When I began this blog a little more than two years ago, one of the early posts was entitled “Free Sandmonkey.” Sandmonkey is the “nom de blog” of Mahmoud Salem, then Egypt’s most famous blogger, and he had that day in 2011 been “ambushed & beaten by the police, my phone confiscated, my car ripped apar& supplies taken,” as he informed his readers. He continues to be one of the most interesting and persuasive commentators on events in Egypt.
Today he has written an article entitled “A View from Cairo: Egypt Is Too Big to Save,” published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Mr. Salem’s conclusion is this:
If Washington pushes the IMF to expedite the loan under the current economic and political conditions, it will not succeed in stabilizing the country or restoring investor confidence. Rule of law is key — a loan without necessary reforms would be money wasted on propping up a failing government for a few more months, further entangling Washington with the Morsi administration at a time when the latter’s long-term survival is increasingly costly and doubtful.
He is in my view absolutely right. He explains how much trouble Egypt is in, and how little Washington appears to understand it:
Two years after the popular revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak, Egypt appears headed toward a “failed state” scenario. While Cairo has not yet defaulted on its debts — an economic hallmark of nearly all erstwhile states — it already meets many of the other political conditions associated with comprehensive failure. In Washington, the discussion is narrowly focused on the implications of the rapidly deteriorating economic situation, with little appreciation that the financial morass is inextricably linked to the government’s increasingly authoritarian politics. If the ruling Islamist party does not change its approach, the economy will not improve, and the state will move closer to collapse.
Egypt’s economic problems require a political as well as economic solution; throwing money at them–even if we had the money–is not enough. The Qataris will find this out and not even they have enough spare cash lying around to keep Egypt going if its government refuses to change its current policies.