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Venezuela, After Chavez

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Hugo Chavez, the longtime leftist leader of Venezuela, died in March 2013 after a long battle with cancer.  Over his fourteen years of ruling Venezuela, Chavez worked to nationalize many of the nation’s industries, socializing the country while also building a cult of personality around himself.  While Chavez was able to pass on his socialist visions to his handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro, Maduro lacks the cult of personality that Chavez employed so successfully to garner support for his policies.

Maduro’s lack of a public mandate manifested itself early on after Chavez’s death.  Despite Chavez naming Maduro as the man to replace him, emergency elections held after Chavez’s death left Maduro with a thin 200,000 vote lead over center-right opponent Henrique Capriles.  More recent local elections confirmed that opposition to both Maduro’s party and policies remains strong.

There’s good reason for discontent with Maduro’s socialist policies.  Economic problems that first surfaced during the end of Chavez’s reign have only intensified during Maduro’s first few months in office.  The nation has faced shortages of staple goods like sugar, milk and toilet paper as price controls set by the central government have limited supply.  Inflation, a common woe for emerging Latin American economies, has skyrocketed to dangerous levels.  While developed economies are happy with a 2% inflation rate, Venezuela has been dealing with inflation rates upward of 50%, well above normal levels.  To add fuel to the fire, growth rates are slipping, threatening a possible recession.

Chavez could always rely on his cult of personality to help him power past economic difficulties and limit criticism.  Unfortunately for Maduro, the economy is even worse now than it was under Chavez, and he has no similar cult of personality he can use to deflect blame.  Whether or not Maduro can strong-arm the economy back to relative stability is likely to be the main decider of public opinion toward his leadership.

However, Maduro faces problems that go beyond the economy.  Violence within the country has also shown a marked increase during his first few months in office.  Venezuela had violence problems even when Chavez was in power.  Still, Venezuela’s history of violence did not stop a 14% rise in homicides in 2013 alone.  One murder in particular, that of former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear, has attached a face to the rising violence.  Spear had transformed herself into a popular television star since her days as a model, and her widespread fame in Venezuela makes her the most well-known example of the government’s failure to control the murder rate.  Maduro announced a plan to increase the police presence during his first days in office, and the failures of this plan to ameliorate the worsening problems with violence bodes poorly for his effectiveness in office.

Chavez was able to enforce a strict status quo on Venezuelan politics, but Maduro’s newcomer stance leaves him in a much weaker position.  Maduro has faced a rocky first few months of power, but it is his response to Venezuela’s growing woes that will define his presidency and determine the nation’s direction forward.  Hopefully, his 2014 will be better than his 2013.

Filed under International
Jan 19, 2014

Happy Holidays from RantAWeek

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Hello, we here at RantAWeek typically take a short break over the holiday season.  We apologize for the lack of articles, but assure you we will be back in January with fresh analysis.

Sincerely,

The Editors

Filed under Uncategorized
Dec 19, 2013

The Affordable Care Act’s Rough Path Ahead

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Americans spend more than most other nations on healthcare.  In fact, a remarkable 18% of our GDP goes to healthcare expenditures.  But at the same time, we seem to be paying more and receiving less in return.  Compared to other highly developed nations such as France, Japan, Canada and the UK, America has a shorter life expectancy and a higher rate of infant mortality.  President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, popularly (and oftentimes derisively) nicknamed Obamacare, started out with the goal of expanding access to quality healthcare while lowering the out of pocket costs.  Unfortunately, the goals may have been noble, but the implementation has been deeply flawed.

First, disappointing registration numbers handicap the act’s effectiveness.  The healthcare.gov website where people could register for the new federal healthcare exchanges has been plagued with technical difficulties.  Frustrated and often unable to use the website, many of those who were interested in signing up ultimately failed to do so.  The result: less than 27,000 people signed up in the first month.  The government was expecting millions of people to sign up in the website’s first year of operations, meaning that the actual numbers are a huge letdown.  Worse, all the bad press the website is getting is likely to persuade many of the 50 million uninsured Americans to avoid taking full advantage of the benefits Obamacare can give them.

Even the 27,000 who did sign up may not be in the clear.  Worries have been surfacing lately that the people who do sign up for the exchanges will be the most unhealthy patients, and thus the most expensive to insure.  The underlying problem is a phenomenon known as adverse selection, where people are driven away from insurance because of the high price unless they have drastic enough medical concerns to be willing to pay.  Of course, if only very expensive to insure patients enroll, the price will have to increase even more, and the process will continue.  The whole purpose of insurance is to minimize individual risk by spreading costs among a larger pool of people.  However, the small pool of potentially very expensive people signing up for these new exchanges, in addition to insurers being forced to cover preexisting conditions, toy with the usual calculations of insurance risks and will likely increase prices.

Focusing on these setbacks makes the blame appear to sit entirely in the hands of President Obama and the Democrats, but this is simply not true.  Many governors, mostly Republican, have turned down the Medicaid expansion that the federal government offered to the states.  Funded almost entirely by the federal government, the expansion was designed to help low income Americans who currently are without health insurance obtain medical coverage.  The governors of the 25 states who rejected the expansion cited their opposition to Obamacare in general as well as the added costs to the states when declining the expansion.  However, the minimal costs states would have to pay would be dwarfed by the savings to the overall system, which now has to pay for emergency procedures administered to uninsured and low income individuals who can not pay for their operations.  Worse, denying the Medicaid expansion puts hundreds of thousands of families in the position of not qualifying for Medicaid but not having the money to pay for insurance through the new exchanges, allowing them to fall through the cracks by choosing to not implement a low cost solution.

These problems and more need to be worked out before the Affordable Care Act can be deemed successful.  Political differences and petty ideological concerns need to be swept aside for the health and economic security of Americans as a whole.  There are problems enough without political pandering making things worse.  Ultimately, the Affordable Care Act still has the capacity to do the nation’s health system a world of good, but the programs it creates, public sentiments and actions of politicians must all align to salvage the situation.

Filed under Domestic
Nov 25, 2013

NSA and the Fat Tail

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Sometimes, the most intriguing examinations of current events stem from an analysis that eschews the political mindset and replaces it with a different style of thinking.  RantAWeek adopted a mathematical tone for last year’s analysis on the connection between Olympic medals and GDP.  Similarly, a use of mathematical concepts can benefit a discussion concerning the NSA’s spying on the communications of world leaders.

The mathematical concept in question is the fat tail.  A fat tail describes a statistical result far from the expected value that nonetheless has a reasonable chance of occurring.  Mathematicians often like to simplify calculations by ignoring outliers, but the whole point of the fat tail is that these outliers really matter, and ignoring them is dangerous.  Take the financial markets as an example.  Classical views of the financial markets held that daily changes in large stock indices like the Dow Jones followed a normal distribution, which is characterized by ‘skinny tails’ that make large changes a statistical improbability.  However, since records began for the Dow Jones in 1896, the index has experienced more than 38 days with a daily price change greater than 7%.  Assuming a normal distribution, large price changes occurring with that frequency is almost statistically impossible.  Financial traders trusting in the assumed impossibility of rapid price swings would have seen their theory, and their market holdings, disintegrate before their eyes on Black Monday in 1987, when the Dow Jones dropped 22.6%.  The fat tail in the financial market had manifested itself in a nasty way, wiping billions of dollars off balance sheets across not only the country but also the world.

So how does this all connect to the NSA scandal?  The NSA’s strategy in spying on the communications of world leaders was to gain an information advantage.  In other words, there was an expected benefit.  The U.S. government was able receive some additional intelligence on the thoughts of world leaders through the implementation of this spying network.  On the other hand, and equally important to note, is that on a macro scale, this benefit was relatively small.  After all, President Obama summed up the power of diplomacy in garnering information by saying,  “…if I want to know what [German] Chancellor [Angela] Merkel is thinking, I’ll call Chancellor Merkel.”  Even without the massive spying program, the U.S. government would have been able to acquire most necessary information through less secretive strategies.

Obama’s remarks seem rather hollow in retrospect, as Angela Merkel has now accused the United States of spying on her internal communications to gain information.  However, the extent of the alleged spying extends well beyond Germany.  France, Argentina and Mexico are all accusing the U.S. of spying on their leaders.  All the news begs the question, why did the NSA pursue such a extreme spying program if some of the benefits were limited to extra information about countries that are already our allies?

The answer- they forgot about the fat tail.  The risk/reward scenario played out well when it was assumed the spying program would be safe from international criticism because it could never be reported by the media.  But in doing so they ignored the possible outliers in the fat tail.  This mistake became clear when Edward Snowden’s leaks began, and the unexpected result of international news coverage greatly changed the situation.  The NSA would never have embarked on the program if they knew the damage Snowden’s leaks would cause.  But that’s what makes the fat tail so difficult to take into account, it is by definition unexpected.

Even though a fat tail event is not expected to occur, the challenge lies in planning for them.  That way, embarrassing situations like the one the NSA currently finds itself in can be avoided.  Luckily for the United States as a whole, most countries are simply accepting the NSA spying as an inevitable consequence of the information age.  While there has been some backlash, it has not been nearly as devastating as it could be.

Still, the NSA got lucky with the response.  Not all fat tail scenarios end as well.  And that’s why when any policymaker makes an important decision, they should always consider the fat tail.

Filed under Domestic, Technology
Oct 27, 2013

Government Shutdown: Causes and Effects

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On October 1st, the United States Congress failed to pass a continuing resolution needed to finance government activities, leading to a government shutdown.  This information has been all over the news media, but often without a clear and concise explanation of what exactly is going on and what it all means.

To clear up the confusion, a little background is necessary.  One of Congress’s constitutional responsibilities is to pass the nation’s budget.  However, in recent years, Congressional stalemate has made complete budget overhauls rare, and Congress has often relied on Continuing Resolutions (CRs) to keep government funded.  CRs are used as a sort of legislative compromise mechanism; they don’t specify specific increases or decreases in funding to each government program, but instead provide across the board funding based on appropriations levels of the year before.

But even though CRs are a compromise designed to be much simpler and therefore easier to pass than a full budget, Congress still failed to pass one.  The underlying reason was, interestingly enough, not a fight over appropriations but a fight over healthcare.  Congressional Republicans, led by Senator Ted Cruz, said they would only pass a CR if it included a dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, popularly referred to as Obamacare.  Democrats refused to accept their terms, and since each party controls one house of Congress, a stalemate was reached.  The morning of October 1st marked the beginning of a new fiscal year, but without a continuing appropriations bill, nonessential government operations were shut down.

The term ‘nonessential’ is key.  A government shutdown does not mean America’s nuclear arsenal is left unattended and airport security disappears.  These government operations are considered essential to the continued safety and security of the United States.  Still, the ‘nonessential’ part of government includes the 800,000 government workers who were sent home on furlough, including the majority of NASA, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Labor, in addition to half the Department of Defense.  Important programs and government services are now without funds, potentially causing trouble for those who depend on them.

Unfortunately, the negative effects of this government shutdown are almost insignificant compared to the potential negative effects if the debt ceiling is not raised later this month.  While the debt ceiling and the government shutdown are often incorrectly thought of as being the same problem, they are actually two different concerns entirely.  The government shutdown occurred because Congress failed to appropriate money to fund programs.  Raising the debt ceiling allows Congress to borrow money to fund programs.  More simply, government shutdown is to spending as debt ceiling is to borrowing.

That explanation still doesn’t demonstrate why not raising the debt ceiling is so catastrophic.  If the debt ceiling is not raised by October 17th, the government will be spending more money than it is taking in without an ability to borrow more, setting the United States on the path to credit default.  An advanced sovereign nation defaulting on its debt is exceedingly rare, and usually precipitates economic turmoil for the country involved.  And given that the United States is not only the largest economy in the world but also that the United States dollar is the main reserve currency of the world, the international consequences of a default would multiply the economic destruction of already severe domestic effects.

Because of the dire stakes, it is extremely unlikely politicians will actually allow the government to default.  That being said, a ‘grand bargain’ where both sides of the aisle can come to a comprehensive, long-term solution on both borrowing and spending is just as unlikely, especially in the hostile political environment the government shutdown has created.  The most likely solution is a series of stopgap fixes to increase the debt ceiling and restart the government.  Ultimately, we shouldn’t expect a panacea to our nation’s woes – Washington is too divided for that – but we shouldn’t expect Armageddon either.

Filed under Domestic, Economy
Oct 6, 2013

The New Syrian Plan

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The last couple months have seen a whirlwind of news stories concerning Syria, the Middle Eastern nation in the midst of a bloody civil war that has already killed over 100,000 according to U.N. estimates.  The impetus for this increased importance was the United States accusing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of deploying chemical weapons against civilians, an abominable war crime.  The United States, along with a cohort of other Western nations, seemed ready to launch a military strike against Assad.  However, international support started to dry up when the British Parliament refused to approve British military involvement and Russia, a supporter of Assad and a critic of Western involvement in the Middle East, started to increase its rhetoric against international action.

Even with dwindling international support, President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve a military strike.  But when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said offhand that the only way the Obama administration would reconsider its position was if Assad handed over his supply of chemical weapons, Russia sensed an opportunity.  Still against any Western intervention, Russian President Vladimir Putin orchestrated a deal where Assad would give up his supply of chemical weapons in exchange for the U.S. to agree to withhold the use of military force.  Suddenly, possible violence turned into diplomacy, and it appears that all sides so far are happy with the arrangement.

But the real question remains to be answered, what does this mean going forward?  For the United States, the fact that Russia was able to engineer a diplomatic solution and prevent a likely American military strike is a little bit of an embarrassment.  Conversely, Russia gets to walk away from the deal knowing it was able to successfully assert its foreign policy, making it seem stronger on the international stage.  But while the Syrian plan was an interesting show of Russia’s power and perhaps a small diplomatic retreat by the United States, this one data point hardly provides convincing evidence that America’s power on the world stage is diminishing.  A more simple explanation is that America, having learned its lessons from its unilateral intervention in Iraq, is more willing to accept diplomacy in 2013 than it was a decade ago.  And even if American exceptionalism is on its way out, the original goal of military intervention in Syria was to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons again, and this compromise with Russia aims to do that without violence.  America’s actions can be construed as weak, but they can also be interpreted as using better means to reach the same end.

It is important to point out that the ‘better means to reach the same end’ hypothesis depends on Assad actually giving up all of his chemical weapons.  The only time crunch Assad faces right now is to submit an inventory of his weapons; they don’t have to be handed over until the middle of next year.  Of course, the agreement does allow the UN Security Council to vote on military action against Syria if Assad fails to fully comply.  But questions are still present even with this stipulation in place.  What happens if Assad only appears to relinquish all his weapons but actually keeps some hidden? What happens if the U.S. tries to bring up a later vote in the Security Council that is vetoed by Russia?

Clearly, the civil war in Syria, and the international diplomatic conundrum it presents, are far from being solved.  However, the move to rid Assad of chemical weapons without resorting to violence is a victory for diplomats around the world.  America was wise to accept what may be perceived as weakness now for what is hopefully a better international environment in the future.

Filed under International
Sep 15, 2013

Chemical Weapons in Syria – A Potential Turning Point

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Believe it or not, the bloody conflict now known as the Syrian Civil War started out in 2011 with a glimmer of hope.  It was originally viewed as an expansion of the Arab Spring protests and had the laudable goal of wresting power from autocratic Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Unfortunately, Assad’s government responded with violence, refusing to acquiesce to the demands of the rebels, and rebel groups have been fighting government-led forces ever since.  The resulting violence has led to a estimated death toll of over 100,000.  Even in the face of this devastating statistic, world leaders have still been hesitant to support the rebels, largely due to the influence of al-Qaeda among certain rebel factions.  While the rebels have received some assistance over the course of the two year conflict, it has been extremely limited.

Although Assad has been able to count on minimal interference from Western nations in Syria’s conflict in the past, the situation is changing rapidly, and he may have pushed his luck too far.  Evidence has been stacking up that Assad’s government not only has been using chemical weapons, but also that these weapons have been used against innocent civilians.  These actions are grievous violations of international law.  With these new revelations about Assad’s likely war crimes, rhetoric against Assad’s government has been increasing.  President Obama has previously stated that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a red line and trigger foreign intervention.  It is unclear exactly what that foreign intervention will be, although the fear of becoming entangled in yet another drawn out conflict in the Middle East will likely pressure the U.S. to favor strategies like missile strikes over more direct military combat.

This backlash against Assad’s regime goes beyond the borders of the U.S., and international support seems to be lining up for military intervention.  One country, however, is withholding support for any intervention.  Russia, which has been vociferously arguing for Western powers to stay away from the Syrian conflict over the past two years, still has yet to change its position.  Increased tensions with Russia will have to be a risk factored into any intervention plan in Syria, but it does appear that the vast majority of Western nations, including the permanent U.N. Security Council members France, the U.K. and the U.S., are advocates of some form of intervention.

Even if a limited missile strike is the ultimate intervention these allies (among other nations) decide on, extreme caution still needs to be exercised.  Assad’s government may be committing grievous atrocities, but that doesn’t mean the rebels are saints.  Western nations are sure to fear creating a power vacuum that could allow al-Qaeda affiliated groups to seize more power in the midst of the destruction the war has caused.  Syria is currently a breeding ground for terrorism and, as we all now know, also has chemical weapons.  These weapons are bad enough in the hands of Assad, but they could be even worse in the hands of extremists.

Syria is an extremely delicate situation, but many world leaders have finally decided a line has been crossed that calls for intervention.  Let’s all hope that whatever intervention actually occurs is a success.  Thousands of lives, and stability in an increasingly unstable Middle East, depend on it.

Update: World leaders have avoided a direct military strike on Syria in favor of a deal that allows chemical weapons to be confiscated and taken out of Assad’s control.  Follow this link for more information.

Filed under International
Aug 27, 2013

A Disputed Election in Zimbabwe… Again

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Zimbabwe's hyperinflation in 2008 forced the nation to print a 100 trillion dollar denomination of its currency.  While Zimbabwe's currency has since been abandoned, the country has hardly improved.

Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation in 2008 forced the nation to print a 100 trillion dollar denomination of its currency. While Zimbabwe’s currency has since been abandoned, the country has hardly improved.

Zimbabwe has had a rough recent history.  Back in 2008, hyperinflation ruined the country’s monetary system, devastating the economy and leaving a poor country even worse off than it was before.  Unfortunately, little has improved in the years since.  The country has ditched its flawed currency and now uses the U.S. dollar, among other currencies, as de facto modes of trade.  But while this has largely solved Zimbabwe’s inflationary woes, the country has plenty of additional problems that are hindering its progress.

Foremost among these roadblocks to Zimbabwe’s general welfare is an ongoing scuffle over the nation’s presidency.  A strongman who has ruled the country since 1987, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe found himself in danger of losing the 2008 elections to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.  However, a skewed first round result and violence against his supporters leading up to the runoff cheated Tsvangirai out of the presidency and forced him to end his candidacy.  But another twist of fate occurred when Mugabe, facing increased scrutiny from his neighbors over the contested election and rampant hyperinflation, was coerced into accepting a power sharing agreement with Tsvangirai.

In fairness, the power sharing agreement actually allowed for a relative period of calm in Zimbabwe’s politics, even though it was far short from helping spur democratic change.  Mugabe kept his role as president, but Tsvangirai was placed as the nation’s prime minister.  Zimbabwe’s politics were far from ideal, but at least there was stability and some semblance of legitimacy.

But power-hungry Mugabe was apparently not satiated by the agreement and being in the uncomfortable position of having his political rival as Prime Minister.  In a surprise move earlier this year, he called for a new round of presidential elections with a rushed election date that would not give his opponents, including Tsvangirai, much time to prepare.  With a rushed date and voter rolls skewed in his favor, its no surprise that Mugabe re-won the presidency.  Tsvangirai’s party is unlikely to continue working with Mugabe, meaning what little success the power sharing agreement brought is probably over.

A rigged election in a nation like Zimbabwe is hardly an unexpected occurrence.  However, the surprising side of the story is that, while the election was clearly unfair, entities including South Africa and the African Union appeared to accept the results with some degree of legitimacy.  This represents the first step to what could be a dangerous trend, as even a begrudgingly condoning attitude towards Mugabe’s power grabbing demonstrates that two of the African continent’s most important institutions – the regional power of South Africa and the international community of the A.U. – are unwilling to tackle some of the continent’s most blatant abuses of authority.  If Africa wants to move forward to a better, more democratic future, it needs to be willing to at least recognize its own problems.

The A.U.’s blind eye is one thing.  While the African Union has accomplished a lot of good for the continent, some leaders of its member nations have the same power-grabbing, election-rigging biographies as Mugabe.  Criticizing Mugabe would not only be hypocritical but also against their own interests.  However, the rest of the international community, including regional powers and functioning democracies like South Africa, need to step up their pressure on unfair elections like Zimbabwe’s.  International pressure has previously persuaded Mugabe to back off, even if it was just a little, from his tyranny.  And no matter what, if international pressure can’t help Zimbabwe’s politics, it sure can’t make them much worse.

 

Filed under International
Aug 9, 2013

The Snowden Question

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Edward Snowden, the man behind the NSA leaks, has found himself in quite a precarious position.  Holed up inside a Moscow Airport and lacking a valid passport to travel anywhere else, Snowden is desperately hoping to obtain political asylum, but has yet to receive a viable way out of his fix.

Why is Snowden having so much trouble?  The answer lies in the fact that Snowden is not the only one in a difficult situation at present.  Many world leaders face a multifaceted array of diplomatic pressures they must consider before deciding whether or not Snowden can take refuge in their country.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where Snowden flew to after leaving Hong Kong several weeks ago, might be in the most interesting position.  Putin has taken an apparently neutral stance on Snowden’s presence in his country, not cooperating with American requests to hand him over but also refusing to grant Snowden the freedom to leave the airport.  In doing so, he has taken a middle ground, annoying American officials by refusing to extradite Snowden back to the United States but not infuriating the U.S. by allowing Snowden freedom to leave the airport and find refuge in Russia.

Putin’s choice is emblematic of a larger diplomatic schism between Russia and the U.S.  Neither country wants to alienate the other due to needed cooperation in the United Nations Security Council (where both nations have veto power) as well as on issues like nuclear arms reductions.  However, relations between the two nations have a long history of tension, as Russia and the U.S. often have opposing foreign policy goals, a phenomeon currently seen in their differing attitudes towards the Syrian Civil War.  So Putin’s plan, at present, is to avoid appearing inferior to the U.S. by complying to American demands and handing over Snowden, but also to refrain from dramatically increasing tensions with an offer for asylum.

However, the Latin American countries of Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have gone one step further than Russia and actually offered Snowden asylum.  Since Snowden currently has no means of safely travelling to any of countries, he has not been able to capitalize on their offers.  Still, the fact that these countries have even offered asylum in the first place shows that Latin America, which used to be heavily swayed by American interests, is beginning to have confidence to act in opposition to American policies.

Of course, Snowden still faces giant hurdles in actually making it to one of these countries, and the U.S. is likely to continue its attempts to apprehend him.  But while Snowden’s fate is up in the air, the diplomatic manifestations of his actions are already beginning to affect international relations.  Russia is once again playing the middle ground in its testy relations with the U.S. while many Latin American countries are continuing their recent trend of asserting their own policies over those of the U.S.  But until Snowden’s odyssey is complete, no matter where it ends up, the relations between involved countries are likely to be just as interesting as Snowden’s predicament itself.

 

 

Filed under International
Jul 13, 2013

Land of the Pharaohs, But Not of Democracy

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The Great Pyramids at Giza still stand as testaments to Ancient Egypt’s role as a foundation for civilization. However, the foundation for democracy in modern Egypt appears unstable.
Picture Source: CIA World Factbook

Ever since the autocratic Hosni Mubarak was forced out of the presidency in 2011, political instability in Egypt has been as predictable as the annual flooding of the Nile River.  Mubarak’s ouster led to a period of military rule, and promises of a quick transition to democracy faded as the military clung to power for more than a year.  But then, in what appeared to be a sign of progress, Egypt successfully conducted it’s first democratic presidential elections in 2012, choosing Muhammed Morsi to be the country’s new leader.

Unfortunately, a successful election does not guarantee a successful presidency, and Morsi faced an uphill battle from the start.  Even after Morsi took office, the Egyptian army attempted to maintain control of the country, going as far as demanding that the newly elected Parliament be disbanded.  Morsi’s first few months were essentially a power struggle against army leaders, but since still Egypt lacked a Constitution, he had little legal legitimacy in his actions to wrest control from the army.

Morsi’s government managed to create a new Constitution, but many in Egypt were angered by his attempts to include Islamic law into the Egyptian legal code.  Morsi originally ran as a candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, a moderate Islamist group, but his polarizing choices as president (often involving religious issues) began to hurt his popularity and led to fears that he would be no better than Mubarak.  Having only won 52% of the vote when he was originally elected, Morsi began to see a swift decline in his popularity after taking office.  Persistently high levels of both unemployment and inflation also hurt his public perception.

Simply put, Morsi’s first year in office was far from the return to normalcy and stability many Egyptians had hoped for, and the first anniversary of his inauguration sparked renewed protests in the streets.  These protests quickly became violent, prompting the still-powerful army to give Morsi an ultimatum.  Either Morsi would give some concessions to his opponents or the army would force him from office.  The result of this ultimatum has been front page news – Morsi refused to give in, and the army followed through on its threat, reclaiming political power for itself.

This means that, for now, the future of Egyptian democracy is in the hands of army generals.  Considering their reluctance to cede any authority the last time they were in power, Egypt may be wise to expect a long period before any elections are held.  However, the army justified their most recent takeover as being in the interests of the populace, who were increasingly against Morsi’s policies.  If the army feels they are now working as an agent of the people, they might be more inclined to promote a democratic transition than they were back in 2011 and 2012, when they appeared reluctant to hand over power.

Of course, given the army’s record, optimism about their willingness to promote democracy should be kept to a minimum.  And even if the army is willing to hold elections and cede authority to the victor, Egypt still faces polarizing political divisions that it must come to terms with.  Mubarak’s old autocratic government would often simply ignore dissenting opinions, but if Egypt wants to be a democracy, it must find a way to bridge the gap between supporters of secularism and Islamism as well as determine how powerful the nation’s executive should be.  Morsi’s actions in regard to both of these issues led to the public discontent that eventually forced him from office, and any new chief executive would be wise to learn from Morsi’s mistakes.

Muhammed Morsi was a controversial and divisive figure in Egypt.  But by ending his rule, Egypt’s army has created fertile ground for more controversy and division before Egypt can finally have a chance to reach the stability it has so desperately been seeking.

 

For another article that explains the underlying problems Arab Spring revolutions have faced, read “The Revolution Paradox“, which applies historical examples to modern revolutions.

Filed under International
Jul 5, 2013

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