Come Together, Right Now

All Egypt, all the time continues here on TBBKA”DP?”, or if you like, DPQ (Q for questionmark). Interesting piece on The Monkey Cage (hat tip to Marginal Revolution) asking, “why do protests topple regimes?” Here’s Professor Graeme Robinson, via Joshua Tucker:

Why do protests bring down authoritarian regimes?…The key to answer this question, I think, is to understand the basic nature of authoritarian rule. While the news media focus on “the dictator”, almost all authoritarian regimes are really coalitions involving a range of players with different resources, including incumbent politicians but also other elites like businessmen, bureaucrats, leaders of mass organizations like labor unions and political parties, and, of course, specialists in coercion like the military or the security forces. These elites are pivotal in deciding the fate of the regime and as long as they continue to ally themselves with the incumbent leadership, the regime is likely to remain stable. By contrast, when these elites split and some defect and decide to throw in their lot with the opposition, then the incumbents are in danger….

So where do protests come in? The problem is that in authoritarian regimes there are few sources of reliable information that can help these pivotal elites decide whom to back….In this context, protests are excellent opportunities for communication….Broadly, there are two types of messages being sent. The one that gets the most scholarly attention is at the level of protesters trying to convince other citizens that “people like them” hate the incumbents and are willing to act….However, the other kind of message is the one that protests send to pivotal elites, who are weighing staying the course against the potential costs and benefits from switching sides.

In the Egyptian case, the pivotal elites seemed to have included, on the one side, “national capitalists” associated with part of the military, and, on the other side, the beneficiaries of privatization and Mubarak’s economic “reforms”, associated with his son Gamal. When the “swing voters”, the semi-autonomous Intelligence Services (mukhabarat), moved behind the national capitalist faction, Mubarak was finished. Much of the action in the last days of January seems to have consisted of various high profile figuresĀ using the protest to signal their allegiance to or defection from Mubarak.

As I was talking about last week, the key element to understand is the nature of the coalition pushing for change. And the real challenge is once a dictator has been toppled, who steps in to fill the vacuum? One piece of the puzzle is to understand which elite faction emerges victorious. Another is to look at who within the opposition might be able and willing to form a coalition to govern with them.

And it’s here that the “leaderless” nature of the revolt becomes a challenge. As Greg Hoadley points out, “who wins the revolution is an open question.” And as Molly Schultz Hafid observes, one of the key challenges for Egyptian youth trying to organize are the severe limits on raising funds for nonprofit efforts in a legal context where the government needs to approve all fundraising appeals.

What this adds up to is a challenge for philanthropy. Coalitional politics appear key to how the transition, if that’s what this is (fingers crossed), will play out. And the opposition needs to find a way to organize itself credibly, in a way that will be legitimate in the eyes of the people. Youth have a critical role to play; can philanthropy within and outside of Egypt help the youth who drove the January 25 movement to get the knowledge and resources they need to organize in a way that will allow them to form a stable, democratic coalition with elite factions that would be willing to work with them? That to me seems the crux of how philanthropy could help usher in a more democratic society in Egypt.


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One Response to “Come Together, Right Now”

  1. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » Tea in the Sahara Says:

    […] again to Greg for sharing his insights on the situation. I wrote earlier this week about the elite-popular coalition that will need to form to achieve a sustainable transition. Given […]

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