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Egypt

I am watching the current developments in the middle east with a sense of deja vu — it strongly reminds me of the autumn and winter of 1989, a period during which the formidable barbed-wire-and-concrete studded dominoes of Eastern Europe came crashing down in one revolution after another. First Tunisia, then riots in Algeria, crisis in Egypt, a new Prime Minister in Jordan with urgent orders from the King, a president standing down in Yemen ... where's it going to end?

On a hopeful note, Juan Cole explains precisely why Egypt in 2011 is not like Iran in 1979 — the balance between various social groups makes an Islamic revolution highly unlikely.

Looking for second-order effects, John Quiggin of Crooked Timber explains that the basic premises of US policy towards the region have been rendered invalid. Specifically:

The bigger casualty is the 'Arab exception': the idea that the concept of democracy is not really applicable in Arab countries and that foreign policy therefore amounts to a choice of which dictator to support.
Just as Eastern Europe in the 1980s and South America in the 1990s succumbed to a rising tide of democratization, it is possible that the Arab world in the 2010s will similarly see the overthrow or retirement of dictators and the rise of a civil society typified by representative democracies.


Who's left? China? And what do we have when we reach an end state in which representative parliamentary democracy of one strain or another is the default system of government (subject to minor disagreements over how to run the economy, from the total-capitalism no-safety-net Hong Kong model to Scandinavian-style social welfare)?

173 Comments

1:

Also North Korea, Belarus, and half of Africa.

2:

> "Who's left? China? And what do we have when we reach an end state in which representative parliamentary democracy of one strain or another is the default system of government (subject to minor disagreements over how to run the economy, from the total-capitalism no-safety-net Hong Kong model to Scandinavian-style social welfare)?"

You know, people are still mocking Francis Fukuyama for writing _The End of History and the Last Man_.

3:

You forgot Russia.

4:

I share the deja vu - but I'm not quite convinced by linearity. Firstly, we as of yet do not know what will become of the "Arab spring" in the end; and I do not mean the islamophobic standard reaction (a second Iran!), but other possible outcomes of regime changes. Could be parliamentarian democracy, could be another elected president becoming dictator. But even if Egypt, Tunesia etc. become parliamentarian democracy, one indeed has to ask if that is the end of history. A look at the 1989 states today (including Russia) strengthens the idea that democracy isn't that stable - a lot of capitalist countries with formally democratic systems tending to oligarchy (Russia) or even something that looks a lot like fascism (Hungary). Which would mean: democracy is not a permanent state, but something that requires continued maintenance and work - an permanently ongoing process.

5:

At the same time, we're seeing the power of those democracies, and government itself, eroded by globalisation.

6:

"The bigger casualty is the 'Arab exception': the idea that the concept of democracy is not really applicable in Arab countries and that foreign policy therefore amounts to a choice of which dictator to support."

I wonder if there's a chapter in the "prospective dictator's handbook" on the tricky math that determines just how close the American tanks should be before declaring your support of the invasion with the intent of minimizing your probability of being killed by the soon-to-be-ex-glorious-leader and maximize your probability of being the puppet-o-choice.

7:

Fukuyama's mistakes were (a) to assume that democracy implies American-style capitalism (it doesn't) and (b) to assume that democracy is an end state -- something may well follow it, but probably not within the next couple of decades, and in form it will initially ape representative democracy just as the early democracies borrowed a bunch of structural/division of powers stuff from earlier monarchies.

8:

John Gray talked about "illiberal democracies" as a form of government that we might expect to see more of as the century progressed. AIR, modern Iran was one of his examples - democratic institutions, but not what we would consider to be a democracy. Is that the sort of thing that you're thinking of, Charlie?

9:

Fukayama's mistake is that he's just a bullshitter in the ancient tradition of philosophy where you just make up crap with no scientific backup other than "introspection".

Thymos, my ass. You may be able to do that for logical constructs and primitive forms of cybernetics (like Hegel and his boyz) -- but for human relationships? You have to get off your ass and actually do empirical research.

Philosophers really should be sent to re-education camps.

10:

There was a fantastic episode of "The West Wing" where a fictional breakaway soviet republic was looking for constitutional advice from the US... and we advised against following our model, saying that it was too hard to keep stable, and that a slightly less open regime (say one house instead of two, UK-style prime minister) might work better.

Democracy is not like vanilla, or perhaps it's like vanilla ice cream: custardy french vanilla, with bean flecks, etc. etc.

11:

The currently ascendant system is oligarchy, with representative democracy being merely a tool of the real controllers. Representative democracy is too easily suborned by bureaucracy, blackmail, bribery, intimidation and horse-trading to really run things. Direct democracy could be even worse, so long as the corporate-oligarch controlled media dictate public opinion and the voting system cannot discriminate between possibly knowledgeable and likely ignorant views.

What is needed is a better way of measuring the validity of opinions about what the rules should be, that is, predicting and evaluating the quality of outcomes of changing the laws. Intelligence and knowledge deserve more respect than they get in today's systems, but while intelligence and knowledge may help to reach certain desired goals, they are not sufficient to say which goals should be desired.

I hope that the peoples of the world who now are rebelling against their keepers will devise new and better systems than we have in the West today.

12:

And what do we have when we reach an end state in which representative parliamentary democracy of one strain or another is the default system of government (subject to minor disagreements over how to run the economy, from the total-capitalism no-safety-net Hong Kong model to Scandinavian-style social welfare)?

What we'll have, when this current cycle of the left-right divide stops becoming as relevant - and really, both sides won, as the default setting is a market capitalistic (right) regulatory welfare state (left) with, as you point out, slightly different values for each - is a formulation of politics along a different axis. I've been thinking for a while that this will be some version of a politics of authoritarianism->politics of individual liberty.

Obviously there's some interaction here with how those camps solve for regulation of the economy and welfare provision, but the relationship isn't really linear. As a US citizen, moreover, I would really like this transition, as it just makes my head hurt when I have to talk to, e.g., purported libertarians who vote for a party that wants to have government control over every aspect of a woman's sexuality. Just admitting that they're authoritarians will be a relief.

13:

on monday, when the fighters and helicopters were first buzzing the crowd in tahrir square, I had really bad deja-vu to the events described in Iron Sunrise .. then it didn't turn out that way but today is quite a bit horrible, as far as I can see via Al Jazeera and twitter.

I guess the two things to hope for are a clear message from the US ("step the fuck down NOW") and, as a probable result the military finally making a decision to side with the protesters (because after all, who wants to be on the losing side ..)

Also for a while there flashbacks to serbia and how Milosevic was ousted there. Not parallel but similiarities, which is what leads me to my hope re the military.

14:


A thought upon Egypt is it is less like Eastern Europe and more like Paris in 1968. - You've got:

A young population with mostly personal concerns about the situation regarding employment.
An aged leader who had gone on for far, far too long.
Events occurring elsewhere (The unresolved situation in Algeria - Then as now - and the immediate situation in Prague) that motivated radicals on both sides into action. People who live in Haiti exhibit no incentive to riot, and they are poorer, they just have no pressing motive.

It is worthwhile to remember that Egypt is actually quite a nice place to live. In the background, we can see a fear of a change of situation that would destroy the lives of the middle classes.

Hence, after a fortnight's worth of fun and games, as in Paris, it is is a case of "France Back To Work," or in this case, Cairo...Dead animals everywhere and fear of no money to buy anything to eat concentrate the mind wonderfully. Because Mubarak has promised an election, which is all that the majority wanted, they are now in favour of him, and want the situation over.

So oddly, there's probably little revolutionary about this at all.

Depending upon the situation though, Mubarak does not seem to be promising to be impartial in the election. He can still elect to nominate a replacement candidate for himself - For if he can do that, he can at least pick who succeeds him and can even get that democratically mandated, with emphasis upon what the possible alternative might be.

15:

Been there before.
The "Arab exeption" was regularly touted in the period 1955-70 with regard to Eastern Europe, on the grounds that "those people" had never knoown proper democracy, wouldn't know what to do with it, and were "better-off" under their "realtively benign" soviet autarkies.
Wore a little thin after the Prague Spring, that did.
Suprise! The ultra-left were as prone to this collection of total lies as the right.

16:

"And what do we have when we reach an end state in which representative parliamentary democracy of one strain or another is the default system of government ... ?"

We'll have the first demarchic revolution!

17:

"And what do we have when we reach an end state in which representative parliamentary democracy of one strain or another is the default system of government?"

First, all countries declare peace and destroy their weapons. Then, the Rigellians see that we are ripe for the plucking and send Kang and Kodos to enslave us.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kang_and_Kodos

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treehouse_of_Horror_II

They are immediately successful and all the way to the end of time humans must work as slaves under the terrible alien yoke.

You can believe this, yes? No?

Of course it might be possible, instead, that some of the different strains of democracy could convince themselves that their strain is better than the others and then decide to fight it out.

The German parliament voted for World War I and all the voters cheered on. The great industrial democracies voted for war against Germany in 1914 and their voters cheered on. There was no place for a sane voice like that of Jean Jaures.

Democracy is not a sure fire vaccine against militarism.

18:

It's still not at all clear which way Egypt is going to go: the army is holding back from action against either side (and, according to Al Jazeera, is allowing pro-Mubarak forces to attack anti-Mubarak demonstrators), and even if Mubarak leaves, the current regime is of his creation, composed of his lieutenants. And his son is still hanging around, probably expecting to inherit his mantle. The situation is unstable, but we don't know which way the army is going to move when it decides to stabilize things.

And while more dominoes may fall, some are not likely to, in particular Saudi Arabia. Depending on how many other countries throw out their strongmen, the pressure on the Saudis may or may not increase, but the Saudi family has been firmly entrenched for several generations, and it's going to take more than demonstrations to get them out, though I suspect that once they're gone we'll find they were helping prop up a lot of the other autocrats in the region.

All that said, I agree that there is a sense of excitement around the events of the last few weeks that reminds me of Berlin in 1989 and of the Prague Spring in 1968. I wish the demonstrators all the luck they're going to need to get through the next few months to ongoing democratic systems.

19:
First, all countries declare peace and destroy their weapons.

The canonical technique for doing this is for each country to destroy another country's weapons. Often with concomitant destruction of their cities, countryside, and populace.

20:

There do seem to be quite a few aggrieved young people on Airstrip One today who don't seem to like "democratically" imposed austerity measures...

I finished Merchant Princes V yesterday, and the conservative baddy's exposition on the US political system to his in-law is about right...

... Down with king-emperors.

((Sometimes, unreliable narrators say the darnedest things...))

21:

And Russia heads the other direction. Now what? Are we all still democracies?

The genius of fascism and communism in the early part of the 20th century is that they created totalitarian govts backed by mass political movements. Street protest and riots was a big part of the process of taking conntrol. Civilian mobs driving govts out of power != democracy. Europeans of all people should understand that.

22:

And please, let's not publish any more "The End of History" pollyanna tracts.

23:

Note to self: In future, Must. Read. Comments, before commenting on main article.

24:

Re Egypt -

The Army clearly signaled it wasn't going to do a Tiennamen Square. The government bussing in a bunch of thugs (and, likely, police with their uniforms off) to try and beat up protesters seems to have fizzled, with the Army eventually parking tanks between the groups.

This is, finally, vindication of our policy of trying to make good friends with the armed forces leaders in all these countries, despite those who saw ongoing "School of the Americas" issues with doing so.


Re wider history -

What, everyone being democracies is going to make everything happy and joyous and everyone will sing Kumbaya?

Aren't you European, Charlie?? Why even ask the question... 8-)

Geopolitics with the nasty dictators, genocidalism, human rights violations and so forth moved off the stage is still geopolitics.

I hope to live in a world someday where those concerns are really in the past. Not expecting it in the remainder of a normal human lifetime, but it would be nice. Perhaps our children's generation will get there.

25:

"This is, finally, vindication of our policy of trying to make good friends with the armed forces leaders in all these countries, despite those who saw ongoing "School of the Americas" issues with doing so."

And here I thought you did that so you'd have friends who didn't mind torturing the "enemy combatants" you were too squeamish to deal with directly. Claiming credit for the Egyptians having the basic humanity to not want to machine-gun their neighbors is a bit rich.

26:

This looks more like Latin America than anywhere else to me. Consider the kind of economic issues that have been a big factor.

It is conceivable that the Egyptian army isn't staging a bloodbath because they think their billions of dollars of U.S. weapons cut off. But if so, that only works when it looks likely the U.S. really would cut them off....which is apparently rare, or Egypt would not have been a U.S.-supported dictatorship for so long.

A big factor is probably that repression tends to produce terrorism....that is, fear that if the U.S. is seen as backing bloody crackdowns, there will be a lot more al-Qaeda recruits. Democracy sure as hell ain't al-Qaeda's goal, but wouldn't it be wacky if that was its effect?

The Islamist takeover predictions are pretty ridiculous. The Muslim Brotherhood has been a minor factor. In contrast, Khomeini was the almost universally acknowledged leader of the Iranian opposition to the shah. Even those who disagreed with his ideology followed his calls for protests. It wasn't a surprise that he came to power.

When the "mobs" want democracy, the result of their victory is likely to be...more democratic than before, anyway.

27:

Who's next? I'm pulling for the United States, myself.

28:

"A big factor is probably that repression tends to produce terrorism"

Except that the opposite is true. Repression breeds obedience.

Give people twitter, internet access, satellite TV, and you will get a bunch of spoiled children like the protesters in Egypt.

Crush their hopes and dreams, and you get obedient servants like in Libya.

It's the middle class Muslims who tend to become terrorists, not the poor ones. You would know that if you took the time to learn about our enemies, instead of just playing make believe based on your Marxist fantasies.

Within six years, the Muslim Brotherhood will be running Egypt. And the same leftists who told us it was extremely unlikely for the MB to take over will shift comfortably into acting as apologists for the new regime.

29:

They're protesting in Libya too.

Those 'spoiled children' (crazy kids believing in democracy - better stamp hard on them) are the reason the Generals aren't sending in the tanks - you can see it when they're interviewed articulate, educated, speaking English with English and American accents - the generals are looking at that crowd and seeing their children and their officers children.

30:

I am watching this from Latvia with the same sense of deja vu as you are describing. The mood and jubilation of people of Egypt is so close to the time 20 years ago in Latvia that it is scary.

There are quite a few practical differences.

1. In Latvia army was the foreign aggressor and police was the friendly neighbour. This meant that people trusted police to keep basic order and people felt very safe leaving their homes to go to demonstrations. Not so in Egypt.

2. In Latvia the rebels had the control of the radio and TV stations until military took over and turned the TV off, but they never managed to take over radio that was protected by thousands of people and barricades. All media in Egypt is still under government control.

3. In Latvia there was a clear legal route to independence with the elected representatives casting a vote of independence. In Egypt it is problematic because the vote has been fixed, so they need an interim (non-elected) government to rule until another vote can be held. This is very problematic.

But in many other ways the similarities are very clear. I especially feel elated when I see people on the streets taking charge of keeping order - when every citizen feels responsible for order in the country, that is a great sign for the future of the country.

31:

Daryl Herbert @ 28
Seems to have forgotten to take his dried frog pills.
The use of the phrase "yout Marxist fantasies" seems to indicate that his grip on reality isn't too firm .....

If repression breeds obedience, how come the Burmese junta is still so hated?
There may be no present way to resist them, internally, but no-one loves them, and the orders are followed only because they have to.
Ditto N, Korea, and quite a few other places.

The muslim "brotherhood" may be loud, but the people of Egypt have seen what Sharia law brings, and they don't want it.

Think of Poland - when the communist religious sytem collapsed, that country did NOT become a slave to the equally vile religious system of the Vatican, and abortions are still legal there. The ultra-authoritarian right (in the form of the RC and allies) have not taken over in Poland.

32:

Darryl Herbert: that's arrant nonsense from the planet Neocon.

A bit of a give-away is your comment, "Repression breeds obedience." Sounds like you're a little too much in love with the whip for your own good.

33:

I'm not sure exactly what's going on in Egyot ATM. 3 days ago I was cautiously optomistic; yesterday I was distinctly worried; today I just don't know.

34:

Re China, I read a thoughtful commentary recently that stated that China's government model might well be more successful in handling the complexities of today's world than a democratic model. It was predicated on Fukuyama's recent essay about this, here's some other commentary that Google found for me.

http://www.chinahearsay.com/francis-fukuyama-us-democracy-has-little-to-teach-china/

35:

I wish I could share your optimism, but I'm not so sure about that. The Iranian revolution was originally supported by your regular citizen as well, and now the state is run exclusively by near delusional Koran-thumpers. If you were going to compare them to American ultra-religious movements, don't. They can't amputate thieves hands or stone adulterers in the US, however much they would like to, and never will. Even the whackjob that tried to stage the Koran-burning ultimately backed down because of widespread protest, while the main source of bonfire material in Arab countries seems to be American flags.

But Iran is only one islamic democracy. There is also Pakistan, Malaysia, Turkey. Have you ever been to one of these states? The most liberal of these states' prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan cited the poet Ziya Gökalp in a speech in Sirt concerning relations with non-muslim people "Mosques are our barracks, domes our helmets, minarets our bayonets, believers our soldiers." Go figure. Of course this government allowed Koran schools (they don't teach regular stuff plus Koran, but exclusively Koran) as a full alternative for regular schools.

Of course we don't know how it's going to turn out in Egypt, but multiple deadly attacks on Christians before the uprising seems to indicate that the Egyptian population is rather more intolerant toward non-Muslims than the Turkish people. Ooops. We'll know more in two years.

36:

Erals, what's the similarity between Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia? Unless your claim is that they're all Muslims, just as Russia, the Vatican and Norway are similar countries?

37:

I think you are confusing the actions of specific radicalised groups (Perhaps funded by the centre of terrorism called Saudi Arabia in their unpleasant mission to spread reactionary Wahabi'ist stuff around) with the population of Egypt in general.
Remember it is entirely possible for an organised desperately acting part of the population to cause sufficient chaos and unpleasantness to effect political change, even if the actual majority of people don't want what they are after, or, have never really considered it.

Pakistan used to be pretty secular, but what little I know suggests that years of corruption in the government, allied to continued poverty for many, with an invasion by fundamentalists in the 80's and onwards, means that it has shifted towards the extreme end. But how general are the feelings I don't know.

38:

Erald, if I was an Arab and wanted signs that America was hell-bent on exterminating all Arabs, cherry-picking the words of American public intellectuals, politicians and media pundits would give me exactly what I wanted before you could click your heels and recite "Beck Coulter Horowitz Limbaugh".

Any group of several hundred million people contains several million people -- even if it's less than 1% -- who can come up with barking loony rhetoric to about Those Other Folks Who Threaten Us By Their Very Existence more or less to order. They even believe it; luckily they're not in a position to act on it.

As for the executing apostates and chopping off of thieves' hands, all cultures have peculiar blind spots about certain behaviour that attracts disproportionate odium. Just consider the lot of paedophiles or drug users in the USA today. (Examples chosen with malice in mind: both are crimes, but one is victimless, and one is sometimes victimless, as witness all the 13-14 year old kids with "sex offender" records for kissing their equally under age sweeties.)

39:

The countries he listed have majority Muslim populations, are putatively democracies and hold regular elections. How democratic they are and how fair their electoral system is, compared to say the US with its Jim Crow laws, Presidential electoral college system and state-based unrepresentative Senate, varies from country to country. The one factor they have in common is that they wrote their own rules unlike Iraq which was handed a photocopy of their Constitution (complete with red pencil marks) by the Heritage Foundation.

My own uninformed opinion about Egypt is to wish that an Ataturk appears and the country ends up something like Turkey, flaws and all. That requires the army, police or a similar internal power base such as the Iranian Republican Guard which will prevent a dictatorship of elected officials from overreaching themselves whether they are secular or religious (or carpet-chewing ultranationalists or Randian Objectivists or...)

40:

Hi All,

Some people made comments about the egyptian army, and particularly their holding back...

We should remember that....

1) The Egyptian army is 4/5ths conscripts. I suspect one of the major reasons they are holding back is the officer and professional core strongly suspect orders to support the regime, particularly by violence against protestors, may not be followed and may (as in the early 19thC russian case) turn the army into active revolutionaries.

2) Egypt is extremely homogenous. Everyone is "egyptian". There is no ability (as in say russia) to bus in a division from outer-nowherestan who have always hated their ethnic enemies the revolutionarystani's in order to get them to ruthlessly put down the protests of their ethnic enemies. The guys in the tanks consider themselves part of the same ethnic group of the guys standing in front of the tanks.

3) Egypts Hot ! This may sound immaterial... but I understand very few of Egypts armoured vehicles are air-conditioned. A russian tank could sit in Budapests central square all day being menacing. You put a tank in Tahir square and within an hour or so the guys inside are going to want to open that hatch and preferably be sitting outside in the shade. As I saw another blog put it.... a buttonned up tank is a tank.... a tank with the hatches open and the crew sitting in it's shade is just "some men sitting on a van". The ability of Egypts military to intimidate from mini-fortresses over long periods (as is common in counter-revolutionary put-downs like those in 60's EE) is highly limited.

TGP

41:

From a continually-updating web-site:
"Egyptian tanks are pushing pro-Mubarak factions away from Tahrir Square, according to AFP and Reuters. Al Jazeera has this shot of the army sending in reinforcements into the area - several reporters have suggested that even if the army wanted to get involved, they simply didn't have the numbers to do so safely or effectively earlier."
Plus more of the same.
Indeed a semi-Ataturk solution may appear more likely with this development.

A report dated 12.11 GMT suggests that Mubarak supporters have just attacked the Army with missiles. If so, that would appear to be a serious mistake on their part....

42:

Zamfir @35: "what's the similarity between Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia?"
AFAIK they are the only "serious" (as opposed to countries like e.g. Morocco) democracies with a Muslim majority population. If I lump them together you'll have to forgive me, beggars can't be choosers.

guthrie @36: "you are confusing the actions of specific radicalised groups ... with the population of Egypt in general"
You're almost right. I didn't confuse but unfairly distributed blame to people that have nothing to do with violence or even actively oppose it. For this I apologize, but I was trying to make the point that the protest against these atrocities among the Muslim community was very limited. Felt a little like, "well, I wouldn't do it, but being Christians and all they must have deserved it in some way". Just like some of the right-wing nutjobs in the West.

Charlie @37: "intellectuals, politicians and media pundits would give me exactly what I wanted before you could click your heels and recite \"Beck Coulter Horowitz Limbaugh\""
I know it is customary to include the honorific "intellectuals" for your examples, but I think this really gives them too much credit. They are dangers to society and themselves and should be committed to mental healtgh institutions for their social disorders. Oh, wait, we can't do that because having a public health sector is communist. On a more serious notion, I think that these people are, from a global perspective, as dangerous as or even more dangerous than Ahmadinejad. That doesn't mean that I have to like or trust Ahmadinejad. Or more succinctly: They (Moslems) can't excuse their barbarism with ours.

43:

You missed out the word "public" in "public intellectuals" -- which changes the meaning completely. Maybe you'd prefer the term "pundit", although the meaning associated with it has mutated over the decades.

more succinctly: They (Moslems) can't excuse their barbarism with ours.

Yes, exactly. But the trouble is, that rule is commutative; we can't excuse our barbarism by theirs. (See also the whole War on Terror, which is nothing if not a barbaric over-reaction ...)

44:

People forget that the sudden toppling of Soviet might in 1989 was preceded by at least 10 years of committed push by Poland (or 20 or 40 years depending on how you want to measure these things.) I don't know enough about the Middle East to comment on how similar it is to 1989. However, I do notice that most people do not have a clue about Central European history; so I take their comments on other, even less familiar regions with a grain of salt.

On the other hand I do endorse the general sentiment of others who have commented here. To paraphrase Billy Bragg: Not all revolutions are the same; they're as different as the cultures that give them birth and no wild idea can solve every problem on Earth.

45:

"And what do we have when we reach an end state in which representative parliamentary democracy of one strain or another is the default system of government...?"

I think at that point we have a number of failed states (which would probably be better off as functional autocracies), and a number of oligarchies or profoundly corrupt states. And China. My moral intuition tells me that China, like everywhere else, should move to a more democratic model. I am not convinced that it should do that right away.

Plenty of people who know more about it than I suggest that the immediate alternative to the CCP is near anarchy. That's not to say that the CCP couldn't grant far more freedoms immediately, and still aim for democracy in the medium term.

I don't know that this faction is right, though. I'm drawn to a comparison with Brazil, which is managing massive income inequalities and very poor rural populations while remaining committed to democracy. I'd like to know if there are critical differences between the two giant emerging states.

46:

"Zamfir @35: "what's the similarity between Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia?"
AFAIK they are the only "serious" (as opposed to countries like e.g. Morocco) democracies with a Muslim majority population. If I lump them together you'll have to forgive me, beggars can't be choosers."

Surprised no one has yet mentioned the biggest Muslim country by far with about 1/8 of the global population, also democratic, also recently got rid of a long term dictator: Indonesia - and incidentally I'd rate their democracy far more 'serious' than Iran Pakistan or Malaysia's.

47:

erald@41: Zamfir @35: "what's the similarity between Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia?"
AFAIK they are the only "serious" (as opposed to countries like e.g. Morocco) democracies with a Muslim majority population. If I lump them together you'll have to forgive me, beggars can't be choosers.

To which add Bangladesh and Indonesia too. I haven't bothered to look up the numbers, but I'd wager a good majority of the mostly-Muslim countries, by population, are more-or-less-functioning democracies.

48:

Roy @46: I'd wager a good majority of the mostly-Muslim countries, by population, are more-or-less-functioning democracies."

That wager would be unfair of me to take:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Muslim_majority_countries

49:

with about 1/8 of the global population, also democratic, also recently got rid of a long term dictator: Indonesia

Do you mean an eighth of the global population of Muslims? I only ask because I first read that as being an eighth of the global population as a whole.

50:

I lived in Egypt, albeit almost two decades ago now (hard to believe!). From what I remember of the people, I can definitely imagine an Islamic party coming to power... but not an extremist one.

Religion in Egypt is a matter of practicality rather than passion. Religion defines their culture, their institutions, the framework of their beliefs, and by that token, yes, they are a strongly Muslim nation. But I remember fundamentalism, religion for religion's sake, being frowned upon. Egyptians put stock in good deeds, not good words.

But the factor that in my eyes would most stand in the way of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt — and the factor least visible to outsiders — is the question of national identity. Egyptians may share a race, religion, language, and cultural history with the people of the Arab peninsula, but they don't truly identify with them. Egyptians are Egyptians, and no matter how I look at it I just can't see them flocking to the Arab banner in the whole bullshit "Islam vs. The West" geopolitical game.

(Which is not to say that Israel's fears aren't valid; Egyptians still talked darkly about the six-day war when I lived there, and probably still do today.)

Of course, things have no doubt changed in the years since I was last there. Doubly so since September 11th. Political feeling will be entirely different. But the feel of a people, of a place... in that I think I can still trust my first-hand experience.

51:

Charlie @42: Yes, exactly. But the trouble is, that rule is commutative; we can't excuse our barbarism by theirs. (See also the whole War on Terror, which is nothing if not a barbaric over-reaction ...)
I agree without reservation.

I hope I'm not straying too far off-topic now, but I'm under the impression that as well as having helped themselves to a carte blanche in the overseas arena our leaders have used the War on Terror ruse to overthrow due process, privacy rights and civil liberties domestically.

Isn't it strange that only after the Egyptian net shutdown Russia (!) was the first to back down from the idea of an Internet Kill Switch, then Germany and GB followed. It's still not off the menu in the US, though.

52:

The interesting thing is that, with communism dead as a populist model, we're seeing that expressions of populist rage and disenfranchisement are being picked up by religious groups, from the US Tea Party to Muslim groups.

Both Christianity and Islam were born as populist movements before being suborned by ruling elites who profess a common cause (to simplify horribly). Hopefully history won't rhyme this time, but I think it's likely.

The more interesting possibility for me is if we get democracy infiltrating Islam. We might see the equivalent of a Islamic Protestant movement, especially if the disaffection spreads to Saudi Arabia and there's a crisis in Wahhabism.

53:

I've seen a couple commenters assert that to an Egyptian, all Egyptians are just Egyptians. I had the impression (correct me if I'm wrong) that there was a divide between the Christian Copts and the Muslim Arabs, all of whom are Egyptian.

54:

I'm under the impression that as well as having helped themselves to a carte blanche in the overseas arena our leaders have used the War on Terror ruse to overthrow due process, privacy rights and civil liberties domestically.

Yes, exactly. I don't for a second believe they wanted 9/11 to happen, but it certainly provided a convenient rationalization for why a crackdown was necessary.

In a couple of decades we're probably going to look back on the noughties the way we currently look back on McCarthyism in the 1950s.

55:

Hteromeles...
The whole of islam is more-or-less "protestant".
The more militant forms are like extreme 17th C Calvinism on steroids.
Reading the "recital" (ugh) makes a weird sort of sense if you imagine it being e=ranted out over a PA system By Ian Paisley......

Krvin Williams
But, after extremist bomb attacks on (coptic) christians in Cairo, the local neighbours all gathered round to protect them .....

Lateat news does not look good, looks as if Mubarak and his goons are going to try to hold on, though against the Army, they wil not last.
I suspect it can't go on for another week - some sort of denoument by Sunday, and most likely after "morning prayers" tomorrow ??

56:

@Kevin: A good point, and one which I utterly failed to acknowledge in my comment. For "Egyptian", read "Muslim Egyptian", as they form the numerical, political and cultural majority of the country. Copts are very much an oppressed minority, and their status in the new Egypt could be a matter of some controversy.

57:

I'm a bit biased, but I was thinking specifically of the Presbyterians and other protestant churches that practice various types of representational democracy in their governance. This is against the Catholic Church (among others) which favors a more feudal model.

Sidebar: for those who don't know, Presbyterian churches are run by committees of elders (Presbyter in Greek) who hire the ministers.

I don't pretend to know much about the different sects and schools of Islam, but I don't know of any that use democracy to choose their leaders and run their mosques.

Assuming that I'm not speaking in total ignorance, it will be interesting to see how revolutions empowered by social media will affect this.

58:

Hmm ...

Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary ... perhaps even Romania and Bulgaria. I'm right with you in those cases (in descending order of confidence).

But what about Belarus, Ukraine, Moldavia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Georgia (the Stalin one) or Armenia? (In no special order. Although f***ed-up is a pretty good description for a lot of them.)

My feelings are as mixed as the historic results of such revolutions.

59:

erald@48: That wager would be unfair of me to take:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Muslim_majority_countries

Why? Because you'd lose? The first four countries on that list have a larger population than the rest put together (unless my Excel-fu is sorely lacking) and I'd rate them all as democracies.

60:

One is beginning to suapect that, unless Mubarak is careful, he will imitate Ceaucescu.

tp1024 your list is interesting.
The successful ones are those with long contact with "the West", and with a relatively well-educated citizenry and middle class.

The real exception in your second group is Russia.
And I'd rate Ukraine as borderline between the two groups.
The one that is REALLY screwed is Belarus.

61:

I plead ignorance as to the cause.

There are too many other factors that could produce very similar patterns. Per capita GDP, population density, access to the Atlantic Ocean (and hence the USA), linguistic distance from Roman languages, historic prevalence of falconry, genetic inheritance from Genghis-Khan ... whatever. ;)

62:

No, you can't just input the list into excel. Some prior research is needed to find out if the form of government is really democratic. Following the events in the election in 2007 and the succession last year, one can hardly say that Nigeria is a democracy. The same goes for almost any country that contains the part "presidential" in the column "type of government", except maybe for Indonesia, which I don't know well enough.

Honestly I would have sworn it was ruled by a succession of autocrats, but I must admit I don't pay as much attention to Asian politics as I should. Only today did I find out they really had elections in 2004, hardly what I call a stable democratic tradition.

In my book that leaves two large countries with stable democracies, a handful of smaller ones and a disproportionate number of autocratic or theocratic societies.

63:

Judging from history democracies tend to morph into dictoatorships. Cf. Athens, Rome, Britain, Babylon, Ur, etc.

It's not a very large sample, and each case has it's unique elements. But it does seem to indicate that in a democracy centers of power will tend to accumulate until one becomes too powerful, and then someone with a power-lust will use it to grab power. (That's a common feature. I'm only looking at cases of internal conversion, not conquest, and not when we don't know enough about the history. USUALLY there was significant external stress, but not always. Sometimes the stress was endogenous, and in one case there may not have been any historically obvious stress.)

N.B.: This usually happened over a period of centuries. But communications are faster now, and populations are larger. This might act to shorten the cycle.

64:

Charles @63:
Ours certainly has already (d)evolved into an oligarchy.

65:

myself @64:

I'm afraid this devolution of a pluralistic capitalist society with a strong connotation of individuality to a purely capitalist society which demands sarcrifice of individual well-being for the sake of larger corporate profits has to do with the demise of the strongest credible competitors, which called themselves communist, but were in reality oligarchies in their own right.

As soon as that a lack of options became obvious our very own oligarchs realised that it is no longer necessary to keep up appearances and immediately set about to scale back labourers incomes to the levels of poverty that communist states provided before they went under.

66:

If you think Cairo is hot, take a look at the weather forcast for it. 25 celsious may sound hot in England, NOT in Egypt. It's winter now and for Egyptians 25C is cold.

67:

On a hopeful note, Juan Cole explains precisely why Egypt in 2011 is not like Iran in 1979 — the balance between various social groups makes an Islamic revolution highly unlikely.

Ahhh, hope...

Two examples why perhaps Juan Cole should think again...

1) Hezbollah-backed Najib Mikati appointed Lebanese PM
What one needs to look at is Hezbollah's path to power, and see how it compares to the second example.

2) Muqtada al-Sadr's return to Iraq. His movement regrouped, and a disciplined performance in the March election earned the Sadrists 40 seats in parliament, political clout and a return to prominence. His decision to throw his support behind al-Maliki all but gave the prime minister a second term after months of negotiations.
In turn for his support, al-Sadr got eight senior posts in government and the warrant for his arrest no longer seems to be an issue.

I give them full credit for long term thinking.

68:

An alternative to the current government will need an organization to take matters into its hands. Who in Egypt has a organization ready? Only the Muslim Brotherhood.

That is not to say they will inevitably take over - the Army may well take power to force stability, using the current establishment; but if Mubarak's attempt to make an orderly transition of power (if he really means it) will not succeed and the current government will collapse, than only an organized group can take over.

Such an organized group does NOT have to represent the majority of Egyptians; it only needs to be effective in taking power into its own hands.

69:

A demarchy is possibly one of the worst forms of government. If you have a lottery system you have no guaranty that the person who wins will be able to do the job, it takes a lot more to run a nation than ideals. As for the type of demarchy where all issues are voted on how do you account for the fact that 99% of people won't have enough of an education in the matter to make an informed opinion? A vote on some vital but complex aspect of the economy for example. They will need to have the issue summarised which will open it up to influence from who does the summarising, a country like that would be a country where everybody votes on issues with a Fox news telling them what to vote

70:

I'm probably too young to appreciate it, do/ did people really treat the existence of such alternatives as the USSR as somehow providing sufficient alternative to the system as it used to be, rather than the (perhaps somewhat cynical) view of it as a purely capitalist society with individuals being sacrificed to the bottom line?

The impression I have gotten is that no matter the existence of the USSR etc, the last 60 years of centralisation along with class war of the rich against the non-rich, the resulting destruction of alternative power structures and narrowing of the public debate due to capture of media opinion, have led us to the situation we are in now, and these things would have happened whether the USSR existed or not.

71:

I think the former Second World (the Communist Bloc) was important in western democracy.

The reason is not that it worked. I'm not for a second arguing that they weren't totalitarian.

However, they were a *threat,* and that threat said that class warfare was a real possibility, and if the rich didn't somehow listen to the proletariat, they might overthrow you. Of course, the result of the overthrow wouldn't be a worker's paradise, but that would be irrelevant to the overthrown rich.

Now, we have effectively a plutocratic system that believes it has no rival.

However, us lumpenproles are increasingly poor, increasingly disenfranchised, and increasingly angry.

The groups that are giving voice to that anger, right now, are right-wing and often religious: the American Tea Party, various Muslim groups, etc. Yes, many of these groups have already been suborned by the wealthy (like the Koch brothers and the Tea Party), but that's where the action is.

I'm not sure I like this any better than I liked the old commies, but the real problem is that people in power like to do the disenfranchisement thing. Stupid, but there you have it.

72:

"Repression breeds obedience".

Is that supposed to contradict "repression breeds terrorism"? It can, of course, produce both obedience by most and terrorism by a few.

I was simplifying: some studies show that moderate levels of repression are correlated with the most terrorism. For example:
http://filipspagnoli.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/human-rights-facts-190-terrorism-caused-by-poverty-or-repression/

But with al-Qaeda in particular...no place in the Middle East - except maybe Syria and pre-invasion Iraq - seems to have the kind of efficient totalitarianism required for your morally repugnant proposal to be factually successful. As far as I can tell, most of their recruits come from highly repressive places like Saudi Arabia.

73:

Well this rant may be a little off-topic, but I would just like to remind people that this planet is a mess, it has always been a mess, and it probably always will be a mess. Yet somehow we have come from fighting with sticks and stones in the Olduvai to...fighting with sticks and stones in our capitals...*and* sending space telescopes into orbit that can see 13 billion light years in all directions and launching space probes to the outer solar system.

So it seems to me that we need to keep our eye on the ball, which is that humanity needs a cosmic vision and a sense of new frontiers now more than ever. Fortunately, the recently discovery of 1200 exoplanets and potentially millions of Earth-like worlds may inspire just the kind of vision we need.

This is really crunch time for our species, and if we aren't very careful and/or lucky we could be staring down the slope of a period of total global chaos, culminating in a new dark age. If this unrest in the Middle East is the start of a secular, democratic awakening then I am hopeful; if it results in a string of theocracies and an escalating war of civilizations then I am very fearful for our future on this planet.

“There is no way back into the past; the choice, as Wells once said, is the universe—or nothing. Though men and civilizations may yearn for rest, for the dream of the lotus-eaters, that is a desire that merges imperceptibly into death. The challenge of the great spaces between the worlds is a stupendous one; but if we fail to meet it, the story of our race will be drawing to its close.” --Arthur C. Clarke, 1950

75:

As an American I think I can safely observe that my country has always had an authoritarian (usually called 'law-and-order') streak in it's politics. This goes all the way back to the Alien and Sedition Acts. I agree that while nobody wanted 9/11 to happen, there were lots of plans on the shelf ready to be dusted off once an event of that kind happened.

In a couple of decades we're probably going to look back on the noughties the way we currently look back on McCarthyism in the 1950s.

I expect us to look back on 'watch lists', airport scanners and color-coded alerts the same way we look back to the 'Duck and Cover' nonsense of the 1950s. Until then, fight gravity with levity.

76:

My understanding of Islam is that, except for Shia, it's largely decentralized: anyone with an education in the Koran and knowledge of Islam can be recognized as an imam. This is probably moreso with the mystical Sufi sect.

The Shia have a more hierarchical model headed by the grand ayatollahs, with ayatollahs and mullahs at a lower level, so to horribly abuse the metaphor the majority (80 to 90%) Sunnis are the Protestants and the minority Shi'ites are the Catholic Church and the protestant churches that hew closer to that tradition.

77:
Who in Egypt has a organization ready? Only the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the last couple of weeks the Muslim Brotherhood has been doing an excellent impression of having been caught with their pants down and their djellabas on fire. They've made public assertions that they are not involved in the current revolution, have so far refused the current regime's request to meet with them, and in general have not been able to take any political capital out of a situation you would think was tailor made for them. That doesn't sound to me like an organization that's ready to take over Egypt.

78:

Sorry but being a drug user is not always a victimless crime, as some of these users are parents.

79:

Charles, would you care to elaborate on this statement?
Or at the very least, provide what would have been your response to the events of 9/11 by the United States?

>(See also the whole War on Terror, which is nothing if not a barbaric over-reaction ...)

my thoughts:
a barbaric over-reaction would have been a true shock and awe campaign (which in the case of Afghanistan might entail making the pre-existing rubble bounce into the air higher than it did, and not a glorified fireworks display.)

Let me state clearly I do not want to put words into your mouth, but I am hoping that you are not suggesting civilized societies simply grow accustomed to acts of large-scale terrorism.

80:

erald@64:

Bingo!

It's nice that Charlie is keeping the Fukuyam-ian flame alive, but I'd give even money that: IF there is a single global governance model in our middle-term future (over the course of the 21st century or so), THEN it is as likely to be a Chimerican meld of authoritarian state capitalism with plutocratic oligarchy as anything akin to the Fukuyamian "liberal democratic capitalism".

American elites are already growing to like the Chinese model more and more. The rich increasingly believe they "don't need" the rest of us, and the circus called electoral politics will continue converging on the style of Roman Imperial politics.

Quick! Ask yourself: where is the left-populist backlash against bank-owned K Street government?

Doesn't exist, right? QED

81:

American elites are already growing to like the Chinese model more and more. The rich increasingly believe they "don't need" the rest of us, and the circus called electoral politics will continue converging on the style of Roman Imperial politics.

The "American Elites" would not have elected Obama. Or nominated McCain for the Republican ticket. Nor allowed the Tea Party (a dangerous extremist populist movement) to attain the level of power it has.

It's easy to ascribe things to conspiracy, but no rational person with power and money and influence would have planned anything like the last few years in US politics.

82:

That's because they were NOT ready for all of this. It took the MB by surprise, just as it took everyone else by surprise. Still, who else - other than the current government - has anything like an organization even barely able to take over?

The good people are great, but they have no agreed-upon leadership, no power-base, no organization of any kind. Who is more likely to take over, do you think?

83:

Perhaps that's because he's an idiot. We're watching history unfold atm. Liberal representative democracy is not necessarily the end state, or the more desirable result. There are other forms of democracy. There will be NO last man.

84:

@ 82 D Kafri
So you are suggesting there will be a provisional government, probably led by M Al-Baradei, THEN there will be an "October revolution" in which the MB may try to seize power?

Except, that, it ain't so easy to pull that one, these days, especially with modern comms and an educated populace. I certainly hope I'm right, and your'e wrong, for obvious reasons.

LATEST news: Mubarak says he will step down, but nott immediately as this would "cause chaos" - which already exists.
Also, he can garuantee continued street-fighting if he has time to retire, by breifing his thugs.
BBC news reported at 07.00 that the US was urging Mubarak to go "now" .....

85:

I think I know what you mean when you say Islam is more-or-less Protestant. Most obviously, there's the shared expectation that people read the Holy Text for themselves. But the term also has the connotation of a reaction to an existing power structure. And Islam doesn't have the equivalent of the Roman Catholic Church to protest against.

Perhaps we should be thinking more of the Unification of Italy, rather than a mainly religious model. That was a combination of pushing out foreign rule and eliminating the direct control of the Pope. But don't push the analogy too far. For one thing, there are some deep divisions in Islam, rather than a religious monolith with direct political control of a state.

And a reaction against the Wahabi movement in Islam is more a revival of older ideas than the Protestant movement in Europe was. It occurs to me that the whole thing might be more like 17th Century Scotland: you can likely suggest several different possibilities for the analogue to the Covenanters, complete with the myth-making which turns terrorists into martyrs.

And, maybe pushing it a little, it isn't hard to imagine some future Saudi Prince being a glorious military leader, in the manner of Bonnie Prince Charlie...

86:

The Cosmist: So it seems to me that we need to keep our eye on the ball, which is that humanity needs a cosmic vision and a sense of new frontiers now more than ever.

So you're basically arguing for more religion, yes?

87:

Judging from history democracies tend to morph into dictoatorships. Cf. Athens, Rome, Britain, Babylon, Ur, etc.

When was the British dictatorship? I can think of one that ended in 1648 when we cut his head off, and another that ended in 1688 when we called in the Dutch army to carry out regime change, but that surely didn't morph out of any democracy.

88:

Dave Bell @ 85
I already said (somewhere) that a lot of islam is like ultra-calvinism on steroids ....

Alex @ 87
You've conveniently forgotten the worst dictatorship of all.
Oliver Cromwell........

People DO seem to be gradually realising that islam's worst enemy is ... other "wrong" (i.e. "heretical") forms of islam.
Isn't religion wonderful?

89:

Depends what drug use you are talking about. Addiction to heroin leading to a complete warping around your life is probably going to affect any dependants. A bit of cannabis, alcohol, mdma, nicotine etc every now and then isnt going to harm anyone

90:

And if Cromwell was the worst, then we've done well.

It was short, it was the reason that the Jewish people returned to our shores, and it put a severe dent in the powers of the monarchy. Without that dozen years (of which Ollie was 'dictator' for less than five), I can't see this country not having gone through something just as nasty as the French or Russian revolutions.

And indeed, that was shown in 1688, when we threw out Jimmy II.

Compared to some of the kings - particularly the genocidal William I - Cromwell was positively benign.

91:

Addiction to heroin in the current War On Drugs culture.

It's less addictive than nicotine, and less damaging than alcohol (I don't think any hospitals prescribe alcohol these days). If the users didn't have to buy it from criminals, and those criminals didn't adulterate it with all sorts of shit, I don't think we'd have much of a problem with it at all.

Your "leading to a complete warping around your life is probably going to affect any dependants" applies just as much to alcohol, just as your "every now and then isnt going to harm anyone" applies as much to heroin.

92:

David, go and sit in an unventilated steel box in 25C and direct sunlight, and see how long you last! I'll put a bet on under 2 hours, at which time the interior air temp of your box will be > 50C!

93:

Sorry but being a drug user is not always a victimless crime, as some of these users are parents.

By that logic you might as well seek to ban the consumption of alcohol, because some alcoholics are parents.

Or to seek to ban abortion because some women post-abortion may be depressed.

(Arguing in support of a general prohibition on the basis of a special case makes for bad law.)

94:

what would have been your response to the events of 9/11 by the United States?

Where to begin?

1. Not letting GWB use the word "Crusade" in his first speech to the nation after 9/11. ("Crusade" to Muslim ears means exactly what "Jihad" means to western ears. It's an active aggression signal. And it will be received loud and clear by people you don't want to offend, i.e. the Arab Street in places like Cairo and Morocco who, on 9/12, were actually sympathetic to the USA.)

1A. Also? If NATO invokes Clause 6 of the Atlantic Treaty, the Queen of England has the Stars and Stripes playing at the Trooping of the Colours, and random Arabs are saying "oh, those poor Americans", there's a certain element of goodwill available. GWB managed to piss it all away within 12 months. Played properly it should be good for five years, during which a comprehensive international anti-terrorism consensus could be established.

2. Instigate a thorough overhaul of intelligence activities and investigate the systemic failures that caused intel about the 9/11 conspirators to be missed.

3. Aircraft security: move to screen all checked baggage and then airfreight. Reinforce cockpit doors. Promulgate new doctrine allowing for interception and possible shoot-down of hijacked airliners heading towards cities and refusing to obey instructions to divert. Also set up an agency to do background checks on all airport security workers. Do not establish a $100Bn/year security state-within-a-state; it's a monster that produces very little except paranoia.

4. Invade Afghanistan. Invading somewhere, post-9/11, is a political necessity; might as well use it to try and do some good by doing it properly. This entails putting 400,000 pairs of boots on the ground, with a focus on installing law enforcement and then infrastructure. (Yes, I'm aware that's double the manpower required for the combined Iraq and Afghanistan operations. 0.4M:26M is about the smallest ratio of occupation troops you can get away with to do a proper job of it -- 1.2M would be better.) The target is to rebuild Afghanistan's civil institutions to 1950s levels within a decade.

5. Do not get sucked into invading the wrong country, pointing to $EVIL_DICTATOR and $IMAGINARY_WEAPONS as justification for a massively expensive wild goose chase. All the resources wasted on Iraq might -- with the right attention to detail -- have sufficed to rescue Afghanistan from being the complete clusterfuck that it is.

6. Lean on the Saudis hard over support for Salafi maddrassas and preachers overseas. Ditto the Pakistani ISI over support for hot-heads in the tribal provinces. Exercise of carrot-and-stick may involve removal of US bases from Arabia and mucking in over Kashmir, which is the festering ulcer behind a lot of Pakistani military/intelligence problems.

7. Leave the back door open to Iran. Asking for normalization of relations is probably a step too far, but Iran is pinned down if Saddam is still in place on one flank (even though he's a paper tiger) and they really don't like nutjobs like Al Qaida running loose in the mountains on their eastern border. Some informal coordination may be possible.

8. Massive emphasis on training up the FBI and local police forces to treat terrorism as a policing problem. Developing an intelligence-driven approach, training interpreters with linguistic and cultural expertise, and putting coordination mechanisms in place will take time. Focus on defending the obvious targets (New York, DC) rather than spraying the entire continent with a fire-hose of FUD.

9. Try and muzzle the Israel lobby, without doing which all US policy in the Middle East is doomed. (I know, I know, it's moon-on-a-stick time ...)

This probably isn't a winning strategy, at least in the short term. But at least it involves avoiding one of the biggest fuck-ups, i.e. Iraq.

95:

Hi! I'm from Ireland. Would you like to reconsider your statement about Cromwell's fluffy nature?

"Estimates of the drop in the Irish population resulting from the parliamentarian campaign vary from 15-25%, to half and even as much as five-sixths."

96:

You might note that England and Scotland lost around 10% of their population during the civil war(s) (all three of 'em).

Ireland got it substantially worse, but probably not as badly as the Germanies during the thirty years' war, which was happening at the same time (Wurtemburg lost 75% of its population; the Germanies as a whole lost around 30%).

In fact, it's possible to argue that England and Scotland merely got off lightly. By the standards of his era, Cromwell wasn't notably more brutal than his peers. (Which is not to excuse what he did.)

97:

Nicotine really is addictive. For a drug to be less addictive than nicotine isn't really all that usefull a comparison.

98:

Yep - which is why Ryan's mention of it was a little ironic.

I know of perfectly functional people who have been heroin users, and have given that up, but who cannot give up cigarettes (anecdata, I know). But when it comes to the dangers of 'addiction', it's always the illegal drugs that are mentioned.

99:

Bellinghman @ 90
Actually, "the jews" were already here - they had been "expelled" several times after Edward I (III?) which indicates there were a few around.
The point was, of course that they WEREN'T CATHOLICS !!

Charlie @ 94
Kashmir
Sigh
Rhona has actually been to Sringar and Leh, and she says, yes, it isn't hyped, it is one of the most mind-blowingly beautiful places on the planet.
Pakistan has NO BUSINESS in Kashmir.
It should be either: a] a part of India, with greater-than usual local autonomy
or b] An independant state - though the only way it cold really be viable would be expensive tourism.
My neighbours grandparents came to Walthamstow from Kashmir, in the 1950's even though the family is nominally part-muslim, as they are also Pandits, and the Pak invasion of K. was not good news.

Random Punter @ 95
And the catholic massacres of protestants and other threats didn't happen we suppose?
It was a CIVIL WAR in three nations.
As Charlie says, none of it was funny.

As for Der Dreiszigjahrenkreig - you just don't want to go there, ever. It is worth remebering that that war finished with the treaty of Münster/Osnabrück in 1648. But that the English (in particular) were watching with horror (and supporting the "Protestsant" side, without officially being at war) particulaly at the wastage of the country, and the behaviour of the catholic/imperialist troops under Wallenstain and Tilly.
If you want something even worse than the rape of Nanking then try looking up Magdeburg It was almost unbelievably horrible.
Before: 30 000 inhabitants.
At the end of the war, 450.

Which is why the more active protestants did not trust Charles I, and Charles I was not himself, trustworthy, anyway.

100:

In ref to who's next=US

Not likely. Not courage here. GW all but eviscerated police controls and the masses barely made a peep. We're much too afraid of loosing the crumbs we have to really protest the massive abuses going on here.

R

101:

@34 Dirkjan Ochtman

Agreed. I just read that China is working on combining 9 cities into one large metro city, with standardized infrastructure and mass transit systems.
Meanwhile here in NJ, the plan to build a new tunnel to link NJ & NYC has been squashed - they can't afford it (WTF) even though I think the last bridge or tunnel to be built there happened in the 40's or 50's

The ability for the Chinese to set a goal and execute without all the political mess that flows from the democratic system of legalized bribery is obvious. As many people of a conservative nature like to point out, American Democracy is designed so that neither party can really get much done - which is the precise recipe for disaster in the 21st century it seems.

Not that the Chinese don't have issues with corruption.

102:

In the centuries after Edward I expelled the Jews, there will have been some merchants arriving and settling without disclosing their Jewishness. Any who became known will have been expelled.

It was Cromwell who finally reversed the policy of expulsion and invited them back.

103:

@ 82 D Kafri
"So you are suggesting there will be a provisional government, probably led by M Al-Baradei, THEN there will be an "October revolution" in which the MB may try to seize power?"

That is one possibility. Another is that the army will take over and run an election in which they will participate and win, as Hammas did in Gaza.

"Except, that, it ain't so easy to pull that one, these days, especially with modern comms and an educated populace."

Egypt's population include about 26% completely illiterate, many more with a very basic education: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50641 What you see on the news from Cairo is only a very small part of Egypt. Think of any demonstration in London and tell me if the interviewees are an accurate representation of the general English population.

"LATEST news: Mubarak says he will step down, but nott immediately as this would "cause chaos" - which already exists."

If you think what is happening in Egypt NOW is chaos, look at Iraq and think again: did you see (in Egypt) suicide bombings killing dozens of innocents several times a week? Did you see local warlords (perhaps former police or military) taking over cities, imposing local taxes and violently disposing of their opposition? Egypt can get much, much worse and Mubarak's claim is NOT idle. If I was Obama – or the Egyptian opposition – I would take him up on this offer.

104:

Did that and survived. Egyptian soldiers do not go home for "vacance" in summer, they train in august too. The weather in Egypt now is quite nice for them: http://www.weather.com/weather/5-day/Cairo+Egypt+EGXX0004

105:

#94 Para 3 - Which gives me an idea. Connect the IFF transponder to the "weight on wheels" detectors using a "make to break" switch, so that the IFF can not be switched off whilst the aircraft is in flight.
(Not bn_weight_on_wheels = bn_IFF_on, and attempts to destroy the cockpit control box cause the inaccessible from cabin transmitter to squack IFF_IM_being_hijacked code)

106:

@103

Really? Why not just have real time telemetry, and audio, visual data (inside the plane), on demand by any fighter jets with proper access. I mean the Mile High Clubbers might not like the fact their privations are being recorded but so what.

It would kinda work like a close range rfid - with video and audio.

107:

People have fatally neglected their infant children over World of Warcraft addictions, compared to that, a legitimate opiate addiction sounds like a mitigating factor.

My personal theory is that successful societies, whatever their precise political makeup will continue to be successful as long as they balance the individual's sense of well-being and fulfillment and the increasing capability of said individual to affect society. As technology progresses we each have access to more energy and know-how so when you push a person to the breaking point you get a postal shooting or a killdozer style rampage.

Actually, in America you do, in places like Tunisia you get someone setting themselves on fire, which I find interesting in that it's arguably a response to similar pressures but one that is far more effective in signaling a tipping point in social patience of abuse. Shooting up your workplace is likely more personally satisfying than setting yourself on fire but the end result is likely similar once the SWAT team has arrived and no one is likely to start a riot on your behalf once the dust settles.

I suppose Mr. Heemeyer's solution was the best compromise in that there was no need for a riot after he single handedly devastated the town, without actually killing anyone. Pity he was shot anyway.

Anyway, in the future I expect we'll continue to have all kinds of systems coming and going, but the key will be a balance of power/satisfaction, either an uneducated, powerless populace like in N. Korea or a highly empowered and educated but also well cared for and provided for citizenry such as those of Scandinavian welfare states.

I think these acts of individual desperation are distinct from simple criminality and or antisocial activities, even though they may be born of the same motivations, the vandal or criminal isn't suicidal. Also distinct from terrorism in that the lone desperado is not ideologically motivated and will act completely alone, which makes his quasi-terrorist attacks totally unpredictable.

108:

That's a little bit harder to arrange than you might think. Not to mention expensive.

The world fleet of airliners is somewhere in the tens of thousands; add general aviation on top and you're looking at hundreds of thousands of aircraft. Aviation-grade electronics ain't cheap, and what happens if it fails? Next you've got to work out how to transmit it for the convenience of the military. Short-range broadcasting would force the air force to get up close and personal with airliners, many of which leave a serious jet wake -- creating a collision hazard. Long-range broadcasting would create an interference problem near airports (lots of aircraft movements). Packet broadcasts -- wireless networking -- requires ground transceivers or satellite bandwidth and is horrendously expensive to set up, especially if you want to extend coverage over open water.

Not saying it won't happen, but the reason it hasn't happened yet is not because nobody wants it, but because it's distinctly non-trivial.

109:

Charles,
Thank you for your response as I was genuinely curious to see your thinking on the matter. Much of what you state I tend to agree with, but to discuss the matter further in depth would not be fair to the rest of your readers.
On item 2, 100% in total agreement. Intelligence heads should have rolled (literally and figuratively).
On item 4, again 100%. Afghanistan should have been the primary focus.
On item 8, this is where I politely disagree but perhaps I am approaching it from a different viewpoint. On a local level, yes, treating it as a police matter with the proper cooperation and coordination of all involved would work. But in terms of a national level, I would keep it strictly limited to the military and intelligence communities. Someone has to do the dirty work, unfortunately. (Much like the Laundry.)

So again, thank you for your thoughts.
BTW, just finished reading The Fuller Memorandum, can't give you enough praise. (I was reading Lovecraft when I was 15...)

110:

Note that I don't think the invasion of Afghanistan was necessarily wise or necessary -- merely that anyone in the White House who didn't invade another country in the wake of 9/11 would be asking to be impeached, so an invasion was a political necessity to propitiate the domestic wrath.

US foreign policy revolves around being the pre-eminent military superpower: when the only tool you've got is a hammer, all problems come to resemble nails.

111:
Intelligence heads should have rolled (literally and figuratively).

You'd have executed the head of the CIA? For treason?

112:

Hmm, looking at your actual wording, I may have misunderstood you. You may perhaps have been recommending that the head of the CIA go recreationally rolling down a hill inside a ball instead of suffering the reinstatment of the headsman's ax.

113:

Don't generate the data until requested, although actually getting it installed is likely a big job.

114:

Charlie @110: "... who didn't invade another country in the wake of 9/11 would be asking to be impeached ..."

I agree. SOMETHING overseas was going to have to be done. There is no doubt in my mind that Mr.Hussein (I dislike using first names for people i despise) was a f***ing maniac, but at least the country and the region was fairly stable after the first war in Irak. Afghanistan was a mess anyway and would have been the obvious choice. But the agenda wasn't the people there. It was Mr.Cheney's pals at Halliburton that actually called the shots, so it had to be a country with lots of oil. It had to be Irak.

@94 §4: On Afghanistan I think you're right as well, homeopathic deployment of troops isn't going to do the trick, no matter how vast the technological superiority. You have to have permanent visible presence for every last hovel, and rapid response reinforcements available 24/7. Too much uncontrollable hinterland is impossible to pacify. You can go in and smoke out some out some rebel stronghold on Monday and on Wednesday it looks as if you'd never been there.

115:

One of my biggest regrets is not recording that phone call when GWB first got elected (prior to Bush v. Gore). I told someone that if he got into office, we'd be going back to Iraq as soon as things looked bad for him at home.

Lucky guess on my part? Not really. The reason we "won" the first Gulf War was because we'd sold the Iraqi Army a majority of their weapons. We knew exactly what we were fighting. As Pappy Bush knew back in the 90's, beating Iraq was easy. Getting Saddam out would be much, much messier. There's even some good evidence that the US actively precipitated the Gulf War, by selling Kuwait the side drilling oil rigs that they used to penetrate the Iraqi oil field (which is why Saddam invaded Kuwait). Having Saddam as a pet demon-in-a-bottle was a great way to keep Saudi Arabia and the other gulf oil producers in line, especially when we controlled the stopper.

I figure that Cheney and GWB's calculus was that Afghanistan needed to be invaded, but that it was an unwinnable fight. They would pursue the "winnable" war (Iraq) as camouflage. That would get GWB re-elected (Americans rarely abandon presidents in the middle of a war), make Cheney and Bush's partners massively wealthy on war profiteering (perhaps even give them control of Iraq's oil fields), and then leave the mess for their (democratic) successor to clean up, on the thought that this would sink his presidency, allowing the Republicans to come back in 2012 and do it all over again.

So far, that strategy seems to be working. I hope Obama's got a good counter-strategy in place, because if we get some candidate from the Rove/Cheney machine, things are going to get very ugly indeed.

116:

Charlie, I'm arguing for a cosmic religion in the spirit of Einstein, Sagan and Clarke. What I'm calling "Cosmism" is an attempt to go beyond the "no" of the atheists by saying "yes" to a positive vision that dwarfs anything offered by our ancestral religions. I personally doubt modern civilization can survive if it doesn't jettison its tribal mythologies, but given that most human beings seem to need some kind of religion, I would like to see something like Cosmism explode across the planet like Islam did in the 7th century and offer an aggressively modern, scientific alternative to medieval ignorance and barbarism.

“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity.” –Albert Einstein

"How is it that hardly any major religion has looked and science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?' Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge." –Carl Sagan

117:

Just started reading Walter Jon Williams' "Deep State" as the Egypt stuff kicked off - some scary parallels....

118:

Kind of curious...There was this American President who seemed hell-bent on ignoring the Arab Exception in one case, and turned a oust-the-recalcitrant-dicatator action into a build-a-democracy action in one Middle East nation.

So, who was the first American President to ignore the Arab Exception? Was his name Bush?

Strange, that.

119:

He wasn't exactly ignoring it; he just thought they'd vote the way he wanted them to. Naively, in other words.

120:

The current events in Egypt remind me of Indonesia in 1998 when Soeharto left power more than anything else.

121:

No, no. The Attorney General of Virginia wants to jiggle laws so only two of the seven abortion clinics in the state can stay open. Why? Because abortions are evil.

122:

Promulgate new doctrine allowing for interception and possible shoot-down of hijacked airliners heading towards cities and refusing to obey instructions to divert.

This is already a rule. I know of three times when the planes got a military escort before they realized something was wrong. There was another one where a captain's coffee spilled on the console and it set off the HIJACK HIJACK warning that he can't turn off. He got directed to land at Toronto and Canadian Defense watched.

We have way too many small planes that go inside the outer safety ring for the White House and they get escorts just as quickly.

No planes have had to be shot down yet.

123:
But in terms of a national level, I would keep it strictly limited to the military and intelligence communities. Someone has to do the dirty work, unfortunately.

Having had some experience with the US military and intelligence communities in the past, and based on their efforts of the last couple of decades that have become public, I have to say I agree with Charlie on this one. They've demonstrated a general level of incompetence and inability to recognize the real world that is positively breath-taking at times. And that goes for both the espionage (CIA and DOD Intelligence) and counter-espionage (FBI, NSA, etc.) sides of the business.

Example: we've been having a running battle with the FBI here in Portland for the last 6 or 7 years: they want our police to "cooperate" with them, which in practice has meant our police do what they want (and don't get to tell their superiors about it), and answer any questions the FBI have, while they tell us nothing and violate our laws and procedures in their investigations. And when we don't work with them, they do the same things without our help, and screw up the cases (see "Brandon Mayfield" and "Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation").

124:

I'm curious if this revolution's lack of a clear figurehead is unique in history, and if the influence of social media makes it more possible to have a leaderless movement.

125:

George,

I didn't attribute any of those things to a conspiracy, though your examples are pretty weak -- Obama, McCain and the Tea Party all enjoyed lavish support from elite donors. So even if no rational individual made those choices, that's just because no *individual* or tight circle is in control. The elite are as divided as the rest of us on most issues.

Perhaps my comparison of the U.S. to China read as a claim that the U.S. is ALREADY as centrally controlled as China is. Of course it isn't. But if we're talking about the 'inevitability' of Scandinavian social-welfare states everywhere in the world, I think the U.S. is a good counter-example. We've spent three decades drifting farther away from the Scandinavian model on every issue other than gay rights. And I suspect the reasons for this are sufficiently structural that it will continue for decades more to come.

American fear of "scary commies in China" is gradually giving way to respect for the "China model" -- at least among the elite. That's because the anti-communist impulse always had more to do with fear of expropriation than with concern for quaint 18th century notions of human rights.

One reason many Tea Partiers like to play dress-up, posing as members of the founding generation, is that they want to continue believing our Creation Myth that America was always about the rights of the people. (Charles Beard challenged that idea back in 1913, and enjoyed a brief vogue, but was eventually dropped down the memory hole.) This is our faith as Americans. It is what I personally would like to believe as well, so I'm in sympathy with it.

But the evidence says money is in charge and will drive us to places that have only as much to do with human rights as is consistent with maximum profits. See Evsey Domar on the economics of slavery.

The question is: is human freedom profitable? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no.

126:

I mentioned nicotine because like alcohol its an acceptable drug. I was being ironic in highlighting both drugs that we don't find acceptable and drugs that are just as bad sometimes that we do

127:

Bruce, police activities -- including national level semi-secret police like the FBI -- are, at least in functioning democracies, subject to political oversight and control and external scrutiny.

Secret Intelligence (be it the CIA, MI6, or the GRU) is not. By definition, it deals in secrets. When it acts -- as opposed to monitors -- it is as a tool of external state policy and, again, doesn't generally act within the ambit of internal national law. Because it's secret, the temptation to take illegal shortcuts in pursuit of designated targets is always going to be there.

Sometimes police oversight breaks down and you end up with a police state. (Arguably the USA is some way down this road -- if you disagree, try flying somewhere on a scheduled airline service without identifying yourself to the TSA: or argue the case with an LAPD officer or a border guard.) But in general when the police are properly monitored and regulated they can be kept from routinely infringing on the civil rights of the general public.

The secret services? Not so much.

My point is not that police are intrinsically more efficient than spies at dealing with terrorists (although I believe they are, due to not operating under a secrecy blanket at all times). My point is that if you hand over policing responsibilities to spooks, you get Secret Police, and that never ends well for a civil society.

The proposed cure -- to hand over responsibility for protecting us (from a threat that kills in a decade as many people as automobiles kill in a month) to a Gestapo or KGB like secret police force -- is worse than the disease. And I speak as someone who grew up in a nation with a major terrorist insurgency that over three decades killed more people than 9/11 in a much smaller population.

128:

"the total-capitalism no-safety-net Hong Kong model to Scandinavian-style social welfare"

- Hong Kong does have social housing, public healthcare, free/subsidised education (free for primary, subsidised up to university level), so I don't think it's quite the right example for a no-safety-net model (notwithstanding the septuagenarians stuck collecting leftover cardboard on the streets every day). It sometimes resembles a weird evolution of eighteenth century English society that maintained parts of the parliamentary system of that day, with a powerful aristocracy and a sense that it's all going to vanish in 40 years' time. I think if you head over the border to Shenzhen things would be closer to what you're thinking of, but even then you could argue there's *some* protection afforded to the people living there.

129:

Egypt VP Target of Assassination Attempt That Killed Two Bodyguards

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/02/04/egypt-vp-targeted-assassination-attempt-killed-bodyguards-sources-tell-fox-news/#ixzz1D5DOrboT

Looks like it's getting worse...

:-(

130:

I would take that with a pinch of salt. Fox's reporting of the Egyptian situation has been completely one-sided and glaringly inaccurate so far.

The US state department has said there was no such attempt. If such a thing had happened I would expect the regime and their supports to publicise it as widely as possible.

131:

@ 128
And of course if you want a dangerous commie socialist state, you could do worse than Singapore!
After all, it has free healthcare for all its citizens, so it MUST be Commie, mustn't it?

@ 129 130:
Given that POX "news" labelled Iraq as "Egypt" on their web-site last weekend .....

132:

Have not yet seen anythin from other sources so maybe it's false, but I wouldn't put it as impossible.

Omar Suleiman is a simbol of continuity for the current regime, the oposition have good reason to want him out of the game - and Mubarak can use such an attempt to "prove" his point that Egypt will de-rail to chaos without him.

133:

15.38 GMT
Lyse Doucet, the BBC's reporter in Cairo, has just tweeted that Gamal Mubarak has been replaced in the government by a man known to be 'a reformer'.

14.25 GMT
CNN are saying that the source of the story about an attempted assassination of Omar Suleiman has retracted his statements.

Egyptian army being very punctilious, and polite to protestors.
Apparently still trying to keep "sides" apart.

134:

"I think at that point we have a number of failed states (which would probably be better off as functional autocracies), and a number of oligarchies or profoundly corrupt states."

I'd put the USA in the near-oligarchy state, and it seems increasingly clear that the oligarch's idea of a 'successful state' for the USA might be close to a 'failed state' for the majority of the population of the USA.

135:

BBC @ 16.22 caliming that NDP Politbureau of Egtpt resigned en masse
AND
16.32/48 Unclear claims that Mubarak has resigned - or is it that he has accepted everyone else's resignations?

Beeb news @ 17.00 no clearer
Oh dear.

136:

It seems to be that he resigned from the party, but not from office.

137:

No, you seem to be confusing Hosni Mubarak (the Dictator President) with Gamal Mubarak (the crown prince President's son).

138:

Egypt's social unrest due in part (besides the obvious: an oppressive autocratic ruler) to the astronomical rise in wheat prices reminds me of Mexico's own crisis with corn as a result of NAFTA. The common link between the two cases? Wall Street corporate greed: http://www.economicrefugee.net/did-wall-street-have-a-hand-in-egypts-unrest/

139:

" the autumn and winter of 1989, a period during which the formidable barbed-wire-and-concrete studded dominoes of Eastern Europe came crashing down in one revolution after another"

I remember that, but I think it was very different. In Europe the West was the opposition of the oligarchy - and the guys who encouraged democracy.

The democracies in the middle-east - Iran, Lebanon and Palestine - have all faced US opposition. And when Algeria had a democratic election in '92 they elected islamists and the USA strongly supported the military coup and takeover (and hounded MPs who fled on the grounds that being elected in an islamist party made them terrorists).

The West continually says it supports democracy in the middle east, but that support only lasts as long as they keep electing the right people. I don't know how that's going to pan out if we now have pro-democratic revolts across the arab world.

Good lord, wouldn't the USA freak if a democratic revolt happened in highly repressive Saudi Arabia?

140:

I note that neither Afghanistan nor Iraq is particularly imitating the US Constitution; they both have PR parliaments. Iraq unicameral, Afghanistan with a stronger president and an appointed upper house. Both do have supreme or constitutional courts, which may be the US's big contribution.

Not up to looking up the constiutional history of Japan and Germany, how much they imitated us at first. Both have moved to (different) mixed-member PR systems.

141:

If I may add to your list. Keep the mercenaries out and put some oversight on civilian contractors. Those cost plus contracts were often an incredible waste of money, and allowed corruption to flourish. Oh, and let the pros do the work of nation building. Don't send in party hacks, ideologues and greenhorns straight out of college to rebuild a country.

As for Egypt, one somewhat overlooked angle is that thhere's a power struggle going on among the elites. The army and intelligence services are apparently using this as an opportunity to marginalize Mubarak, discredit the son and his supporters as well as weaken the security forces. End result might simply be another set of army guys in power. Seen from that angle it would be in the interests of the army to have the protests continue for a while. So perhaps Omar Suleiman is not lying when he says there will be investigations. He might very well have been blindsided by another government faction when the thugs attacked. But even if he knew of it, an investigation would still open up a great opportunity to arrange a putsch of the security services. Positively machiavellian if that's how the situation is being played out.

142:
My point is not that police are intrinsically more efficient than spies at dealing with terrorists (although I believe they are, due to not operating under a secrecy blanket at all times). My point is that if you hand over policing responsibilities to spooks, you get Secret Police, and that never ends well for a civil society.

I agree with both your points; I just don't agree that the FBI is a police organization. It is acting as a counter-espionage organization with a side-dish of counter-pedophilia for public relations. And it's been shown to be largely incompetent at both. The major issue between our police and the FBI has been that the FBI has insisted on operating without oversight, and insisted that police cooperation be outside of oversight of the municipal authorities who administer the police department. In other words, the worst of both the counter-espionage and out-of-control police worlds.

143:

I think you over-rate the importance of the written constitution in democracies. Attitudes (they call it "tradition" but really it means "how we all think it should work") matters far more.

Look at England, for example.

Or, for another example, proportional representation led to very stable govts in Germany in the 50 years after WW2, and to very unstable govts in Italy.

With a different set of attitudes but the same written constitution the US democracy could work very differently. The modern US president has vastly more powers than a president did in 1800, and somehow the senate has ended up with more power than the house of reps which is just weird given how the constitution is written. Not to mention the way the US tortures "regulation of interstate commerce" and "defence" into the strangest excuses for federal govt action (for example: the federal govts in the US has the power to set the drinking age, which is 21, because federal funding of highways exists because Eisenhower sold highways as necessary for defence, and Reagan set it up so a state's federal highway funding is cut unless you have a drinking age of 21).

144:

erald: With regard to the rise of the oligarchic tendencies between state and corporations in the west do you think it would be possible for corporations to become as big as they are without a state? I wonder about this.

The bailouts, the favoritism, etc, etc. Would this be possible where the state's protection through regulation, tax and subsidy did not exist?

What if the ME events of recent (beginning with the Berlin Wall) are part of a longer term trend where by pressure is exerted on states to devolve? It certainly doesn't seem to be the case in AmeriKa but when the dollar looses dominance perhaps devolution will be forced in one way or another.

145:
The bailouts, the favoritism, etc, etc. Would this be possible where the state's protection through regulation, tax and subsidy did not exist?
Certainly it would be possible. If regulatory capture hasn't yet occurred, regulation reduces the ability of a corporation to control its markets, so lack of regulation eliminates the time and energy required for capture. Taxes and subsidies are helpful but not necessary; once the market is captured prices can simply be raised to the point of producing the same profits that would have been created by subsidies, and control of supply allows the same leverage over competitors that protectionist taxes do. And without regulation or labor with the power of collective bargaining, the corporation has very few controls on what it can't do to its markets, its workers, or its competition, whether the actions are legal or illegal.
146:

brucecohenpdx @ 145
Your description almost exactly matches the behaviour of certain US fod corporates in Central America 1919-70.

147:

A Senate committee on Fort Hood says that if the FBI and the military police had talked to each other about their clues, Hasan would have been caught before he killed anybody.

148:

brucecohenpdx : Not to diverge to far from the Egypt topic but corporations are creations of the State. In the US at least they are given life from the US Code.

Also the other facet of the ability for market capture that you describes leaves out the workings of competition. I do not believe that it is possible for type of market domination / monopoly that you describe without the protection of the state.

149:

(Examples chosen with malice in mind: both are crimes, but one is victimless, and one is sometimes victimless ...)


No I wasnt advocating for prohibition what I was saying is that there are victims when you look at drug use.

I agree that criminalising drug use does not work and as you point out there are legal drugs that can be used and produce the same victimisation as illegal drug use.

My point is simply that saying drug use is a victimless crime is incorrect.

150:


I was simply saying that you cant make a sweeping generalisation about drug use in terms of there not being any victims.

Regardless of whether its the use of legal or illegal substances.

And really? you want to draw lines about which drugs are ok and which are not. The point is that while on any mind altering drug you shouldnt be parenting.

151:
but corporations are creations of the State. In the US at least they are given life from the US Code.

No, in the US they are regulated by the US Code, not the same thing at all. Also note that the laws and regulations governing corporations are subject to regulatory capture just like any other part of the regulatory apparatus. And finally, many of the largest corporations are multi-national in organization and operation; they are outside any one state, and they often treat on an equal basis with states wrt their regulation and trade.

152:

Up until this last decade, my canonical example of an out-of-control corporation which had its hands on the levers of US foreign policy was United Fruit, which acted for many years as if it owned Nicaragua in fee simple, up to and including sending in US Marines.

These days I more often refer to Haliburton or the mercenary corporation formerly known as Blackwater. Their business model doesn't require leaving any natives around to work the plantations.

153:

brucecohenpdx @ 152
That's the people I was thinking of.
Blackwater (or whatever they're called this week) are really not nice to know.

154:

Multi-nationals is a good example of an entity that is extra-state. Good point.

Regarding USC that was my point in that US Corps are creations of the state ie regulation via USC.

I think my point is supported by the example of the out of control Corps from the above. United Fruit was able to use the threat of the US Navy (state apparatus) to threaten a particular Central American government (was it Honduras?) and Haliburton and Black Water (now Xe) benefits directly from state sponsored contracts. Without a state these firms would actually have to compete rather than grifting for no-bid contracts.

155:

>Without a state these firms would actually have to compete rather than grifting for no-bid contracts.

General Jim's Defense System and Admiral Bob's National Security? (Snow Crash)

156:
Without a state these firms would actually have to compete rather than grifting for no-bid contracts.

No, that's what military subcontractors like Xe, nee Blackwater, are for. Force doesn't have to be exerted by a state; the bullets don't care what the uniforms of the shooters look like.

157:

Cory @144: "Would this be possible where the state's protection through regulation, tax and subsidy did not exist?"

I'm afraid that without any OPFOR (nation states) they would have become way larger. Not because the states guarantee any kind of safety, but because without them you're out there on your own. That sounds even scarier to me.

158:

Mubarak stepped down! Yaaaay!

159:

the world's oldest dictator as of yesterday now lives a few time zones from me in Equatorial Guinea. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, in office 31 years, 192 days (assumed power 3 August 1979) was a former lieutenant who became chairperson of the African Union in 2011. He has credited his political longevity to rlyeh

160:

Mubarak stepped down, but who will take over?

Don't rejoice too soon.

161:

Yes, well -- it depends from whose perspective one is evaluating the change in government, doesn't it?

I'd like to note at this point that representative democracies with mixed-mode economies very seldom go to war. In the short term, the presence of such governments in the middle east -- legitimized by popular support -- is going to be a real threat to Israel's claim of moral high ground in the region. But in the long term, it may prove to be a vital prerequisite for a permanent solution to the Arab/Israeli dispute.

162:

Respectfully, there will be no "Permanent Solution" to the Israeli-Arab conflict, because too many factors and persons have an interest in keeping it unsolved and it is too easy for any of them to do something extreme that will stop any negotiation or the respective leader would be labeled weak or even traitor by his opposition and lose legitimacy, be overthrown and replaced by someone perceived "strong" who will refuse the compromises needed to make peace.
We saw this very clearly every time negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians seemed to be making headway: the leaders of both sides were losing credibility and legitimacy and attacked by their opposition as weak or worse. It reached a peak with the murder of the late Israeli PM Rabin, but former Egyptian President Sadat met the same fate years ago, for signing a peace treaty with Israel. During the recent protests in Egypt, on many cases images of Mubarak had a Star of David over them, demonstrating that one of the reasons for his lack of popularity was the very same peace agreement which got his predecessor killed.
Conversely, on times the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were blocked, there was also more-or-less a lull in violent actions by both sides. See for example relations between Israel and Syria, with both sides arguing strongly against compromise on the Golan Heights but almost no act of violence across the ceasefire lines since 1973.
Paradox or not, sometimes in the Middle East "Peace (talks) is War", while "war (as in no peace talks) is Peace"…

163:

And as to the future of Egypt, from here it seems the Army has taken over; will it lead the way to democracy, or to another dictatorship? Will the protestors give it time to get things done, or will things deteriorate to anarchy? Time will tell. As there is no organized opposition to the current regime, succession is still a mystery – and while mysteries are interesting to view from afar, living them to conclusion is often not so mach fun…

164:

Mubarak gave the leadership to the highest general. Many of the generals trained in the US, so have some idea of how semi-democracy goes. They plan to start working on setting up a fair election.

165:

And people from ex-Warsaw Pact countries like the Czech Republic who have some experience in building democracies in formerly autocratic societies have volunteered to act as consultants for the process in Egypt.

166:

Yes, that is what they SAY. And since when do politicians DO what they SAY they will do?

165:

Look at Bashar al Asad, current President of Syria. An eye doctor, have studied in England, met and married a (Muslim) Englishwoman, fluent in English, speaks passable French and - having lived in England for years - probably knows about Human Rights and Democracy much more than any of the Egyptian Generals in question.

So is he doing anything to promote Democracy in his own country? Or elsewhere?

167:

Ooops, I missed an S - that's Bashar al-Assad, of course.

168:

#168 - I spy spammers!

169:

Ooo, it looks like the spammer took a bit of a previous comment (#11 in this case), then followed it with some Markov chain generated extra verbiage.

I was recently wondering how soon that would happen.

(Or perhaps how soon it would happen again - no, no, I'm sure that ARCHAEOPTERYX is genuine.)

170:

What I do before calling the motion is Right-click -> Properties, and read where the web address points to. Sometimes it's reasonably obvious, but if it looks like it might be a personal blog rather than a commercial sales or malware site, I'll investigate further first.

171:

In Opera, I just mouse-hover over it, and the link appears in my status bar. But yes, same idea.

The comment content is the kicker though - if it's comprehensible, apposite to the existing content and original within the thread, then it can link where it likes. xkcd (as so often) made the only comment required.

172:

David, I suspect you over-estimate the power of individuals to affect institutions.

Put it another way: if Bashar al-Assad stood up and announced that he thought real democracy and human rights were a good idea, how long would it take before a bunch of Baath party ministers arranged a convenient accident for him? Or, at best, a bloodless palace coup, for the unforgivable crime of rocking the boat and jeopardizing the combined set of all their personal fiefdoms.

There's also a flip side, as the Stanford Prison Experiment demonstrated: if you parachute somebody into a role, and surround them with people who behave as if they expect that person to behave within the role, then most people go along with expectations. al-Assad appears to have been a committed eye surgeon and apolitical -- until his elder brother died unexpectedly and his father the dictator got cancer. He's installed in the lifestyle of a fascist dictator and surrounded by people who expect him to dictate: it's very hard to go against that kind of implied social pressure.

I reckon al-Assad is a relatively weak figurehead rather than a strong dictator in the mold of his father. As such, his scope for reform -- even assuming he wants it -- is very limited. He is, in short, no Gorbachev.

173:

But, Mr. Stross, that is exactly the point: whoever gets to rule Egypt will have to deal with the current infra-structure of government, just like Bashar al Assad - or replace it altogether. The current leaders of the Army, judges of all ranks, post-clerks and tax collectors, are all molded with Mubarak's imprint. It is no wonder the protesters have not relaxed with the Army taking over, they know the generals have every reason to want to stay there - because as soon as somebody else takes over, quite a few of them may stand trial for various crimes, from murder and torture of political rivals to mere bribes and other forms of corruption. These generals have a very good reason NOT to let democracy go ahead.

Then there is the question of elections, in a country that had only one party for over a generation. As I have pointed out earlier, the only organized opposition around is the Muslim Brotherhood, who are anti-West in general and anti-democratic in particular, just like Hamas was in Gaza.

Will they be allowed to take part? If not, is it a democratic election? If yes and they win, and establish a non-democratic government like Hamas did, how was Democracy served? [Not to mention the general cause of world peace]

If someone else wins, he will have to deal with the same Muslim Brotherhood, who used terrorism against the former government and whose counterparts in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza use terrorism against political rivals all the time; how will the new government deal with political and religious terrorism and yet maintain democracy?

It is not that I have no hope at all for Egypt, but as I recall the French Revolution was closely followed by The Terror, the guillotine and the o-so-democratic Bonaparte. It took England about 800 years to get from the Magna Carta to letting women vote, with some very nasty times in between. Democracy may arrive in Egypt, but it will take time to establish itself and there may very well be some nasty turns along the way, so I am cautious while others celebrate Mubarak's abdication. I hope it won't, but it may very well get much worse before it gets any better.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on February 2, 2011 6:40 PM.

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