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Spengler

Syria and Egypt Can’t Be Fixed

June 18th, 2013 - 6:52 am

Cross-posted from Asia Times Online.
Syria and Egypt are dying. They were dying before the Syrian civil war broke out and before the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Cairo. Syria has an insoluble civil war and Egypt has an insoluble crisis because they are dying. They are dying because they chose not to do what China did: move the better part of a billion people from rural backwardness to a modern urban economy within a generation. Mexico would have died as well, without the option to send its rural poor – fully one-fifth of its population – to the United States.

It was obvious to anyone who troubled to examine the data that Egypt could not maintain a bottomless pit in its balance of payments, created by a 50% dependency on imported food, not to mention an energy bill fed by subsidies that consumed a quarter of the national budget. It was obvious to Israeli analysts that the Syrian regime’s belated attempt to modernize its agricultural sector would create a crisis as hundreds of thousands of displaced farmers gathered in slums on the outskirts of its cities. These facts were in evidence early in 2011 when Hosni Mubarakfell and the Syrian rebellion broke out. Paul Rivlin of Israel’s Moshe Dayan Center published a devastating profile of Syria’s economic failure in April 2011. [1]


Sometimes countries dig themselves into a hole from which they cannot extricate themselves. Third World dictators typically keep their rural population poor, isolated and illiterate, the better to maintain control. That was the policy of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party from the 1930s, which warehoused the rural poor in Stalin-modeled collective farms called ejidos occupying most of the national territory. That was also the intent of the Arab nationalist dictatorships in Egypt and Syria. The policy worked until it didn’t. In Mexico, it stopped working during the debt crisis of the early 1980s, and Mexico’s poor became America’s problem. In Egypt and Syria, it stopped working in 2011. There is nowhere for Egyptians and Syrians to go.

It is cheap to assuage Western consciences by sending some surplus arms to the Syrian Sunnis. No-one has proposed a way to find the more than US$20 billion a year that Egypt requires to stay afloat. In June 2011, then French president Nicholas Sarkozy talked about a Group of Eight support program of that order of magnitude. No Western (or Gulf State) government, though, is willing to pour that sort of money down an Egyptian sinkhole.

Egypt remains a pre-modern society, with nearly 50% illiteracy, a 30% rate of consanguineal marriage, a 90% rate of female genital mutilation, and an un- or underemployment rate over 40%. Syria has neither enough oil nor water to maintain the bazaar economy dominated by the Assad family.

Both were disasters waiting to happen. Economics, to be sure, set the stage but did not give the cues: Syria’s radical Sunnis revolted in part out of enthusiasm for the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and partly in fear of Iran’s ambition to foster Shi’ite ascendancy in the region.

It took nearly two years for the chattering classes to take stock of Egypt’s economic disaster. The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, the benchmark for liberal opinion on foreign policy, gushed like an adolescent about the tech-savvy activists of Tahrir Square in early 2011. Last week he visited a Cairo bakery and watched the Egyptian poor jostling for subsidized bread. Some left hungry. [2] As malnutrition afflicts roughly a quarter of Egyptians in the World Health Organization’s estimate, and the Muslim Brotherhood government waits for a bumper wheat crop that never will come, Egypt is slowly dying. Emergency loans from Qatar and Libya slowed the national necrosis but did not stop it.

This background lends an air of absurdity to the present debate over whether the West should arm Syria’s Sunni rebels. American hawks like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, to be sure, argue for sending arms to the Sunnis because they think it politically unwise to propose an attack on the Assad regime’s master, namely Iran. The Obama administration has agreed to arm the Sunnis because it costs nothing to pre-empt Republican criticism. We have a repetition of the “dumb and dumber”consensus that prevailed during early 2011, when the Republican hawks called for intervention in Libya and the Obama administration obliged. Call it the foreign policy version of the sequel, “Dumb and Dumberer”.

Even if the Sunnis could eject the Assad family from Damascus and establish a new government – which I doubt – the best case scenario would be another Egypt: a Muslim Brotherhood government presiding over a collapsed economy and sliding inevitably towards state failure. It is too late even for this kind of arrangement. Equalizing the military position of the two sides will merely increase the body count. The only humane thing to do is to partition the country on the Yugoslav model, but that does not appear to be on the agenda of any government.

Notes:
1. See Israel the winner in the Arab revolts, Asia Times Online, April 12, 2011.
2. Egypt’s Perilous Drift, New York Times, June 15, 2013.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Can't be fixed? Dying? Islam! It is the specific goal of major parts of the population to "fail" in western terms, it is the greatest success on their own terms.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Once overlaid with the soil of Islam, a nation is beyond saving.
It is dead.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ain't nothing like a short sharp shot of Spengler - neat, no ice, to seriously suppress my Inner Tom Friedman. I think you are right - there is no solution to these country's problems. It is interesting to notice that it is still helpful to have someone point this out to me. I'm a recovering liberal and have long ago admitted that I have no power over my interventionist urges in these situations. At least I know it is a problem, unlike the people running the US who are talking about bringing the Syrians to American shores. Marvelous, as Dirty Harry would say.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (55)
All Comments   (55)
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Add to Egypt's quandary the Ethiopian project to utilize more of the Nile's water for electricity and water.

Add to Syria's plight the missing out of world technological advancements while being mired and occupied with a civil war for years. If it comes out of this, it will be on par with Mali and Niger.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Re: Several comments about IQ.

For years I have been thinking that IQ is more a measure of culture and its attending theology than intelligence. It is easy to see that higher IQ societies are Judeo/Christian or the more stable eastern religions (Hindu, Shinto, etc).

We are then forced to the Chicken-Egg paradox. Does Religio-Cultural status inform IQ or tother way around? It seems to me that humility before God and a strong work ethic are more fruitful precursors to higher IQ's than any combination of isms out there.

God is. Truly.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
the two great gifts of the USA to the world over the last century or more have been unlimited resources and limited government.

The great issue before the USA and the world since the 1970's has been whether the world of unlimited resources was coming to an end. This question is in the process of being resolved in favor of unlimited resources.

The second question --that of limited government is now the great question in contention. A vote for the amnesty bill in the senate is a vote for unlimited government and a rejection of America's original gift to the world. Why? because amnesty will create a one party state--democrat-- at the federal level. (The democrats already have inter-generational control of Massachusetts, New York, Illinois and California. All they need is Texas or Florida and they have a lock on the white house. Amnesty will give them that.)

With an inter-generational lock on the federal bureaucracy--through control of the white house --the scandals at the IRS and the NSA will be only just the beginning. The question of limited government will be resolved in favor of unlimited government -- to the detriment of not just the USA but also the whole world.

Kindly tell your senator to vote no on amnesty now. Their vote is tomorrow.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mexico would have died as well, without the option to send its rural poor – fully one-fifth of its population – to the United States.

................
Its the democrat plan to use those rural poor as a permanent bought and paid for democrat voting underclass like the underclass they created out of blacks with Johnson's great society back in the 1960's. (Johnson's great society legislation btw went through because of hopelessly arrogant and ignorant northern republican votes.)
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
breitbart is reporting over the week end that all the security provisions technolgy/fence/more agents in the gang of 8's bill are now contingent on Napolotano's approval. None are mandated. Further future visas can be a path to citizenship. want to kill the USA? support amnesty now. http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/06/22/Another-loophole-in-new-amnesty-bill-Big-Sis-can-decide-to-not-build-border-fence
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
I would like to have Mr Goldman’s take on Brazil — apart from ðe fact our situation is not so desperate because we do have bananas, and plenty of ðem, besides energy galore…
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
I doubt low arab IQ, or Islam, as the only explanation though. Otherwise how do you explain the stability and reasonable prosperity of Jordan, despite them having no oil to bring in outside cash. Good government is also a big factor, Jordan has good government, but muslim brotherhood or radical shiite dominated countries, like Egypt, Syria, and Iran do not have good gov.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Israel next door?
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Kurds will do their own partitioning.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ah yes, the "Eternal Kurds." Another people waiting for the day when they can have their own country. A bit of Syria here, a slice of Turkey, and a soupcon of Iraq, and BARABING! A nation is born. It would work for me, and the Kurds would like it just fine. It's a nice dream, but so was Israel for a very long time.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Is there any real difference between the Kurds and the rest of their Muslim neighbors?
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Is it so far out of line to raise the question of collective IQ? The Ashkenazim of Israel have an average IQ of maybe 110 - 115, while Egyptian Arabs may be more like 90. So one makes computer chips, the other lives off the scraps of others. While I am not a psychometrician, it seems obvious that national fate is intertwined with collective IQ. Please advise.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, I work in hi-tech in Israel, and there are plenty of Sephardi Jews and quite a number of Arabs, who do just was well as we Jews if not better. Actually, since most groups in Israel have heavy Sephardi / Ashkenazi intermarriage, speaking about Askenazim or Sephardim is almost irrelevant.

At any rate, I doubt that the IQ difference is due to anything other than differences in education.

Back to work - those Colorado telephone billing cycles I'm working on won't fix themselves!
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have absolutely no idea where 90 came from... Egypt norms to 80ish -- as does most of the ummah.

Heck, the GLOBAL norm is 87ish -- there are A LOT of truly ignorant (and low g) humans out there.

One of the Grand Presumptions of Liberals and Leftists is that we're all (every breed of man) stamped out with normative IQs around 100ish -- and the O N L Y reason for poverty is White Culture. (The other theme is that it's a Jewish global conspiracy; or, perhaps, Capitalism is to blame, etc.)

The painful reality is that there are staggering numbers of our fellow man who are not only uneducated -- but, who are breathtakingly dull.

My Nephew 'Peace Corps'd' in South Africa -- HI/AIDS central. He was ridiculed for protesting the local custom of permitting livestock to use their huts/ shacks as toilets. (!) The mess remained for weeks until the flies carried it all away. (Yes, they had a fly problem you can't imagine.)

The Israeli national IQ norms to 100ish. The Arab contingent entirely balances down the Ashkenazi boost. But, that's just statistics.

The brilliant Israelis pull the national boat along just fine, anyhow.

I understand that Jerusalem is step-wise deporting illegal immigrants. It's for the best. Too much free riding will sink the ship.


43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
If only we could get the ADL to support an Israeli style immigration policy in the U.S. Oh and realize that millions of Israel's best Christian friends in America also happen to like them some guns. You can't advocate banning semiauto AR-15s at any rate while having American taxpayers pick up the tab for fully automatic M-16s kept in lockers at Israeli schools. I'm with Rand Paul let Israel sort out its own sovereign affairs and ditch the 2 billion a year that comes with strings attached for a country that is rapidly approaching per capita U.S. levels (or would if it had 300 million people instead of 8 million). Then perhaps they won't feel so compelled to spy on our business if we weren't in theirs.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
What in the world do we Israelis (who have serious gun control, by the way) have to do with American Jewish liberalism?

There is no "they" or "them". Talk about low IQ!
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
One of the Grand Presumptions of Liberals and Leftists is that we're all (every breed of man) stamped out with normative IQs around 100ish
I call it the Lake Wobegone Standard :-)
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Interesting question, but I do think the Egyptians' problem is their dominant religion and culture, not their collective IQ. There are some pretty shrewd Arabs around, and it wouldn't take many to elevate most of the oil-less economies of the Middle east if they had the right culture to support them.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Typically these days, natives of the region tend to thrive when they move to more dynamic countries. Even as recently as the late 70s this wasn't necessarily the case in a number of ME countries. They have been regressing at an accellerating rate.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Chinese do well except in China"
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
There are definitely problems associated with cousin marriage. Competitive dating in other cultures forces young men to work hard to have the economic success to win over the most attractive woman he can. Having certain things like a car, some nice clothes, and your own place gives you more opportunities to get a girlfriend too. The aggregate result is genetic hybrid vigor and peak-testosterone men competing economically instead of just physically. More working and less fighting. To an outsider, having the right of first refusal to marry your dad's brother's daughter is the kind of thing we'd accuse inbred hillbillies in Appalachia of occasionally practicing.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Or, alternatively, that will get you the best arranged marriage.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Can't be fixed? Dying? Islam! It is the specific goal of major parts of the population to "fail" in western terms, it is the greatest success on their own terms.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Once overlaid with the soil of Islam, a nation is beyond saving.
It is dead.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
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