The Turmoil in Tunisia Ripples over into Egypt. And other Arab States.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 28th, 2011

Bad Economic Times Foment Dissent

The annual Arab Economic Summit opened in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh on the 19th.  And there were some fears that the trouble in Tunisia may be exported to other Arab countries (see EGYPT: Trouble in Tunisia dominates Arab Economic Summit by Amro Hassan and Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo, posted 1/19/2011 the Los Angeles Times).

There are countries “disintegrating, people rising up and rights being lost while the Arab citizen wonders if there is an Arab system that would deal with these events effectively and efficiently,” said Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheik Mohammad Sabah al Salem al Sabah. 

He added: “The Arab citizen might wonder if such a system would identify the human suffering, in their living conditions, health, education and future and provide a better and dignified life.”

Such comments — along with what is expected to be a $2-billion pledge to improve the region’s economies — were an indication that Arab capitals worried the furor in Tunisia had the potential to sweep the region following years of simmering anger over unemployment, human-rights abuses and widespread frustrations over tough living conditions.

Well, they had good reason to be worried.  Because Tunisia did export her troubles.  Egypt’s economy is in the toilet.  And they’re now rioting in Egypt.  The question now is what will the army do?

Will they?  Or won’t they?  What will the Army Do?

The 2008 movie Valkyrie about an assassination plot against Adolf Hitler shows the difficulty in overthrowing a dictator.  In a police state, you need the military to be on your side.  Because the police/security forces will be on the side of the dictator.  They have a privileged life because of the dictator.  The army, on the other hand, may be more independent of the dictator.  But a lot of their ranking officers will probably be indebted to the dictator.  Like those officers in the security forces.  So they have a tough decision to make.

People tend to hate security forces.  But they may respect the military.  For many families had family who’ve served honorably.  Who defended their country from their hated enemy.  But to shoot on your own people, that’s another story.  You do that and you’ll be cursed as much as the security forces.  Which can become a problem.  Especially if the dictator (and his security forces) are overthrown by an angry mob.  But if you don’t, and the dictator and the security forces are victorious putting down this angry mob, that could be an even bigger problem.  They’re addressing this dilemma now in Egypt (see Egyptian President Mubarak has never hesitated to use force against challenges to his rule by Janine Zacharia posted 1/28/2011 on The Washington Post).

A privileged and respected elite in Egypt, the armed forces has always been the backbone of power for Mubarak, who at 82 is battling an unknown illness but still cultivates jet-black hair intended to project youthful vigor. There was no indication that leading officers would abandon a leader to whom they owe their comfortable salaries and housing.

Like the Roman Empire (or perhaps left over from the Roman Empire), there is a bloated civil service.  People living the good life courtesy of the dictator.  So there are a lot of people with a vested interest in continuing the status quo.

Estimates of the size of Egypt’s domestic security services, which include the police, riot police and numerous intelligence services, vary widely from 300,000 to 2 million. The military is estimated to number 340,000.

Beyond that vast security apparatus, Mubarak has relied for support on a bloated civil service of roughly 5 million workers who depend on him for government jobs. But his traditional base of laborers, hard-hit by economic reform, have abandoned him and taken to the streets.

But there’s a problem with a big military and civil service.  They’re expensive.  And have to be paid.  But the people paying the bill are those laborers.  Many of which are unemployed now due to bad economic times.  Hence the rioting.  Which makes the military’s choice even more difficult.

High debt.  High deficits.  And High Unemployment. 

Greece, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, the United States, Tunisia and Egypt.  What do all of these countries have in common?  High debt.  High deficits.  And high unemployment.  But they’re not all rioting.  Yet.

We probably should learn some of these lessons about excessive government spending.  Like how it can end badly for one.

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