Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Arab Spring (1)

Myself in Saggara, Egypt

  I thought that I would do some posts on the so called Arab Spring because the general press commentary as expressed in the New York Times, the self proclaimed newspaper of record, seems to parrot the official government pronouncements and policy guidelines rather than the true state of affairs.   Intelligent, reflective readers deserve better.  The current situation in Egypt is a good place to start and first thing is to put the “news” in context.

  The NYT opinion is Egypt is on the verge of becoming some sort of neoliberal, western economy with its attendant democratization. The real question is whether it is a positive thing for the Egyptian people considering that the former president Mubarak’s neoliberal policies (the most progressive in the Middle East) had already led to a situation in which many Egyptians had a daily income of approximately $2 and even medical doctors were receiving about $3 daily.  A lot of the current news in the mass media is a conflation of the American political elite’s view of a positive outcome with Egypt’s needs. The Huffington Post on January 29, 2011 had an article titled “Why Egypt matters: Implications of the Protests.”  The commentary’s purported concerns were 1) strong US ally, 2) Israel Palestine peace treaty, 3) Islamist influence, 4) business concerns and 5) regional implications. The important thing is that probably everything you know about Egypt is either wrong or inaccurate. From an article in the Guardian:

The quaintly named Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (or Capmas) was established by presidential decree in 1964 as Egypt's "official source for the collection of data and statistical information, and its preparation, processing and dissemination". Capmas is in charge of "providing all the state bodies, organizations, universities, research centres and in development [sic] and evaluation processes with the information that can help them to make informed decisions". In effect, this gives the Egyptian state a monopoly on statistics, and for 30 years (at least) Capmas has been headed not by professional statisticians but by a succession of major-generals from the military.

  Brian Whitaker in an article in the Guardian on Oct.25, 2010 stated, “Imagine trying to govern a country that lacks adequate statistics about economic activity, healthcare, crime, education, urban development and environmental pollution. Imagine a country that relies heavily on agriculture, and yet has produced no data on the quality of cultivable land since the 1970s.” The information gap in Egypt runs very deep. According to the report "Information Gaps in Egyptian Statistics and the Quality of Basic Data," released by the Egyptian Cabinet Information and Decision Support Center, no reliable data exist on Egypt's population; with some government studies claiming there are as few as 80 million and others estimating it at 85 million. The World Bank, for instance, claims that Egypt's population is 83 million, while the United Nations World Health Organization puts it at just under 77 million. When I was travelling in the Nile delta, I saw obscene variations in wealth between people living by the side of the road in hovels and palatial estates of the rich while the official UN statistics stated that the wealth inequality in Egypt was much less than in America.

From my bus travelling in the Nile delta

  With respect to the specific economic circumstances of their citizens as redacted in this blog:

“With regards to the economy, the report (Information Gaps in Egyptian Statistics and the Quality of Basic Data) highlights the absence of data on manpower, income, and expenditures, as well as small-sized projects operated by less than ten individuals. In a grave indication of the incongruity here, these businesses constitute the primary providers of job opportunities.  The economy also suffers a data shortage on work quality and payment averages, the study says. Budget figures for energy consumption, according to the study, are not specific.  Moreover, industrial activity statistics are insufficient, the study reveals, while also highlighting a shortage in prospective estimates on monopolistic practices.

Informational failures in determining the rates, reasons, sorts, and the legality of foreign migration, as well as the numbers of expatriates abroad and their locations are also endemic. Internal Immigration totals as well as patterns and motivations also continue undetected.

The report says that, although the tourism sector represents a principal source of national revenue, the country neither possesses statistics on the reasons for tourist visits, nor their approval rates. It also points to a shortage of data on domestic tourism.”

  In the end, the regime was screwed by its own lack of data. On Nov.1,2010 Walid Kazziha, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo said that” not all sectors in Egypt suffered from information deficiency ... The security apparatus seems to be very aware and alert. I don't think we're going to have a 9/11 in Egypt.” No. Just a regime change.

Myself playing 'Lawrence of Arabia' in the Sahara desert

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