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Week in Review


This week’s essay looked at Egypt’s deep state dilemma. The recent coup-that-wasn’t-a-coup will likely end up giving the army what it wanted all along: “managed democracy” with an authoritarian bent. The deep state, which worked behind the scenes to undermine Morsi’s regime, will also be looking to mold this new era in its own image once again:

[I]t’s very important to remember that the old system that the deep staters want to restore was and is a profoundly dysfunctional one. It was crony capitalism for the rich and the high ranking, with large subsidies to keep the poor quiet and complacent—and thuggish torturers in jail for those who didn’t shut up. Public services were shambolic, the educational system was a disaster, and poorly paid make-work government jobs offered a pale imitation of middle class life for those lucky enough or connected enough to get them. For decades, this system hasn’t been able to prepare Egypt for anything better, and Egypt’s youth bulge has exacerbated all of these trends past the breaking point.

The danger facing the Egyptian deep state isn’t the kind of liberal revolution that the short sighted and uninformed once thought they spotted in Tahrir square. That’s the good kind of revolution, where a more advanced and developed society emerges from authoritarian rule like a butterfly hatching out of a cocoon. That’s Spain after Franco, Chile after Pinochet, Poland after Communism. That’s the crocuses bursting through the snowbanks as winter ends and spring begins. That’s not, by and large, what the Egyptian Revolution was about.

Egypt doesn’t face a Singapore-style tradeoff between a successful authoritarian order and the risks of democracy. (Would that it did.) Egypt must choose between an ineffective democracy and a dysfunctional authoritarianism. Probably right now most Egyptians prefer dysfunctional order to dysfunctional chaos, so the deep state has public opinion on its side. But unlike in Singapore or China, where an authoritarian regime is presiding over a period of massive growth, development, and rising living standards offering hope of profound social transformation for the better, Egyptian authoritarianism can at best promise to keep the lid on the mess for a while longer.

The timing of this revolution couldn’t have been better for the Muslim Brotherhood; Ramadan began this week, and from the Brotherhood’s point of view the military could have done it no greater favor than creating 42 new martyrs at the start of the holiest month in the year. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Turkey-Qatar backing was hit with a counterpunch, however, as the UAE and Saudi Arabia pledged $8 billion in aid to the new Egyptian government. But though the country relies heavily on foreign aid, many are choosing to blame their country’s troubles on outsiders.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Israel is beginning to look like the biggest winner in the Arab Spring. The country’s defense establishment may be feeling more secure as Egypt, Syria, and Iran all succumb to internal turmoil. Sanctions aren’t just hurting Iran’s economy; they’re also preventing the country from taking advantage of its enormous natural gas reserves. But while the energy prospects of the Middle East have been grim recently, Saudi oil will continue to matter, even in a world of US oil exports.

In Asia, China-North Korea relations continued to deteriorate after China banned its own fishing boats from operating near the Norks. Meanwhile, South Korean victims of Japanese forced labor practices during the WW-II era won a landmark case this week, news that surely brightened Beijing’s day. More troubling, however, is that Chinese imports and exports slipped in June. Elsewhere, a scathing new Pakistani report on the Abbottabad raid on bin Laden’s compound slammed both Pakistani incompetence and American overstepping, while President Obama considered abandoning Afghanistan altogether.

Anti-Semitism apparently runs deep in Turkey’s governing AKP Party. Prime Minister Erdogan got in on the tinfoil hattery, suggesting that an “interest rate lobby” and other foreign “dark forces” were at work in the country. Elsewhere in Europe, Germany’s green revolution—its Energiewende—continued to sputter. Poland’s own shale gas greens seemed to wither on the vine. On a positive note, Europe made an smart energy policy decision for once, voting to lower its biofuel mandates.

The desperation of American higher education was on full display this week as we learned that a number of law schools are offering full rides to highly qualified applicants if they respond within 24 hours of receiving the offer. While tuition soars and employment opportunities for graduates dim, we’re happy to see that colleges are starting to look at themselves in the mirror, taking advantage of new performance metrics. Female students are increasingly turning to a built-in revenue source to help pay for college: selling their eggs. Despite their troubles, American graduate programs are attracting top talent from abroad; unfortunately, US immigration policy is preventing many of these students from coming here. One bit of heartening education news, however, is that MOOCs—those disruptive and potentially transformational education platforms—might have finally found a business model.

Health care news continued to follow the arc we’ve been seeing recently: the proliferation of exciting new medical technologies paired with our government’s ham-fisted centralized approach towards disseminating care. On the tech side, we learned that doctors in Texas will soon be performing remote operations (using robots) on patients in China. On the bureaucratic side, the harmful side-effects of Obamacare’s employer have become so obvious that even the New York Times can’t ignore them anymore. We also explained why the Affordable Care Act might incentivize employers to drop insurance for their employees. But amidst all the confusion and uncertainty over Obamacare’s rollout, we were excited to read about one Oklahoman surgery center’s impressively successful experiment with price-transparent operations. Innovations like that are exactly the sort of thing we need to see if we want to make serious headway in the health care crisis.

[Egyptians hold portraits of military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reading in Arabic ‘Come down Sisi, let the Muslim Brotherhood stay silent’ as they gather in Cairo’s landmark Tahrir Square in Cairo on July 5, 2013. Photo courtesy of Getty Images]

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  • Andrew Allison

    Be afraid, be very afraid.

    For the past several days I have been commenting on clearly unconstitutional surveillance of US citizens. Suddenly, this afternoon gmail has decided to block emails addressed to VM and who knows what other addresses. We are in trouble folks.
    As an aside to the watchers, the excuse that if you have nothing to fear you have nothing to worry about has a corollary: I have nothing to fear, and you (Big Brother) should be worried.

    • Corlyss

      Don’t suppose it could be just a random glitch in the system masquerading as evil daring do?
      Can’t think why emails addressed to VM would arouse anyone’s suspicions. Could be their email box is full – I get that message sometimes from institutional addresses.

      • Andrew Allison

        Nope. Tried several times from more than one email address.

        • Corlyss

          I sent a test email from my Hotmail account to VM last night and I’m still waiting for it to be returned undelivered. I think the problem may be with your ISP’s servers.

          • Andrew Allison

            You haven’t read the headers. I have, and the message was rejected by Google.

          • Corlyss

            Okay. Don’t check up on your ISP.

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