A Revolution in the Making?

The Angry Generation in the Mideast

With a persistently high level of unemployment, many educated young Arabs are seeking opportunities outside their countries. In doing so, they are seeking to escape the obligation to accept jobs outside their specialization, inadequate scientific and technological infrastructure, low income opportunities for the highly skilled and political instability or political oppression in their native countries; and they seek entrepreneurship opportunities with minimal bureaucratic constraints. Among the lower skilled, migrations may be tied to the serious phenomena of human trafficking and grave physical risks.

It is common nowadays to read about boats loaded with young Egyptians sinking on the way to southern Europe. Moreover, as a result of unemployment, "different forms of passive and active violence are on the upswing reducing the spaces for dialogue, conflict resolution and consensus building."

The ticking time bomb in Egypt is the great number of young, unemployed, unmarried people that constitute a large segment of the population. Since the introduction of Sadat's Infitah "Opening" policies in the late seventies, Egyptian society has faced an unprecedented crisis in housing. Young people seeking simply to marry and start a family cannot find a place to live. The sign "apartment for rent" has simply vanished from Egyptian society and has become a thing of the past. In spite of the construction boom in real estate since the oil boom in the seventies due to the earnings of Egyptian expatriates working in Arab Gulf States, apartments are priced beyond what most citizens cannot afford. Nevertheless, five star luxury complexes are being built for the well to do in the Egyptian society who can afford it; the so-called "five percenters!"

A sense of frustration, hopelessness and repression seems to be haunting Egyptian youth and the older people as well, struggling to make ends meet. The result has impacted Egyptian society in terms of the high rate of drug and alcohol use, divorce, domestic violence, road rage, sex crimes, prostitution, human trafficking, and corruption. Egyptian sociologists link these waves of uncommon behavior to political oppression.

Although Egypt has a number of opposition parties and one ruling party, most officials serving in the government are handpicked by the president from his own party. Opposition parties are consumed fighting both each other and the oppressive tactics of the government. The media is owned and run by Mr. Mubarak's government. The result is that there is a real political vacuum in Egypt in spite of all the façade. The average Egyptian citizen feels that his/her voice is not heard. Between a military dictatorship represented by Mr. Mubarak's regime and the fundamentalists who operate from under the ground, some Egyptians lean towards those who raise slogans like "Islam is the solution."

In an op-ed in the Lebanese Daily Star, Egyptian human rights activist and chairman of the Ibn-Khaldun Center in Cairo Egyptian American Professor Saad al-Din Ibrahim criticized Egyptian President Mubarak's ongoing attempt to stifle democracy through the government's continued implementation of the Emergency Law. Ibrahim was imprisoned by Mubarak for three years. In his article, Ibrahim asserts that President Mubarak is now waging internal war against Egypt's judges, the Sinai Bedouins, and the Copt citizens of Egypt.

During the last few years, Muslim zealots have attacked Coptic churches. Fanatics also targeted three churches during Sunday services, killing some worshippers and injuring many. Copts marched protesting the security authorities' leniency toward the culprits and the scapegoating of their community. There was even suspicion of an official hand in the attacks, in order to justify extending the Emergency Law which has been repeatedly renewed.

"Hosni Mubarak's domestic wars are fuelled by Egypt's excluded, who are increasingly in rebellion against a regime that has long outlived its legitimate mandate. The battle with the judges may well prove to be Mubarak's Achilles' heel. Justice is a central value for Egyptians, and its absence is at the core of all protests. There could have been no more compelling evidence of this than the unprecedented numbers of people who rallied peacefully in solidarity with the judge," says Ibrahim.

"They [terrorist acts] are a response to living under wretched, repressive regimes with few economic opportunities and no political voice. And they blame America for supporting these regimes. The reasons were the same--people disliked the regimes that ruled them and they saw America as the benefactor of those regimes... Perhaps the Middle East will move on a similar path; violence, religious extremism and terrorism will be drained out of the political culture," Ibrahim adds.

Anti-Western nationalism seems to be the predecessor of anti-Western Islamism, as was the case in Iran. As author Eric Rouleau points out, the rise of political Islam is not surprising in Egypt, "given the social ills engendered by extended unemployment, especially among the qualified young; aggravated social polarization in which ill gained wealth, insolently displayed, stood out against the growing misery of the rural and urban population; and generalized corruption spreading right up to the highest levels of society and state"

The Arab world has no institutions evolved by common consent for common purposes, under guarantee of law, and consequently there is nothing that can be agreed upon as the general good. As David Pryce-Jones puts it... "no mechanism exists so that people may participate in whatever is being decided and performed in their name, a handful of absolute despots oppress and attack with every available stratagem all those within reach."

According to Pryce-Jones, "the rich and strong mercilessly bully and exploit their inferiors... from the proudest power holder down to the humblest family, all are engaged in pillaging whatever they can for themselves, or at best for their tribe and religion, rather than considering the public interest and constructing a common wealth. Politics in practice is reduced to the black arts of applied force, and in any emergency, of terror, in all relationships, domestic, private and public, internal and external, violence is therefore not only customary but also systematic and utterly impervious to piecemeal reform or amelioration".

"Egypt is the next domino to fall and, as they say, so goes Egypt so goes the Middle East... explaining why a pillar of American dominance in that part of the world is about to crumble," says Robert Baer, former Middle East-based CIA operative and author of See No Evil, and Sleeping with the Devil.

Aladdin Elaasar wrote "The Last Pharaoh: Mubarak and the Uncertain Future of Egypt in the Obama Age." Elaasar has been a frequent commentator on Middle Eastern affairs on several local American TV and Radio networks and media and cultural consultant.