In the wake of the Great Recession of 2008-9, riots erupted all over the world, from Thailand to the Ivory Coast and from Yemen to Albania.
For some reason, the demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt were singled out by the international media and cast as the Middle-Eastern equivalents of the French Revolution involving the overthrow of stale dictators and the eternal cry for freedom and “democracy”.
Why would Egyptians and Tunisians who have never experienced either freedom or democracy clamour for both was left unexplored?
The truth is far less romantic and much more prosaic: spiralling food prices, resurgent inflation, and growing income disparities between rich and poor gave rise to the discontent that led inexorably to the much-ballyhooed skirmishes.
It was about food, not about freedom.
Egyptian GDP has grown by a respectable 5% in 2010, but the cost of comestibles soared by 17% and unemployment ratcheted up to 9.7%. Egypt’s population is inordinately young and is set to double within the next three decades.
Hopelessness is a potent combustible: the absence of job prospects weighs more heavily with Egypt’s Twitter crowd than their country’s noxious psephological record.
Like in dozens of other developing countries, the Egyptians struck a Faustian deal with their rulers: they gave up their liberty in return for personal safety, job security, and middle-class prospects. Mubarak, the country’s much-maligned Pharaoh failed to deliver on all three counts.
Having thus breached the unwritten social contract, the Egyptians want him to pay the ultimate political price and abdicate humiliatingly.
So, why are they crying out for “freedom” and “democracy”?
Because it sounds good on television and because these are the reflexive buzzwords of this post-authoritarian age. They wouldn’t know a democracy if it fell in their lap.
Egypt has been a military dictatorship since 1952 and an absolutist monarchy prior to that.
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