Friday, January 28, 2011

The Egyptian Insurrection

For those of us of a certain age, the comparison with what has happened in Tunisia and now Egypt prompts an immediate comparison: shades of 1989? The Berlin Wall wasn't so much knocked down but rather crumbled under its own weight.

The present situation feels like that; the sense that the game's up, the Emperor's in the buff, his bluff has been called and he'll sneak off on a plane like Ben-Ali before him to cover his nakedness. Hope so - but I'm concerned that people are forgetting the response of China to a similar insurrection.

There is a tendency to assume in a vaguely Marxist sense that there's something irresistible about revolution but arguably this is where Marx was at his least realistic. States, following the classic Weberian definition, are about claiming a monopoly over the legitimate use of violence - and given that they generally have the equipment to reinforce this belief, they cave in only if they are opposed by another state with superior firepower or if they themselves lose the resolve to use it. People power needs the ruling elite to lose its nerve in order to be successful.

This is indeed what happened with the USSR in 1989: a regime that had via glasnost delegitimized the means of its own survival and in any event gave the impression of being simply too exhausted to continue. The CPC, on the other hand, was not and was prepared to use any means necessary to crush the insurrection.

Egypt feels, smells, more like the former than the latter but I don't know enough about the situation to be confident. You'd think maybe the Americans getting off the fence very quickly might be an idea - but perhaps this would be futile. I'd imagine most Egyptians would view this as something of a death-bed conversion. It would be a difficult one for them to make, anyway. I think I'm right in saying that Egypt is in the top three recipients of military aid in the region along with Israel and Turkey. An investment that certainly is not enough to ensure the survival of the Mubarak regime - but the significance of this as a variable shouldn't be underestimated.

Wondering also whether for the second time in my life, academics of the social science fraternity will be left with very little to do other than shake their heads, trying to work out what they're for. Little Tunisia - who would have thought, eh?

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