I just attended a discussion session with Stanford scholars Lisa Blaydes (Political Scientist) and Joel Beinin (Historian) on the recent uprising in Egypt.
The structural factors leading to the revolt (According to Prof. Beinin) include: High unemployment among the youth, who constitute a big percentage of the working population and neo-liberal economics, embodied in the “government of businessmen” with friends and cronies of Gamal Mubarak at the helm.
The other point highlighted by Prof. Beinin is that the revolt has its roots in the liberal autocratic equilibrium that had emerged in Egypt over the last decade or so. Groups were allowed to protest, strike or engage in other collective action activities.
Prof. Bienin also took issue with American portrayal of Mubarak as a “moderate authoritarian,” the idea that Suleiman (Vice President of Egypt) should lead the transition and the perception of the Muslim Brotherhood as radical Islamist movement with a stranglehold on Egyptian politics – there are other opposition movements that would force the group to moderate its politics.
Prof. Blaydes’ talk aimed at answering three questions: who is protesting and why, what should we expect from free elections in Egypt and what does this all mean for Egyptian-American relations?
The protesters are likely to be mostly upper middle class men. A survey (rep. sample of 3000) before the protest indicated that only 8% of the total; 12% of men; 50% of the engaged upper middle class would go out and protest. The revolt is not a movement of the poor wanting redistribution. It is a middle class affair.
Egyptian politics is not a programmatic issue-based enterprise. Patronage politics predominate. Prof. Blaydes presented findings form survey data to estimate the strength of political Islamist movements in Egypt. The possible upper-bound of these movements was estimated to be 60%. Egypt has one of the largest concentrations of right-wing Islamists in the Arab world. The key point here is that there are a lot of unknowns. Since patronage politics predominates it is unclear if the high religiosity of Egyptians will necessarily translate into political gains for the Muslim brotherhood.
Public opinion in Egypt is already highly anti-American. US actions are unlikely to change that in the short-run, especially given the apparent American support for the Mubarak regime in the last few days.
Overall it appears that the uprising will not meet the needs of most pro-democracy groups. The ancien regime has dug in and appears to be regrouping.