Friday, May 11, 2012

Islam, Economics, and the Egyptian Presidential Elections

Update 5/25: My spacial analysis was wrong in one respect. The two candidates closest to the new political center (moderately anti-secular, moderately leftist) together would have won the election. However, they split the votes of those with typical preference measuring distance of candidates from their ideal points in two-dimensional space. In the meantime, the two extreme candidates (the Muslim Brotherhood candidate and the Mubarak regime candidate) had blocks of voters with lexicographic preferences on the secular-anti-secular dimension. This brings back ultimate polarization and disastrous outcomes whoever wins. On the economic and international relations dimension, the two candidates are equally to the right, and that cannot sit well with a left-leaning populace.


I gave a talk earlier this week at AUC (my alma mater) about "Polarization and Reemerging Middles." The first part of the talk was on global income distribution dynamics and the role of industrialization. I concluded that first half with the argument that a window of opportunity might exist for countries in the Middle East (focusing on Egypt) to industrialize and leapfrog over some middle income countries over the next decade, but only if the political process can produce a social contract for functional social behavior.

In this regard, I turned to comparisons with Malaysia and Turkey, the models discussed by Islamists and secularists alike as possible role models for Egypt to follow. I show in the slides below that Egyptian society is nothing like Malaysia or Turkish societies, using data from the World Values Survey (2005-2008 wave). The data is very clear: the Egyptian public is much more left leaning and much more anti-secular than either the Turkish or Malaysian (possibly because roughly half the population in Turkey are ultra-secularist Ataturkists and half the population in Malaysia are non-Muslims of Indian and Chinese origin). Indeed, using data from the World Values Survey (2000-2001 wave), I show that the Egyptian public appears even more anti-secular than Pakistan!

I attach the series of slides showing these comparisons below without further commentary.

I then attach a video which shows my argument that one should think of current Egyptian politics in a spacial model of at least two dimensions: one is the religious anti-secular/secular dimension, and the other is the economic left/right dimension. We are used in the U.S. to thinking of both directions as the same (the religious right confounds the two dimensions, to the chagrin of very religious and socially conservative but economically liberal democrats). However, I think that we need to consider both dimensions in Egypt, because the society has moved quite far to the left and to the anti-secular direction. The 1970s clash between Nasserist/socialist/leftists and the Islamists seems to have created a strange hybrid, which is very clear in the partial autobiography of Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh that I read recently, describing his great admiration for Nasser, who gave his father and uncles 5 feddans each, without which his father could not have married his mother whose family's land was confiscated in land reform, but also admitting to his roots in Salafi thought during his Jamaah Isalmiyah years when he confronted Sadat in a famous televised meeting.

In this video, I tried to show where the various candidates may be placed based on their comments. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood (and former candidate Salafi Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail) do not differ much from theoretical centrists like Amr Moussa on economic agendas. Their agenda coincides with the New Washington Consensus of neo-liberalism with safety nets. Therefore, while close to the actual center on anti-secularism, they are far on the economic left-right dimension (Khairat Al-Shatir is not too different from NDP economic tycoons, in terms of economic behavior or thought). The Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi matches the actual center on leftism but is too secular to have a chance. Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh seems closest to the actual center. If he wins, he will likely face difficulties dealing with the Washington Consensus gang (including IMF, WB, as well as internal business communities such as the American Chamber of Commerce, etc.). On the other hand, if Amr Moussa wins, he is likely to get the full support of these business communities but run afoul the redistributional and anti-secular sentiments of the public. Finding a middle ground may be difficult, but is not impossible.

Now, I leave you to the slides and then the video (which shows how the center has moved from its theoretical position, and where I think the candidates are placed based on what I've seen and read).


Blogger Muhammad Sami said...

Salaam Dr. Mahmoud
Shame on AUC that didn't announce you're giving a lecture and on me who didn't know about it (if it was announced).
I wanted to know your views on how Egyptians perceive the free market after what they've seen from the corrupt corporate system Egypt experienced since liberalization and whether the Islamist influence on politics (the streets) will allow Muslim Brotherhood (if Dr. Morsi wins) to apply his neo-liberal policies that will definitely NOT reach the poor in the very first stages.

3:06 PM  
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