Posts Tagged ‘Hosni Mubarak’

English history offers a parallel for Egyptian political reform (1)

July 5, 2013

A revolution against Stuart tyranny erupted in England in 1642. Following a violent civil war, King Charles 1 was executed by Parliament in 1649 on the instructions of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell’s Model Army then instituted a newly-empowered parliament. That parliament quickly fell under the dictatorship of Lord Protector Cromwell. When Cromwell died in 1658, and his son Richard (Tumbledown Dick) assumed the position of Lord Protector, the English army, split and its leading generals rebelled against parliament. In 1660, a repentant parliament, acting under military orders, restored Charles II to the throne. Charles II, followed by his brother James, ruled England as Divine Right autocrats until James was deposed in a bloodless revolution in 1688. An outside army from Holland then re-established order and introduced a new constitutional order.

Thus far a parallel with Egypt is clear, though the Egyptian time line is dramatically shorter. President Mubarak played the role of Charles I of England, and was deposed by popular revolution, aided by the Egyptian army. The army played a transitional role in arranging for a president and a parliament to be elected. As with England in 1649, the Egyptian electorate proved to be insufficiently mature to support a pluralistic democracy. As with Tumbledown Dick in 1660 England, the Egyptian army once again intervened to depose the utterly incompetent, religious bigot, President Morsi.

In tomorrow’s column, I shall briefly outline the error made by England in the 1660 restoration, an error that resulted in 28 further years of autocracy before England eventually resolved its political quandary. I shall then outline hoe the Egyptian army might usefully proceed to shorten the time-horizon for evolution to effective governance.

Rent-seeking in Egypt: from Mubarak to the Military and the Muslim Brotherhood

June 27, 2012

“We will never know how much Hosni Mubarak might have stolen.  One so-called expert has even put the wealth of the deposed president of Egypt and his family at more than $40 billion, which would make him one of the world’s richest men, alongside Carlos Slim, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet…Whatever the true extent of the Mubarak family fortune, it stands in stark contrast to the lot of most Egyptians.  Gross domestic product per capita in Egypt is a mere $2,500.” John Kay, Lessons on rent-seeking from Hosni Mubarak to Louis XIV’, Financial Times, June 27, 2012

The real damage imposed on Egypt by Hosni Mubarak is not the wealth that he stole from his  fellow countrymen.  The real cost of his kleptocracy is the economic system that he installed to access those transfers.  For that economic system destroyed opportunities for others to generate wealth, not only for themselves, but for the population as a whole. A kleptocracy functions through licensing systems designed to prevent enterprise that might challenge the privileges of those who have paid off the kleptocrat.

As a  consequence, individuals who might otherwise have become successful entrepreneurs choose instead to operate within the political system, rent-seeking for wealth transfers rather than profit-seeking through wealth creation.  That is the tragedy of Hosni Mubarak’s corruption.

The tragedy will not end with Mubarak’s removal from office. The lessons of his rule have been learned well by his successors. The Egyptian military has now plundered much of what is left of Egyptian graft and surely will not release it to the uncertainties of free market forces. The Muslim Brotherhood is mired in socialism and corruption and will compromise with the military to take a small share of the spoils. The Egyptian people will find their circumstances worsened rather than improved by an Arab Spring that will quickly turn into a Winter of rent-seeking Discontent.

Moammar Gadhafi- ‘sic semper tyrannis’

October 21, 2011

The term sic semper tyrannis is Latin for  ‘thus always to tyrants’.  These are the words attributed to Marcus Junius Brutus as he helped to stab Julius Caesar to death on March 15, 44  B.C. The words are sometimes mis-translated to mean  ‘death always to tyrants’.

In the singular case of Moammar Gadhafi, the mis-translation held, as he was executed by Libyan revolutionaries while attempting to flee the sewers of  his home town of Sirte on October 20, 2011. 

Gadhafi so far is the only Arab dictator to have been executed as a consequence of the Arab Spring.  Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had the good sense to flee into comfortable exile.  Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak fled too late and insufficiently far, and is now on trial for his life.  Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh had the good sense to flee to safety in Saudi Arabia, but then decided to return  to Yemen where it remains to be determined whether he will recover his autocracy, and at what cost in terms of repression. 

Political economists who specialize in the study of autocracy used to argue – with a lot of evidence in support of their hypothesis – that successful revolutions are rare and that, for the most part, autocrats are removed by coups d’etat, where the benefits are largely privatized, and the free-rider problem associated with revolutionary behavior does not apply.  The Arab Spring  challenges that hypothesis.

The institutional change that now favors revolution is the collapse in organizational costs associated with the Internet and modern communications technology.  Revolutionaries are now able to find their way to relevant weak spots in the dictator’s defenses and to group themselves accordingly.

The unpopular dictator, in consequence, confronts an unpleasant dilemma. To remain in office against well-organized uprisings, his army must be prepared to kill on a massive scale. In so doing,  if the dictator eventually loses, he and his military leaders, if they survive the bloodshed , will find themselves on trial in international courts.

Gadhafi’s forces showed this willingness to kill, but ultimately failed to retain power because of outside intervention.  Mubarak’s forces deserted his command.  So far Bassar Assad appears able to control his Syrian forces – albeit with powerful support from Iran.  It is now increasingly likely, nevertheless,  that Assad will meet his death fleeing from a Damascus sewer before the Arab Spring runs its full course.

Even if dictatorship survives across most of Arabia – as may prove to be the case,  this is good news for Arabs who  find themselves living under new oppressors.   For water tends to run downhill.  As the  marginal cost of repression increases relative to the marginal  cost of loyalty, rational autocrats will substitute loyalty for repression at all relevant margins of behavior.

And that will make for a better world.