by Chas Danner
Bobby Ghosh thinks the US and international community overestimate Egypt’s importance:
Cairo is no longer the region’s cultural heart: Egypt doesn’t produce great art, music or literature. Arab TV audiences are much more likely now to be watching Turkish soap operas, Lebanese music videos and Qatari satellite news channels. Egyptian universities are now laughably bad, and the Gulf states prefer Indian, Pakistani and Filipino labor to Egyptian. Egypt’s media scene is a regional joke.
After decades of mismanagement by corrupt generals and bureaucrats, Egypt is an economic basket case. It has few valuable resources to sell the world, and its mostly impoverished people don’t have the money to buy anything from the world, either. Even the Chinese, who aren’t deterred by political instability or violence, aren’t exactly queuing up to invest in Egypt.
Ghosh adds that Egypt poses no conceivable threat to Israel, and that its political weight within the Arab world has been eclipsed by other countries like Qatar and Turkey. He thinks Egypt’s symbolic value is waning as well:
The Arab Spring was an import from Tunisia, but it once again made Egypt a laboratory of a new, powerful political idea: post-totalitarian democracy. Egypt’s size meant its democratic experiment would be watched more closely than, say, Libya’s. Alas, as we’ve seen this summer, that experiment has failed. Rather than show the way forward, Egypt is in full retreat. It now falls to Tunisia and Libya to show that the Arab Spring wasn’t simply a replay of the Prague Spring.
As for Egypt, it seems now that its main relevance in regional and global affairs is as a potential source of trouble. Its combination of instability, corruption and ineptitude makes Egypt fertile soil for radicalism and Islamist militancy.
Ghosh makes some interesting, contrarian points, but Egypt’s political influence and cultural exports aside, I don’t think the world is going to stop paying attention anytime soon either. What happened in Egypt in 2011 was undoubtedly the emotional high point of what may have only been the first phase of the Arab Spring, and for that reason I think many around the world will remain engaged and hopeful.