The news is full of stories about protests in Egypt and last week similiar calls for government change in Tunisia. I am going to tell everything I know about world events which is not all that much and mostly from a few tourist trips and reading the newspaper or watching the news and coming up with my own opinions. Remember when Poland changed governments thirty years ago. What Poland had that these countries don't have is a common enemy. Poland could rally around their total distaste for Russian authoritarian rule. I don't know if that same climate exists in these countries in Africa. Also Poland has some experience with democracy and strong ties to Europe who all rushed to their aid when they got rid of communisim. I don't see these same conditions present in North Africa or Egypt. Not the common enemey, experience with democracy nor the strong international support.
My concern seeing what happened in eastern Europe with the Balkans after these small countries previously run by Soviet satellite dictatorships were dissolved the region fell into ethnic conflict for years, might happen in Egypt or in other places with dictators. In the Balkans the ethnic fighting made these countries way behind the rest of Europe economically like Croatia, Serbia etc.. If they had not been infighting in the Balkans for the last twenty plus years they would be in much better shape if they had transitioned like Poland did or Turkey is doing. My concern for these demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt is that it will lead to falling further behind. What depresses me overall is that there is no world mechanism for peaceful transisitions of governments. As my heart breaks for these tourist reliant countries. I wonder who will be at the beaches in Tunesia this summer or visiting the Pyramids either for that matter with unstable governments.
I know so little about Egypt and only have a tourist viewpoint but the impression I have that it is about 20 million people in population. That Egypt has a terrible economy although it has one that is primarily around tourism. That there is a lot of corruption for government services and you need to bribe people to get a business permit your kids into University etc. I have only ancedotal information from people telling me stories here and there. Kinda crazy to have an uniformed opinion that might not even be based in reality.
Tunisia is about ten million people. A pretty clean little country although I have never visited Tunisia I visited Moracco for a wedding once. For me I feel Tunisia has a much better and easier chance transitioning as they are already well connected to Europe and most Tunisians are familiar with European legal processes and open to them. They are a really beautiful people who seem to have walked that walk of keeping thier culture while taking on modern ideas. I have great hope for Tunisia transitioning fairly peacefully.
Although I have read in the New York Times that over 90 percent of all Egyptian girls have female circumcision done by mostly women midwife types, that can go to the public elementary schools and set up. This is so socially pressured that it is almost impossible to get married without the procedure. If you think about it we do genital mutilation to boys in the USA. I read about the idea of doing the procedure "symbollically" so you could still have the occassion and ancient roots. Just not really do the procedure would be a way to branch that act while in transition to phasing it out. Currently most girls in Egypt are circumsized which leads to all kinds of special sense of danger if they go out of the lines socially. Kind of like a PTSD if they don't behave I have heard. The reason i mention this is that you don't see many women involved in the demonstrations in Egypt as there is a high standard for women behaving demurely.
Also as far as I know in Tunisia there is little or no female circumcision. The country overall has a European flare and influence and only 10 million people has a more European outlook on educating and women in the workplace. Very different cultures. Generally I see Tunisia as fairly laid back and very different than Egypt. Tunesia seems just more connected to Europe in general. You see a lot of women involved in the street protests in Tunisia. I mention all this so that you can see why there are few women involved in the protests in Egypt. We are speaking of really different cultures. The USA has had its history and issues also.
Ah, let's see, oh, so in Poland there was this common enemy of Russia. What happened in the Balkans after the fall of Communism the area went into ethnic fighting. That is my concern for Egypt and Tunisia although wildly different cultures and histories, as they don't have a common enemy except perhaps the current dictator. Also limited expereince with democracy. Little support from other democracies. So, theoretically they don't really have any experience or desire to hold elections just get rid of the dictator. Hopefully these countries will just not fall into tribalism and scare all their tourism away. That is why I really hope they transistion peacefully. What little I know about Egypt is that the state controls a lot of the bread baking and if the government has been chased out and is not functioning and the internet is down my guess things are going to be bad really fast. Plus these economies are very weak overall with lack of infrastructure and modernization.
Also, this is my impression, I don't think a lot of Egyptians speak English. Yes they can hold an English protest sign. Nor do I think a whole lot of people have internet access other than your normal facebook stuff at a cybercafe kinda thing. I did hear that Egypt had somewhat of a renaissance in the seventies and was getting more modern but this was stopped with the assassination of Anwar Sadat, I am very weak on this part of history. Since then they have a lot of torture and almost open physical abuse by the police with no recourse against this corruption. It exists everywhere in the USA also, it is just that we have some mechanisms to go after thugs in the system.
The police torture and lack of justice in the system is a huge issue in both countries. Turkey seems to be handling these issues incrementally. Although they have the carrot of joining the EU if they shape up. Although I don't see that happening for a variety of reasons any time soon. One solution might be that a Mediteranean Union is started with Turkey happier to be the stronger member. I personally don't see Turkey in the EU in my lifetime. The USA and Europe seem to excell at our stable government and justice systems although far from perfect I can't think of anything better yet. Turkey seems to like to pretend not to care about EU status but it keeps implementing measures to conform and they do have a application to join. So, it is definately a factor to influence their system.
So, I think these recent upheavals in Africa, note that both Tunisia and Egypt are both muslem countries in Africa are going to take many years to change. For instance Poland is thirty years out of their revolution and things are still not totally normalized there economically. For instance Poles can not travel to the USA like europeans and many Polish people have left Poland for other places in Europe because of the bad economy there. There are Polish couples living in tent cities on the Sienne because they can make more money doing under the table construction in Paris than what they could earn in Poland. Not everyone would consider doing this by the way yet enough that it is on the news in Paris. The viewpoint is that if Polish people could travle to the USA like the rest of the older and economically stable EU nations on a normal three month open travel for three months without a visa. That 12 million Polish people would fly immediatley to Chicago and never return.
Hence it is incredibly difficult for a Polish person to get a visa to visit the USA. It is really difficult for them to prove they would return. I mention this because it gives you and idea how things are thirty years after a government transition. Also the Balkan countries have just recently gotten EU status and are some of the lowest standards of living in Europe. So whatever happens in Tunisia and Egypt is going to be very slow and with their lack of experience with democracy or support by other democracies, general lack of a common enemy to hold them together over the long haul, might just go into tribalism and infighting and becoming very unstable. Let's really hope that doesn't happen because these are both neat countries with a lot of potential. They feed their people and have been stable.
From what little I understand apparently Egypt is the second biggest foriegn aid recipient after Isreal from the USA. So, I am guessing that the USA has meddled in their government affairs at least to what extent governments do this. So I don't know how receptive the regular Egyptian is to the USA, I really don't know. I do have the impression that there is a lot of extremism there due to slanted education and the abuse by police, young population, lack of jobs and also they are a bit isolated somehow. My sense is that there is a love hate relationship between Egypt and the USA. Somehow we seem to inspire that.
These are all my opinions from reading the New York Times over the years and a tourists viewpoint I definately don't have any special information to go by on any of this. For me it is just going to take a long long time and I hope that they can keep their tourist economies viable or they are going to really suffer and even get more further behind and less satisfied. The United Nations is one of the few mechanisms we have organized to work in these situations other than the USA or other governments just stepping in. If we didn't have the United Nations we would be basically sitting ducks with nothing but international charities to handle conflict or crisis other than the military. I certainly would not want to see America getting involved by itself. I am really disappointed when high level USA politicians go after the UN, the USA has an isolationist bent at times. The best case scenario would be that it turned out like Poland with a fairly peaceful transition of power, lots of international support, and understanding that thirty years from now they could possibly just be getting on their feet. I hope that Europe and the USA rallies around these countries like we did for Poland.
So in addition to Europe and the USA supporting Egypt and Tunesia fledgling democracies like for Poland. I wanted to note that let's hold our breath and hope that Egypt reaches out to accept this support. I believe in Tunesia they are really going to transition quiet smoothly. Egypt is a very different situation.