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Corruption and Islamism in Egypt

December 2nd, 2011 - 11:37 am

The old Mubarak elite is getting out, and the generals are preparing for retirement on yachts in Monte Carlo and townhouses in Chelsea. Stripped of a thin Western veneer, what remains of Egypt is one of the world’s most backward societies, despite the veneer of sophistication that beguiled reporters who parachuted into Cairo for the Tahrir Square theatrics in February. Nearly a third of Egyptians marry cousins (because they count on their clan to protect them). And 45% are illiterate, while 90% of adult women suffered genital mutilation.

What ordinary Egyptians see is that they barely can fill their stomachs on the 5-piaster (less than 1 cent) pita loaves subsidized by the government. They are looking for someone to blame, and there is plenty of blame to go around: the new book from al-Wafd on Egypt’s central bank puts a narrative in place to explain the impending collapse of the Egyptian currency and the food shortages that will come with it. In fact, the surge in corruption is an effect rather than a cause of Egypt’s financial collapse. Once Asian demand pushed grain prices to a permanently higher plateau, the old regime was finished. And once the instability killed Egypt’s tourism, financial collapse became a matter of “when” rather than “if.” Rather than stay and try to get richer, the kleptocrats are salvaging what they can and getting out.

Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak left Egypt without a single untainted institution. As in Iran in 1979, the Westernized elite, who speak foreign languages and keep bank accounts abroad, will decamp for the fleshpots of London. The Islamists are left by default.

The difference between Egypt and a banana republic is the bananas: the collapse of Latin American currencies during the 1980s never led to starvation, because it occurred in countries that exported food. The difference between Egypt and Iran is oil. An Islamist Egypt will resemble not Iran, but Somalia.

What should America’s response be? Cut our losses. It would be an obscenity to provide military (or any other aid) to an Islamist government. Nothing to see here, folks. Keep moving. Non ragioniam da lor, ma guarda e pasa.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified Shutterstock.com image.)

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