the other enemy of reform, the Muslim Brotherhood, the space to position itself to the military -- and the military's U.S. backers -- as the only alternative path for stability, a sense now reinforced by the lopsided referendum results.

So how can this be reversed? Go back to the game plan that achieved the movement's breakthrough results, and start hugging the military leadership again. Appeal to their desire for economic growth by putting credible business leaders in front of them and, yes, partnering with their businesses too. Appeal to their desire for regional stability by putting credible diplomats in front of them, and do not by shy about fear-mongering about the prospect of Egypt being populated by Papa Smurf look-alikes that will convert the country into a perilous mess. Get the U.S. backers of the military squarely on your side and deliver, on behalf of the military, the economic (free trade, investment) and political (glowing praise from the U.S. government, military and journalists) goodies that they aspire to have.

This should not be that hard to do in light of the many flaws of the enemy. Moreover, the in-your-face referendum results are definitive proof that the leadership and the Egyptian people at large will not be ready anytime soon to go through an open-ended process of political, economic and social experimentation (a fact the cocooned, revolutionary ideologues still seem not to have grasped). This is not selling short the reform movement; instead, it is putting it on the side of those who have the power to control its ultimate destiny, including by effectively shutting it down by aligning with anti-reformers and using their levers of power to convince Egyptians that it is their best interest to do so.

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