EGYPT AND THE 'GIMME' GENERATION
by Mark Scheinbaum
AR Financial Correspondent
Angel Fire, N.M.
January 31, 2011
ANGEL FIRE, N.M., Jan. 31, 2011 -- Looting, civil unrest, and a perceived lack of direction of the "revolutionary" movement in Egypt seem to have forced America and others to rethink their relationship to President Hosni Mubarak, and revealed the sad truths of the "Gimmetocracy."
I listened to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton make the rounds of talking head shows this Sunday morning, and actually heard the opposite of what seemed like President Obama's Friday night tacit endorsement of a peaceful overthrow of longtime ally Mubarak.
While pundits argue about whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood has a role in the street demonstrations, and thousands of prisoners have been freed, stores looted, and arsenals raided, the State Department now focuses on a promised September election and maintaining law and order.
The mob sentiment and headlines are too fluid for valid predictions. The complexities of Egyptian class structure and Mideast politics are beyond my expertise and pay grade.
But listening to some of the demonstrators interviewed in English, and watching the "social media" and "standard of living" and "ruling elite" concerns of many demonstrators suddenly flashed the perfect parallel. It is not oligarchy, or meritocracy or democracy, it is the latest consumer and self centered manifestation of a Gimmetocracy. The "Gimme, Gimme" Generation has now surfaced once again.
The flash of recognition came from this one news report out of Baghdad in Spring 2003. If you agree that there are similarities, nod your head and tell a friend. If you think I am off the wall, well tell my wife: she probably agrees with you.
But... The scene is a suburban technical high school in Baghdad, trashed, some windows broken, and some supplies and equipment looted or destroyed by rival gangs, remnants of Saddam Hussein loyalists, and finally routed and arrested by U.S. forces.
The camera pulls back from scattered papers, broken glass, smashed furniture, and defaced chalkboards.
A few young U.S. soldiers who had put their lives on the line for the Iraqi people - in full battle gear in 90 degree plus heat - pick through the rubble as the voice of a reporter tells what happened. Apparently the tape was from a few days earlier.
Now back with an update the camera shows seven or ten young and middle aged Iraqi men. Beards neatly trimmed. Nike and Ralph Lauren golf shirts. What appear to be expensive wristwatches. Full-toothed white smiles flash at the camera. Trappings of status. Trappings of wealth or certainly the upper middle class.
"When will the Americans clean up this mess? They contributed to the mess.
"This is a disgrace, This is our school, this is not what we were told would be happening. It has been more than a week and this school is still not fit for classes."
Those were the comments from the men, in translated Arabic and broken English and sometimes in more forceful verbiage. My wife and I simultaneously turned from the tv and looked at each other.
We both were struck by the same thought.
After Hurricane Andrew people in Miami were in the streets with shovels and boxes and brooms in six hours. In the German Blitz of London during World War II when the all clear sirens wailed civil defense crews were locating, defusing, or detonating bombs, rescuing victims, and cleaning away debris.
Okay, it was just a sudden flash, an image, a connection. We have seen Hamid and Hanna Doe, in a middle class neighborhood of Cairo, picking up sticks and protecting shops and stores, and trying to keep roving bands of gangsters from their streets, and trying to put their butts on the line to fill the void left by fleeing police. There are indeed people who care and care passionately about their future. One assumes many are willing to do the heavy lifting and pay the price to build a new nation.
But there is also the nagging feeling that those with cell phones Twittering and Facebooking, and angry at a cut in bandwidth and connectivity, have a bad case of the "give mes."
In the "liberation" of Iraq none of these young men with passion and conviction in their faces similar to the Cairo mobs, lifted a broom or a brush or a hand to clean up a school in their own neighborhood. It was fine work for kids from Erie, Edinburgh, Winnipeg, Budapest, Perth and Dothan, or Taos and Bakersfield, but not for Iraqis.
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!
Keep in mind that the legitimacy of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the first place has nothing to do with getting to work and taking your future into your own hands.
"Give me liberty or give me death" to folks in some circles has now become more like the lyrics of an Abba song. If America supports Mubarak at least until a "peaceful electoral transition" fails, and Hosni and his posse sneak out of town after dark, the crowds in Cairo may soon be singing "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme a man after midnight."
AR Financial Correspondent Mark Scheinbaum is managing director of LF-Financial LLC, President of Arbolindo de Panama, S.A., and veteran political scientist and journalist. His views are is own and not those of his firm.