From Beirut to Atlanta, Opinions of Egypt’s Uprising

In Atlanta on February 16, 2011 at 2:03 AM

Definitely many Americans have been following the news coverage of Egypt here closely. If they are anything like myself, they are probably taking in the news mostly through watching 24/7 CNN coverage and running Google News searches on-line periodically; also, I have been following some live footage from the BBC during the clash period.

Interestingly, Radio Open Source, the Brown University programme, has been probably my preferred source on-line for coverage thus far. Here is some commentary from that program, Egypt in the Spotlight; the US on the Spot, February 1, 2011. They have an Iranian-American Middle East historian, Shila Balaghi, being interviewed by Christopher Lydon, a former journalist for The New York Times, with Balaghi giving her opinion of what is driving the crowds. She makes a statement to the effect that if the Muslim Brotherhood moves in to dominate the banner of reform protest then “at least half the people” would walk away from the protest in rejection of that endorsement. “We don’t want another Iran” and “We are not less than South Africa” are other notable quotes from Tahrir Square, according to Balaghi.

Articles from USA Today, of all places, published in 2008 have been arguably even more insightful. Reporter David J. Lynch has penned two articles portraying an utter misconnection between increasing GDP growth percentages and generally declining living standards, including increasing poverty and corruption levels. For instance, one article reads Egypt’s economy soars; so does misery, May 15, 2008 and another Tension in Egypt shows potency of food crisis, April 30, 2008. “Today’s popular frustrations over flat-lining living standards have been building for years. The recent boom, felt only by the already well-off, has done little to change that discontent,” writes Lynch reporting in May of 2008.

Evidently, President Hosni Mubarak, who Egyptians in the article refer to as “Pharaonic,” grudgingly increased public-sector wages by 30 percentage points in 2008 only to generate lack-luster effect on public perception. Given his midnight hour announced 2011 recommendation of a 15 percentage point increase in government salary pay, one might logically expect a similar negative impact when taking into account that GDP growth percentages are running even lower than previously noted.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

Surprisingly, none other than my fiancee has written on this very same subject matter, i.e., namely the connection between foreign direct investment (FDI) and income inequality, in particular national Gini coefficients. In her paper, she was able to confirm a non-linearity existing that statistically holds across countries, i.e., one that presumably would hold in the case of Egypt, for example. All this means is that as FDI increases in the beginning stages, income inequality decreases, but only up to a certain critical tipping point, whereby further FDI increases begin to correspond with increasing income inequality. Essentially, this relationship represents something akin to a reverse bell curve shape when written on paper. Importantly worth noting, unlike Arthur Laffer, the American political consultant, and his widely popularized Laffer Curve, her paper is empirically verified, i.e., supported by reality; therefore, it is unlikely to be widely popularized.

Many countries are suffering from rising commodity prices to the point where revolutions are threatened not just in Egypt, but possibly even Jordan; and, apparently, even now in Bahrain. According to former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan, the more reputable Congressman in the outgoing previous Congress, the U.S. is encouraging much of the commodity speculation by effectively refusing to regulate commodities speculation, MSNBC, February 1, 2011.

Other figures like Michael Greenberger, a law professor at the University of Maryland, and Senator Tom Coburn, a physician from Oklahoma, in conjuction with Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, are collectively isolating the cause as being the result of lack of regulated “position limits” being assessed on market speculators, i.e., the result of refusal to constrain the activities of Wall Street investors, as opposed to legitimate farmers, as they proceed to corner the market for commodities and insurance contracts by purchasing for ownership, as opposed to usage, on the commodities exchanges, read The Role of Derivatives in the Financial Crisis, June 30, 2010 and Levin-Coburn Report on Excessive Speculation in the Wheat Market, June 24, 2009, respectively.

For speculative purposes, Egyptian Mohammed El Baradei, formerly of the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), is returning home to Egypt with a little more policy making credibility, as say compared to Wyclef Jean returning home to Haiti. Consequently, Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, says that El Baradei possesses “street cred” in Cairo, being already endorsed by a large number of the protesters, Egypt’s Need for Presidential Change, January 31, 2011. For my insight, the ultimate forecaster, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, a politics professor at New York University, would probably offer the best prediction for the replacement. He has an interesting summary explanation of the cause for the protests as being the result of a decline in foreign aid, Washington Square News, February 1, 2011.

Egypt interest has already peaked in Georgia within the last 30 days, with greater popularity in Athens compared to Atlanta, Google Trends, February 15, 2011. Offered here is a pretty good source for maybe testing the so-called 10-day nation hypothesis that Martin King, Jr. referenced, i.e., that hypothesis that states by 10 days from the beginning of Egypt coverage, American interest will have waned significantly to the point where searches will ultimately plummet after that point in time. Arguably, one might argue that we are a 5-day nation judging from origin to peak. By contrast, El Baradei, specifically, has not generated much search interest either in Georgia.

The CNN opinions have been interesting too. Fareed Zakaria, an Indian-American journalist, (Eliot Spitzer, former New York attorney general, calls him “the most brilliant guy on T.V.”) was interviewed by Spitzer in the earlier weeks and asked how President Obama should handle speaking out or not speaking out. His opinion was that Obama should call President Mubarak directly by phone and encourage him to step down, which he has done, apparently, Parker Spitzer, January 31, 2011. From what I have heard, former President Bush, Sr. and former President Jimmy Carter are of the same mind, though Carter has been quoted as liking the nominated V.P. originally recommended by Mubarak to takeover. Other commentators on CNN like David Gergen, an American political consultant, and a Johns Hopkins University commentator (not sure who it was exactly) recommended that Obama make no speech.

For at least one European opinion, the Slovenian philosophy professor Slavoj Zizek, is recommending Mubarak be sent to The Hague, Why fear the Arab revolutionary spirit? February 1, 2011. Where Zizek concentrates more on attacking what he calls the “smug” Western liberal viewpoint, Ralph Nader, the Lebanese-American lawyer, is spotlighting concern over who is funding who in Egypt and what will fill the vacuum, Time for Democracy in Egypt, February 1, 2011 and Civic Institutions Essential for Egypt’s Democracy, February 14, 2011. Multinationals that provide funding to the Mubarak leadership, as opposed to the protesters and the average “unskilled” worker, to use language referenced by Lynch, have remained ominously silent on the sidelines at a time when Mubarak is more in a moneyed position to wait things out.

Bob Dylan’s viewpoint, the American poet viewpoint, advantages the Tahrir Square majority in this stretch, i.e., “When you ain’t got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.” Evidently, the Egyptians are reading aloud in protest something called al-Shabi poetry in Cairo, which is characterized as a Tunisian-original form of poetry written for the masses, Egypt’s Revolutionary Poetry, February 3, 2011.

Of the few supporters seen making headlines early during the protests, surprisingly, Church of the Apostles Preacher Michael Youseff, an Egyptian-American who is revered around wealthier parts of Atlanta, made a brief CNN appearance essentially in Mubarak’s defense; maybe in similar character to Vice-President Joe Biden’s often-repeated headline about referring to Mubarak as not being a dictator.

Ask the Commoners on the street for their opinion of what the American viewpoint should be, I would say, generally, we believe there are enough problems here domestically to the point where Obama should mind his own country’s business. To the extent that he does speak out at all, I would find it more reassuring, personally, if he embraced the Wilsonian straight “self-determination” viewpoint discussed by the Canadian-English writer Margaret MacMillan in Paris 1919, as opposed to performing more spotlight grandstanding, e.g., former President Ronald Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” speech, or the pre-emptive belligerence of Francis Fukuyama, the Japanese-American economics professor, and his Project for the New American Century promoters. Ironically, if voodoo economics-inspired “conservatives” and “neo-conservatives” had minded their own assigned roles at the time of grandstanding specified, then they could have avoided generating the debt concentrations that descendants are currently complaining about right now, i.e., gross federal debt to GDP greater than 90 percentage points.

Other notable news coverage discoveries: (1) al-Jazeera is banned from television airwaves in America, whereas FEAR commentators like Rush Limbaugh are subsidized on the radio airwaves, something Ralph Nader refers to as “corporate welfare” existing in an echo-chamber, Letter to Rush Limbaugh, January 30, 2009; (2) the majority of the 9/11 hijackers were generated from the Saud family’s dynastic territory, The 9/11 Commission Report, July 22, 2004; and (3) other Arab countries that have more well-oiled heels, e.g., Kuwait, occasionally grant $3,000 checks to the public every once in a while on prominent political anniversaries in order to siphen off dissent by filling people’s mouths with money, Parker Spitzer, January 31, 2011. Also, apparently, (4) there are many military armaments lying around in the Middle East that read Made in America emblazened across the chrome, at the same time as (5) there are social media platforms like the Internet that are being heralded in places like Egypt which possess that same Made in America imprint, only less conspicuously recognized.

In Atlanta summary, the jobless recovery continues here in America. People are basically practical and interested in terms of openness, but as jaded as ever in terms of the growing ratio of industry lobbyists to consumer advocates, i.e., 25 to 1 according to last check by U.S. PIRG, October 23, 2009. Regarding Georgia’s economic performance, by contrast to Egypt, we are experiencing an essentially direct mal-relationship between income growth and poverty rates. For example, Georgia has grown gross state product (GSP) recently, averaging greater than 5 percent in real terms during each year measured from 2004/07, yet the poverty rate has managed to increase from 11.9 percent in 2003 to 18.4 percent as of 2009, Census report shows Georgia poverty increase, September 16, 2010. The U.S. Census defines the national poverty threshold for an individual in 2009 as $10,956.

It would be interesting as an experiment to compare the percentage of the population voting in Lebanese elections over time versus the same measure voting here. In America, for instance, there is a large amount of what economists call dead-weight loss resulting from poor voter turnout, i.e., a large amount of people preferring not bothering to vote because they view money as largely in control of politics. Endless barriers to political competition in the U.S. prevent and crowd out independents in America from competing on a routine basis; the barriers include punitive election requirements, money control of mass advertising mediums, e.g., T.V., gerrymandering of political districts, and corporate rationing of televised presidential debates by the two parties through a privately-formed organization called the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Noam Chomsky, an American professor of linguistics at MIT, has written two interesting summary articles on the relevant subjects, The Corporate Takeover of U.S. Democracy, February 3, 2010 and It’s not radical Islam that worries the US – it’s independence, February 4, 2011.

And some questions?

Within the book called The Black Swan written in 2007 by Nassim Taleb, a Lebanese-American writer, the word “Levantine” is referred to affectionately, with the author preferring the self-reference Levantine as opposed to Lebanese. Is this a popular sentiment for youth growing up in Lebanon today?

For those of us reading From Beirut to Jerusalem, published in 1989 by Thomas Friedman, a Jewish-American reporter at The New York Times, if you were to pickup where Friedman leaves off with his opening pages timeline of the Middle East ending with the year 1988, how would you proceed to chronicle the events having played out in recent memory leading up to 2011? Obviously, “carefully” will not suffice. What is your story of the Middle East characterizing the previous 20 years?


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