Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Next Ten Years: Neoliberalism vs. Democracy, or, the Sisi Trend

Neoliberalism and democracy are not compatible for the simple reason that citizens will eventually find a way clear to vote for what is in their best interest. Neoliberalism's goal is to distribute as much wealth as possible to the capitalist elite atop the social pyramid. We have had three decades of this upward shunting of wealth, and, finally, voters are beginning to show signs of dissatisfaction. Congressional approval ratings are at an all-time low; confidence in the American duopoly is plummeting.

That is why I see action over the next ten years to roll back democracy, what I have called elsewhere "The Sisi Trend." It is on display in Thailand, and also in Ukraine, where a pro-Western rump is collapsing the state. In all three cases -- Egypt, Thailand, Ukraine -- a formal display of street activism popular democracy is used to upend the official democratic process of voter registration and elections.

Yesterday, General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi declared, as was widely anticipated, his candidacy for the Egyptian presidency. David Kirkpatrick has the story, "Egypt’s Ruler Eyes Riskier Role: The Presidency."
Then on Monday, Field Marshal Sisi — he added the title the same day — took the first formal step to become Egypt’s next president, insisting he was yielding once again to “the free choice of the masses” and “the call of duty.” With that, he paved the way for Egypt to return to the kind of military-backed governance that was supposed to end with the Arab Spring of 2011. 
In his two years in public life as defense minister and then de facto ruler, Field Marshal Sisi has combined the cunning of a spymaster with the touch of a born politician to develop an extraordinary combination of power and popularity not seen here since Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser ended the British-backed monarchy six decades ago.
I have a lot of respect for David Kirkpatrick. It can't be easy representing the Gray Lady, "the paper of record" of the American imperium, in the flagship state of the Arab world. On the one hand, you have the fact that the Gray Lady is a stalwart advocate for Israel, and Israel is foursquare behind Sisi. Hence, Kirkpatrick's glowing comparison of Sisi to Nasser. While on the other hand, you have Kirkpatrick's years of excellent pro-democracy reporting from Cairo, as well as the Gray Lady's nominal -- and at this point, rapidly waning -- commitment to the expansion of representative democracy in the Middle East. Hence, Kirkpatrick's conclusion to his Sisi story where he explodes the Nasser comparison:
As president, Field Marshal Sisi would have to manage a set of demands that are far more complicated than those he faced as the commanding officer in a period of crisis, and than those previous presidents encountered. The tumult of the revolt has highlighted the failings of a system in which each institution of government operates quasi-independently with a self-interest all its own. Then there is post-revolutionary public. 
“It is a society in complete mobilization mode, totally restive,” said Mona El-Ghobashy, a political scientist at Barnard. 
“It is not the monarchical presidency that Nasser created and Sadat and Mubarak inherited,” she said, making a reference to President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in 2011. “Sisi faces an entirely different setup than the autopilot Mubarak was on.”
If you recall the days immediately following the coup of Morsi, Saudi Arabia stepped up with pledges of over $10 billion for the Egyptian state. This provided Sisi a buffer from the global marketplace while he pursued his bloody crackdown of the Muslin Brotherhood. But what continues to be problematic for Field Marshal Sisi and the reconstituted Mubarak state going forward is the Egyptian economy. As Kirkpatrick deftly points out,
“I think the economy eventually will be the undoing of anyone in that position, because all the same issues that led to the 2011 uprising are still there — the youth unemployment, their marginalization from politics, the overly bloated Civil Service, the unsustainable food and energy subsidies,” said Samer S. Shehata, a University of Oklahoma political scientist. 
Now the continuing protests and violence have squashed any hope of a swift recovery of the crucial tourism sector, he said, and “no one has the will required to take the necessary and painful steps required to move the country forward.”
Egypt is looking at a Sinai-based insurgency that is not only not going away but is actively spreading to other parts of the state. Without tourism, Sisi will be dependent on a steady stream of Saudi handouts. To be sure, the Saudis will keep paying, but they will expect results in the form of bloodier, more expansive crackdowns.

The next decade figures to be very bloody.

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