Monday, February 14, 2011

Egypt - Through a glass, and darkly...

The demonstrations that began almost three weeks ago in Egypt have succeeded in ousting the Mubarak regime, suspension of the constitution and dissolution of parliament. The military is running the show. Now what?

Like predicting the revolution itself, post-Mubarak Egypt is difficult to assess. Unlike some on BBC and other pundits, I can’t agree that Egypt has entered a new democratic world. There is still no democracy in Egypt and likely will not be for months. The army is in control and must deal with strikes, a cratered economy and a dozen different political factions. One piece of advice – and it will pour in: take it all with an enormous chunk of salt.

I’m reminded of a scene in a very old Robert Redford movie – The Candidate – where a complete unknown, pressured to run for the US Senate simply to fill a slot, pulls off the upset of the century and, sitting on the bed in the hotel room, asks his campaign manager “what do we do now?”

The problems in Egypt are legion and lest anyone think in their euphoria that the democracy will reign supreme in six months, don’t hold your breath. It will be rough.

At the same time, what about all the foreign aid, principally from the US, that pours into the country on an annual basis – a huge part of which is funneled to the military? Some of that aid needs to be re-programmed to support an orderly development of civil society and some aid needs to be invested in programs that produce visible, sustainable results on the ground. Not reports. The biggest failure of aid interventions is the desire to line shelves with self-aggrandizing reports that are repetitive, obvious and good dust collectors. Get people on the ground who do. Forget the academic crap – it is almost 100% useless and justifiably viewed with bemusement by recipients of that type of donor aid.

Good luck to Egypt. The tough part is just beginning.

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