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Egypt must be our cautionary tale
Publication Date : 22-08-2013
Egypt has passed the moment of all hell breaking loose. The depth of hatred that has infected the country for some time has finally manifested itself with deadly force.
We saw Muslim Brotherhood activists throw a young opponent off a roof to his death; anti-Brotherhood supporters cheered as military men shot Brotherhood members as they prayed. Egypt is a country torn apart by its own people and burning in mutual enmity.
In Egypt, it is no longer the question of democracy being at stake, as the Western world would like to perceive it; it is the country itself that is at stake. And at this juncture nobody has a clue what will transpire next.
For Thailand, Egypt serves as a cautionary tale on three levels. First, former president Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt as if the country was his plaything. He was autocratic and corrupt. He lined his and his cronies' pockets with huge sums from the Egyptian people's tax money and foreign aid - US$30 billion from the US alone - that should have gone into real development and national productivity. Following massive street protests that turned fatal, he was toppled by the military, after 30 years as ruler. At that time, the majority of Egyptians were exuberant for a new beginning, proud that they were finally able to free themselves from the Mubarak's grip.
If this sounds familiar and reminds us of our own government before the yellow shirts and the military toppled the Thaksin administration, wait for what's next.
Second, after Mubarak's fall, Egypt was led briefly by inept generals and then their chosen civilian leadership, which was not up to the task of governing. And things got worse. The government could not restore order, nor could it create jobs. It proved incapable of providing the educational, social and legal reforms needed to take the country beyond the bread-and-butter question of daily survival. Meanwhile, liberal secular Egyptians, who were good at mobilising protests, were incapable of amalgamating around a single leader and agenda. Those were the reasons why two-thirds of Egyptians who are secular and do not believe that "Islam is the answer" voted for the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi in the June 2012 election.
Three, Morsi as president proved more interested in consolidating his party's grip on power than being a good leader for all Egyptians. He was non-inclusive, devoid of vision, and perhaps equally incompetent.
There was a tacit expectation of the Morsi administration - similar to that after Mubarak was ousted - that it would be an "interim" administration whose job was to work on a new constitution to be approved by parliament, and that the new constitution would "clarify" many issues such as the role of the military and courts. Once the new constitution was in place, a new election would be held, and the "Egyptian awakening" would become a reality. The country would see the light of day, with a new government truly working for all Egyptians.
Instead, the Morsi government took so long to get any of these things done, and was reluctant to hold new elections. When parliament dragged its feet in approving the new constitution, he took sweeping powers that allowed only him to get things done, his way. This made him extremely unpopular, with many people comparing him to the ousted Mubarak. In addition to these failures, he was incapable of dealing with the economic woes that became so dire. The people thought enough was enough, and once again hit the streets. And once more, the military stepped in.
The irony is the reaction of the international community. Mubarak theoretically was elected by the people, but removed by the military, and almost everyone at the time supported the military's action. Morsi was elected by the people, but removed by the military, supposedly in support of the will of the masses. But many Western countries oppose this action. Once again, the West is pressing Egypt to return to democracy, even when there are absolutely no vital ingredients for Egypt at this time to attain a stable political centre.
What happens next in Egypt is anybody's guess. Foreigners can be evacuated or choose to leave, but Egyptians have to stay, and do so in agony.
Not unlike Egypt, Thailand has gone through the two phases of political quicksand. We are now in the third phase. Dangerously influential dimwits and special interests rule; our economy is in a pothole, and by the end of the year everybody's pocketbook will be hit. But, hey, that's a problem for ordinary folks; it's not a big deal as long as there are still more big deals with funds that can be sucked up by the powers-that-be.
What happens next in Thailand is anybody's guess. And here we ought to heed what Edgar Mitchell, an Apollo 14 astronaut, said about his experience in space, which may, and should, reflect our sentiments:
"[In space] … you develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, "Look at that, you son of a bitch."
But sadly, that may be all we can do while waiting for the axe to fall.