Stocks, Socialists and Streets – Confusion in Cairo

Anti-Mubarak supporters confront those supporting the government during rioting between pro- and anti-Mubarak supporters in Tahrir Square in Cairo. (R)

Reporting on Wall Street and the stock market never fails to amaze me; today for example on the morning news, the commentator said stock prices were down by some insignificant number; but still the voice registered the word “down” with heavy emotional significance.  You know that tone of voice they all use to bring terror, anxiety, and uncertainty to all of us?  At the moment the stock market is at the highest it has for two and half years; and it is nearly double what it was just two years ago.  Now that sounds like up to me; but no one talks about the stock market in terms other than daily, comparing today’s results with yesterday, it is impossible to understand or make intelligent decisions based on a day over day comparison.  The daily movement of the stock market is not based on single events in the news regardless of what the commentators say – it is based on traders looking for profit opportunities, an edge, just like the sports bettor said he does with a professional football game yesterday.  They understand the rules very well and trade as a way to gain profit now, today, this minute, not next year or in ten years.  No major investor seeking to see a gain in investment, or a regular return on that investment,  over a long term, 5 or 10 years sells stock because of one unemployment, consumer confidence or retail sales report that is less than positive; for long term investment those reports are meaningless.

There are other examples of emphasis on daily events distorting our understanding of truly significant events and long-term trends.  In fact most daily news reports do exactly that, distort the picture by focusing on the immediate without any sense of historical context or the use of any trend analysis to put an event into a more accurate perspective.  The events in Egypt are doing the same thing for the majority of us – including in many instances the people on the ground in Egypt.  The emotional intensity of moment does not allow them enough time to really think about what is happening.  It is happening too fast and they are reacting just as quickly.

However, there may be some trends developing; and for each trend there is an opposite one seen by those on the other side of the issue.  In the streets, some people are armed and organized, the majority of the demonstrators are neither; one side sees that as anti-democratic thugs – the other sees it as a defense of the proper and rightful government.  The press, all of the press regardless of the country of origin, is very vulnerable; there have been many attacks on individual journalists and some have been detained or arrested. It may be a systematic attempt to reduce or control coverage and intimidate reporters.  The government insists some of the foreign media is trying to create chaos and destroy Egyptian society.  Some of the attacks on journalist appear to be spontaneous and not related to anything except heightened tensions. Conspiracy or not there is a serious threat to the press.

Mubarak says he will not, nor will his son, run for office again in September; his critics say he simply stalling until he can regain control of the events; Mubarak says he has to stay to keep the country from descending into anarchy and chaos.  There appears to be a growing consensus among all, but Mubarak supporters, that Mubarak’s government is in some sense responsible for some, if not all, of the violence – Mubarak is blaming everything on “organized forces” such as the Muslim Brotherhood; he says the Brotherhood is responsible for all of the unrest and the violence.  The Mubarak conspiracy theory is expanding to include closing the banks, closing businesses and all government offices, cutting off communication systems and other ways of increasing confusion and intensifying the economic pain – no money or food is readily available; all violence and confusion, fear and panic favor Mubarak retaining control.  At the moment Mubarak is the only force claiming the ability to create a safe and secure society.

But beware, don’t buy or sell your retirement investments based on today’s events – there may be a trend in everything that has happened in the last week, but we cannot see it; nor will we be able to see it for a long time to come.  There is a battle underway, a battle for control of Egypt’s government and a battle for the soul of the Egyptian people. And that is all we know today.

Still around the world, people with a set political agenda are trying diligently to make the events in Egypt fit that agenda.  Iran is certainly doing that, but it is not alone with its anti-Israel, anti-American, pro-Hamas, pro-Hezbollah and pro-Ickwan rhetoric.  A blogger in the United States drew comparisons between the United States and Egypt.  He sees the level of poverty, disenfranchisement and dissatisfaction as being the same; he sees the threshold for revolutionary change as being the same here as it is in Egypt; he draws on the 20th century language of socialist movements and predicts the downfall of the American system as consequence of the events in Egypt.  There are others, the rest of us, using terms to describe both sides that reflect our political point of view more than that of the Egyptians involved.  Anti-Mubarak, anti-democracy, pro-Mubarak and pro-democracy are external labels and do necessarily reflect the views of the people as in the picture above.  The world is never so simple as people with a single, all-encompassing agenda would have you believe.


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February 2011
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