Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Long, Hot Arab Summer

No one is paying much attention, but the Arab Spring has turned into a long hot summer. We are fighting a war in Libya; Yemen is still in chaos; Syria has seen violent protests coupled with an even more violent crackdown. The situation is not looking so good in Egypt, either.

Our great nation is absorbed by Casey Anthony and the debt ceiling negotiations, because, when you come right down to it, there’s only so much entertainment you can watch at once.

If a nation no longer sees itself as a world leader, as a major player in world history, the best it can do is stand on the sidelines and watch it all... as though it were all living theater.

Nevertheless, it’s useful to check in from time to time on the Middle East. And to do so under the guidance of the estimable Caroline Glick. As a columnist for the Jerusalem Post, Glick lives in the neighborhood. She is also far more clear-headed than the Tom Friedman’s of this world, though, that is not a very high barrier to clear.

Thus, her reports are more fact than fiction. More factually oriented than are those of New York Times columnists who drop in on Tahrir Square to report on the glories of the Revolution. More clear minded than those who saw liberal democracy coming to the Arab world.

Today’s Tahrir is no longer occupied by bright-eyed young liberal democrats. In fact, it has changed colors, from green to red.

It’s not the red of communism but the red of “bloodlust.” Glick explains: “Most of the news coming out about Egypt today emanates from Cairo’s Tahrir Square. There the protesters continue to demand ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s head on a platter alongside the skulls of his sons, business associates, advisors and everyone else who prospered under his rule. While the supposedly liberal democratic protesters’ swift descent into bloodlust is no doubt worth noting, the main reason these protesters continue to gain so much international attention is because they are easy to find.”

Still, however much we like to imagine that justice has taken over Egypt, it is not the most important story.

That honor goes to: “The most important, strategically consequential story is that Egypt is rapidly going broke. By the end of the year, the military dictatorship will likely not only default on Egypt’s loans. Field Marshal Tantawi and his deputies will almost certainly be unable to feed the Egyptian people.”

Why should this be happening? Because of capital flight: “Due in no small part to the protesters in Tahrir Square calling for the arrest of all those who did business with the former regime, Egypt’s wealthy and foreign investors are taking their money out of the country.”

The aspiring liberal democrats might get the justice they are demanding, but the country might well starve for it.

One of these days, our serious thinkers will wake up and discover that doing politics by violent protest is a losing game. And that the grand drama of meting out justice, whether it by hanging the elites of the old regime or trying to redistribute wealth, does not work.

That would be a new dawn, indeed.

And then there is Syria. The protest movement there has caused capital to flee the country. It has also, Glick reports, caused the dictator Assad to put an end to the free market reforms that he had been trying to introduce into the country.

As of now, Assad is spending his treasury into oblivion by hiring more government workers and handing out more government goodies, in the forms of what our president calls “programs.”

Is there any country getting it right in that region? You guessed it, it’s Israel.

Glick is highly partisan, but numbers do not lie: “Due to the economic policies implemented by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu since his first tenure as prime minister in 1996-99, in the face of this economic disaster, Israel is likely to find itself in the unlikely position of standing along China and India as among the only stable, growing economies in the world. Israel’s banking sector is largely unexposed to European debt. Israel’s gross external debt is 44% of GDP. This compares well not only to European debt levels of well over 100% of GDP but to the US debt level, which stands at 98% of GDP.”

Something to think about on a Sunday morning.

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