Leslie Chang gets closer than most in this piece in the New Yorker, but the problems are even deeper than the ones she puts her finger on. Based on interviews with leaders in the anti-Morsi movement, Chang correctly points out that Egypt’s opposition is neither particularly coherent nor interested in governing. The looming protests were organized by a movement known as Tamarod, or “rebellion” in Arabic—a movement founded mostly by young Egyptians whose sole goal is to drive Morsi from power. ”I have yet to meet a politician with a substantive plan to overhaul a system of food and fuel subsidies that eats up almost one third of the budget, or to reform the education sector, or to stimulate foreign investment.”
After two years of watching politicians on both sides of the fence squabble and prevaricate and fail to improve their lives, Egyptians appear to be rejecting representative democracy, without having had much of a chance to participate in it. In a country with an increasingly repressive regime and no democratic culture to draw on, protest has become an end in itself—more satisfying than the hard work of governance, organizing, and negotiation. This is politics as emotional catharsis, a way to register rage and frustration without getting involved in the system.
It would be a mistake to attribute the ineffectiveness of Egypt’s opposition to the purely personal failings and intellectual blind spots of the people currently prominent in its ranks. We are looking at something more deeply rooted and harder to fix. An intense rage and dissatisfaction with the status quo without any idea in the world how to make anything better: this is the typical condition of revolutionary movements in countries without a history of effective governance or successful development. It is also often typical of political movements in countries dominated by a youth bulge. The unhappiest countries are the places where this large youth bulge comes up against failed governance and curdled hope. Think Pakistan, where a comprehensive failure of civil and military leadership is turning one of the world’s most beautiful countries into one of its most miserable ones.
Inexperienced 18 years olds who have grown up in corrupt, poorly governed societies, and been educated in trashy schools by incompetent hacks know very well that the status quo is unacceptable. Young people who know they are being ripped off and abused are typically not very patient. Throw in healthy doses of sexual frustration and contempt for an establishment that has lost confidence in its own capacity to lead, and you have a cocktail much more explosive than anything Molotov knew.