Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Collapsing Countries: Egypt

It has been roughly two years since Mubarak's overthrow in Egypt. The media has given the consequences 1% of the attention compared to the spotlight during the Arab Spring. Was Egypt's phony revolution a creation of the State Department to reward Islamists, a genuine uprising yearning for democracy or a hungry crowd protesting price increases thanks to Chairman Bernanke? This does matter as the conditions are coming back for more problems in Egypt. If money related, we could change the monetary policy (stop laughing) and if created by the State Department, we could just blame them and prevent them from interfering in the next round of revolution. With 82 million people, Egypt is a bit different compared to other piss ant countries with problems in the Middle East. The US had a friendly secular autocrat, who with the military, protected religious minorities, was slightly positive towards Israel, and was anti-Islamofascist. We helped boot him out, and now complete social chaos is a step away. Egypt will most likely collapse economically in the short term with that situation followed by a civil war. Egypt is a collapsing country.
 
Mubarak's state was incredibly inefficient, but they did one steady thing: raw material and food subsidies. They are a net oil importer, which especially kills them in today's oil market. These government subsidies helped the little internal manufacturing they had as well as kept food costs down for the commoners and energy costs down for the irrigation systems. This subsidy contributed to the boost in population in a nation with a much lower human carrying capacity. The subsidy bill is over 25% of government expenditures. After the democratic revolution (stop laughing), social welfare spending rose enough so that subsidies and social program outlays rose roughly 50% from summer 2012 to January of 2013. Egypt's budget deficit is skyrocketing, they have had debt downgrades, and owe roughly $190 billion. Only about 20% of that is held by foreigners. Side note: Egypt has $4 billion in gold for western banks to plunder. The sick perversion of the bond markets even affects Egypt, as their debt is roughly 6% higher than Treasuries. ZIRP is forcing everyone to look for any high yield fixed income investment, regardless of risk. If Egypt runs into problems, any debt default or odd event is going to crush people internally. The kind of people who will fund revolutionaries and private security groups.
 
The elections put Islamists into power. They have taken a club to Coptic Christians and followed down the path of other secular dictator to democratic Islamist countries like Libya, Iraq and in '79 Iran. A perverse consequence of opening up the nation to elections is that now the elections are an excuse for people to riot and incite armed rebellion and protest. If you read one of the links below, a member of a minority or losing party uses the idea of corrupt elections, lost elections as a reason for protesting or that the ruling power would lose a new election so they would resort to violence to protect the state from what they would deem an improper election. There is even the mention of threats and intimidation at election time. Egypt's moved from violence due to what they deem oppressive tyranny to violence due to elections they deem fraudulent (much lower hurdle). Chaos and violence are commonplace in Cairo's neighborhoods because there is little control, the ruling power is perceived as weak, and violence gets results. In a country suffering from economic collapse and basic security issues, all elections will be considered fraudulent by someone, therefore violence will continue as long as democracy lives in Egypt.
 
Egypt has even bigger problems because their foreign reserves have dropped by 2/3 since the revolution. They are reduced to  combination of begging and blackmailing for foreign aid. "Give us that money or the people get it." The average Egyptian spends 45% of their income on food. Removing food subsidies will begin a new round of protests and revolution. Last time around, Egypt had higher reserves, a better global economic situation and a ready made organization to take over the civilian reins. Will the world be there to extend monetary lifelines? Egypt never implemented IMF required reforms listed in the prior aid packages. If the Muslim Brotherhood loses face in a collapse, who is left? The military would have the organization (they're calling the shots anyway), but didn't the West just usher out a secular autocrat aligned with the military? The time might be right for China to step in with aid and support for a nation run by its military, but Egypt doesn't have what China wants or needs. If there is no further bailout, we'll have economic chaos in a nation of 80 million followed by civil war (read here, here and here) as different power groups tussle for control in a basketcase region.

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