Monday, January 16, 2012

Egypt was Heaven before 25 January 2011.. We Just Didn't Notice!

Apparently Egypt was a great, prosperous country during Mubarak's era, paralleling the best of the developed world and surpassing healthy economies, but we ungrateful Egyptians just didn't notice this, and concocted that unfair and unscientific slogan of "social equality" as a sorry excuse for the 25 January Revolution. Did I lose you there? OK let me rephrase. Since the figures indicate that Egypt is better off than many countries in terms of income inequality, therefore there is no social inequality and thus the Revolution's slogan of "social equality" is void. Those greedy Egyptians didn't realize their blessings, how pampered they were and just had to have more. This is what one statistics-laden article by Ahmed Sarhan claims. Check out the full post here:

Here's the logic: Sarhan compared important income distribution and disparity indicators to demonstrate that Egypt's indicators were higher than other countries with supposedly better economies, and since no revolution happened in those countries then the call for 25 January Revolution on grounds of social equality is baseless. In numerical terms he rightfully showed that Egypt's Gini Index, income share by lowest 20 percentile, income share by strata placed Egypt ahead of countries like Iran, Turkey, Brazil and South Africa. And since there was a Revolution in Egypt and not in those countries, then social justice is not the reason for Egypt's Revolution. That's a flawed logic. Here's why. Firstly he only focused on income disparity and subsidies as the most important, if not only, determinants of social equality. Secondly he failed to mention other equally important social indicators.

1. Income Disparity
Sarhan cited this World map of the Gini Index which is a sound measure of income disparity.

File:Gini Coefficient World CIA Report 2009.png

Gini Index of 0 would indicate perfect income equality and 1 indicates perfect income inequality. Egypt's Gini Index places it in the 0.35 to 0.39 bracket equating it with countries like Japan, New Zealand, Indonesia, Algeria and the Indian subcontinent. It also puts in a better position than Russia, the US, South Africa, Argentina and Brazil. Given Sarhan's logic this would indicate that Egypt was in the same league like Japan and New Zealand and slightly better than the US.

2. Income Distribution
Sarhan further backed his argument that social justice in Egypt is favorable with graphs and tables of income share held by lowest 20 percentile and income distribution strata. Once again according to his figures, Egypt comes out with flying colors in comparison to Iran, Brazil, Turkey and South Africa.

3. Subsidies
He further documents the Egyptian (Mubarak) government's supposed bias in favor of the underprivileged by its insistence on subsidies. He lamented how the NDP government was branded as a businessmen government that favored the rich although it was apparent how it fostered its less financially endowed subjects. And to prove his point he gave the example of gasoline as a perfect subsidy to the poor. However he overlooked that it was a universal subsidy enjoyed by all Egyptians driving the 1971 Fiat as well as those driving the latest Mercedes and BMW. He warned that any economic reform was bound to address subsidy rationalization, with the aim of gradually reducing and finally eradicating subsidies. The end result would be that Egypt would be worse off in terms of the Gini Index and income distribution, and lead to negative repercussions on social justice. Again he failed to state that the policy of subsidy removal was the underlying objective of the previous government, as part of a financial package of reforms dictated by major international lending institutions.
But I believe it was his conclusion that was the final straw:
المؤكد ان الحزب الوطني و حكومته قد أخطأوا كثيرا في حق هذا الوطن حين لم يبذلوا الجهد الكافي للشرح و التوضيح و الاهتمام بالطبقات الدنيا و الاهتمام بمشاكل العمالة المؤقتة .. و الأهم من ذلك، لم يبذلوا الجهد الكافي للحصول على دعم كل المصريين عبر اشراكهم في الافكار و القرارات و الخيارات. الصين والبرازيل أفضل منا كثيرا حيث نجحوا في أن يلتف الشعب حول قيادته رغم ان كلاهما على مؤشر العدالة الاجتماعية في وضع أسوأ كثيرا من مصر
"It is certain that the National Democratic Party and its government have greatly erred in this nation when they did exert the necessary effort to explain and clarify, or attend to the lower strata and the problems of temporary employment.. but what's even more important is that they didn't get the support of all Egyptians through involving them in ideas, decisions and options. China and Brazil are much better than us as they succeeded to rally the people around their leadership, although both have a far worse social justice index than Egypt." 

Does Sarhan expect us to believe that had the NDP and its government explain, clarify and involve the people of Egypt in their plans, Egyptians would've been better off in real terms? That is possible if the NDP and its institutions applied vehement hypnotic waves through its brainwashing media to beautify the dismal existence of Egyptians! Sarhan further commits, either knowingly or not, a grave mistake by confining the measurement of social justice to the Gini Index, income distribution and subsidies. He overlooked important indicators such as Egypt's worsening poverty line, rising unemployment rate, lack of healthcare and housing, which alone were viable bases for any revolution.

This is not a full fledged economic study, however a quick glance on statistics in AlAhram Online, 13.9.2011
in a study by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, revealed that poverty has increased by 2% from 2004/2005 to 2008/09 with the poor representing around 22% of the population. Moreover an alarming 44% of Egyptians were living under the poverty line. The vicious circle of poverty and illiteracy was confirmed with an increase in illiteracy among the poor to 41% versus 24% in non-poor families. The underlying conclusion is that there is an increase in poverty and illiteracy in Egypt, which is a strong indication of Egypt's deteriorating social wellbeing.

The indicators Sarhan mentioned therefore only give part of the picture, which explains why there are no revolutions erupting all over the World. We do however see strikes and protests in ALL countries, especially the developed ones, whenever certain groups believe their welfare or rights are compromised. What then is the full picture? What factors denote social justice apart from income disparity and subsidies?

Land's article Theories, Models and Indicators of Social Change (1975, 14) defines social indicators as follows:
"Social indicators are statistics which measure social conditions and changes therein over time for various segments of a population. By social conditions, we mean both the external (social and physical) and the internal (subjective and perceptual) contexts of human existence in a given society." 

Without delving into complicated economic and social analyses, here is a quick outline of what Smith (1973) considered in Geography of Social well-being in the United States, to be indicators of social wellbeing:
1. Economic
   * Income
   * Employment
   * Welfare
2. Environment
   * Housing
   * Street and Sewage
   * Air Pollution
   * Open Space and Parks
3. Health
   * Mortality
   * Chronic Diseases
4. Education
5. Social Disorganization
   * Personal (addiction)
   * Family Breakdown
   * Overcrowding
   * Public Order and Safety (crime, juvenile delinquents)
6. Participation and Equality
   * Democratic Participation
   * Racial and Income Equality

I would therefore greatly appreciate it if Sarhan, as an avid NDP advocate, analyzes the above indicators, not just income and subsidies, and presents us with concrete findings that prove his earlier contention that there is no social inequality in Egypt.

And if he really wants to know why Egypt's middle class and the supposedly better-off social strata joined the Revolution, I advise him to read Richard Crosland in the Future of Socialism (1964, 89):
"Poverty is not, after all, an absolute, but a social or cultural concept. This demands a relative, subjective view of poverty, since the unhappiness and injustice it creates, even when ill-health and malnutrition are avoided, lies in the enforced deprivation not of luxuries, but of small comforts which others have and are seen to have."

Egyptians who called for, and joined the Revolution, may differ in their ideologies but they all share the same aspirations for a Better Egypt. An Egypt that epitomizes the universal human rights of freedom, justice and equality. Is that too much to ask for?

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