As Egypt burned this week and Hosni Mubarak’s family reportedly fled to London, news outlets around the world showed scenes of violence, anger and surprisingly, regardless the venue, very pointed displays of earnestness. There was balance in the coverage of the revolt, better exposure than in Tunisia, and a general sense of the rightness of the protesters’ cause.
Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria are all in one region, true. All have features of autocracy which lend themselves to revolt. Can anyone truly support Egypt’s nigh-on 44-years of dictatorship and “emergency powers” with a straight face? No. But some media have missed the biggest story of all. Youth around the world are in the margins of their societies. In the world of the mature democracies, this phenomenon is reflected in the unemployment or underemployment of younger workers. To be sure, the movement of manufacturing and low-skill jobs to cheaper markets has been the major structural force in this trend. But, as is the case in Egypt and throughout the world, the devaluation of youth increasingly extends to the educated.
When protest over this phenomenon emerges, the refrain is, “The world is changing, you will have to adapt.” But that adaptation may not be the quiet acquiescence to ever-lower wages and expectations coupled with skyrocketing inequity the trade-toting internationalist elite arrogantly demands. In fact, it most certainly will not. No, it may more resemble a massive and sustained surge of disruption, organized and unified under a banner of a better future for the world’s ever-waiting youth. The headlines spoke of Egypt as anarchic violence, or soft-pedaled it as a protest against an enduring dictatorship. But it’s only a generational war’s first skirmishes in the most remote corners of Neoliberalism.
To call the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria isolated incidents is beyond disingenuous. Moreover, it is insulting. The Algerian and Egyptian youth took their cue from Tunisia. The same can be said of the burgeoning uprisings in Yemen and Jordan. The world’s youth is watching and supporting this movement. Dozens of groups on Facebook have sprung up, many of them Western in origin,since the Internet was cut off in Egypt. To a one, they all espouse support for the protesters. If one looks at the surface, or points to the differences between these supporters and the Arab protester, then all is well in the world of the aging democracies. But that is an illusion. The developed world’s youth are also in revolt.
The young Japanese, who work without giving to the national pension fund, or move away to find better opportunity than the calcified salary-man system will proffer them, is in revolt. The youth who throng in the thousands at every World Trade Organization meeting are in revolt. French protesters, be they angry workers or unemployed victims of racism, are in revolt. The growing number of articles on the unsupportable aging popu- lation’s workforce presence in America is just the edge of a brewing inter-generational clash. But are conditions poor enough to warrant revolt? Surely they are not that oppressed?
That there are no parallels in mature democracies and Mubarak’s police state is a falsehood. In America, the Patriot Act and various state and federal laws have created a prison state wherein the basic freedoms they proudly tote now come with caveats that chafe with every pat-down, nudity-generating scan and lopsided prosecutorial proceeding.
Sarkozy’s heavy-handed use of security forces during peaceful protests in France was a test run. It succeeded in pushing through undemocratic, unsupported pension reductions. Protesters rose in Greece, and the police quietly escalated their brutality with almost no media outcry.
But why not change the system and create opportunity to alleviate the sense of permanent, enforced poverty driving these protests? Simply because business demands it get its way, and increasingly does. Financial interests throughout the world manipulate lawmakers and bully currencies into massive inequities and debt to cut sovereign funds and attack social safety nets. Breton Woods establishments (the IMF and World Bank) offer “aid” loans, but only if the states in need hobble their sovereignty and people, or hitch their political and economic futures to the whims of currency traders, speculators, and outsourcing evangelists.
Older generations profit by being established enough to steal some of the loot, being “grandfathered in” on better pensions and benefits, and generally eating the futures of their children in a kind of post-industrial infantivoric frenzy. But now the youth are no longer willing to be eaten.
The youthful Egyptian protesters want what everyone wants. Whether they be the burgeoning majority in the developing world or the outvoted generations of the sclerotic “Silver Democracies,” they want a bright future and good prospects. The machinery of oppression within the “democratic” world is well aware of the coming storm, and is in fact preparing for harsh suppression of the inevitable clash. But the media of developed, “mature,” and “stable” democracies focus narrowed on something very telling in the proceedings in Egypt.
And well they should. The army appeared as expected there, but then refused to attack the protesters. True, the army protected the precious national heritage sites, government buildings and treasures of Egypt. But it also heeded the entreaties of the people to join the uprising.
If the powers that be think that their riot police can stop this tide of change with the help of a few tanks and soldiers, they should examine the demographics of their armies. With most of the soldiers being the same age, and facing the same futures, as the protesters, it just isn’t a very promising plan.