Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Missing Pieces: Egypt’s Elections, the Korean and Chinese Economies, and More

by Isobel Coleman
November 18, 2011

Thousands of Egyptians gather during a demonstration at Tahrir Square in Cairo, November 18, 2011 (Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow covers developments in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America in this week’s edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy the reading and let us know your thoughts.

  • Egypt’s Bumpy Road: With the first round of parliamentary elections set for November 28, concern is growing about Egypt’s transition and the military’s role. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned last week that “a roomful of unelected officials” should not remain Egypt’s “most powerful political force.” Some 50,000 Egyptians protested continued military control today in Tahrir Square. The convoluted election system, with six rounds of voting and a plethora of lists, districts, and quotas, “seems deliberately designed to befuddle all but the deepest insiders,” as a Foreign Policy piece this week puts it. The piece surveys the party landscape, concluding that the Muslim Brotherhood and remnants of the Mubarak regime will likely dominate the voting. On his blog, CFR’s Ed Husain has written recently (here and here) about accusations that the Brotherhood is “bribing voters” with meat, vegetables, and candy. A GlobalPost piece highlights these and other accusations of malfeasance, along with uncertainty among voters over who is running.
  • The South Korea Model: The Economist offers a concise look at the remarkable success and current challenges of South Korea’s development model. In 1960, the country had per capita income “on par with the poorest parts of Africa.” This year, its income will surpass the EU average. And this growth has come alongside solid democracy (for the last 25 years) and low inequality. The article sees four main elements of the model: education and hard work; huge corporate conglomerates, or chaebol; weak small firms; and strong social cohesion. Though this mix worked well for a developing Korea, the article argues, it now needs reform. School and extra-curricular activities are expensive, driving down the birthrate. Relatively few women work. The chaebol “may be stifling innovation and entrepreneurship” by soaking up the best talent, while small firms perform poorly. Inequality seems to be growing, with poverty particularly worrisome among older Koreans. And taxes are low, but so is social spending. Overall, the Economist concludes, boosting domestic innovation is the route to continued growth; importing and improving foreign technologies is no longer enough.
  • The Wenzhou Model: China faces questions about its own economic model as slowing business, soured loans, and other ills cap an “annus horribilis” in Wenzhou, according to the Wall Street Journal. Wenzhou is the city that launched China’s entrepreneurial and export boom. Underpinning its success is a “nonbank financial system where relationships matter more than collateral”–essentially a network of informal money lending. As exports slacken thanks to anemic global growth, firms with outstanding loans are in trouble. Some borrowers have fled their creditors; others have apparently committed suicide. A Businessweek article tells of one business owner struggling to repay some 130 lenders. They want one of his pharmacies; he would rather part with a finger. The question is whether Wenzhou’s troubles are a harmless bump or a ominous portent for China’s economy.
  • Child Labor in Latin America: Could child labor be good? According to a Time article, many people in Latin America think so. And surprisingly, they are not exploitative employers but working children themselves. Eight countries in the region have child-worker organizations akin to unions that advocate for better working conditions; they also require their members to stay in school. The children and their advocates argue that economic conditions require them to work, and if they do their rights should be protected. Some add that work is the only way they can afford school. Opponents “say they appreciate the kids’ efforts but insist the slope is too slippery” between relatively benign tasks and dangerous exploitation. According to the International Labor Organization, there were some 215 million child laborers worldwide in 2010, including 115 million in “hazardous work.”
  • Eritrea’s Athletic Escapes: The New York Times writes that Eritrean officials were concerned with more than victory when their national soccer team played in Rwanda this week: they wanted to be sure the players came home. In 2006, four players from an Eritrean club team defected to Kenya; thirteen players from the same club sought asylum in Tanzania this July. In 2009, twelve players from the national team applied for asylum after a match in Kenya. This week, no such events occurred; as the Times reported in a follow-up piece, the Eritrean team returned home “intact.” Why is everyone so eager to escape? The Times suggests that widespread repression, torture, and misery are to blame. Eritrea gets the lowest possible score in the 2011 Freedom in the World survey and ranks 177 out of 187 in the Human Development Index.


Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by Nikos Retsos

    I don’t see how the vegetables and food given to poor by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt create the turmoil. Muslim organizations have similar charities for the poor in every Muslim country, and those donations have never created discord or a revolution. The current protests in Egypt are the result of the U.S. pressure on the military to prevent fair elections in Egypt that might help the Muslim Brotherhood to obtain a majority in the Egyptian parliament – as Hezbollah has achieved in Lebanon. And that is a high possibility because the Arabs are hostile to the U.S., and no pro-U.S. elected government can exist in any Arab state – only pro-U.S. despotic regimes. The U.S., therefore, is behind the Egyptian military junta’s decision to fashion a cosmetic civilian government in place, while the military junta will control that government from behind the scenes.

    There are historical precedents on such cosmetic governments as I fully explain in my blog at the British Daily Telegraph titled “Hussein Tantawi: An Egyptian Augusto Pinochet takes over in Egypt! (
    Nikos Retsos, retired professor

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