How Egypt can be democratized

Published on 28 July 2020 - Tags: politics, democracy, human rights

Sisi won 97% of the 2018 presidential election vote. It’s fair to say Egypt isn’t a democracy. I’m sure this isn’t news to most of you, but I’m hoping to shine a light on what I believe to be the causes for the political status quo. Democratization is possible.

There is a select group of individuals that effectively determine who gets to be in power. They are military leaders, police chiefs, judges, etc. These people can influence their subordinates and by extension have extensive control over the country.

How do they make that decision?

By choosing the leader who will pay them the most money

They need money not only to ensure their lives are as lavish as possible but also to pay their subordinates so they themselves are kept in power. Their goal is always to maximize the amount of money they have.

How does a country democratize?

By making democracy more profitable than authoritarianism for the powerful.

You can’t fight the powerful. You won’t win. They have large amounts of manpower and money and they will use it to keep themselves alive, free, and in power.

Instead, your best bet to democratize the nation is to align the profitability of democracy with their interests.

Governments can make money by exploiting the country’s resources or by taxing their citizens. Giving the citizens rights lets them be more productive, but it also reduces the government’s control over resources. Taking away rights harms productivity but gives the government more control over the country’s resources.

In authoritarian countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea, the powerful get paid using money obtained from selling the country’s resources. They don’t make much money off taxes, so citizen productivity doesn’t matter. It’s better for the powerful to oppress the citizens as the resources are worth more than the citizens.

On the other hand, in democracies like the US, the UK, and Germany, the powerful get paid using money obtained primarily from taxing skilled labor. The military leaders of the US won’t stage a coup because the money they would get from selling natural resources would not make up for the loss of tax money caused by authoritarianism’s adverse effect on productivity. They’d rather give the citizens freedom so the economy can prosper, resulting in higher tax revenues.

To democratize a nation, make it more profitable for the powerful to make money by taxing the people than by directly exploiting the country’s resources. That way they’ll be incentivized to support citizen productivity.

If you fail to incentivize the powerful to support democracy, you won’t get democracy. This is what happened with the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

What should I do to help?

There are several things the average person can do to increase the government’s reliance on citizens’ productivity and promote democratization:

  1. If you’re a citizen of a foreign country, lobby against foreign aid to Egypt. Foreign aid is a nice way to keep the income of the powerful stable, which is bad for democracy. The less they rely on you, the longer they can deny the people their rights.
  2. Encourage skilled work. Promote education and the use of the internet.
  3. Support immunity for the powerful when democratization happens. Yes, they’ve been responsible for horrible things, but imprisoning them won’t deter other powerful people from oppressing their people. Instead, it will incentivize them to fight for power until their last breath, which will lead to greater suffering.

What is the outlook?

Factors that support democratization:

  1. The price of oil has fallen this year.
  2. Sisi has made some investments in public infrastructure.
  3. US foreign aid has fallen the past several years.
  4. According to UNESCO, in 2017, the literacy rate for people 15-24 was 93.9% and the literacy rate for people 15+ was 71.2%. This suggests that young people have a lower literacy rate and Egypt is therefore becoming more educated.

Factors that oppose democratization:

  1. Civil liberties have been declining over the past few years, with stricter enforcement against speech opposing the government.

I believe that there’s a significant possibility Egypt will remain authoritarian for at least the next 1-2 decades. However, long-term prospects are optimistic, suggesting that Egypt’s skilled labor market is growing.