What the Arab world really wants

Middle East protest has its roots not in Islam but in frustrated enterprise

13 July 2013

9:00 AM

13 July 2013

9:00 AM

Two years ago, the West thought it recognised what was happening in the Arab world: people wanted democracy, and were having revolutions to make that point. Now, recent events in Egypt have left many open-mouthed. Why should the generals be welcomed back? Why should the same crowds who gathered in Tahrir Square to protest against the old regime reconvene to cheer the deposing of their elected president? Could it be that the Arab Spring was about something else entirely?

I believe so. The Arab Spring was a massive economic protest: a demand that the poor should have the basic rights to buy, sell and make their way in the world. I have the nerve to say this because just after the death of Mohammed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit seller who started the Arab Spring by setting himself ablaze, my researchers spent 20 months in the region to find out more. Why would someone kill himself after he had lost a cartful of fruit and an old set of scales? We found something the newspapers missed: he was not alone. No fewer 63 men and women replicated Bouazizi’s protest within two months of his death, in one country after another.

We interviewed their families, and started to piece together their story — the true story of the Arab Spring. The picture is now complete and the facts are in. These facts have deep implications for David Cameron’s government. Our research suggests that the region’s revolution has just begun and has the potential to transform the Arab world for the better. But only if the West can see what is really going on, and offer support.

As is so often the case with political martyrs, Mohammed Bouazizi has come to mean different things to different people. To some he’s a symbol of resistance to injustice; to others an archetype of the fight against autocracy. Last year the Occupy activists enlisted him as a spiritual ally. It is hard to imagine that the real Bouazizi would have recognised himself in any of these incarnations.

When local authorities took away his fruit and scales, his livelihood was destroyed. He knew that from then on he would never have a legal right to put up a stall. He had no way to reduce the cost of the bribes that he paid regularly for his right to buy and sell. This would destroy his ability to get credit to buy the truck he dreamed of. The government has the power to crush people like Bouazizi, and it seemed to him that they would do so. He protested, in an act copied by 21 more people in Tunisia, 29 in Algeria, five in Egypt, four in Morocco, two in Syria, one in Saudi Arabia and one in Yemen.

They were all, like Bouazizi, extralegal entrepreneurs — protesting for the right to get on. The right to own and better their lives; to accumulate capital; not to have their property expropriated on a whim. They were in businesses as diverse as restaurants, computing, real estate, opticians and taxis and their decision to commit suicide in public was usually taken after the authorities confiscated their wares or their documentation. As one Tunisian survivor told us: ‘I have no problem with competition, but expropriation is an indignity. Authorities do not recognise what is ours, and that is not -tolerable.’

This is the case not just for most of the Arab world, but for most of the third world. The phrase ‘black market’ suggests, to western ears, dodgy dealing on the sidelines. But in the Arab world legality is what happens on the sidelines. Economists look only at the official statistics, and imagine, for example, that Egypt has a massive unemployment rate. If you were an out-of-work Egyptian, however, you would be dead after three or four months because you would not have enough food. Most Arabs are working, but in a way that has become invisible not only to their governments but to the West.

Outside Cairo, the poorest of the poor live in a district of old tombs called the ‘city of the dead’. But almost all of Cairo is the city of the dead — that is to say, dead capital. Assets that cannot be used to their fullest, cannot be used as collateral for loans or changed for other assets. Seeds that can never grow. These people are working, but not in ways that western governments are prepared to recognise. Given the chance, they would pull themselves, and their countries, out of poverty. But they are denied the chance, because the rule of law is a cosy club to which only the elite belong.

And the scale? In Egypt alone, the extra-legal sector accounts for 84 per cent of businesses and 92 per cent of land parcels. My organisation, the Peru-based Institute for Liberty & Democracy, estimates that some 380 million Arabs derive most of their income from the ‘shadow’ economy.

If the Arab Spring is to be compared to a revolution, then it should that of England in 1688. After the Glorious Revolution, the crown agreed to be limited by the rule of law. The English were able to have deeds for their property, a right that even a king could not take away. People could borrow against their property, no matter how humble. The eventual result was the industrial revolution. This process, which allowed the West’s incredible economic transformation, has yet to happen in the third world. And so many billions of people are stuck in poverty.

This is not some western monopolistic conspiracy. Americans, Europeans and Japanese take the wealth-creation process so completely for granted that they have forgotten that property is about more than real estate or ownership. It is about the identities, contracts, rules, credit guarantees and documented information that allow entrepreneurs to join people, things and capital into more valuable combinations. These tools, essential to escape poverty, lie out of reach for most Arab entrepreneurs. In Egypt, for example, to legally own a small business such as a bakery requires dealing with 29 different government agencies and navigating 215 sets of laws. In Arab countries, the poor entrepreneur’s right to transact derives from the goodwill of local authorities, not the law. When Bouazizi and those other entrepreneurs lost that goodwill, that right evaporated, severing access forever to the legal tools that property rights bestow. Those authorities expropriated not just their property but their futures. This is why they burned themselves alive.

Britain has been generous with international aid. But if Cameron were to match this by pointing out the obstacles facing the Arab poor, it could be transformative. He has long been a vocal proponent for property rights and the rule of law as crucial elements for economic development. What better moment than to carry that message to the Arab world? Relieving poverty need not be seen by the new Arab governments as an act of charity. On the contrary, legal reforms are already  at the top of these new governments’ agendas for growth.

It was a British philosopher, Gilbert Ryle, who coined the term ‘category mistake’. If don’t get your categories right, he said, you won’t get your analysis right. If the West places Egypt and the Arab Spring into the category of ‘Islamist uprising’, it will not only misunderstand the hopes of millions but miss a remarkable opportunity. By our estimates, entrepreneurs who want a legal system with property rights like those in the West outnumber al-Qa’eda members in the region by a ratio of about 100,000 to one.

Britain is ideally placed to see the link between the 1688 Glorious Revolution, and what it did to ensure so many shared the benefits of the industrial revolution, and what is happening today in Egypt. If it did so, much of the confusion of what underpins the Arab Spring would clear up. This is not only an Arab phenomenon. It needs an eloquent western advocate, who can point the economic potential in extending the rule of law, property and businesses to the many, not the few. The West has spent decades making a category error in how it sees third world poverty and stability. It needs a new voice, with a new approach. There is no reason why that voice should not be David Cameron’s.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Hernando de Soto, is president of the Institute for Liberty & Democracy and author of The Mystery of Capital.

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Show comments
  • NotYouNotSure

    I highly doubt it, those people who are protesting and have been identified as the secularists, as opposed to the muslims, are likely not capitalists. I assume that 99.9999% of them all have the same same socialist belief systems, namely nationalised healthcare, generous welfare state, free education, free housing, government run enterprises, high taxes, etc.

    • MikeHoncho

      Easy to assume when you still live with your parents.

    • nb12

      This author lives in a universe of his own. There are plenty of delusional articles published about the Middle East. But this one is truly beyond silly. Until I read this nonsense, I was sure that I had seen/read it all. Boy was I wrong

  • Garry

    Probably the first perceptive article I have read about this, the fact that it was sparked by a fruit seller not University Students or Imams says it all, of course when a snowball rolls down a hill it picks up a lot of stuff on the way, as this has done..it still does not detract from the basic premise that people just want security, food on the table and some chances in life..Democracy is even a side issue, often seen as a competition between various mafia style groups, so in effect people just vote for the one that will be kinder to their tribal, religous or ethnic group.
    The west fails to understand because it insists on trying to force it into a western style template.

  • reynmeistr

    De Soto is right… in 1945, 1950, 1955, even 1960 and ’65— you could ask ANYBODY on any street in America what they thought of the Japanese people and you would get a spluttering series of denunciation and invective, specifically calling to attention the Japanese national character of emperor worship, reflexive kamikaze (suicide bombing) and harakiri (honor suicide). All this 5,10,15,20 years after the Japanese peoples’ sudden switch to pacific capitalism.
    Point is, once the 3% criminal clique at the top is lopped off (that is, whose armies are blown off the battlefield, and are forced to unconditionally surrender and are driven permanently from power under the watchful eyes of the victors), the other 97% of the population, who we thought were crazy kamikazes, are at last freed to go about their lives, raise a family and start a business– the highest aspiration of ordinary people… people not drunk on exploiting their fellow man as are most elites/rulers.

    • big banana

      The tribalism in the Arab world is so much different than the structure of Japanese society that I don’t see it as a fair comparison.

    • Monkish

      Never heard of the Meiji restoration and modernisation of Japan? Didn’t think so…

  • Abhay

    At least a different point of view on the subject

  • LoicMarsillac

    A la mierda con de Soto, vastago de conquistadores y alcahuete del neoliberalismo putrefacto que amenaza con destruir la tierra entera. Abajo con el neoliberalismo y la locura del capitalismo desenfrenado que devorando la tierra se canibalizara a si mismo, pero no sin primero acabando con el proletariado ‘superfluo’ e ‘inecesario.’ Desde Mexico a Sudafrica y desde China a Brazil, lo que le espera al proletariado ‘superfluo’ es su traicion e aniquilacion por parte de los que mas ostentosamente pretenden preocuparse por su condicion!

  • William Reid Boyd

    This would be Victor Hugo’s “la dégradation de l’homme par le prolétariat”, would it not (he also singled out the degradation of women and the stultification of children)?

    Scarcely an original observation and we don’t need astrologers (or whatever economists actually are) to make it for us.

    We’ve wised up. Read a book not about economics, Fernando.

  • Macspee

    Spot on Hernando! Problem is with the “activists” of varying ilk that they muscle in with their own agenda. The organised Muslim brotherhood are able to take over whereas the people, being downtrodden individuals, can do little. It is later that the mass see that the muscle men have nothing to offer but more repression. Faith in an afterlife is no substitute for freedom to live one’s own life. The strong-arm men need to get the hell out of the way and let individuals prosper on their own terms and have whatever faith they like without having it rammed down their throats as a substitute way of life.

  • Hard Little Machine

    It may be true but it would also require you to either ignore the last 600+ years of Arab history or include it as part of the overall problem. The Arab world began to fall economically, socially, academically, spiritually, civilly, technologically behind the west after the plagues of the mid 14th century. And it’s never really been a fair fight or an even race since. Even if they had it in them to adopt functional economics, it would have to be OUR economics. They would have to admit that nothing of any use or value has emerged organically from them. And seemingly even when offered competing ‘modern’ options they made a hash of it by embracing Soviet style communism and Marxism. So it’s true in part that their failure is their failure in the economic sphere, but this does not in way imply there is any way out of their dilemma. They may very well sink ever further down into the muck; the states that can’t pump money out of the ground are imploding and the states which can pump money out of the ground are experiencing population explosions which are insupportable particularly beyond the next 20 years just when the oil begins to peter out. It will be Biblical when it all crashes down.

    • MikeHoncho

      Sorry, I can’t read Virginese, can you retype that drivel in English for me please?
      Thanks in advance.

  • JehudahBenIsrael

    “Arab spring”


    All that we have been witnessing during the past couple of years has been a long, dark, cold, storm and very bloody winter whose end is yet to be noticed.

    So, why even use terms that don’t reflect reality but certainly reflect wishful thinking as a substitute for a reality that is a throwback to the 7th century Arabia…??

  • nomadcapitalist

    This is a really great analysis! So many good points and interesting to see how the west has no clue what other societies really want.

  • Y.K.

    While de Soto is doubtlessly right about the need for property law reform and the roots of the uprisings, it seems that he is making a certain category error himself as well. The categories of ‘ME resident who wants property rights’ and ‘Islamist’ (or for that matter ‘al-Qaeda member’) do not necessarily exclude each other, so the statement ‘entrepreneurs who want… property rights like those in the West outnumber al-Qa’eda members’ is not very useful.

    For example, according to a Pew poll[1], 82% of Egyptians would support stoning adulterers and 84% would support executing people who leave Islam. If de Soto is correct, there must be a large overlap with people who support property rights reforms. These reforms might help economically, but it is doubtful they’ll lead to liberalization, or (if we judge by the relatively wealthy Gulf state example) less support for radicalism. We could just end up with more wealthy radicals attacking the world, and more repression in the name of Islam. So the focus on Islamist attitudes may categorize the wrong reasons for the uprisings, but it is an accurate description of what we should be worried about.


  • moraywatson

    islam is a totalitarian political system. It already has its own rules about property rights (the quran) and a system for enforcing them (the sharia). There will be no western style property rights in an islamic supremacist totalitariate, and those who try to establish one will be considered apostates, and the penalty for them will be death. And none of this will be new; it is happening right now all around the world.

    • Ahmed Abou Ghanem

      What you’re talking about is Radical Islam …. not the actual religion of Islam itself … True Islam allows ppl to make their choices and any type of system mentioned in the quran is actually a suggestion rather than a command … why then do you think we revolted against the Islamists in Egypt? Because they wished to apply exactly what you’re talking about.

    • dawudisrael

      Islam has a history of property rights. The Qur’an mentions many parables relating to property and ownership, and mentions much law relating to this. Property rights do come from the Qur’an and women are allowed property of their own, without any man’s interference — this is something the law in some third world countries does not permit, but which Islam does. The property of non-Muslims is also inviolable.

      The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had some property when he died and his daughter Fatima argued that it is her inheritance, even though the first Caliph Abu Bakr said that Prophets leave behind no worldly inheritance. The Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz made reforms to make clear the distinction between the property of the state and the property of the individual. This is important to note as this distinction is not there with some corrupt Arab autocrats who usurp land.

      The idea of a title or a deed which Mr. de Soto speaks about, also existed at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) where he promised a man that he would wear the jewels of Chosroes (the Persian king) one day if he converted to Islam — this was a prophecy as Muslims had no fought the Persians yet. The man (Suraqa) insisted this be recorded as proof. Years later after the Muslims had conquered the Persians, and the Prophet had passed away, the man came to claim his jewels and when questioned about this by the Caliph Umar, he pulled out that title to that booty and it was his. So the lesson one can take from this is a title or a deed could be religiously enforced in a way that is stronger than a legal enforcement.


      • Endri Bardhyli

        Yeah the first act of Post-Mohamed property expropriation

  • john s

    The fact that the Egyptian uprising was an economic one was pointed out just after it happened by Glen Beck. It coincided with proposes state imposed price increases on on the fuel egyptians use to cook and heat. It followed near revolts there after proposed increases in food costs the year before (which were cancelled). At least that’s how i remember it. Merchants don’t take to the street with bottles tied to their heads for a free market system, any more than they do so for the idea democracy. They do it because their economics conditions or prospects are dismal.

  • Van Grungy

    Shariah is collectivism
    Shariah does not allow for free markets
    These people in Egypt all want Shariah (except the Copts).
    The only dispute about Shariah is of degree

    • Fawaz Rashed

      You need to get your facts straight

      • Van Grungy

        no, najis muslim
        you need to leave islam

    • Ahmed Abou Ghanem

      For the Islamists Shariah to them is a collectivism and a totalitarianism … In Islam it is not …. In fact Shariah law in Islam is very close to what’s in the Bible’s Old Testament and the Talmud. And no, Egypt did not want the “Shariah” … which is why they revolted against the president who was an extremist.

      • Van Grungy

        “In fact Shariah law in Islam is very close to what’s in the Bible’s Old Testament and the Talmud.”

        In fact, islam is a rip off, a plagiarism, of the Bible and aspects of the Talmud.

        Egyptians are completely devout muslims that want what islam promises. Too bad islam is absolute garbage as a cultural guide for a society.

        • Ahmed Abou Ghanem

          Geez man take a chill pill or something …. you went into a hate website for religion or something? You hate the religion so much don’t follow it but I’m telling you it sure ain’t gonna follow you all the way to your doorstep … it ain’t gonna hurt nobody … and it ain’t gonna preach for killing nobody … don’t believe it? Let the days do the talking then.

          • Van Grungy

            “it ain’t gonna preach for killing”
            Either you are lying or are very ignorant of islam

          • Ahmed Abou Ghanem

            Nope. I’m a Muslim. Plz I got work to do and I ain’t got time for this. Wanna know more about Islam … read the translated version of the Quran … or try to surf youtube or look for more books on Islam that were translated from Arab scholars. Bottom line … keep reading more.

  • Saad Sahraoui

    I do somewhat agree with the author, but disagree with him that people want capitalism. What people in general and Arab in particular want is “pursuit of happiness” i.e.. access to jobs, Justice, health care and housing. Any system (form of government) that could provide these basic human rights is welcome.

    The problem in most Arab/Muslim countries is that there is a huge gap between the have and have not, corruption is rampant and no justice at all except if you are wealthy.

    • MikeHoncho

      “The problem in most Arab/Muslim countries is that there is a huge gap
      between the have and have not, corruption is rampant and no justice at
      all except if you are wealthy.”

      Sounds like the United States.

  • Ogmius

    I think that much but not all of this article is accurate, and many of the comments are erroneous in their assumptions.

    I set up a small business in Cairo some 17 years ago, and I agree that the bureaucratic hurdles are extreme and permanent, as are the corrupt depredations of corrupt officialdom. That having been said, the vast majority of small businesses find a middle way (usually known as “tat tarabeza” – “under the table”) to operate and to achieve commercial success. In this regard I do not believe that Egypt is so much different to cradles of democracy such as Italy or Greece.

    Having lived through the years leading up to the revolution, as well as the revolution itself, I am convinced of one thing: there is no one single interpretation of events that is coherent in itself. There are 80 million people in Egypt and there are 80 million individual motives for supporting or opposing whatever aspect of the revolution is up for discussion. But there are some really false assumptions being made by many journalists, and many ordinary people who post their comments to these articles.

    I do not pretend to have an easy analysis either: but let me share a straw poll of the 50 workers that we employ, all of whom are manual workers with a low level of formal education, and who come from a very poor village just outside Cairo.

    When the presidential run-off took place, exactly half supported the Brotherhood, and half supported the perceived Mubarak place-holder, Ahmed Shafiq. By June 30 2013, 39 workers signed the Tamarod petition calling for Morsi to leave, and only 11 declared that he should serve out his term, even if they admitted that he was doing a terrible job.

    Of those who supported Morsi in 2012, and still support him today, not one of them thinks that sharia law and the islamist agenda is relevant to Egypt’s or their own personal situation.

    Whilst any Egyptian, like any citizen in any country in the world, desires financial security and and even modest increases in his standard of living, the question of his or her “rights” is and always has been in the forefront of their minds. All arab citizens are passionate about rights, and even the most uneducated of them can be startlingly mature in any debate about rights. Until the uprisings in the Arab world, however, citizens tended to be circumspect, if not cowed, in their demands. But the genie is now out of the bottle, and the citizen is no longer afraid of the State: and this is a very healthy state of affairs.

    Those of our workers that voted for Morsi initially, explained their choice in the following terms: ” For 80 years the Brotherhood was denied its chance, and for 80 years they have provided charitable works in our villages. They are the best organised and most disciplined force – and we think they should be given their chance, they have earned it. But (and here is the stinger in the tail that the western media hasn’t picked up on)….if they don’t perform, we will kick them out like we kicked Mubarak out”.

    In short, yes I agree with the article that economic imperative was a big motivator in the revolution, but I do not accept that it was the principal one. Even the poorest Egyptians have access to the global village, are part of the information age – and the desire for basic freedoms that we take for granted, provided a siren call over the satellite channels and internet that was irresistible. The vast majority of Egyptians have no intention of replacing a secular dictatorship with a religious or military one. But yes, a good job, and an improved standard of living, education for their kids – are also extremely powerful motivators.

    • Trofim

      There WERE 80 million Egyptians. My understanding is that the population of Egypt is increasing at the rate of roughly 1.3 million a year. In my eyes, such an increase in population in a country of limited resources in itself militates against economic enrichment.

      • Ogmius

        You are absolutely correct. And to add to what you describe, another statistic is that 96% of the population live on only 4% of the land surface area. This is basically the Nile valley land, which is arguably the most fertile soil in the world. And hundreds of thousands acres of this land is falling victim to urbanisation, most of it illegal.

        Egypt’s economic problems are deep and structural. Sixty or more years ago it exported wheat, and today it is the biggest wheat importer in the world. It imports 60% of its staple food requirement, and sells most of that to the people at prices well below the import cost.

        The most politically fraught decision that any Egyptian government, of whatever political persuasion, is the reduction or elimination of state subsidies on fuel and food. It will make Greek, Portuguese, or Spanish austerity look like a picnic in the park.

    • Nick

      I enjoyed reading your perspective of the situation.
      So which way do you see things going? Will Egypt eventually progress to democracy or will the country end up under sharia law with an authoritarian government?

      • Ogmius

        I absolutely do not believe that Egypt will end up with sharia law. I do not believe that it is the will of the people. The difficulty is that the Egyptians are devout in their daily religious observances, and thereby it has been relatively easy for islamist parties to carry the basically crude proposition that “a vote for us is a vote for God, and a vote for them is a vote for Satan”. However, I think that while a large body of Egyptians (not a majority though) fell for that argument once, they will not fall for it a second time.

        It certainly is possible that Egypt will once again come under authoritarian rule. As things stand today, Egypt cannot be governed without a strong power base, and I loosely call the “democrats” are disunited. Therefore they cannot govern without making alliance with an established power group, of which there are three: the Brotherhood, the Army, and the Old Regime. And even Morsi had to make alliances: with both the Army, and a body of liberal groups (whom he instantly betrayed once he had secured their votes). Of course it is unsatisfactory in the short term, but the democrats will get their act together eventually. They are already more politically savvy and less disunited this time than they were in 2011.

        Egypt’s progress to true democracy has in my opinion started quite well. The most startling achievement is that none of the established power groups feel safe from the Street any more. The street has brought down a 3 decade old dictatorship, it has brought down an Armed Forces government, and it has brought a regime that was moving towards religion-based authoritarianism. The Tamarod campaign in particular was stellar: the peaceful collection of signatures on a petition was a masterstroke. We will never know the real number of signatures they collected, but not even the Morsi regime contested the 22 million claimed. And this is set against the 13 million votes Morsi got in the presidential elections run-off. (He only got 5 million in the first round, the balance was what the Fairmont Group brought to him).

        Not bad, in just over 2 years, don’t you think? Egyptian dictators in the making will be looking over their shoulders from now on. But of course, bringing down unsavoury regimes is not the same has building the institutions of democratic governance.

        Most Egyptians I know are guardedly optimistic for the future. I have to stress that it has only been 2 years, which in the history of revolutions is but a moment. There will certainly be more incidents, and perhaps there is the threat that some islamists will go underground and commit acts of terror. But Egypt is resilient: we had terrorism in the 80s and 90s, but we came through them. And as for Sinai, this is a special case, and the Morsi government did nothing to pacify Sinai, indeed arguably it worsened the situation.

        Once again, I apologise for the length of the post, but there are no quick answers.

        • Anssi Porttikivi

          Please don’t apologize. I almost weep of joy when I read your insigthful commentary. I always appreciated Mr. De Soto’s lifework, but you add very important concretia and perspectives to this discussion.

      • Ahmed Abou Ghanem

        Democracy all the way hopefully.

        • Nick

          Well I hope democracy is achieved in Egypt but true democracy is needed there and not the supposed democracy that we have here in the UK.
          Our so called leaders are as corrupt as any other countries leaders which includes the USA.
          So I wish the Egyptians good luck but don’t use the wests model of democracy as an example to follow.

    • Tintagel

      The Greece of today is not the Greece of 3,000 years ago.

      The cash under the table practice has been cited as one of the main reasons for Greece’s recent and ongoing economic crisis.

    • Baron

      For Baron’s money, your initial posting and the additional stuff are by far the best take on what’s going on in Egypt, thank you. You so right saying that after a long darkness, it will take time to set up a construct that will offer and also guarantee even few basic democratic rights. Unquestionably though, even the Muslim world must move towards an arrangement that allows everyone to have a regular say in who governs.

    • dawudisrael

      You may not know this but De Soto was actively advising the Muslim Brotherhood on economic reforms and such… see his video The Economics of the Arab Spring on Youtube. I wonder what could’ve come from that had Morsi still been in power…

  • Augustus

    “Recent events in Egypt have left many open-mouthed. Why should the generals be welcomed back?”

    Egypt’s descent into the pits of disappointment and despair appears to be a very real conflict between modern nationalism and the weight of its religious-Islamic legacy. The path towards changing the political, social and economic situation is bloody, and growing ever more extreme. The dozens of people killed last week were a consequence of the historical conflict between two movements, the violent and dangerous result of their clashing over the years. For a long period nationalism meant modernity, progress, and the right to self-determination, along with the individual being responsible for his own fate, in fact the very heart of Western secular ideology. Religion was pushed aside and became just another factor of cultural legacy. It is not that religion had no place in the country’s legacy, or in the nationalistic model devised by Nasser, it is just that religion was marginalized. Recently, however, the grip of Islamic identity became much stronger on civil society, as evidenced by the Muslim Brotherhood’s victory last year, as well as the recurring trend in the Muslim world to return to an entity defined by Islam, not by nationalism. This ‘new’ Islamification is first and foremost a way of building a new identity in a world that may have lost its meaning. but it creates fringe groups which become extreme, not only in regard to violence and terrorism, but also regarding the dichotomy between Islam and the West. If this situation does not change Egypt will again lose a real opportunity for change. Darkness will once again cover the land, the Nile will turn to blood and Egypt will again sacrifice its sons on the altar of clashing identities and ideologies, without promising a better future for the next generation.

    • Ahmed Abou Ghanem

      That’s pretty much true Augustus. And what’s even more sad is that the Mubarak’s regime who we overthrew were playing the wild card game of “it’s either us or the brotherhood and chaos”.

  • global city

    Absolutely. They know that to have working capitalism you need the rule of law, individual freedoms and property rights guaranteed, etc. You get all of the other benefits of a free society, which is why the Left in the west have built common cause with the worst of the dictators and mad mullahs in the Middle and Near East. They hate ‘us’ more than they hate oppressors.

    Most of those authoritarian regimes are little different in their function to many of the state controlled lands behind ye olde iron curtain.

    The government runs food (and controls) distribution, firms have to do the work of the regime, etc. The ‘collective’ is seen as more important than the individual or group, which sustains the notion that ‘God’ is at the top of this pyramid.

    We all know why the twisted logic of the ‘Liberal Left’ sees it as more important that these people remain enemies of the west, rather than fellow beneficiaries, but western academic an leftist thinking really has caused untold misery in those parts of the world that have riches, but no wealth creation.

  • Raman_Indian123

    You cannot have any respect for law if the population is not educated and medicated and has some income redistribution. All of which happened in China and Vietnam which are making huge progress. In India there is much law and security of property but even with liberalised economics the living standards of most people stagnate.
    First a social and economic revolution and then laws. Soto has it backward.

  • Robin Smethurst

    Well how about the fricken sodyer arabians dig deep and help them out then? Oh, that’s right, if they whine loud and long enough, maybe burn some stuff and break some more stuff the stupid west will pay for it all, eh? Have several billion squid on us kids, and don’t worry about the mess, we’ll clean that up too. Morons.

    • Robin Smethurst

      Coming soon to a town near you.

  • An excellent article.
    I think we can add that many people in those countries realise that the despots and tyrants running them are using the dominant Islamic religion to make the enemy appear ‘elsewhere’ – like the West, or Israel, etc, – anywhere and anyone but themselves.

    It’s good they’re not all buying it.

    High time our idiot politicians started researching properly and understanding what’s really going on there instead of relying on BBC reports to form their judgements. Waffling on about the Muslim Brotherhood as somehow representing democracy and beneficial to our society.


  • mohammsd

    What is truly naive is the idea that the west really care about the economic improvement of the masses in the arab world. The west and the US have always supported and still support all the oppressive regimes who are the main reason for so many economically deprived people. The west has no interest in a vibrant more democratic run arab world, they can see by previous example that any time you give the arabs democracy they turn to a more islamic run way of life, which of course the west hates with passion. There is a real fear from fully islamic run society, they can not stop it at this time and it is represented by few groups like Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood and talaban, if it is the hole society that is a nightmare they do not want. Muslim masses have to stay under oppressive dictators that is what the west and the US wants other than that it is JIHAD all day long.

  • Stephen K. Mack

    Cardinal de Soto offers the poor of the ‘Arab World’ the ‘Mystery of Capital’ as balm to their un-freedom, aided by American money as financiers in the deposing of Morsi, the incompetent Muslim Brotherhood apostle of political cronyism. The first free and fair election in Egyptian history is simply an historical anomaly, in the Neo-Liberal dream/speculation of the good Cardinal. He vulgarizes, he cheapens the acts of despair, desperation of those whose sacrifice lit the match:

    “I believe so. The Arab Spring was a massive economic protest: a demand
    that the poor should have the basic rights to buy, sell and make their
    way in the world. I have the nerve to say this because just after the
    death of Mohammed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit seller who started the
    Arab Spring by setting himself ablaze, my researchers spent 20 months in
    the region to find out more. Why would someone kill himself after he
    had lost a cartful of fruit and an old set of scales? We found something
    the newspapers missed: he was not alone. No fewer 63 men and women
    replicated Bouazizi’s protest within two months of his death, in one
    country after another.”
    The 1.3 billion dollar a year payment to the Egyptian military had a salutary effect. The good Cardinal praises the same Economic Theology that brought the World Economy to the point of implosion in 2008, that only profits the 1% while leaving the 99% paying, footing the bill. The good Cardinal conforms to the dictates of his Theology, with many telling examples, not to speak of historical analogies refracted through that distorting lens. Alas, Theology is a narrative about the ‘reasons’ for belief, or perhaps more pointedly, a series of rationalizations that do not reflect reality but only an implacable, destructive belief.


  • Robert Martin Kerr

    The author is the subject of his own category mistake. Read the Egyptian press. He is right with the so-called “Glorious” revolution and the rule of law. However, the rule of law is anithetical to Capitalism (which abolishes competition).

    what the Arab (not the Islamic) world needs is rule of law. This has been inhibited largely by the West. In Egypt starting with the British conspiring against Muhammed Ali’s reforms to modernize the country. The British succeeded (like in India) in de-industrializing the place and making it a dumping ground for British manufactured products.

    since the discovery of oil things have only gotten worse. Just as the Brits inhibited democratic evolution in Egypt to keep their shortcut to the “jewel” of their empire safe, now the Ameicans do the same to keep the oil flowing. The West, esp. the US keep brutal regimes in power that guarantee to keep the oil flowing (or how did Mubarrak stay in power so long if not thanks to American [military] aid).

    So let the Arabs make their own choices. Let them decide what to do with their own resources and to whom and at what price they wish to sell them. Above all, the US should but out of the political process in this part of the world. who knowns maybe then they will make some real friends and not merely brutal sycophants.

  • TheThinker1958

    I followed the Libyan revolution daily (from Montreal) for more than a year through tweeter and youtube. I never heard anybody saying “I want Gaddafi out so I can be a Capitalist”. They were tired of the corruption, of being put in prison and torture, of seeing their country moving backwards, etc, etc. They are still fighting to have a good Government (takes time) and they have a lot more liberty. They can be Capitalists now if they want but that is a consequence of the Liberty they obtain after giving their own blood to change the regime.

    • mash107

      There is no difference between liberty and capitalism. They are one in the same. Getting rid of corruption, bureaucracy, etc, is the basic tenants of a capitalist society. Sadly, capitalism has gotten a bad name since many uninformed people link the current economic system (Wall St. economies) in the U.S., for instance, with capitalism, but nothing could further be from the truth.

      • TheThinker1958

        agree with you 100%. the problem is that the Media doesn’t correct any Politician when they say the US is base on Capitalism and is the only system that it works. In Peru (now I’m in Montreal) things were so bad that poor people were eating chicken food. There were rumours that 200,000 people were going to come from around the city Lima into the neighbours and get what they needed or wanted. I can imagine something like this on the US when the 1% has 99% of everything (seems to be their goal). They just stole 4 Trillion dollars, they are using tax payer money to fix their problem, and nobody is doing anything. I see a 2nd bubble bursting very soon (The US doesn’t even want to show Germany their own gold that is suppose to be store on the Federal Reserve bank… how crazy is that).

  • logan aryasingh

    As long as Religion is used to make the poor poorer and the rich make richer, there will be revolt and revolution. The Governments/ and so called “Caliphates” must realize that nothing is permanent. The last war will be among the poor and the rich, or The G(o)od and Evil ( Suras and Asuras as known in ancient Indian text).

    So who will be on the G(o)od side and who will be on the Evil side will become visible in time to come. Or is it visible to the common citizen already?