I’ve heard this a lot over the past couple of weeks with regards to the revolution in Egypt; there is some truth to it. On January 7th, I remember reading this article, which used Egyptian humor to highlight the hopelessness that the country had become used to feeling. I do think, however, that some of the talking heads have gone a little too far when they wonder why the experts couldn’t see this coming.
Events like this are nearly impossible to predict. If they weren’t they probably wouldn’t happen, as it would be pretty easy for a regime to preemptively stamp out a revolution they knew was about to happen. It is possible, though, to know when the conditions that can create social unrest are present. On this, the experts didn’t miss anything. Over the summer, the Economist published a special feature – which I consulted for on the election section!- on the current state of Egypt. I think the cover and headline say it all.
In November, FRIDGE published a small report that predicted the potential for instability in the Middle East. Among the key countries they noted as being particularly vulnerable were Tunisia and Egypt.
Due to age or sickness, a whole generation of strongmen leaders have been grooming their sons or close confidantes to replace them in due time to ensure the perpetuation of interests and power structures in the years to come. Among them are many key Western allies the EU and US have so far relied upon. New leaderships in regional hubs such as Egypt could turn the West’s plans in the region upside down. A power struggle in one of the so-called bulwarks of stability such as Tunisia would add yet another problem to the region’s long list of hotspots.
In early January we knew that Egypt’s president was extremely old. We knew his son was being groomed to replace him, despite how unpopular this was with the Egyptian public and the military. We knew there were the rumblings of an internal power struggle between the military leadership and the new guard of the NDP. We knew there was an election scheduled at the end of the summer, the fairness of which nobody had any illusions of. We knew that neo-liberal economic policies had created a class of educated youth who had become quite vocal in their demands for more political freedom. We also knew that those same economic policies had led to inflation and reduction of subsudies that hurt the nearly forty percent of Egyptians living on less than two dollars a day. We knew the gap in prosperity had gotten wider and that the wealthy, who once lived among the poor in mixed neighborhoods, had escaped to gated communities on the outskirts of the city. We knew recent attacks on the Christian community had exposed fears of sectarian tension.
It’s true that nobody predicted a young Tunisian man would light himself on fire, causing a chain reaction of events that would lead to the overthrow of Ben Ali and Mubarak. But the reason that man burned himself to death? We’ve known that for some time.