Egyptians Calculate the Costs

James V. Capua
As the week began, we learned that Muhammad Ghannen of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood had declared "The people should be prepared for war against Israel." That should have been the first indication that events in Egypt just might not play out as the western media had decided they would since the first crowds gathered in Cairo.

It was to be a rising of the entire Egyptian population. Penniless, starving and exploited peasants, who don't know what an iPod is but incensed at the loss of the Internet nevertheless, were going to rise up, joining middle-class liberals and radical students in overthrowing a corrupt and brutal tyrant's regime of thuggery and kleptocracy, and replace it with democracy. Sure, the Muslim Brotherhood might complicate deliberations at the Egyptian Constitutional Convention, but the stalwart figure of Mohammed ElBaradei of Vienna and Amsterdam would hold it all together -- some implied that as a boy he had thrown a silver dollar across the Nile.

This pretty picture minimized one factor -- the costs, because there are always costs. Thanks to Mr. Ghannen, and the thugs -- some in government employ for the moment, but not unreasonably, fearing impending unemployment and  therefore grabbing what they could while the grabbing was still good, others common criminals and prison escapees -- the costs have  been made clear for ordinary Egyptians.

With the help of some observers actually on the ground, and some clearer heads in the western media, another picture is emerging. Amr Bargisi, an Egyptian liberal, raises one element of the cost equation in today's Wall Street Journal:

"... [One] possibility is a reactionary scenario. If the ruling elite wins -- meaning Mr. Mubarak's cronies, if not Mr. Mubarak himself -- the country will be ruled by a contract between the state and the frightened middle classes to make sure no similar uprising ever happens again. This is an angle that has been totally missing from Western media coverage, as far as I can tell without Internet access.

"...There is another force in the streets of Cairo besides the demonstrators. Equal, if not in numbers then certainly in influence, are the thousands of young men standing all night in front of their houses and stores to protect them from looting.

"Perhaps they share the anger of their peers in Tahrir Square, but their fear is much stronger than their rage. On Friday night, after the police disappeared, these young men got a taste of what could come: Hundreds of thugs roamed the streets, looting and burning..."

To this fear Mr. Ghannen of the Muslim Brotherhood adds another -- the prospect of Egyptian peasant conscripts being fed by a new Islamic government into the fire and blood of another war with  Israel. Mr. Gannon ought to know that it was "Peace, bread and land" that worked for the Bolsheviks in winning over Russian peasants, and not "Once more unto the breach, dear friends."

Unlike liberals, peasants and shopkeepers are pretty good at calculating costs, and it may well prove premature for both the western media and the Obama Administration to have invested so heavily in what may prove a slow, cautious evolutionary process rather than a dramatic and sweeping people's revolt.
As the week began, we learned that Muhammad Ghannen of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood had declared "The people should be prepared for war against Israel." That should have been the first indication that events in Egypt just might not play out as the western media had decided they would since the first crowds gathered in Cairo.

It was to be a rising of the entire Egyptian population. Penniless, starving and exploited peasants, who don't know what an iPod is but incensed at the loss of the Internet nevertheless, were going to rise up, joining middle-class liberals and radical students in overthrowing a corrupt and brutal tyrant's regime of thuggery and kleptocracy, and replace it with democracy. Sure, the Muslim Brotherhood might complicate deliberations at the Egyptian Constitutional Convention, but the stalwart figure of Mohammed ElBaradei of Vienna and Amsterdam would hold it all together -- some implied that as a boy he had thrown a silver dollar across the Nile.

This pretty picture minimized one factor -- the costs, because there are always costs. Thanks to Mr. Ghannen, and the thugs -- some in government employ for the moment, but not unreasonably, fearing impending unemployment and  therefore grabbing what they could while the grabbing was still good, others common criminals and prison escapees -- the costs have  been made clear for ordinary Egyptians.

With the help of some observers actually on the ground, and some clearer heads in the western media, another picture is emerging. Amr Bargisi, an Egyptian liberal, raises one element of the cost equation in today's Wall Street Journal:

"... [One] possibility is a reactionary scenario. If the ruling elite wins -- meaning Mr. Mubarak's cronies, if not Mr. Mubarak himself -- the country will be ruled by a contract between the state and the frightened middle classes to make sure no similar uprising ever happens again. This is an angle that has been totally missing from Western media coverage, as far as I can tell without Internet access.

"...There is another force in the streets of Cairo besides the demonstrators. Equal, if not in numbers then certainly in influence, are the thousands of young men standing all night in front of their houses and stores to protect them from looting.

"Perhaps they share the anger of their peers in Tahrir Square, but their fear is much stronger than their rage. On Friday night, after the police disappeared, these young men got a taste of what could come: Hundreds of thugs roamed the streets, looting and burning..."

To this fear Mr. Ghannen of the Muslim Brotherhood adds another -- the prospect of Egyptian peasant conscripts being fed by a new Islamic government into the fire and blood of another war with  Israel. Mr. Gannon ought to know that it was "Peace, bread and land" that worked for the Bolsheviks in winning over Russian peasants, and not "Once more unto the breach, dear friends."

Unlike liberals, peasants and shopkeepers are pretty good at calculating costs, and it may well prove premature for both the western media and the Obama Administration to have invested so heavily in what may prove a slow, cautious evolutionary process rather than a dramatic and sweeping people's revolt.