Archive for May, 2012

Egypte: Respect du droit et de l’ordre contre le chaos

May 28, 2012 Leave a comment

A good analysis by Juan Cole of the results of the Egyptian presidential election and how the run-off round might look like. The run-off round will be a matter of electoral coalitions and who is going to put in place and federate a large enough group to bring about victory. I still think that Mursi has an edge, but let’s keep an eye on the strategies of both candidates in these 2 coming weeks.

Courtesy of Juan Cole

Is the Egyptian 2010s a Replay of the American 1960s?

Posted on 05/26/2012 by Juan

It now seems clear that the run-off in the Egyptian presidential election will be between Muhammad Mursi of the Freedom and Justice Party (Muslim Brotherhood) and Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, former Aviation Minister in the Mubarak government and the deposed dictator’s last prime minister. This outcome is a polarizing one and promises a rocky road ahead for Egypt’s attempt to transition to democracy. Shafiq was at some points on Friday in the third place, but he pulled ahead later in the day as Cairo and some rural votes came in.

Although the official results won’t be announced until Monday, the results from the local polling stations are unlikely to change the outcome, since all the ballots by now have been counted and reported out.

The outcome shows a strong “law and order” desire on the part of the Egyptian electorate. In a poll that I discussed last Monday, respondents put security issues way ahead of economic ones. Shafiq is such a law and order candidate, and the Brotherhood’s Muhammad Mursi is promising more Islamic law, which Egyptians tend to interpret as a way to reign in hooliganism. The disruptions of the 2011 revolution, the subsequent poor morale among the police, the increase in firearms availability, and the release by the Mubarak government in its last days of thousands of criminals from prison, have all contributed to a mild uptick in crime. Egypt is still safer than most Western capitals, but people here had been living under a police state where there was very little crime and few public disturbances, and so it seems to them as though there is a crime wave. I live in the Detroit area, so I laugh at their supposed ‘crime wave,’ but to them it is a problem.

Ironically, the preference for a law and order candidate after a period of social upheaval in Egypt mirrors what happened in the United States in the 1960s and after. The anti-war protests of the counter-culture and the damage done Southern Democrats by the Civil Rights movement contributed to President Lyndon Johnson’s decision to step down (a la Mubarak). But this mainly youthful upheaval was followed by the victories of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and the rise of the Religious Right thereafter in national politics. Just as American leftist radicals like David Horowitz gradually allied with the right wing of the Republican Party and with the Evangelicals, so novelist Alaa al-Aswany, a supporter of the 2011 revolution, has just come out for the Muslim Brotherhood in the runoff elections. Many on the revolutionary left will just be alienated, but some will decide that anything is better than a Mubarak clone.

Over a fifth of the votes went to a pro-labor, leftist candidate, Hamdeen Sabahi. Some of his constituency probably also voted for liberal Muslim candidate Abdel Moneim Abou’l-Futouh, and it is not impossible that in an American-style two-party primary contest, Sabahi would have been one of the two front-runners. But the Egyptian system is more like the French, with multiple candidates who span the political spectrum. In Egypt we have the opposite of what just happened in France, where the extreme right first stole votes away from the right wing Nicolas Sarkozy, and then largely declined to rally around him in the run-offs. In Egypt, the centrist Abou’l-Futouh probably stole votes from leftist Sabahi, allowing a secular right wing candidate and a religious right wing candidate into the run-offs.

Egyptians I’ve talked to are mostly philosophical about this outcome, which is probably the worst possible one for the stability of the country. They point out that the election appears to have been fair and transparent, and that the ballot box will give legitimacy to whoever wins. They also say that after all there will be another election in four years, and if whoever wins has done a poor job, the electorate will throw the rascals out. The hold of fear and dictatorship, they say, has been permanently broken. And if the government starts putting on airs and veering toward authoritarianism before the four years is up, they say, the people will just go en masse to Tahrir Square and cause another government to fall. I am struck by the self-confidence of the Egyptians and their general lack of fear of the future, their conviction that they can handle whatever situation arises.

The American political elite, very attentive to big money in politics and to the Israel lobbies, almost certainly is pulling for Shafiq to win. Mursi and the Brotherhood have a long history of hostility to Israel, and talk about revising the Camp David Peace Accord of 1979. (Camp David was supposed to lead to a resolution of the Palestinians’ problems but instead became a separate peace for Egypt and a means whereby the Israelis could further displace and expropriate the Palestinians, denying them any citizenship in a state and keeping them as riffraff who can be victimized at will. In this respect, a Brotherhood government in Egypt that stood up for the Palestinians would be a positive step).

The Americans will also be concerned about Iran and oil. As for oil, ten percent of the world supply goes through Egypt’s Suez Canal. Neither a Mursi nor a Shafiq government will likely affect the functioning of the Suez.

Egypt under either is likely to be less hawkish against Iran, but the way the Bahrain and Syria crises have unfolded makes it unlikely that the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood will want to get too cozy with the Shiite ayatollahs. (The Brotherhood supports the Syrian uprising, which Iran opposes. The Brotherhood is close to the Gulf oil monarchies that are helping crush the Shiite protesters in Bahrain, whom Iran favors). In fact, Sunni authorities have been cracking down on the handful of Egyptian Shiites who have recently dared try to open places of worship. Shafiq will presumably be on much the same page with the Pentagon on security issues.

The outcome of the election will mainly affect Egypt’s domestic situation. But it could work in unexpected ways. If the Brotherhood wins, they will become the Establishment, and the Egyptian youth may swing further to the secular left in reaction. (Some young women are already abandoning their headscarves to protest Brotherhood dominance of parliament).

The important questions for Egypt are probably not the ones the outside world is thinking about. Someone at the top needs to root out the culture of corruption in the government and business here, if they are ever to get any substantial foreign investment. The Muslim fundamentalists are known for being against corruption, but it isn’t clear that they can or will deliver on a national scale, as happened in Turkey.

And the Egyptians need to rework their industrial system so as to make things like light textiles at a quality and price that will allow them to increase sales. Heavier industry must also be further developed.

The Egyptian state needs to invest in infrastructure and education. You can’t have a prosperous modern country if your sidewalks are all broken and used mainly as parking lots or bathrooms, if you have few traffic signals or pedestrian crosswalks, and if you have 2000 students in a lecture course and the professor is paid $60 a month.

To that end, the state needs to tax the Egyptian wealthy and begin having money in its budget other than foreign aid or rents like the Suez Canal tolls and the gas and oil money (which isn’t that much).

Frankly, neither Mursi nor Shafiq strikes me as a Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey’s fabulously successful prime minister who has helped bring that country into the G-20). But someone should tell them that Egypt has a choice between becoming Bangladesh or becoming Turkey — and corruption, foreign investment, reformed industry and education have to be addressed if it wants to achieve its potential.
Also, pay attention to the sidewalks and traffic crosswalks. People shouldn’t have to risk their lives to get to the other side of the road, and preventing foot traffic down town didn’t work to save the state anyway.


Egypte: élection présidentielle, Mohamed Mursi vs. Ahmed Shafiq

May 28, 2012 1 comment

UPDATE: 05/28/2012–Egypt’s electoral committee declared on Monday that a run-off for the presidency would pit Mohamed Mursi and Ahmed Shafig

Mohamed Mursi: 24.3%

Ahmed Shafiq: 23.3%

Hamdeen Sabahy: 20.4%

Abul Fotouh: 17.2%

Amr Moussa: 10.9%

Quick comment: Obviously the big surprise here is the leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahy. He came first in a large number of big cities. From the data we have seen today, his voters tend to be young, educated and urban. His voters are also very anti-Mubarak regime, which way will Hamdeen’s voters swing will pretty much determine who is going to win the run-off.

Egypte: les résultats de l’élection présidentielle–Mohamed Mursi vs. Ahmed Shafiq

May 25, 2012 2 comments

The MB candidate in the pole position to win the run-off

From all the news sources that i consulted today, the results of the first round of the Egyptian presidential elections won’t be released until Monday. The race, as the electoral commission has stated in its last press release, is too close to call.

However, early indicators derived from television network exit poll data show that Mohamed Mursi, the MB candidate, is in the lead. When Mursi entered the race, quite late, the Egyptian newspapers and television mucked him and dubbed him the Muslim Brotherhood’s “uncharismatic” candidate. Some other newspaper called him the “spare tire” candidate because the MB’s first choice candidate was disqualified by the electoral commission.

Ahmed Shafiq vs. Mohamed Mursi

However, the 60-year-old engineer conducted a very energetic campaign despite his soft-spoken voice and stands on most controversial issues. Mursi, according to the partial projections, came first in this opening round. These partial projections are also backed up by the MB tally, which showed off a remarkable and unequaled level of organization during this campaign.

Ahmed Shafiq, a former Hosni Mubarak’s prime minister, came in second position, which sets the run-off round to be of high quality between two well-qualified candidates. Moreover, the run-off (scheduled to be held on June 16 and 17) gives Egyptians a stark choice between a military man representing the past in many ways (Ahmed Shafiq was Mubarak’s last prime minister) and an Islamist whose conservative message appeals to some and frightens others (and not only in Egypt).

According to Muslim Brotherhood sources with votes counted from about 12,800 of the roughly 13,100 polling precincts, Mursi has garnered 25%, Shafiq 23%, a rival Islamist Abdel-Moneim Aboul Fotouh 20%, and the leftist Hamdeen Sabahy 19%.

These early projections if confirmed give a strong electoral base and reservoir of voters to Mursi. There is no doubt that most of the About Fotouh’s voters will easily vote for Mursi in the run-off. However, Safiq will probably play the nationalist card and will call upon Egyptian’s high and keen sense of “the nation”. Safiq has already started casting and framing Mursi as a dangerous candidate for Egypt who will probably isolate the country with his stances and policies and will hurt Egypt with his amateurism and inexperience.  But i doubt that this electoral strategy will work. Egyptians clearly want change, and want a clean break from the past. That’s what they have been expressing for the last year or so.

Having said that, Mursi, in the recent weeks, has given plenty of material to Shafiq to work with and use it to attack him as a novice politician. Mursi has called for a review of Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, saying Egypt’s neighbor has not respected the agreement–a stance that mirrors the position of most of the other candidates in the race. Talking before a large crowd this Sunday, Muris declared “We will take a serious step towards a better future, God willing…If they [meaning the military and the pro-Mubarak regime crowd] take a step to take us backwards, to forge the will of the people and fiddle with security, we know who they are…we will throw them in the rubbish bin of history.”

Mursi is also one of the rare candidate who has an actual campaign program, which he promoted throughout Egypt these last two months. It is called “The Renaissance Project”, an 80-page manifesto based on what Mursi calls a  “centrist understanding” of Islam.”The Renaissance Project” outlines Mursi’s and the MB’s vision on everything from fighting inflation to unemployment to forging ties with the U.S. on a more equal footing. It also envisions deeper diplomatic and economic ties with Turkey. In Mursi’s vision and speeches, an Egyptian-Turkish alliance is a goal that must be achieved. It is also the only alliance that would create a counter-power, and a strong check on the behavior of Israel, the U.S. and Iran in the region.

Calling the “The Renaissance Project” a centrist understanding of Islam is a clever way for Mursi to distance himself and his political stances from the extremist Salafists ones. In sum, this manifesto has been quite successful. Mursi turned out to be an excellent campaigner despite a very shaky start, a very shaky debate performance, and a very stern and austere speech delivery.  However, the non-Islamists, not least Christians who make up about a 10% of the population, are still unconvinced by his promises that freedoms, civil liberties, as well as religious freedoms will be safe under his leadership.

“It was for the sake of the Islamic sharia that men were … thrown into prison. Their blood and existence rests on our shoulders now…we will work together to realize their dream of implementing sharia.” Campaign speeches like this one do very little to alleviate the fears and concerns of the non-Islamists and non-Muslim minority in Egypt. He has clearly some work to do and he cannot force his agenda through once he is elected.

And now, i leave you to read a very good analysis of our friend Juan Cole. As always Juan hits the nail on the head.

Egypt’s Presidential Election: Between Revolution and Counter-Revolution

Posted on 05/25/2012 by Juan

The results of the Egyptian presidential election, held on Wednesday and Thursday, won’t be announced until Monday, say official sources in the government. In contrast, the High Electoral Commission is indicating that it will announce the results as soon as they are definitively known. Egypt is on a precipice between a relatively smooth transition and a lot of social turmoil, depending on who the front runners are.

But news is coming in as the ballots are being counted, and as I write on Friday, the race is too close to call. For profiles of the candidates, see my report earlier this week

Egyptian Voters at Polling Station (Muqattam), May 24, 2012

Abdel Moneim Abou’l-Futouh, the “Muslim liberal” candidate who had broken with the Muslim Brotherhood, can be counted out. He has conceded, and has thrown his support to the Muslim Brotherhood leader, Muhammad Mursi. He had been favored to win the election only two or three weeks ago, but his attempt to make everyone from liberals to hard line Salafi fundamentalists happy badly damaged him, since it raised the question as to what his real agenda was. I suspect that the support he garnered from some Salafi leaders, who urged their followers to vote for him instead of for Mursi, also scared away a lot of the leftists and liberals who had considered voting for him.

Abou’l-Futouh also had the effect of splitting the Muslim fundamentalist vote, depriving Mursi of a clear victory and damaging the Brotherhood’s image as a party machine juggernaut.

Early returns also suggest that another possible front-runner, Amr Moussa (former foreign minister and former head of the Arab League), has also faded and looks unlikely to be in the run-off. His constituency deserted him in favor of Ahmad Shafiq.

As I write it is mid-afternoon on Friday, and there is a reported surge for the leftist candidate, Hamdeen Sabahi. He is now said to be in second place, ahead of former Aviation Minister and Air Force General Ahmad Shafiq. Sabahi won big in Alexandria, which had been trending fundamentalist, but which is a modern Mediterranean port city with a big, organized working class, who appear to have swung to him (perhaps along with a lot of government workers and the secular middle class, along with committed revolutionaries). Al-Nil television’s correspondent is reporting as I speak that Sabahi also took Port Said, a smaller port city.

If Sabahi can maintain his narrow lead over Ahmad Shafiq, the resulting run-off will give Egyptians a choice between a leftist secularist and a Muslim fundamentalist, both of them from the opposition to Mubarak.

If Shafiq can pull back ahead of Sabahi, the resulting election would be a huge catastrophe for Egypt.

If Egyptians have to decide between Mursi and Shafiq, they’ll have a stark choice. They could give the Muslim Brotherhood two of the major branches of civilian government and risk a swift move to Islamic law and one-party dominance. They could split the ticket and support the secular Shafiq, who is very much a creature of the old regime and of the Egyptian military. In some ways he would resurrect Mubarak’s policies but will face new limitations in presidential rule by fiat. He speaks warmly of Mubarak, and would be a highly polarizing figure who would certainly provoke a whole new round of big demonstrations on the part of the New Left youth and perhaps also Muslim fundamentalists. He has ominously promised to crack down hard on “destructive demonstrations.” Although the Western politicians and business classes might favor Shafiq for surface reasons, in fact they’d be buying a whole lot of trouble if they backed him.

A Mursi-Shafiq contest would certainly result in riots and fistfights all over the country, and if Shafiq won it would likely throw the country into substantial instability (an ironic outcome since the people voting for Shafiq in the big cities and the countryside are looking for a law and order candidate who can fight a slight rise in crime). It seems to me that the resulting demonstrations and unrest would risk further damaging Egypt’s economy.

A Mursi-Sabahi contest, in contrast, will be much smoother, though still contentious. Sabahi is probably acceptable to most of the New Left revolutionaries, though they were ambivalent about him because of his Nasserist commitments (raising questions about his dedication to parliamentary democracy). Still, he was a steadfast foe of Mubarak, and was involved in the key Kifaya! (enough) movement of 2004 and after, which laid the foundations for the revolution. As a critic of imperialism and of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, he might have some support from some of the Muslim fundamentalists who focus on that issue. And his insistence on social justice obviously has wide appeal across ideological groups.

Egyptian voters in a Mursi-Sabahi match-up would have a real choice between a pluralistic system and a return to virtually one-party rule. They’d have a choice between Muslim Brotherhood emphasis on private property/Turkish-style Neoliberalism and a more socialist policy (a la Hollande in France, perhaps). And in any case, both candidates would have a claim on opposition to the old Mubarak regime, and so an extreme polarization and “a further revolution”, as promised by the New Left, could be avoided.

The final results will therefore be highly consequential for Egypt, and for US and Israeli foreign policy. Those rushing to declare the two run-off winners today, though, are probably jumping the gun, given the very small spread among the front-runners after Mursi.

Egypte: Le comportement électoral et l’idéologie

May 23, 2012 1 comment

A great post by our friend Juan Cole, and as always he nailed it.

Courtesy of Juan Cole

Are Egyptians voting Ideologically?

Posted on 05/23/2012 by Juan

Interpreting political behavior in a brand spanking new democracy such as Egypt is trying to become is littered with pitfalls, and these are multiplied when dealing with the Middle East.

The Muslim world, and especially the Arab world, has been depicted by some Western historians and social scientists as exceptionally impervious to democratic ideals and practices. Much of this Muslim or Arab exceptionalism derives from twentieth-century attempts to justify Western imperialism (rule over the Muslims for their own good by Europeans). Some of it is also rooted in apologetics for the Israel project, which is opposed by most Arabs and Muslims; if there is something wrong with the latter, then their complaints about the displacement and denationalization of the Palestinians can be dismissed. (Ironically, Israel under the Revisionist Likud Party is becoming less and less democratic itself, and many of the fundamentalist Jewish Haredim, now 8% of the population and growing, are no more democratic than the Saudi Wahhabis; so many of the arguments about “Islam” and Muslims and exceptionalism that had been made in the past increasingly could be applied to Israel itself).

The exceptionalism argument is ahistorical and peculiarly lacking in a comparative perspective. There is a major argument in modern German history about whether Germany was peculiar in lacking a national business class and in clinging to authoritarianism, save for the brief Weimar period, until the end of WW II. But then what of Spain? Italy? Austria? Hungary? (We are still not sure about Hungary, and Berlusconi’s Italy rather fell in the rankings). Which European countries were there, exactly, that did not have democracy imposed on them from the outside?

Then there are the other exceptionalisms. Most people who speak Chinese still live under relatively authoritarian governments, with Taiwan the major example of a Sinophone people’s transition toward parliamentary rule with regular contested elections. But just as being Muslim cannot possibly be related to people’s receptivity to democracy, neither can speaking Chinese.

There is something else going on. Most likely it has to do with the way the peasants of Egypt and Algeria made the transition to urban modernity, and likewise the Chinese. Some of the lack of democracy even derives from Western intervention against it (colonial regimes were poor teachers of democratic habits, and parliamentary regimes were overthrown by the West via coups from time to time, rather setting things back).

As for why Egyptians vote as they do, like any electorate they are complicated and even individual voters could go either way often. Egyptians did not give a majority to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis because a majority of them is pious (and 24% of Egyptians are definitely not hard line fundamentalists of the Salafi sort!) My interviewing suggests that in the parliamentary elections they wanted parties that a) were not connected to the corrupt and hated Hosni Mubarak and b) would be honest and transparent and avoid stealing from them or dunning them constantly for bribes. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis fit those bills. In contrast, a lot of the left had its roots in Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser’s progressive thought, and they were initially tainted with the brush of the longstanding military regime (Nasser was a leader of the Young Officers who made the 1952 coup, to which the current military junta is the heir).

But the Muslim Brotherhood made several major errors. They promised not to put up a candidate for president, to reassure people they weren’t trying to recreate Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, i.e. a one-party state. But then they reneged and put up Khairat al-Shater, a businessman with corruption convictions. They also tried to stack the committee charged with writing the constitution with their own members, causing even other Muslim forces to withdraw in disgust. And, they haven’t been good about reestablishing security, providing services, or bringing back the tourist trade.

As for the Salafis, they unwisely began talking about banning beer, and if there is one thing the Egyptian electorate is sure about it is that they like beer.

Ironically, you meet lots of Egyptian men with beards and prayer beads who are leftists, and clean-shaven, dapper men who are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. You suspect that they could fairly easily change their minds.

You have to think about what people are voting against, not just what they seem to be voting for. Last fall they were voting against the fulul, the remnants of Mubarak’s corrupt regime. This May, some large number of Egyptians are telling pollsters that they will be voting against a Muslim Brotherhood one-party state. They will be voting against Salafi puritanism. It is not that the Muslim fundamentalist candidate cannot win, but he now has high negatives to overcome.

Egyptian politics in this miraculous year is all about the rebound, not about the straight throw.

Union Européenne: La crise de la démocratie européenne

May 23, 2012 1 comment

This is an Op-Ed written by Dr. Amartya Sen for the NYTimes.  Dr. Sen is  Thomas W. Lamont University Professor, and Professor of Economics and Philosophy, at Harvard University and was until 2004 the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. He is also Senior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. Earlier on, he was Professor of Economics at Jadavpur University Calcutta, the Delhi School of Economics, and the London School of Economics, and Drummond Professor of Political Economy at Oxford University. To top this already impressive resume, Dr. Sen Nobel was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in economic sciences for his work on welfare economics and social choice theory. Briefly stated, Dr. Sen is an authority in the field.

The Crisis of European Democracy


May 22, 2012Cambridge, Mass.

IF proof were needed of the maxim that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the economic crisis in Europe provides it. The worthy but narrow intentions of the European Union’s policy makers have been inadequate for a sound European economy and have produced instead a world of misery, chaos and confusion.

There are two reasons for this.

First, intentions can be respectable without being clearheaded, and the foundations of the current austerity policy, combined with the rigidities of Europe’s monetary union (in the absence of fiscal union), have hardly been a model of cogency and sagacity. Second, an intention that is fine on its own can conflict with a more urgent priority — in this case, the preservation of a democratic Europe that is concerned about societal well-being. These are values for which Europe has fought, over many decades.

Certainly, some European countries have long needed better economic accountability and more responsible economic management. However, timing is crucial; reform on a well-thought-out timetable must be distinguished from reform done in extreme haste. Greece, for all of its accountability problems, was not in an economic crisis before the global recession in 2008. (In fact, its economy grew by 4.6 percent in 2006 and 3 percent in 2007 before beginning its continuing shrinkage.)

The cause of reform, no matter how urgent, is not well served by the unilateral imposition of sudden and savage cuts in public services. Such indiscriminate cutting slashes demand — a counterproductive strategy, given huge unemployment and idle productive enterprises that have been decimated by the lack of market demand. In Greece, one of the countries left behind by productivity increases elsewhere, economic stimulation through monetary policy (currency devaluation) has been precluded by the existence of the European monetary union, while the fiscal package demanded by the Continent’s leaders is severely anti-growth. Economic output in the euro zone continued to decline in the fourth quarter of last year, and the outlook has been so grim that a recent report finding zero growth in the first quarter of this year was widely greeted as good news.

There is, in fact, plenty of historical evidence that the most effective way to cut deficits is to combine deficit reduction with rapid economic growth, which generates more revenue. The huge deficits after World War II largely disappeared with fast economic growth, and something similar happened during Bill Clinton’s presidency. The much praised reduction of the Swedish budget deficit from 1994 to 1998 occurred alongside fairly rapid growth. In contrast, European countries today are being asked to cut their deficits while remaining trapped in zero or negative economic growth.

There are surely lessons here from John Maynard Keynes, who understood that the state and the market are interdependent. But Keynes had little to say about social justice, including the political commitments with which Europe emerged after World War II. These led to the birth of the modern welfare state and national health services — not to support a market economy but to protect human well-being.

Though these social issues did not engage Keynes deeply, there is an old tradition in economics of combining efficient markets with the provision of public services that the market may not be able to deliver. As Adam Smith (often seen simplistically as the first guru of free-market economics) wrote in “The Wealth of Nations,” there are “two distinct objects” of an economy: “first, to provide a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or, more properly, to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and secondly, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public services.”

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Europe’s current malaise is the replacement of democratic commitments by financial dictates — from leaders of the European Union and the European Central Bank, and indirectly from credit-rating agencies, whose judgments have been notoriously unsound.

Participatory public discussion — the “government by discussion” expounded by democratic theorists like John Stuart Mill and Walter Bagehot — could have identified appropriate reforms over a reasonable span of time, without threatening the foundations of Europe’s system of social justice. In contrast, drastic cuts in public services with very little general discussion of their necessity, efficacy or balance have been revolting to a large section of the European population and have played into the hands of extremists on both ends of the political spectrum.

Europe cannot revive itself without addressing two areas of political legitimacy. First, Europe cannot hand itself over to the unilateral views — or good intentions — of experts without public reasoning and informed consent of its citizens. Given the transparent disdain for the public, it is no surprise that in election after election the public has shown its dissatisfaction by voting out incumbents.

Second, both democracy and the chance of creating good policy are undermined when ineffective and blatantly unjust policies are dictated by leaders. The obvious failure of the austerity mandates imposed so far has undermined not only public participation — a value in itself — but also the possibility of arriving at a sensible, and sensibly timed, solution.

This is a surely a far cry from the “united democratic Europe” that the pioneers of European unity sought.

Humour: Quand les profs se défoulent dans le dos des élèves :)

May 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Oh well, this video has been circulating like a wildfire on university campuses and faculty as well as student newsgroups, and it shows a bunch of happy and jovial faculty members from Abby Kelly Foster High School (Massachusetts) having fun and dancing around. What’s funny is that they are doing it behind their student’s backs.

Hey, it’s the end of the year and everyone, even faculty, needs to relax and have a moment of pure silliness and congratulate themselves for a job well done. By the way, the old teacher with the white beard is my favorite LOL

It’s hilarious…some professors really need to take dancing lessons though 🙂

Union Européenne: Non, l’euro ne survivra pas la sortie de la Grèce

May 19, 2012 8 comments

No Mr. Wolfgang Schäuble, the euro won’t survive Greece’s exit

The German minister of Finance, Wolfgang Schäuble, stated in an interview with the “Rheinische Post on 11 May 2012 that Europe has the capacities to cope with a Greek euro area exit. He went on to say that Germany and its partners have learned a lot during the last two years and have put in place several protection mechanisms. Basically, this is a strong signal from one of the highest German officials stating that the euro can survive without Greece.  Let me say this upfront: No, the euro—and probably the whole European Union project–cannot survive Greece’s exit from the Eurozone. Schäuble’s statement could have been correct if it was given 2 years ago. But now, his statement is tantamount to a Eurozone suicide. And this is why.

However, before we get to why Greece’s exit from the Eurozone would lead to the total collapse of the euro as a currency and probably to the collapse of the European Union as an ambitious yet salutary political project, we need to briefly remember how we got to this point.

The project of the European Union started or was imagined as a purely political project by its founding fathers.  On the ruins of the disastrous and destructive second World War, Robert Shumann, Jean Monet, Alcide De Gasperi, Paul Henri Spaak and Konrad Adenauer (two Frenchmen, an Italian, a Belgium, and a German respectively) began imagining a political project that would knit together the different European countries and make the prospect of another destructive war between European countries an impossible endeavor. Of course, this started with a closer economic cooperation limited to a certain number of goods and services and just between a small numbers of countries, which would later on represent the core countries of the European Union. This limited economic cooperation created a spillover effect, and over time, more goods and services were included and more countries wished to join. Long story short, this economic cooperation spilled over into a political cooperation and led to the necessity of creating a common currency—i.e., the euro.

After the Maastricht Treaty (also know as the Treaty on the European Union) was adopted and ratified by most of the countries, the euro was introduced.  It was first introduced to the financial markets as an accounting currency in 1999 (it replaced the old ECU) and then introduced in circulation in 17 of the 27 EU member states replacing their national currencies in 2002.  The introduction of the euro caused a certain euphoria in the financial markets. Suddenly, countries that were deemed risky for investment saw a drastic influx of cheap capital—i.e., loans. Basically, cheap money started pouring in southern European countries like Greece, Italy, Spain, and even in Ireland and Austria. Belonging to the Eurozone made these countries safe places, though some of them had deep structural flaws (as we came to discover that later on). This influx of cheap capital financed huge housing boom-like bubbles and increased trade deficits.  And then, the 2007-2008 financial crisis hit. It started in the U.S., but soon migrated to the European continent. The influx of cheap money dried up. This caused severe economic slowdowns and downturns in almost all of the Eurozone.

Since the European Union is an unfinished economic integration project topped by an even more unfinished political integration, countries like Greece, Spain, and Italy were literally up the creek without a paddle.  The economic crisis of 2008 led to a huge fiscal crisis in these countries since they had no control over their monetary policies, and they were obliged to keep their budgetary spending within the 3% allowed by the EU agreements.  However, in a time of severe economic crisis, one needs to engage in fiscal deficit spending in order to get out of the hole. The last thing a country needs is drastic cut in public spending. Why? Because drastic cuts in public spending lowers consumption, which lowers demand, which leads to less investments, which leads to less revenues.  And the more austerity measure a given country adopts, the more it reinforces this infernal downward spiral. But what did the EU leaders do? They did exactly what they should not have done.

Germany and France (Sarkozy’s France) forced most of the EU members to engage in drastic public spending cuts hoping that fiscal discipline would calm financial markets and stop speculations. However, these EU leaders misread completely the message that most financial markets have been sending. They were not looking for strict fiscal discipline, though some discipline doesn’t hurt. They were looking for serious economic growth prospects.  Since spending cuts depress economic growth (just look at the economic growth in the Eurozone countries in the last 2 years and you notice that cuts caused economic stagnation and recession in France, Spain, the UK, Italy, Greece, and so forth), investors and bond markets lost confidence in the Eurozone, and that led to higher interest rates on short term borrowing. Not only are these countries killing their economic growth with all those drastic cuts, but also they can’t even find cheap capital to fund short-term operations. Consequence: 3 European countries—Greece, Spain, and Italy—are on the verge of total economic collapse and serious political turmoil.

So, what if we let Greece out of the Eurozone like Wolfgang Schäuble wants? What would happen to the rest of the Eurozone?

Let us game this scenario for a second.

As we speak, Greece is under a slow-moving financial blitzkrieg.  There is a slow moving bank-run on the Greek banks (or what the bankers call a bank-jog). What does that mean? It means that depositors are pulling out their capital to anticipate a possible Greek default or an exit from the Eurozone.  This bank-jog has been going on at a very low rate for the last 2 or 3 months, but it has accelerated since the last legislative elections.  However, the ECB is backstopping, or for the lack of a better word, financing this bank-jog through lending to Greek banks the necessary capital. More accurately, the Greek banks are using the emergency liquidity assistance until the EFSF (European Financial Stability Facility) agrees to release its bonds, so they can use them as collateral.

However, when the ECB decides to stop financing Greek banks (and that’s what the German minister of Finance, Wolfgang Schäuble, means), Greece would effectively be forced to leave the Eurozone and abandon the euro as a currency, and revert to issuing again its own national currency, the drachma.

The first fallout of such a move is that financial markets would lose total confidence in every Eurozone countries. Greece leaving the Eurozone means that the euro is reversible, and any country could decide to abandon it.  Do you remember that bank-jog we just talked about in the previous paragraph? Well, that bank-job would turn into a bank-run on Spanish, Italian, Irish, and possibly French banks. All investors and all financial markets would pull out all of their money at once. Ladies and gentlemen, no bank in the world and in the history of banking has had enough cash or securities in its vaults to face a cataclysmic event like this one. This means that most banks in Spain and Italy would collapse overnight.  A large numbers of banks in France, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, and Belgium would also collapse. This would trigger a worldwide chain reaction and some U.S, Japanese, and Russian banks exposed to Eurozone debts would also be severally affected.

What we would be looking at is a total blow-up of the European Union and a severe global depression.

This is what it means to let Greece leave the Eurozone now. On top of the financial and economic global calamity, we would also have a political one. The rise of extreme right and left political parties in Europe and elsewhere would surely be the most likely political outcome. Mainstream parties would be blamed for the catastrophe and would be completely discredited in the eyes of most voters, which would directly benefit the extreme right and extreme left political leaders.

What to do then to avoid such a calamity? Not only must Greece stay in the Eurozone, but also a more encompassing political economy must be devised. First, the mutualization of the debt must be organized. Second, the ECB must be restructured to issue euro-bonds so member states can directly borrow from the ECB at low rate instead of borrowing from banks. Third, a serious economic growth agenda must be considered so countries like Spain, Italy and others could trigger decent economic growth rates and emerge from the infernal cycle of austerity and depression.

Finally, the ECB must increase the Eurozone inflation rate to at least 4%. Why?  In a recession, you expect average wages to adjust to a lower level. As the unemployment rate increases, workers are willing to accept lower wages, and as wages decrease, employers become more willing to hire more workers. If this does not occur, the recessionary cycle deepens and becomes persistent.  There are several ways to fix this problem, but let us concentrate on the one most suited for the Eurozone. One of the problems in Spain, Italy, Greece and most of Europe is that their workers have become increasingly uncompetitive over the past decade—higher wages, high unemployment rates, and low investments leading to a highly uncompetitive Eurozone worker. One way to correct this is by devaluing the currency, which would effectively reduce wages in a country compared to the rest of Europe. But this solution is not available to most Eurozone member states because they do not have control over their monetary policies. The Eurozone monetary policy is dictated by the ECB.  So how do you reduce wages in those countries when you can’t manipulate your currency? Well keep wages constant, but allow a higher inflation rate. If the ECB allows the inflation rate to run at a 4% level, you effectively get no wage increase, but an effective drop by 4%. This would increase the competitive edge of the European worker.

This is the only way out. But to reach these set of solutions, the ECB and the Germans need to get over their obsession about spending, inflation, price stability, and moral hazard. If Angela Merkel keeps on doing what she has been doing and keeps on bullying the rest of the Eurozone member states into these suicidal austerity programs, she would literally cause the collapse of the European Union. Lastly, the ECB needs to embrace its function as an independent central bank facing drastic economic crisis with a possible political and economic collapse of the whole area. The ECB needs to get over its rigid ideology of price stability and face  reality. Otherwise, there will not be an ECB in a couple of years.