Monday, January 31, 2011

Applebaum on Egypt

Anne Applebaum is optimistic that political change in Egypt could unleash great energy in the Arab world:
The dictators we have supported, or anyway tolerated, have stayed in power by preventing economic development, silencing free speech, keeping tight control of education and above all by stamping down hard on anything resembling civil society. More books are translated every year into Greek - a language spoken by 10 million people - than into Arabic, a language spoken by more than 220 million. Independent organizations of all kinds, from political parties and private businesses to women's groups and academic societies, have been watched, harassed or banned altogether.

The result: Egypt, like many Arab societies, has a wealthy and well-armed elite at the top and a fanatical and well-organized Islamic fundamentalist movement at the bottom. In between lies a large and unorganized body of people who have never participated in politics, whose business activities have been limited by corruption and nepotism, and whose access to the outside world has been hampered by stupid laws and suspicious bureaucrats.
I have been trying to imagine what it would be like to be a member of a new government coming to power in such circumstances, trying to sweep away a repressive, corrupt, bureaucratic system. What would you change first? Would you fire all of the police? How would you go about getting low-level bureaucrats to stop impeding every part of life -- something even the freest countries have trouble with? It is an exciting prospect.

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