Monday, February 14, 2011

Why Egypt Will Turn Out OK (More or Less)

What we in the West don't realize is that the emerging generation in the Middle East is hipper than we are. They're dialed into Internet culture, and they're smart, worldly, and savvy. They're sick of the stubborn intransigence of their forebears, and are geared toward tolerance and accomplishment rather than reaction. I reported on an incredible group of creative, progress-minded Middle East kids here. I'd urge you to give it a quick read and to view some of their creative output. It's really inspiring (here's their "About Us" page).

Of course it's fatuous to paint any group as vast as "youth in the Middle East" with one brush. But there is a critical mass fitting this description. And it's essential to note that the median age in Egypt is only 24.

So that's why Egypt will be more or less ok. The new generation is far too sophisticated to be easily manipulated. And the Egyptian mainstream wants nothing less than to turn into an Iran. And the military seems to be doing the right thing, promising to turn over control to the result of a democratic election.

One might be leery of their pledge, but the kids in Egypt seem to love their military (in spite of the fact that they brought Mubarak to power in the first place). I don't know enough about Egypt's internal dynamics to fully understand why, but either 1. the kids know something I don't, or 2. they've done a truly brilliant thing in embracing the military unilaterally and preemptively in order to make them an ally to their democratic intentions. Either way, it seems to be working so far.

And, sure, some new autocrat may emerge from all this, but as one Egyptian protester noted to some journalist last week, "If it goes wrong again, at least now we know how to fix things". So, all in all, I'm not very worried about the nightmare scenarios.

What worries me is democracy. Egypt now is like the Soviet Union just after its collapse - a vast land with vast resources, in a state of free fall, with phalanxes of nasty-assed former intelligence thugs poised to grab whatever they can. New democracies can't seem to ever avoid oligarchy (we had our own robber barons), and Egyptian oligarchs will make the Russian ones seem tame.

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