Egypt: the view of Egyptian scientists

Michael Harms, director of the Cairo office of the DAAD (Deutsche Akademische AustauschDienst, i.e., German Academic Exchange Service), offers a view from the Egyptian capital in an interview with Nature magazine. (Hat tip: Mrs. F2; emphasis mine)

Where are you now?

My team, as well as 55 German DAAD fellows, have been camping here in the office since Friday. We’re located in the diplomatic quarter on the Zamalek Nile Island, just a few kilometers from Cairo’s main square downtown and the centre of the protests. The situation here is still very critical: there are armed guys patrolling the streets, and there are militia everywhere.

What is the mood among Egyptian academics?

They basically share the same views with the majority of the protesters: a deep fury about the Mubarak regime. Most intellectuals say the regime is unfair and corrupt. But nobody really has a program or a vision for the future, nor are there any common goals for the time to come.

The many academics I have spoken to do not think there is currently a political force which would be capable of unifying the country. Certainly they don’t trust the Muslim Brotherhood [a leading political opposition group] to do it. There is also a widespread feeling that Western-style democracy is not a panacea for Egypt. But few have a good idea of what a political system that would suit Egypt should look like.

How would you describe Egyptian science?

There are many problems. Universities are critically under-funded and academic salaries are so low that most scientists need second jobs to be able to make a living. Tourist guides earn more money than most scientists. You just can’t expect world-class research under these circumstances. […] Some 750,000 students graduate each year and flood the labor market, yet few find suitable jobs – one reason for the current wave of protests.

But there are some good scientists here, particularly those who have been able to study and work abroad for a while. The Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education has started some promising initiatives. For example, in 2007 it created the Science and Technology Development Fund (STDF), a Western-style funding agency. And Egypt is quite strong in renewable energies and, at least in some universities, in cancer research and pharmaceutical research.

Read the whole thing. And I cannot recommend this piece I linked yesterday enough: The Story of the Egyptian Revolution: An on-the-ground narrative by Sam Tadros

 

 

Egypt’s January revolution: Echoes of Russia’s February revolution?

At C2 we are following the events in Egypt with great interest. Egypt’s current regime is of the typical Arab authoritarian variety, and I can wholly sympathize with the desire of the Egyptians to give it the heave-ho. A loud chorus has been going up for 0bama to call for regime change in Egypt, which he so far has been avoiding. Yet none other than John Bolton (on Fox News), hardly a shrinking violet, reminds us that  there is one thing worse than authoritarianism, and that is totalitarianism. [UPDATE: the distinction, as defined by Jeane Kirkpatrick, is that while authoritarian regimes “merely” try to control and/or punish the behavior of their subjects, totalitarian ones  seek to control their thoughts as well.]

The Russians under the Czar figured nothing could be worse than the autocracy of the Czar. In the February Revolution they got rid of him, and good riddance it was. However, others were waiting in the wings, and in the October Revolution they grabbed their chance.

Historical parallels are imperfect, but will this be Egypt’s February Revolution — led by secular democratic groups — only to be followed by a takeover by the totalitarians of the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslemi)? And will Mohammed El-Baradei be the Egyptians’ Alexander Kerensky? Caroline Glick notes El-Baradei is rather chummy with the Ikhwan, just like Kerensky had a “no enemies to the left!” policy.

Isser at IsraNed comments on copycat demonstrations in Jordan, calling for reforms, lower food prices, and an end to the peace treaty with Israel. He sees an “encirclement” of Israel in progress, as the end of peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan will mean a solid ring of enemy states around her from the Mediterranean to the Mediterranean.

Barry Rubin, director of a Middle-East analysis think tank at Bar-Ilan University, is interviewed here, and is thoroughly worried.

It is tempting to see this as a revolution that will bring down the regime. But Egypt is not Tunisia. And while the demonstrations are passionate it is not clear that the numbers of participants are huge. If the elite and the army hold together they could well prevail, perhaps by removing Mubarak to save the regime. We should be cautious in drawing conclusions.[…]

So far the uprising has not been led by the Muslim Brotherhood. But it is the only large organized opposition group. It is hard to see how it would not be the leading force after a while. The leadership would have to decide that it is facing a revolutionary situation and that this is the moment for an all-out effort. But if it does so and fails there will be a terrible repression and the group will be crushed. It appears that the Brotherhood is joining the protests but has not made its basic decision yet. In the longer term if the regime is completely overthrown I do believe the Brotherhood will emerge as the leader and perhaps the ruler of the country. […]

The chances for democracy and liberalism are different in every country. Tunisia has a good chance because there is a strong middle class and a weak Islamist movement. But in Egypt look at the numbers in the latest Pew poll.

In Egypt, 30 percent like Hizballah (66 percent don’t). 49 percent are favorable toward Hamas (48 percent are negative); and 20 percent smile (72 percent frown) at al-Qaida. Roughly speaking, one-fifth of Egyptians applaud the most extreme Islamist terrorist group, while around one-third back revolutionary Islamists abroad. This doesn’t tell us what proportion of Egyptians want an Islamist government at home, but it is an indicator.

In Egypt, 82 percent want stoning for those who commit adultery; 77 percent would like to see whippings and hands cut off for robbery; and 84 percent favor the death penalty for any Muslim who changes his religion.

Asked if they supported “modernizers” or “Islamists” only 27 percent said modernizers while 59 percent said Islamists:

Is this meaningless? Last December 20 I wrote that these “horrifying figures in Egypt…one day might be cited to explain an Islamist revolution there….What this analysis also shows is that a future Islamist revolution in Egypt and Jordan is quite possible.

Let us hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

/Thanks to littleoldlady, Realwest, Fenway, Marty, and the other good folks at C2 with whom I was discussing this!

UPDATE: some links culled from my Twitter feed:

  • Eli Lake reminds us that things weren’t that rosy between Egypt and Israel under Mubarak:  “This was stability in Egypt btw. […] http://bit.ly/ghy06l A dispatch of mine from Cairo in 05″
  • Pajamas Media » Barry Rubin: Egypt: Three Possible Outcomes (“bilgeman” offers a 4th in comments) pajamasmedia.com/blog/egypt-thr…
  • Ralph Peters argues that Mubarak is a dead man walking and that any further support to him by the West would just strengthen the Ikhwan  http://t.co/8ZVKbX4
  • However, at the same site, repentant former PLO terrorist Walid Shoebat says we must support Mubarak, as the alternative is theocracy http://t.co/XAGSztP
  • On Twitter, Col. Richard Kemp (erstwhile British commander of forces in Afghanistan) puts it this way: “Only options: continuation in some form of current regime or #Islamist fundamentalism. There is no organized moderate group in #Egypt.” permalink
  • Jake Tapper: Wikileaked cables shed light on new Egyptian VP [former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman] http://abcn.ws/hKwees
  • via Martin Kramer: Barry Rubin points out http://goo.gl/fb/JFwKq that “Muhammad el-Baradei, leader of the reformist movement, says that if he were to be president he would recognize Hamas as ruler of the Gaza Strip and end all sanctions against it. (See: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,705991,00.html)” Note that Hamas is a direct descendant of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood…
That may be pitching it too strongly, however: we also know from the Tea Party just what “leaderless organizations” can achieve. Yet, I see where he is coming from.