Tom Ferguson: Memo to Obama – Anything but Democracy Now for Egypt is Building on Sand

By Tom Ferguson, Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow. Cross posted from New Deal 2.0

Food and oil prices are rising as tension in Cairo is soaring — time to get on board with the people’s demands.

Add Barack Obama to the long list of statesmen who couldn’t solve the Riddle of the Sphinx. For a while last week it looked like a miracle was happening: The United States was on the verge of doing right and doing well at the same time. After stumbling initially, the administration openly warned the Egyptian army and government not to slaughter the protesters. It also started lining up behind the Egyptian people’s demands for a swift transition to a new, more democratic regime. Neo-con lions like Robert Kagan and Elliott Abrams bedded down with liberal internationalist lambs in a “Working Group on Egypt” that called for reforms and Mubarak’s exit, while John McCain and other Republicans offered bipartisan cover for Real Change in the world’s oldest civilization.

But by Saturday, February 5, the wheels started coming off. With oil prices threatening the anemic global recovery and commodity prices soaring, the President dialed up leaders of the Persian Gulf states for whom the aging Egyptian leader is Mummy Dearest. As the world watched in astonishment, Frank Wisner, a veteran US diplomat who now works with a major Washington law firm that represents major Egyptian business and government interests, calmly advised the Munich Security Conference that Mubarak should stay on for a while. The hapless State Department responded by being against it before the White House and other NATO leaders all came out for it.

Now with the whole world watching, Mubarak’s American (and Soviet — the Cold War is truly over) trained intelligence chief now presides over the “democratic transition” as Mubarak holds on.
It’s always dangerous if you lose your compass amid the desert sands. But for the White House to lose its moral compass now is potentially catastrophic. The President is already bent on one Mission Impossible in Afghanistan, a land that Alexander the Great couldn’t conquer. Now he’s trying again in a place that Napoleon couldn’t hold.

A foreign exchange crisis lies immediately ahead, as food prices keep rising. If the security police or the army turns Cairo’s streets and squares into the Valley of the Dead, the harm to both Egypt and U.S. interests will be incalculable. In the longer run, the confidence the US reposes in the army as a force for stability may also be misplaced. Vertical and horizontal tensions run deep within a fighting force that is now big business. Better supplement it while you can with a free press, an independent judiciary, a real parliament and an end to repression. In a word: democracy.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. purple

    The US can’t support democracy in the Middle East because it means the abrogation of the Israel peace deals. Israel is extremely unpopular in that region due to their treatment of the Palestinians, and no amount of democracy massaging by Hillary and Co. is going to change that. Who knows what happened behind the scenes, perhaps ElBaredei told this to them straight up, thereby eliminating himself as the ‘wise man’ who would get US backing.

    This probably accounts for their about face.

    1. Jack Rip

      Democracies are supposed to stand by their country’s treaties. Are the Egyptians supporting abrogation going to return to Israel the Sinai? It is not a question of popularity. It is amazing how easily people accept war. Not having peace means that you choose war. How does war help a democratic Egypt? It clearly is going to stop American aid and the expenses on the military will grow.

      The main reason Sadat made peace with Israel, he got the whole Sinai for it, was to stop wasting resources on destructive goals. He wanted to invest these resources in the Egyptian people. Mubarak never did it, but didn’t choose war. Are his inheritors going back even further than Mubarak?

      1. Doug Terpstra

        “Not having peace means that you choose war.”

        How true, but what do we have now in the Middle East? The lesson in Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc. is that if you want peace, work for justice.

        A related question, I suppose, is whether basic human rights and international law are as sacred as treaties. For decades, Israel has flagrantly and brutally violated international law, the Geneva Conventions, and human rights, committing war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza, and stealing land in pursuit of Eretz Israel, an explicitly racist state. Peace on Israel’s and AIPAC’s terms is hardly peace for Palestinians, Iraqis, Saudis, Pakistanis, Afghanis, etc. This crisis is not one of spontaneous combustion. It has been forced in large part by Israel.

    2. Mike Bell

      “Israel is extremely unpopular in that region due to their treatment of the Palestinians, ”

      Nonsense. Long before the Palestinian issue, the Arabs hated Israel. It’s racism. Nothing to do with the Palestinians. Solve that problem, you think the Arab world would heart Israel? Get real. For one reason or another, mainly because it serves the dictators’ purposes (to deflect from the real problems in their countries), the hatred of Jews has persisted through THOUSANDS of years. Palestinians? lmao. You can’t be serious. Just this generation’s excuse for rabid anti-semitism. Everything is always the Jews fault, didn’t you know?

      I could care less about Israel. But I hate seeing people buying into the anti-semitic propaganda masquerading as a cause.

      1. Ray Phenicie

        I grow extremely weary of having the label of anti-Semitic slobbered on someone who dares to offer a bit of rational criticism of the government of Israel. Also, even more tiresome is the constant slamming in one’s face of implications that the oppressive government of Israel , putatively representing all member of the Judaic religion, is somehow protecting members of that religious faith from persecution no matter where on the planet that person is residing. How anyone can say that the governmental structure of a political entity can represent every member of a particular faith forces an incredible straight jacket on rational thought and discussion of politics, culture, art and human society at large. I take offense at your logic as it implies that anyone who dares to offer even a murmur, as the previous commentator did, against the Israelis is a racist cur.

        Do you have more than rhetorical denials of facts to give?
        One can criticize the government of Israel, no? The government, cabinets, and parliament are members of the species homo sapiens are they not–fallible just as you are, just as I am, just as every person on the planet is and I suppose that some of what these every day, normal human beings have done can be compared to one’s own standards of right and wrong?

        Or are you saying that no criticism is allowed of the upper echelons of the Israeli ministry? That strong voiced minorities inside of Israel constantly hammer away at the same ideas of oppression contained in the comments you denigrate? Deny if you will that the government of Israel is oppressive, but you cannot deny that it and stands still today only because Israeli leaders have consistently twisted the decision making process in the U. S. State Department, the Oval Office and the Congress around their proverbial little finger?

        Also, facts on history show that the modern day differentiation that we see between Semitic peoples found inside of the area known today as Palestine is just that-a modern construct that cannot be substantiated by history or archeology and most certainly cannot be drawn back into the recesses of world history. If you are going to throw religious beliefs into a discussion of modern politics you are free to do so but please make it clear to your reader that you are giving an evaluation based on religious teachings and that those are not historical fact.

        Also, you state that the “Arabs hated Israel” since whenever. I’ll take that as another nasty bit that has no basis in fact. But first let’s be clear who we are talking about because the term Arab, given the context of Modern History, can only refer to citizens of the sovereign nation of Saudi Arabia. Since that state did not exist until 1932 it’s hard to see how members of a that country in its entirety could hate any one before 1932 since that would require us to believe in the pre-existence of a whole slew of folks who were, are you saying, then reincarnated?. Or perhaps you were using the term ‘Arab’ in a most pejorative way to slam dunk you opinion-one whole group of people, every man, woman, and child could hate the members of another group. Your sloppy use of the term Arab tells me quite clearly that you have more than a bit of prejudicial and bigoted thinking buzzing between your own ears.

        OK then.
        Soon, if we were all to subscribe to your theories that flail at explaining modern historiography we would all be sharpening our spears around the cave openings. That day may soon be dawning, but could we delay it a bit?
        Cut the racist baiting and comment on the issues please.
        Thank you.

        1. Max Filter

          I would locate the focus of the diagreements in the Middle East on religion. If you get the chance, I recommend you read the official Muslim biography of Muhammad. It’s available in translation. It will help you to more fully understand Islam. Muslim law, today, as taught and practiced is mostly based on Muhammad, and one who emulates him is praiseworthy.

          Even secular people absorb the basic tenets of their society’s underlying religious beliefs.

          Islamic tenets, including the Islamic views of Jews, are deeply rooted in Islamic societies.

          It’s really not about Israelis or the Israeli government. It’s about Jews and the abhorrence with which they are viewed by Islam. This obviously goes back way before the modern State of Israel, back to Mohammad’s day.

          Islam’s antipathy towards Jews, and how deeply and thoroughly it permeates the Islamic world, is understandably difficult for many Westerners to fathom, since most of us have been schooled to view religion as a private, personal issue irrelevant to the social and political arena.

          Yes, the future does look bleak. I remain optimistic, however, that someday their shall be peace in the region.

          1. DownSouth

            Max Filter said: “It’s about Jews and the abhorrence with which they are viewed by Islam. This obviously goes back way before the modern State of Israel, back to Mohammad’s day.”

            I know you neocons don’t do reality, that you create your own reality. But judging from your comment, you must believe this applies not only to the future, but to the past as well.

            Just to set the historical record straight, we learn this from Wikipedia’s History of Jews in Spain:

            With the victory of Tariq ibn Ziyad in 711, the lives of the Sephardim changed dramatically. In spite of the stigma attached to being dhimmis (non-Muslim members of monotheistic faiths) under Muslim rule, the invasion of the Moors was by-and-large welcomed by the Jews of Iberia.

            Both Muslim and Christian sources tell us that Jews provided valuable aid to the invaders.


            In spite of the restrictions placed upon the Jews as dhimmis, life under Muslim rule was one of great opportunity in comparison to that under prior Christian Visigoths, as testified by the influx of Jews from abroad. To Jews throughout the Christian and Muslim worlds, Iberia was seen as a land of relative tolerance and opportunity. Following initial Arab victories, and especially with the establishment of Umayyad rule by Abd-ar-Rahman I in 755, the native Jewish community was joined by Jews from the rest of Europe…


            The first period of exceptional [Jewish] prosperity took place under the reign of Abd ar-Rahman III (882-942), the first independent Caliph of Córdoba. The inauguration of the Golden Age is closely identified with the career of his Jewish councillor, Hasdai ibn Shaprut (882-942). Originally a court physician, Shaprut’s official duties went on to include the supervision of customs and foreign trade. It was in his capacity as dignitary that he corresponded with the kingdom of the Khazars, who had converted to Judaism in the 8th century (Assis, pp. 13, 47).

            Abd al-Rahman III’s support for Arabic scholasticism had made Iberia the center of Arabic philological research. It was within this context of cultural patronage that interest in Hebrew studies developed and flourished. With Hasdai as its leading patron, Córdoba became the “Mecca of Jewish scholars who could be assured of a hospitable welcome from Jewish courtiers and men of means” (Sarna, p. 327).

            Now let’s fast forward to 1497 for another historical snapshot. The Granada War of 1492 expelled all Muslim authority from Spain. In that same year one of the first acts of the Reyes Catolicos, now with unchallenged sovereignty over all of Spain, was to clear all Jews from the country. Jews could continue to live in Portugal, however, and indeed many of the Jews ousted from Spain had taken refuge across the border. All that changed however, when out of the negotiations leading up to the marriage settlement between Portugal’s Manuel and Spain’s Isabel there emerged the decision to expel Portugal’s Jews and Muslims.

            However, the expulsion of the Jews and the Muslims was not handled the same. The Muslims were allowed to take their children with them. The Jews were not. The chronicler Damião de Góis is utterly frank when he comes to explain this surprising difference in the treatment of the two peoples. It was not out of any impulse of generosity or nobility of sentiment that the concession was made by the Portuguese authorities to the Muslims. His text is so revealing and has such direct bearing on the way Muslims were later to be treated elsewhere in the peninsula (particularly in the lands of the Crown of Aragon), that it must be translated here in extenso:

            In case we are censured for carelessness in not explaining why the King had the Jews’ children seized, whereas the children of the Moors were not, especially since the reason both of these groups were being obliged to leave the country was that they had refused baptism and rejected the teachings of the Church, it must be borne in mind that no harm could result to Christians if they took away the children of the Jews. Jews are scattered all over the earth, and have no country of their own, no lordships, cities or towns, and indeed in all the places where they dwell, they are transients, and payers of tribute, so they lack the power and authority to execute their will against those who do them harm and injury. The Moors, on the other hand, have, for our sins, and in order to punish us, been permitted by God to occupy the greater part of Asia, Africa, and a good part of Europe too, and in these places where the Moors have empires, kingdoms and great lordships, there live many Christians who are subject to their tribute, not to mention the many Christians held captive by them. It would have been very prejudicial to all these peoples to take away the Moors’ children, because those subjected to this harm would clearly not fail, after expulsion had been inflicted on them, to seek to execute revenge on those Christians who lived in Moorish territory, and above all to take revenge on the Portuguese, who would incur special blame. This was why the Moors were allowed to leave the kingdom with their children, whereas the Jews were not.

          2. Max Filter

            Mr. DownSouth:

            Your reply focuses on one long period, in Spain, where the Muslim ruling class was fairly tolerant of Jews. If, however, you widen your research you will find that this was an exception to the general case. Jewish-Muslim relations were far more troubled throughout history. Based on the example of the “prophet” himself, as documented in the foundational documents of Islam, which make for interesting reading. “”

          3. Ray Phenicie

            {I would locate the focus of the diagreements[sic] in the Middle East on religion. If you get the chance, I recommend you read the official Muslim biography of Muhammad. It’s available in translation. It will help you to more fully understand Islam. Muslim law, today, as taught and practiced is mostly based on Muhammad, and one who emulates him is praiseworthy.

            Even secular people absorb the basic tenets of their society’s underlying religious beliefs.}

            So far what you have said is not too far off, but may I remind you much the same could be said for this country if you substitute biographies of Jesus of Nazareth for the Prophet Muhammad.

            {Islamic tenets, including the Islamic views of Jews, are deeply rooted in Islamic societies.}
            Again, this is true of about every society on the planet today, substitute Jesus-Christian, Buddha-Buddhist, Taoist, Zen, Judaic, Hindu, Zoroaster, John Calvin, Martin Luther, for Mohammad-Islam.

            {It’s really not about Israelis or the Israeli government.}
            Except ‘it’ (the turmoil in the Middle East, I assume) is about Israel. Israel is the most heavily armed state in that area and has nuclear weapons to boot. The Israelis get a free pass every time they destroy their neighbor’s homes and continue to push aggressively to destroy the villages and cities of the Palestinians and Lebanese. The U. S. was hornswaggled into destroying Iraq and came close to doing the same in Iran if the crazed leaders of the Israeli government had achieved their goals.

            {It’s about Jews and the abhorrence with which they are viewed by Islam. This obviously goes back way before the modern State of Israel, back to Mohammad’s day.}

            A biased, bigoted statement , without a shred of fact behind it but you are certainly free to make those.

            {Islam’s antipathy towards Jews, and how deeply and thoroughly it permeates the Islamic world, is understandably difficult for many Westerners to fathom, since most of us have been schooled to view religion as a private, personal issue irrelevant to the social and political arena.}

            Wrong on several counts, again with no serious facts from sociology to back you up, but I’ll just state you need to show me how deeply Islamic society is permeated with anything let alone what you see. Unless you have some serious social study study to back you up, this statement rests as pure (and very wild)speculation and is not worthy of further consideration.

            {Yes, the future does look bleak. I remain optimistic, however, that someday their shall be peace in the region.}
            I am hoping your biased and prejudicial world view won’t contribute much to our troubled times.

        2. Max Filter

          “{Islamic tenets, including the Islamic views of Jews, are deeply rooted in Islamic societies.}
          Again, this is true of about every society on the planet today, substitute Jesus-Christian, Buddha-Buddhist, Taoist, Zen, Judaic, Hindu, Zoroaster, John Calvin, Martin Luther, for Mohammad-Islam.”

          Yes, but the tenets of Islam are qualitatively different from those of the other faiths you have mentioned. Were you to study those tenets in any depth, or investigate the foundations of Sharia, you would be the wiser for it.

          1. Ray Phenicie

            And you my persistent blogger are a bigoted, ranting fool.
            As I say, apperently no one else is reading your rants and the world, therefor, is better off.

  2. Chris Bayer

    Interesting..some guy in Boston has an opinion.. ohh wait wait ..excuse me ..he’s a Professor that’s different (he should know better) ..when was he last in Egypt ..Middle East? ..What high level intelligence clearance does he have.. What on the ground responsible for results political contacts has he talked with in last 5 days in Mid East ..I’d bet he wasnt in Egypt and ..none ..and none

    It is half cocked opinion pieces like this from a guy with supposed credentials that have taken this world in the wrong direction..

    The situation in Egypt ..and Mid East is more complicated than space travel.. why doesnt the Prof go out on a advise NASA

    Is it MORAL .. to create a power vacuum in a volatile region with millions of lives at stake.. is it worth it.


    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You should take care before shooting your mouth off. Your “power vacuum” (which presumably is a vote for crushing the demonstrators) is at best pot calling the kettle black, but that in turn is based on a bogus assumption on your part.

      Ferguson’s commentary is primarily about this volte face by the US, and he has VERY high level contacts. It looks like your reading comprehension is too low for you to notice the key revelation in the piece: that the US changed its position from cautious support to stonewalling on regime change after talking to our last good buddies in the MIddle East besides Israel, the authoritarian Saudi Arabia, who is none too happy to see a successful-looking democratic uprising in the ‘hood.

        1. LeeAnne

          You have a loyal following, and I number myself among them.

          You should stay out of politics because the class divide is impossible to overcome. It is the strongest psychological force on earth; the fear of loss of status.

          So, even a compassionate person in a privileged position, if you are luxuriating in a warm comfortable apartment and see a person outside your window who is sitting on a park bench freezing in the middle of the night and homeless, you can feel a lot of things, but the one thing you’re not feeling for sure is ‘freezing.’

          1. Ray Phenicie

            Your disconnect was so astonishing in its lentght that I could not follow your leap into the areas beyond the Oort belt. I guess, according to what you say, if I shop at London Fog, I am unable to comment on world Politics? That before I comment on the plight of the masses in Egypt I should give all I have to the poor and then write my comments?

            I actually did that once, a while back, and believe me, I was too busy chopping wood to make comments on the world political and historical situation.

            How’s the view from there beyond Pluto?
            On your return orbit could you comment on the article?

        2. ChrisTiburon

          LeeAnn, Politics are economics.
          To maintain that they are two separate things is delusional.

          1. LeeAnne


            You didn’t read what I said very carefully. Some would claim you have to be a lawyer for credibility on foreclosures. So we quibble -I won’t.

            I tried to say something about the disconnect elites are bound to suffer when they want to be seen as liberals politically which is apparent from the tone of Yves defense of Ferguson “… he has VERY high level contacts.”

            The implication of that remark goes beyond disagreement to an argument that Ferguson is better than you. And I beg to differ.

            But the American culture, having been fed with a steady diet of propaganda from the cradle, since the advent of TV, deny class differences. So it cannot be discussed.

      1. Dan Duncan

        Bayer seems to be saying that Ferguson is guilty of Dennett’s “Greedy Reductionism”. The Greedy Reductionist in his zeal establish a foundation for a particular point of view (ie foster an agenda)explains too much too fast and underestimates complexities.

        Unfortunately, as we all know—Greed isn’t Good, so much as it’s contagious.

        Enter Yves.

        Yves takes the abridged version of the Egyptian Situation; and with an avarice all her own, she inserts a straw and sucks out all remaining color to turn it into a black and white wasteland.

        The middle is excluded and the False Dichotomy becomes: “Either you want Democracy Now or you support the Vicious Beatdown of Demonstrators”.

        Bayer’s comment was pretty straight forward: “The immediate, abrupt transition to Democracy is dangerous.” One can agree or disagree…but it just wasn’t that difficult to comprehend.

        Reductionism isn’t always bad, though. Sometimes it crystallizes thought. Here’s an example of Healthy Reductionism:

        Yves, in her zeal to point out Bayer’s failure of reading comprehension, demonstrates a failure of reading comprehension.

        1. DownSouth

          One thing about you Dan, and that is that you’re consistent.

          The police officers in this video are a perfect metaphor for the moral position you always seem to manage to stake out.

          And it is totally predictable that you should cite Daniel Dennett, who is one of the Four Horsemen, in an attempt to give your comment an air of moral and intellectual legitimacy. The Four Horsemen—-Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens—-took their place at the helm of the New Atheist movement when its previous leader, Ayn Rand, succumbed to lung cancer.

          At the core of New Atheism is a doctrine called “objectivism,” and the New Atheists have managed to convince themselves that they are the only ones who see the world “objectively.”

          Dennett’s “Greedy Reductionism” falls very much within this tradition. If we go to Wikipedia, here is what it has to say about Dennett’s “Greedy Reductionism”:

          Greedy reductionism is a term coined by Daniel Dennett, in his 1995 book “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea,” to refer to a kind of erroneous reductionism. Whereas “good” reductionism means explaining a thing in terms of what it reduces to (for example, its parts and their interactions), greedy reductionism is when “in their eagerness for a bargain, in their zeal to explain too much too fast, scientists and philosophers[…] underestimate the complexities, trying to skip whole layers or levels of theory in their rush to fasten everything securely and neatly to the foundation.”

          All this sounds great, no?

          But there’s a rub, as is explained by the evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt in this article:

          But because the new atheists talk so much about the virtues of science and our shared commitment to reason and evidence, I think it’s appropriate to hold them to a higher standard than their opponents. Do these new atheist books model the scientific mind at its best? Or do they reveal normal human beings acting on the basis of their normal moral psychology?

          If one takes the time to read Haidt’s entire article, one discovers that the New Atheists fall way short of their declared goals. And, taking direct aim at Dennett, Haidt concludes:

          A militant form of atheism that claims the backing of science and encourages “brights” to take up arms may perhaps advance atheism. But it may also backfire, polluting the scientific study of religion with moralistic dogma and damaging the prestige of science in the process.

          The biologist and anthropologist David Sloan Wilson renders an even harsher verdict of Dennett and his fellow New Atheists in this lecture. What he concludes is that they are the mirror image of the Islamic and Christian fanatics that they condemn. When it comes to human behavior, Wilson says, they promote a dogma of “secular creationism.” Theirs is a “stealth religion,” which Wilson defines as “a belief system that departs from factual reality to motivate a given suite of behaviors without invoking supernatural agents.” And this stealth religion is beguilingly deceptive:

          And surely when most people complain about religion, what they’re really complaining about are departures from factual reality. That suffused Dan’s (Dennett) talk. And so if we’re worried about that for religions, we really have to worry about it for stealth religions because, after all, they do a much better job of masquerading for factual reality than a real religion.

          Speaking of Ayn Rand, “the New Atheist of her day,” Wilson concludes;

          If you look at her creative objectivism, you will find that it is like religious fundamentalism in every way.

          Wilson, just like Haidt, ends his talk by taking direct aim at Dennett and his fellow new New Atheists:

          My complaint about this movement, if we want to call it that, is not that it’s offensive…, but it’s just such bad science. And that this matters. And even in the space of Dan’s (Dennett) talk he made statements about religion which I think are just flat out wrong. For example, that the reason we have terrorism…is because we stuff their heads with religion and then that sends them off to do goofy things. I believe Scott Atran [his lecture can be found here will beg to differ. So if you don’t get the facts of religion right, then you’re not going to come up with a good diagnosis.

        2. Anonymous Jones

          Bizarro World Dan Duncan, I like you much better than the other guy! Good comment. Complexity. False Dichotomies. You make undeniable points IMO.

          1. DownSouth

            False dichotomies?

            That wasn’t what Yves’ response was about. But that’s certainly what Bayer and Duncan want to make it about. For them, it’s the great duel between two great philosophical traditions: Hobbes vs. the romantics. On one side of the ring is “Either you want Democracy Now or you support the Vicious Beatdown of Demonstrators”. And on the other side of the ring is “Either you support controlling the demonstrators or you support chaos and mayhem.”

            But if one peels just a couple layers of the onion away, what one finds, or is most likely to find, is that Bayer and Duncan really aren’t Hobbesians at all. What they are is Fitcheans. This is the same philosophical tradition that spawned such seemingly different political actors as Stalin, Hayek and Milton Friedman.

            But that wasn’t what Yves’ response was about either. What her response was about was that there had been an about face on the part of the Obama administration. And that is not a philosophical opinion, but a matter of fact.

            But the Fitcheans don’t do factual reality. They believe they create their own reality. So instead of making the debate about the particular, the local and the timely, they strive to make it about the universal, the general, and the timeless. Instead of judging the relevance and timeliness of their theories to concrete situations, they seek eternal certainty and coherence in sweeping, all-embracing truths.

            Which brings us right back to Haidt’s and Wilson’s criticism of the New Atheists, for in the practitioners of this fundamentalist stealth religion we find the most extreme examples of the very behavior they claim to despise.

          2. anon2

            I suspect Dan Duncan and Anonymous Jones of being one and the same person: a cop and a graduate of University of Texas Police Department, currently on probation for police brutality.

          3. Anonymous Jones

            Oh dear lord, I’m nothing like DD or Bizzaro World DD. That is truly insane and crazy. Have you read my blistering attacks? Trust me, they were not jokes or some kind of meta-Kabuki for your enjoyment. They were made mostly in horror that anyone with a similar DNA chain could believe the things that DD or Bizzaro DD wrote.

            And as much as I love you DS, I think it is more complicated than you posit. I do think DD had a point about false dichotomies. Yes, it is a point that is sometimes made by dipshits and assholes, but it is appropriate many times, nevertheless. The answer to the false dichotomy meme is that we have a situation that it is *almost* a dichotomy, that we have a situation that is almost entirely (and I mean 99% vs. 1% situation) one way and not the other. It may be “false”, but it’s not worth the time to consider the opposite. The question is to how “false” it is. I am deep in my epistemological BS, but we can get down to brass tacks and not be able to agree about 2 plus 2. So we have to assume a few things. If the false dichotomy is about things about which assumptions are necessary to get up in the morning, then we can ignore the alternative scenarios, I’m with you on that. In any event, I still don’t thing DD’s (or bizzaro DD’s) comment was beyond the realm of reasonability; I do believe this is more complex than Yves posits. We are talking about a long-term preference matrix of millions of people; we cannot believe that we have the solution for all of them or even most of them. As much as I sympathize with your overall viewpoint, I do not agree that there is a definitive solution that could not possibly be proven to have been in a poor direction. I hope someone out there is smarter than I am, and has all the answers to everyone’s problems, but based on experience (and I say this *knowing* the f’ing brilliant people I’ve met, and I include you, and Arendt, and some other academics you do not know), I sincerely doubt that. I could be wrong, but again, I doubt that.

          4. Yves Smith Post author

            I find it pretty peculiar to have a Machiean position attributed to me. I’ve said virtually NADA on the topic of Egypt save saying how clueless the American officialdom has been (a trivial observation that nevertheless bears repeating), that Paul Amar’s analysis is important (and I’ve linked to it multiple times) and chiding a reader for missing the important bits in what Ferguson wrote, in particular that we changed position after talking to the Saudis. So what is black and white in all of this? The reason I argued later in the thread re democracy vs. one commentor who seemed awfully fond of trying to put the dictator back in place (let’s call a spade a spade) is that we are past the point of putting that genie in Egypt back in the bottle; the idea that we/they can go back to status quo ante is not a happening event.

          5. Anonymous Jones

            Fair enough, Yves. I’m cognizant enough to know that you didn’t even write the post that we’re commenting on!!!

            I think there was a little bit of off-the-rails commenting based on the abundance of “moral compass” references in Ferguson’s post and the general tenor of most of the posts on this site regarding the Egypt situation.

            Just tryin’ to say the issue probably a little more complicated than most of us (and most of the Eqyptian nationals) can comprehend. The genie is definitely out of the bottle. Whether this is good for most, or good for some, or good for any one of the nationals or extra-nationals, I’d like to refrain judgment and say let’s see…

            The idea that our government is not necessarily looking out for the best interest of *anyone* except the elite capital holders in this country is difficult to deny, however (as I’m sure you would agree). Why would they do anything different? It would make no sense. If anything, that is my point. Look at the obvious incentives, not the Hobbseian philosophy of it all.

          6. peter de haan

            re Anonymous Jones and his remark ‘Just tryin’ to say the issue probably a little more complicated than most of us (and most of the Eqyptian nationals) can comprehend’.

            I’d like to refer to a great article from Robert Fisk today in the UK based independent:

            And I quote:
            the mass of French “intellectuals” (the quotation marks are essential for poseurs like Bernard-Henri Lévy have turned, in Le Monde’s imperishable headline, into “the intelligentsia of silence”. And we all know why. Alain Finkelstein talks about his “admiration” for the democrats but also the need for “vigilance” – and this is surely a low point for any ‘philosophe’ – “because today we know above all that we don’t know how everything is going to turn out.” This almost Rumsfeldian quotation is gilded by Lévy’s own preposterous line that “IT IS ESSENTIAL TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE COMPLEXITY OF THE SITUATION”. Oddly enough that is exactly what the Israelis always say when some misguided Westerner suggests that Israel should stop stealing Arab land in the West Bank for its colonists.’

      2. leroguetradeur

        I am really glad not to have to deal with this one in any way. You have to agree that its impossible to repress demonstrations on this scale. So yes to the article on that count. On the other hand, to have faith that what is going to emerge from this is a functioning more or less liberal democracy? Well, one hopes.

        The article is probably right, the only hope is to hope that this does happen, and it is morally right, if it does. Its probably right to say that supporting any other alternative is to lose ones moral compass. But will it actually happen? Is there really anything effective one can do to help it happen? Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief!

      3. Jack Rip

        I agree with Yves for the simple reason that Ferguson is entitled to his opinions and his basic analysis is sound. I disagree with Ferguson about the word “democracy.” (I left a comment to that effect at Deal 2.0.) Egypt has many factors working against democracy and I’ll be delighted if it turns slightly more democratic that Jordan and not a Muslim Brotherhood Theocracy.

    2. Billy Bob

      “Is it MORAL .. to create a power vacuum in a volatile region with millions of lives at stake (?).. is it worth it.”(?)

      Who created a power vacuum? People who live in a democracy really should know something about democracy’s strengths. Relying on dictatorship and a single line of authority is exactly what creates a power vacuum when that reliance is proven wrong. It is decades of American and British policy which have created a power vacuum when the Egyptian dictatorship they imposed and propped up well past its useful life failed – as all dictatorships eventually do. In the long run, democracy is self-correcting, while dictatorships lose any honest and earnest impulses they may have started with. Americans should know this. Perhaps the fact that many of us do not is related to the fact that we are slowly losing our own democracy.

      1. ChrisPacific

        Well put. I had been intending to make that point in response – I’m glad someone already did.

    3. Skepticus Maximus

      Actually, Tom Ferguson’s article was very intelligently written and, I would add, spot on.

      If you have an issue with his arguments, why don’t you state your position, other than just saying the Middle East is complex.


  3. attempter

    Here’s Roosevelt Institute thinking for you.

    But for the White House to lose its moral compass now is potentially catastrophic.

    I think that says it all.

    As someone who’s followed this closely from day one, I’m scratching my head over how I could’ve missed this stuff:

    After stumbling initially, the administration openly warned the Egyptian army and government not to slaughter the protesters. It also started lining up behind the Egyptian people’s demands for a swift transition to a new, more democratic regime. Neo-con lions like Robert Kagan and Elliott Abrams bedded down with liberal internationalist lambs in a “Working Group on Egypt” that called for reforms and Mubarak’s exit, while John McCain and other Republicans offered bipartisan cover for Real Change in the world’s oldest civilization.

    Of course we saw all sorts of empty talk, most of it clumsy and saddled with endless obfuscatory caveats. (And in McCain’s case, for example, he immediately followed up on his double-talk by calling democracy a “virus”.)

    One thing which never happened was this clear call for Mubarak to leave which Ferguson wants the reader to infer from his characterization here. On the contrary, the administration’s tone kept wavering throughout, but it was always clear that Obama didn’t want regime change.

    Good for Ferguson that he belatedly realizes Obama’s on the side of evil in this particular case. But the very tone of the piece, that it should still be possible for an honest observer to think Obama’s “moral compass” has ever pointed toward anything but hatred of democracy and the people, is part of the liberal malevolence which afflicts us.

    1. paper mac

      Having recently read much of Ferguson’s “Golden Rule”, I have to say I find the tone of this piece out of character for Ferguson to the point where it’s clear to me that this isn’t his honest assessment of the situation. Ferguson’s “investment theory of party competition” is probably the most realistic and bleakest description of the operation of the American political system I’ve read- he literally makes the claim that policy is always and everywhere a function of the major investor bloc(s) backing a particular party, and that the public is rarely, if ever, one of these investors. So from the point of view of Ferguson’s own theory, this plaintive cry for peace and justice makes no sense- he knows better than anyone that none of the interests backing Obama have any particular desire to establish a legitimate democracy in Egypt, and many of them have direct financial interests in preventing it. My conclusion is that this is Ferguson writing some palatable pablum for a liberal audience that he views as partially or completely incapable of grappling with the implications of his work for the revolution in Egypt. It’s amusing that it was posted on a site called New Deal 2.0, as one of Ferguson’s major contributions was to show that the New Deal was not primarily driven by the interests of the poor or even by labour, but by the interests of the internationalist capital class.

      1. attempter

        I don’t know Ferguson well (but this is the kind of pabulum I’ve come to expect whenever I see the name New Deal 2.0), but I’ve seen a lot of the phenomenon you describe.

        I guess his defenders would say he’s trying to nudge Obama from within the liberal squawk structure, engaging in courtier talk about this “moral compass which you’ve lost, my Lord!”

        Isn’t it always much better to tell the truth directly to the people than to tell flattering lies toward power? And this in a piece about a magnificent effusion of bottom-up democracy, no less.

  4. Aunt Deb

    A free press and an independent judiciary — those would be a boon to any society. Egypt has, it seems to me, demonstrated that a large number of its judiciary are independent and courageous; significant numbers of judges took part in the demonstrations. As for free press, Egypt also has the makings of that institution as well, via cyberspace and the presence of al Jazeera, even though the authoritarian state tried so hard to shut down both the internet and al Jazeera.

    Among the more telling examples of the US’ bias and timidity regarding the Egyptian protests were its failures to forcefully denounce the internet closure (indeed, Lieberman and Carper are reintroducing their ‘kill switch’ for the internet legislation here in this country) and to stand up in defense of al Jazeera when its reporters were arrested and its office closed early in the protest.

  5. BS

    There are people who think that what is happening in Egypt is primarily a slow motion coup sponsored by the military to assure that Mubarak’s son would not be the next president.

    After the first few days there hasn’t been much reporting of demonstrations in places (Alexandria and Suez City) other than around that square in Cairo. The number of demonstrators is pretty small.

    It looks like there is some doubt as to how much change majority of the people in Egypt really want.

    In related news the Tunisian revolution seems to have come to an end for now with the new president now allowed to rule by decree and the size of the army being substantially increased.

  6. LeeAnne

    What moral compass? And this in the midst of American federalis installing the father of all security apparatus surveillance and loss of civil liberties the world has ever seen?

    There’s too much evidence that it is the CIA and related security agencies running this country to come up with such ‘patriotic’ pap. Only Americans with no access to real news because of time constraints caused by their 3 part time job life style would buy that.

    The American security apparatus works hand in glove with the Muburak regime. Is $1.3 Billion chump change? And that’s only the official amount. Where’s the Pentagon’s $2 trillion gone missing gone to?

    And the writer conspicuously does not mention the name of Sulieman, the right hand man of Muburak’s police state and choice of Israel and the US. It could be a bad career move? As in, you’re every word is being watched?

    Nobody’s safe. Least of all professional writers. The tipping point of ‘freedom’ is long past. High profile intimidation and humiliation of people at the airports has its purpose. If that doesn’t get the message across to ya, constant messages from the po lice in public places will do it.

    1. lambert strether

      The idea that Obama has a “moral compass”, though? That’s pretty funny.

      * * *

      Latest Egypt post: Live from Cairo (#17). One of my takeaways is that the United States has a lot less power in Egypt than we all think. I mean, $1.5 billion really is chicken feed — a Goldman Sachs trader’s bonus is in the same ballpark — but a competently managed empire really ought to be able to buy a reliable client state with it. And yet, from Versailles think tanks to barstools throughout the land, we in the United States proposes to give the Egyptians advice…

      1. LeeAnne

        Lambert, that’s only the official amount; the tip of the ice berg to be sure. Since you do pay attention to economics, you should be aware that there are myriad ways of counting money and transferring assets under cover. The pentagon admited to a missing $2 Trillion.

        Do you, for instance, have some inside knowledge about how much money was transferred to Egyptian financial institutions by the biggest crooks in the history of the world who have bankrupted the people of this country? Or how much they get to trade on inside information?

        When you see those black-suited guys with the Darth Vader helmets show up at peaceful demonstrations to pick on unarmed civilians anywhere in the world, you know who’s paying for it, who is training, indoctrinating and equipping them -or you should.

        1. lambert strether


          Whatever. What’s your number? Make it, say $50 billion — and we’re on a pretty small scale. The point remains, that a competent, well-run, functional empire should be able to purchase a client state that keeps its domestic population in order. We have not been able to do that. Personally, I regard that as very good news. And of course I know who’s paying for it. I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday.

          There is a strain on the left, which your comment exemplifies, that prefers to focus on the apparatus of repression — the Darth Vader helmets. The outrage is all very well, but at some point it shades over into playing “Ain’t it awful”? Which doesn’t mean it isn’t awful, of course.

          I prefer to focus on what the Egyptian people are doing, and what can be learned from them. There seems to be precious little of that going on this side of the Atlantic.

          1. LeeAnne


            Ok, I’ll try one more time. And then I’m getting something to eat.

            The apparatus of repression is meant to be seen. Like 9/11 !!!

            The outfits are corny, insulting, and expensive. They make me very angry because they are meant to be intimidating.

            Have you ever encountered security police with police dogs and automatic weapons on the street where you live? Have you ever been stopped on the street by a cop to search your backpack on your way on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning to your local museum, or in my case, my purse? Do you use public transportation with a blast of ‘message from police’ repeatedly? Well, I have, and I do.

            We’re living in a police state for God’s sake. And, since the Egyptian uprising, we’ve learned a lot more to identify with. And your attitude that American taxpayer funded Darth Vader outfits meant to terrorize unarmed civilians everywhere in the world is something to take lightly, or too histrionic to take seriously, is how we got here.

            The first thing we saw on Al Jazeera were the goons in the Darth Vader outfits. Then we saw John Kerry interviewed on Al Jazeera claiming lamely that demonstrators and the military were in conflict while mumbling something about al-Quida.

            John Kerry is reportedly the wealthiest Senator in the US Congress with $165,000,000. He was in Davos when that interview took place. Should my observations take a back seat to his?


            If you can’t see exactly what’s in front of you, before your very eyes what’s going on, you can at least help someone else to see it. Trivializing it is disgraceful.

  7. Gerald Muller

    Obviously most people talking about Egypt do not have half of a quarter of the information needed (myself included)to articulate an opinion. Focusing on several thousands of demonstrators has never meant for me a majority. Many people speak about democracy. In my opinion, democracy can only work well when two conditions at least are met: 1) that the level of education of the majority of the people is high enough for the said people to understand the issues of a vote. By understanding, I mean of course a little more than saying yes or no to a few reducing slogans, for that is demagogy, not democracy. 2) that there is no violent and determined minority group. Whenever that was the case, history tells us that these minorities have abused democracy to seize power (1917 in Russia and Hitlers’s rise to power through elections to name just a few).
    I have doubts whether either condition is met in Egypt even if, under Mubarak, it seems that education has progressed a lot.

    1. Richard Kline

      Do you even begin to grasp the tacit racism in your comment? The ‘they’re ignorant savages’ routine brands your remarks as contemptible. Have you even bothered to follow the clear political demands and process articulated by the demonstrators involved? By the years of strikes preceeding them? How is it that you abrogate to yourself to designate who is and is not a ‘violent minority’ amidst another people, who are to be repressed at your designation, and regarding whom the society in which they live is to be shunned until said repression is enforced?

      And your comment on ‘thousands’ of demonstrators when this is a national movement (every major urban area in the country, south to the sea) with manifestly hundreds of thousands and in aggregate several million at least betrays a dismissive bias of Egyptian society as a whole. Every class, creed, a group in the country is involved in these demonstrations which you readily dismiss.

      There would be so much more to say, but your attitude isn’t remotely worth anyone’s time beyond what’s been spent already.

      1. James

        @Richard Kline,

        I want to step in to defend Gerald Muller and his comments about education. I don’t think it is racist to question the educational level of Egypt. Here is a link to a Economist article written last year that does an analysis of the education system in Egypt and the resulting educational level it achieves in the population. The article argues that Egypt’s poor education system has been an inhibitor to economic growth. It seems like enough information to bring up the question of whether there is an adequate level of education.

        I will clarify my own position by stating that I am not sure what education level is necessary for an democracy to function. I echo Gerald’s sentiments that proper education on the functions of government and a general knowledge of how the world works (both in a social, economic, and scientific sense) is essential for a democracy to function. This has been a foundational principle of the USA, was recognized by the founders, and is argued as necessary by nearly every defender of the nations public education system.

        I would like to know if Gerald thinks Iraq has the requisite education level to enjoy a democracy?

        1. Billy Bob

          I’m not especially interested in whether Muller’s comments are racist. They are simply wrong. Of course widespread civic education is a boon to a functioning democracy. But as surveys of Americans’ understanding of even the most basic aspects of our system repeatedly show, they are not a requirement. Now, the questions of the extent to which we have a functioning democracy and how long we will be able to keep one are open as far as I am concerned. More important is the ability to think for oneself as James indicates and pull ones self-interest apart from clouds of demagogy, not the absence of demagogues. Surely Germans of the 1930’s were better educated than almost anyone else in the world, and they were unable to keep their democracy. Most important of all though is something neither mentions: people who can and do transmit civic information accurately to the populace – the news media. Here is where Egypt may have problems, and where the US already has a lot of problems.

          1. Ray Phenicie

            ? ? ‘ But as surveys of Americans’ understanding of even the most basic aspects of our system repeatedly show, they are not a requirement.’ [for democracy to function]
            Your comment implies that we have some semblance of democracy in this country. You may comfort yourself with that belief as many do but I fail to see how you can prolong your beliefs.
            Please refer to the blog roll here
            Counterpunch. org
            or see the writing of Christopher Hitchens
            or Silas Lahpam
            or Naomi Kline

            No one in this country really talks about exactly what democracy is
            See the commentator receive death threats.
            See the people stop talking
            Except to ask for another beer.
            If we can’t talk to each other respectfully, we will never find democracy, I see nothing changing in the respect barometer except a downward trend.
            Democracy can never arrive if we fail to understand the environment needed for it to flourish.

            Keeping tropical plants inside of a carefully maintained conservatory on a well manicured estate in the middle of Siberia would not substantiate the claim to having a tropical clime on the estate. We keep the idea of democracy alive inside of academic discussions and assume that we know what and who its original primogeniture involved when we can barely describe the phenomena that birthed the creature and certainly would not know the beast if it bit our head off-which it may someday soon.

          2. Skippy

            Hay…Ray…I know what democracy…means today.

            Its a day pass to the amusement park, where depending on how deep your pockets are, one may partake in a game of chance, rides of various excitement, a lousy meal or trinkets to remember the great time we had, or ply prospective mates with, enthrall the little ones of its grandeur.

            Psst…just steer clear of the season ticket holders / bond holders of the said park, should you for any chance bump into one or a pack of um (self reinforcement thingy)…quickly diminish your self and mumble something incoherent about your dirty, unworthy, poor genetic background afflictions and ask for death to release them from their toilsome husbandry.

            Skippy…woe to those they let live…for death would have been a blessing…once their gaze is affixed.

          3. anon2

            Ray Phenicie said:

            Please refer to the blog roll here
            Counterpunch. org
            or see the writing of Christopher Hitchens
            or Silas Lahpam
            or Naomi Kline

            Pretty good, but what’s Christopher Hitchens doing on that list?

            Here’s another list, as done by the British satirical magazine Private Eye, that summarizes the case against Christopher Hitchens:

            He supported the Iraq war
            He likes a drink
            He smokes, as well
            He supported the war
            He tends to be aggressive in debate
            He likes a drink
            He supported the war
            …That’s it.

    2. Doug Terpstra

      For a ‘proper’ democracy, we could help Egypt set up Jim Crow laws until an adequate campaign bribery system is in place. Meanwhile the right to vote could be contingent on passing a basic literacy bar determined by Pharaoh or his viziers and with the relative value of a serf’s vote set at say 2/3 of a person.

      1. Anonymous Jones

        Well, with all due respect, wouldn’t a Jim Crow law that counted Southern ‘country’ white people at 1/16th a vote give us a ‘better’ result? Or is that terribly racist? I mean, we have a one-party state in Texas. Isn’t that enough to demand that the sub-humans in the ‘Don’t Mess with Us’ State secede? Democracy’s a bitch, ain’t it? Especially when it don’t result how you like?

        I mean, I ain’t sayin’ it’s right, but I’m sayin’ it is how it is.

        Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?

  8. LJR

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around where our Goldman Sachs sock monkey might have misplaced his compass. On Lloyd’s bedstand, perhaps?

  9. Richard Kline

    Regarding Ferguson’s remarks, it’s patent that US officials want nothing more than that the mukhabarat apparatus (secret policy, sourced from military intelligence but distinct from the military) to retain final power in Egypt. It looked like they might be swept from power, or that there would be massacres of protestors, and the fumblefingers inside the Beltway wanted to avoid being besmirched by either result. No that there is the false image that somehow the mukhabarat might float throught the transition to stay on top of a civil society, running external policy for the US as before. This is the reason for the backpedal by ‘blows with any wind’ Barack Obama now hopes that ‘things will go back to normal’ and ‘there will be a stable transition’ which changes nothing important.

    This will not be the case. Whether it takes five hours or five months, the apparatus will fall. Consider: the editor of the government newspaper came out against the regime yesterday. In the Tahrir Square today were quoted a former board member of one of the three largest banks in Egypt and a former deputy foreign minister, both calling for the downfall of the regime. When _that_ level of connected individuals walk across the line and take the other side from you, it’s all over except the hangings.

    And on another note, there was a very important announcement over the weekend in Jordan: the Bedou called for a complete transformation of the country’s government. That’s a *wow*. Snapshot: The country is 60% ethnic Palestinian, most of whom arrived there after the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948. They drive the economy, but have quite limited political power. The demonstrators for change in Jordan in recent weeks and months have largely been drawn from them, leftist and Islamist both. About 40% of the country is ethnic Bedouin, with 2% non-Arab Circassian. All of them have historically backed the monarchy closely even though it is in fact ‘foreign’ (the Hasemites are from the Hejaz in Arabia). The Bedouin dominate the army, the intelligence service, and decisive places in government. There are further up to one million refugees from Iraq, Sunnis and secular Shi’a both, who have no political rights and are profoundly impoverished. Well, if the Bedouin call for democratic change—and ALL of their tribal heads signed a statement which the government tried to suppress—the political power of the monarchy is going to end. Period. And that would be the first of kingdoms to change, which would/will have consequences as profound as the democratization of Egypt. *wow*

  10. ex-PFC Chuck

    But for the White House to lose its moral compass now is potentially catastrophic.

    Anyone who’s been paying attention realizes that this administration has definitely not lost its moral compass. It reliably points south.

  11. Hugh

    Obama has no moral compass. No one in our political and policy Establishments does. The only compass they use has corporate and class interest as its true north.

    Doing the right thing? What a laughable concept. When was the last time you saw any member of our elites do the right thing?

    What happened was that events in Egypt caught our policy Establishment flat-footed. But once they got over the initial fluster and saw the army wasn’t going to go with the protesters, they calmed down and quickly bought into the bogus narrative Mubarak was presenting them.

    I was actually surprised but CNN’s Anderson Cooper last night pointed out the obvious. The Egyptian army hasn’t been neutral. It tried to disarm protesters but not pro-Mubarak supporters. It did not intervene until it looked like the pro-Mubarak forces were losing and the international backlash got too intense. Meanwhile military intelligence has been arresting human rights activists and raiding their offices.

    The military may be split but the generals have been adroitly maneuvering it to push it in as pro-government a direction as possible. And of course they have echoed the government’s line that protests have gone on long enough and everyone should return home. That for them to continue shows the protesters are being unreasonable and hurting the country. What they actually mean is that the protesters are hurting the dictatorship. But this is classic misdirection. It is not the dictatorship’s failure to reform or negotiate in good faith, it is the protesters seeking reform who are harming the country.

    Anyway, Myth One is that the military is neutral.

    Myth Two is that Suleiman is a legitimate alternative to Mubarak and will oversee reform and an end to the dictatorship. What is so funny about this is that Suleiman heads the vast Egyptian security apparatus that has been beating up, attacking, and arresting the protesters. He is not just a Mubarak crony but Mubarak’s head torturer. His security establishment is the heavy hand that protesters are rebelling against. He was only made a Vice President a couple of weeks ago, in response to the demonstrations. There was nothing democratic about it. Mubarak, the dictator, simply appointed him. What legitimacy does he have? None. It is as if the aging head fox while still refusing to step down made a concession to the chickens, the concession being that he put the most vicious fox in charge and made him his successor.

    Yet Obama, Hillary Clinton, the Europeans, and most of our policy Establishment are telling us that is exactly what it is, a concession, and that we too should all go home and let Suleiman take care of things. And this brings us to Myth Three: that the world’s elites want change and/or democracy in Egypt. They don’t. They don’t want it in Egypt. They don’t want it in their respective countries. Look how farcical our own political process has become, where we are given the “choice” between one slate of crooked corporatist candidates and another equally crooked and corporatist one. In our own society, we see how important it is to bailout the banks’ unending frauds and how wasteful it is to create jobs and help homeowners. We see too how there is draconian justice for most Americans but only “Get out of jail free” cards for our elites whether they steal trillions or order torture. Of course, our elites are going to back the Egyptian dictatorship. It is not a case that Mubarak is a “son-of-a-bitch but our son-of-a-bitch” When all is said and done, our elites are far closer to Mubarak and Suleiman than they are to a bunch of upstart protesters.

    1. Skepticus Maximus

      I really hate to say this, but that is very very true.

      I think the best way to understand what’s going on is to go back and read George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” – it applies to the US almost as much as it applies to Egypt.


  12. Ray Phenicie

    All this talk about democracy-interesting phenomena
    What is it?
    Where on this planet does it exist?
    How will we know democracy when the Egyptians have it since it has yet to emerge anywhere on the planet.
    “free press, an independent judiciary, a real parliament and an end to repression”
    and a whole lot more that Egypt will never have

  13. lambert strether


    IMNSHO, a collection of the most acute class/cohort analysis of the Eqyptian players can be found here. Read all the way down to the article by Paul Amar. See especially his takedown of binary alternatives.

    It’s outright wrong, for example, to say that the Army is “pro-government.” The Army is pro-Army; they have vast business interests, for example. However, they really are a respected institution as the government and especially the secret police are not; that follows from the fact that the Army is a conscript Army; every Egyptian male has served in it.

    It’s also misleadingly simplistic, as we might expect from Anderson Cooper, to frame the issue as neutrality vs. non-neutrality; in my coverage, I use “remain neutral” as short-hand for “has not gunned down the protesters a la Tienanman.” Which is true! The protesters won the Battle of Tahrir Square by out-organizing the (paid) pro-Mubarak supporters — but the battle was fought with rocks and Molotov cocktails. Does anyone imagine that if the Army had moved in, it would have been fought with anything other than artillery, and that the protesters would have lasted about 5 minutes before the square was hosed down? Regardless of whether the Army is “neutral” or not, it has very clearly left the protesters with the space they need to keep their movement alive and even intensify it. Why they are doing that is anybody’s guess; but all sides still have cards to play over the coming days.

    There is a strain of thought on the left, I think, that is absolutely as virulent as that on the right. I haven’t diagnosed it, but I think that the recycling of stale tropes and simplistic polarities has a lot to do with it. It is not news that elites do what they do. It is not news that elites have a system of privilege (“private law”) and the rest of us do not. It is not news that the elites don’t especially like democracy and try to strangle it.

    What is news is what the Egyptian people are doing. The opportunity cost of the focus on elites, shared in both left and right discourse, is not focusing on what the Egyptian people are doing. It’s remarkable. I recommend a good deal more focus on that. We need to be their students, instead of pretending we are teachers or masters.

    1. Hugh

      As I noted, the Egyptian military is split. That split is mostly between the upper levels and the mid to lower ones. The generals did not become and stay generals under Mubarak’s dictatorship by being pro-Army. They did so by serving and being part of that dictatorship. The generals didn’t order a Tiananman because such a move would have resulted in a rupture in the military between the upper and lower ranks and led to their ouster. It also would have destroyed the military’s reputation whether deserved or not with the Egyptian people. Short of that though, the generals have been doing what they can to bolster the regime and weaken the protesters. I am not sure where polarities and binary explanations enter into it. That’s my analysis. YMMV.

  14. lambert strether

    I cannot help but notice that Ferguson very clearly called his shot on the next challenge that the Egyptian people will face, but nobody on this thread seems to have noticed it, or laid down a marker to call him out if he’s wrong. Here it is:

    A foreign exchange crisis lies immediately ahead, as food prices keep rising.

    Revolutions turn violent when the word “bread” appears in the slogans. Of course, our elite will double down on fail, and the trading desks at Goldman Sachs will no doubt seek profit both on food and forex, so we can expect such slogans to appear. (I haven’t heard anything about an aid package for the Egyptian people, have you?)

    But how will the Egyptian people react? If the remarkable abilities to self-organize and share on view in the Square are any guide, they will find a solution. We’ll see!

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      I noted this bit, also:

      A foreign exchange crisis lies immediately ahead, as food prices keep rising.

      I happen to live in Washington State, where a bit more than 40% of the wheat crop goes to Egypt. The farmers don’t get all the profit; not by a long shot. I don’t expect to see wheat farmers out in Washtucna and the Palouse region out shouting in squares, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t watching closely. So when the farmers are producing, but the commodities are in the grip of speculators… well, it doesn’t look like calm waters ahead.

      As for Egypt, a new and unpredictable factor appears to have emerged: an eloquent, weeping Google exec who administered the Facebook page that was one of the triggers for this uprising, in riveting interview that gives a brief glimpse of the human cost of years of strong-arm thuggery policies. What appears to be emerging is a profoundly credible, human, heartbreaking voice of principle in the face of misery. I don’t think Obama calculated that into his assessments.

      Now consider: 50% of the population of Egypt is under 20 years old. 2/3 of the population is under age 30. These stats are available at any number of NGO sites. The population density of Cairo is around 44 people per square mile, with a total population over 18,000,000.

      Meanwhile, the has been reporting that the Mubarak family is worth around an estimated $70 Bn. In a nation of 80,000,000, the so-called president has almost a billion bucks for every million of his impoverished fellow Egyptians. Doesn’t seem like a formula for social stability, but apparently no one in public life other than Tom Ferguson and a few others has the nerve to speak the obvious.

      We live in interesting times, that’s the only thing that I know with any reasonable certainty. Everything else — except for the demographics — seems like a tossup in a Black Swan world.

      FWIW, if LeeAnne comes back and happens to read this, just a personal note: if you went to her home, would you walk in and tell her to toss out half her furniture, then start rearranging the rest of it? She’s been a generous and gracious hostess here at NC, and the quality and phenomenal detail of her posts continue to take my breath away. I hope that you will consider apologizing (publicly or privately) to the Blog Hostess for telling her what topics to take up, or to publish. I think it’s bad form, although I often find your other comments quite interesting.
      — rOTL

      1. LeeAnne

        I find people who will stick to hierarchy and worship of any authority whatsoever really insufferable -and threatening if not demeaning. You are no rival to me in the appreciation I feel toward Yves’ work on the blog.

        Your suggestion that I apologize to Yves suggests that I’m bullying and that’s ridiculous. Yves is quite capable of speaking for herself and defending herself as well.

        I’ve stated my position and I’m sticking to it period -end of story. And I really do have to leave this for today.

        Bye bye

  15. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    I was so looking forward to the Exodus of Mubarak and his people.

    I even imagined that they would take the Red Sea route.

    By the way, does Mubarak mean in his native language ‘Barak From the Land of Mu?’ (Mu as in the mythological place of the Theosopists)

  16. Jim


    Couldn’t agree more with you sentiment that the amazing story is in what the Egyptian people are doing.

    Their doing echoes some of the most profound thinking of Hannah Arendt when she argues that to act is to begin, to take an initiative, to lead and hopefully, to eventually rule.

    The Egyptian people seem to be collectively engaging in new beginnings.

  17. Mike Bell

    Wow. I see why the word “naive” is so often used to describe those on the left.

    I hope those of you who are so juiced for the alleged “freedom” and “democracy” that you dream is going to take place in Egypt, will have the decency years from now (when that dream turns into a nightmare) to say you were wrong.

    This is bad no matter how you slice it. Oddly, I find myself in the same camp as the naive left, but for very different reasons. Namely, I cannot support a dictator, even if the relative “stability” is desirable and better than the alternative (Muslim Brotherhood). Let them have their “freedom”, if that is what they want. But with freedom comes responsibility, i.e. they are responsible for the consequences of their choices. Egypt wants a theocracy? Fine. They want to attack Israel? Go for it. But be prepared for the consequences.

    Be very careful what you ask for.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You’ve just demonstrated you aren’t even up on reasonable information readily available in English. All your comments are coded “yeah those radical Islamists are gonna get you!” The reporting from AlJazeera makes clear that even though the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to get a seat at the table, they are not particularly well liked by large segments of the population. We’ve pointed repeatedly to the Paul Amar piece as important background regarding the major interest groups and their alignments and points of agreement and opposition are far more complex than your simple stereotyping would have anyone believe.

      And the education level argument is a canard. Go read Barrington Moore’s The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, then we might have a useful discussion.

      1. Max Filter

        “You’ve just demonstrated you aren’t even up on reasonable information readily available in English. All your comments are coded ‘yeah those radical Islamists are gonna get you!’ The reporting from AlJazeera makes clear that even though the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to get a seat at the table, they are not particularly well liked by large segments of the population.”

        You don’t have to be liked by large segments of the population to gain power. Lenin is a good example of this.

        Large segments of the Lebanese do not like Hizbollah, and yet they are now control the government. The majority of Iranians did not favor rule by mullah, yet it came to be. I see a pattern.

        Most of the West underestimates the political smarts and strategic wisdom of the Islamists. You think only kooks are dreaming of and working for a return of the Caliphate?

        Neither is the MB operating in a vacuum. Iran was helping them out before Mubarak’s fall – his government arrested a slew of Iranian agents only a few months ago. There are rumors the MB enjoy the support of other states as well. I happen to belive they also enjoy the moral support of President Obama.

        I give them a maximum of two years before Egypt goes Turkey’s way, in terms of an Islamization of society. Democratically.

    2. Skepticus Maximus

      @Mike Bell

      Can you please explain where the Egyptian protesters have stated that what they really want is a theocracy? Little piece of free advice for you: Glen Beck is not the best source on this.

      I think the protesters have been very clear on what they DO want: An end to the current regime, which has robbed the country and which rules through fear, torture, and massively rigged “elections” (including imprisoning the last person who dared run in a presidential election against Mubarak).


  18. Jim


    You also raised another important issue in your response to Hugh(1:09 P.M.) in your post above.

    “There is a strain of thought on the left I think, that is absolutely as virulent as that on the right.”

    Such virulence (whether form the “Right” or “Left” may have part of its origin in the drive for certainty among theorists in both camps (a drive which I can totally identify with).

    Most of us have great difficulty in living with and tolerating theoretical insufficiency. We prefer to pierce limits and thereby fortify and expand our indivdual senses of mastery.

    And this brings back again to the Egyptian people who are presently showing us that doing preceeds knowing.

  19. Roland

    In a democratic Egypt, the Muslim Bros. will do well at the polls. So what? The whole point of democracy is that people can vote for whom they want.

    If everybody all over the world must elect the same sorts of parties who favour the same sorts of laws and the same sorts of policies, then that’s not democracy.

    In a democratic world, it’s axiomatic that a lot of people in a lot of countries are going to vote for laws you don’t like. Come to think of it, you’re probably voting for laws and policies that other people don’t like. Grow up and deal with it.

    You don’t need a lot of formal education to have a high level of civic virtue. My grandfather was an illiterate southern Italian peasant, but he could understand the big issues well enough. In England, whence came my other ancestors, the franchise was widened before there was even a system of mass public education.

    In terms of civic virtue, given the high tension and high stakes, the Egyptian demonstrators, whether Muslim Brothers, tweeting Westernized youth, Coptic patriarchs, or whoever, have ALL exhibited a pretty remarkable restraint and sense of order.

    So let’s knock off all the silly crap about Egyptians being somehow “unready” for democracy.

    PS: Max Filter doesn’t know the first thing about Lebanese politics, if he thinks that Hezbollah is running the government there. Hint: check the composition of the parliament. Better yet, why not visit Lebanon and see for yourself? That’s what did a few years ago. It beats the hell out of what most media organs have to offer.

    1. Max Filter

      “Max Filter doesn’t know the first thing about Lebanese politics, if he thinks that Hezbollah is running the government there.”

      The Hizbollah candidate for prime minister, Najib Mikati, was appointed PM two weeks ago. In my opinion, this is evidence of significant political power.

Comments are closed.