Casey on Revolution in Egypt and Beyond
by Louis James, Editor, International
on Second Passports
Doug, there are flames going up in the Middle East, something you've
long said was in the cards, but it's not between Israel and its
here to read Doug's last article on Egypt, in which he predicted
social unrest). The revolutionary spirit sparked in Tunisia seems
to have spread to Egypt, the largest Arab nation and a major U.S.
ally, greatly destabilizing an already shaky region. The whole world
suddenly seems in greater peril. What do you make of this?
Well, I think it's about time in fact, way past time. Revolution
in the Middle East is long overdue.
on tea, starts mopping keyboard with napkin.] Care to elaborate?
I'm not saying I favor the unpleasantness and inconvenience for
so many people that comes with such events, but this upheaval is
long overdue. These Arab countries have long been the most repressive
places in the world, with the possible exception of the despotisms
in Africa, to their south. It's very good to see these regimes being
overthrown. And the revolution hopefully that's what it is is
internally generated. It's not the product of an invasion by foreign
troops from an alien culture, which is what happened in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Regime change in that whole part of the world is inevitable,
necessary, and salubrious. The problematic question is: what are
the old regimes going to be replaced with?
enough. Let's take this one piece at a time
I think I know what
you'll say, but do you think this is a fire that's going to spread,
or were Tunisia and Egypt just particularly rickety?
I think it is going to spread, and I'll tell you why.
regimes are not the only highly repressive ones. Every regime in
the Arab world in fact every regime in the Muslim world is corrupt,
backward, and repressive.
the communications and travel revolutions of the last few decades,
the people in these places know they've been getting a raw deal
and suffering a lower standard of living than much of the rest of
the world. It was one thing, in the old days, to live from hand
to mouth and get beaten by the police if you stepped out of line.
People thought that was the natural order. But now they can see
people in the west live vastly better, and they aren't going to
take it any more.
Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, text messaging, and so forth, people
can actually organize action on a massive scale far easier than
So a broad
revolution in the Muslim world has been inevitable for a couple
of decades. I suspect it's now imminent.
remember reading that a major factor in the Soviets losing control
was the fax machine, which enabled a primitive form of what you're
talking about. It's interesting that the Egyptian authorities tried
to prevent losing control by shutting down Twitter and other social
networks. It didn't work. I just heard a news story saying that
some two billion people across the planet are now on the Internet
in one form or another. I don't think one third of the planet's
population has even been literate at any past point in history,
let alone actively participating in a language-driven system of
information exchange. We've said before that the Internet is the
most revolutionary thing to come along since the printing press
now we're seeing that this is literally true.
Yes you can download the "Flash-Mobs for Dummies" app right now.
And there's no way to stuff the genie back in the bottle. Technology
is everywhere the friend of the common man, starting with fire and
the wheel. But political and religious elites the Atillas and
the witch doctors of the world always try to keep the genie in
the bottle. The printing press, gunpowder, the automobile, the computer
the elites have always hated these things, and don't want the
common man to have them. Radical new technologies always work to
overturn the status quo.
where do you think the next place will be where the people decide
they've had enough?
Could be anywhere. Of course we can't be sure this revolution will
succeed maybe it will be a false start, like the aborted insurrections
in Europe in 1848. But I think it's more likely to catch fire, like
the wars of liberation in South America in the 1820s.
is that there are all kinds of revolutions as different as the
Russian revolution of 1917 was from the one of 1989. I think this
one is likely to be more like the latter: pro-freedom. We're watching
chaos theory in action. It could appear in Pakistan, a perennial
candidate, partly because it isn't even a real country just a
hodge-podge put together by an imperial power. Algeria and Libya
are two more highly repressive regimes that deserve to go. Saudi
Arabia is probably the biggest risk. This is not a Middle Eastern
problem, but could quickly become a worldwide conflagration, especially
if a keystone like Saudi Arabia falls.
could see Saudi Arabia going next it's hardly a bastion of freedom
and respect for human rights.
Far from it; it's a medieval theocracy/kleptocracy. And yet, the
"talking heads" on TV are not praising the people for throwing off
their chains. The reason is that most of these horrible, repressive
governments are all U.S. puppets. They are stooges, getting anywhere
from tens of millions of dollars to billions of dollars per year,
in the case of Egypt, in direct support from the U.S.
and pillage all you want, we'll support you as long as you're a
Right. But aside from being grossly unethical, this is a short-sighted
policy. In the minds of millions of people all around the world,
it associates the U.S. with repression, rather than freedom, which
is what the U.S. should and once did stand for back when it
was America. And unfortunately, people conflate America with the
U.S. government, even though they're totally different things
antithetical things, actually. I remember years ago walking down
the street in Cairo, and a kid of about 15 yells at me "Damned American."
I'd never done anything to him. But the U.S. government had obviously
done something to make him feel that way. If I'd thought of it,
I would have said, "Hey kid, I've got nothing to do with your secret
police I'm on your side." But it wasn't the place for a philosophical
Orwellian; the "land of the free and the home of the brave" is the
supporter of tin-plated despots around the world.
I know it's totally perverse. We supply their arms. When a protestor
picks up a can of teargas, its label reads: "Made in USA." They
see U.S. military equipment being used against them. The U.S. government
is supporting all these disgusting despots, making enemies of billions
of people, turning the U.S. into a police state, and bankrupting
the American economy. They're truly multi-talented. But, the average
American sees the government as a friend and protector. It's funny
the average Arab may actually be much more politically hip and
realistic, and desirous of liberty, than the average American. Maybe
some day they'll send their CIA and military over here to bring
dictators of the world apply here for financial aid!"
[Chuckles] That's what it amounts to. And it's all free. The Federal
Reserve can create as many trillions of dollars as anyone needs.
amazing thing is that all these Bright Boys in Washington never
seem to get a clue. They supported murderous dictators in Latin
America until they got thrown out. They supported the Shah of Iran
until he got thrown out. They supported Saddam Hussein, and then
ended up turning on him themselves. And they still support some
of the most brutal regimes in the world today, sowing the seeds
of even more suspicion and hatred how can they be so blind?
They never learn at all. And the worst part of it is that there's
no need to nor benefit in having any involvement whatsoever
in any of these places. It's both unnecessary and counterproductive
to American interests; it only benefits the people who live within
the D.C. beltway, and those who slop at the same trough. You can't
impose a new social order on a people from the outside. And even
if you could whoever you put in office, there's going to be some
group or another that's going to object, dig in, and hate you for
it to boot. You create more future conflict and enemies for yourself.
All these idiots blathering on about what "we" should do should
just mind their own business.
only the would-be "nation builders" would remember Jefferson's mandate:
"Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling
alliances with none."
Better watch out quoting Jefferson can get you on the terrorist
watch list these days. But you know I'm an optimist, and the good
news is that all of this is coming to an end. Whatever happens is
going to happen, and there won't be much the U.S. can do about it,
because all this nation-building nonsense is horrifically expensive
and the U.S. is already tapped out trying to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan
not to mention Detroit and New Orleans. It's "game over" for Mubarak,
and close to "game over" for the U.S. empire.
The U.S. government
is bankrupt, and will be increasingly immobilized. In a few years,
they'll be completely unable to meddle anywhere, because there simply
won't be any money to pay for it. The Fed's own projections say
the entire budget will be consumed by Social Security, Medicare,
Medicaid, and interest on the debt, with no money even for the military,
unless something is done soon. There is no politically feasible
way to cut spending on those programs. Does that mean the U.S. Navy
will wind up rotting at the dock, like the Soviet Navy? It will
be interesting to see. Either the roughly $1.5 trillion for "defense"
goes, or the $1.5 trillion for Social Security, Medicare, and such
goes, or interest on the national debt goes, or the scores of federal
At this point,
the U.S. budget is like Wile E. Coyote after he's run off the edge
of a cliff. His legs are still windmilling in the air, but he doesn't
realize it yet.
need to get worse before they can get better. It almost certainly
means that in the not-too-distant future, U.S. foreign interventions
are going to be scaled way back, or stop entirely, because they
simply won't be possible anymore. That will be a good thing for
backward countries all over the world.
back to the Middle East, which is looking more and more like the
Muddled East, do you think there's any chance this could blow over
and die down?
These things are chaotic over the short run, but I'd say no. I think
the cat's out of the bag, for the reasons we discussed earlier.
I have not been spending much time there lately, so all I know is
all anyone knows if you can say they know anything at all from
watching TV and reading the papers. One interesting thing about
Egypt, in particular, is that no one really knows that much about
the "Muslim Brotherhood" what they actually believe, how powerful
they are, and what they'd actually do if they take over.
I think back
to the French Revolution. It was, initially, an excellent thing;
they got rid of a tyrant and the entire old regime a big plus.
But what replaced it? First they got Robespierre and his Committee
of Public Safety, the Jacobins and La Terreur then they got Napoleon,
who was another kind of disaster. The same thing could happen in
the Middle East.
a busybody. Especially one who's consistently backed repressive
criminals for decades. The best thing the U.S. could do at this
point would be to butt out completely.
not going to hold my breath for that.
I'm glad, because good analysts are hard to find. I've said for
years that the way to defuse and start unwinding the war with Islam
is to listen to what Bin Laden said was upsetting those people so
much. We should get our troops out of their holy land, stop setting
up brutal puppet regimes, and stop supporting Israel. If we did
that, and sincerely apologized for our destructive actions and the
criminal actions our tax dollars have paid for, a lot of those people
would cool off and go back to herding goats, looking for oil, making
shish kebabs, or some other pursuit of happiness.
should not have to say this and I know you won't try to justify
your remarks but some people are so touchy on this subject, so
let me stress that you are not singling Israel out for harsh treatment.
You would have the U.S. government stop supporting all government
overseas, including Israel's Arab neighbors, as well as Israel itself.
The point is not to take the Arab world's side against Israel, but
to let the Israelis and the Arabs work out their own problems.
Of course. Israel and all countries should be treated the same
free trade and no military involvement, as you and Mr. Jefferson
said. It's really that simple. I
went into a lot of detail on Israel in the April, 2002 issue
of International Speculator. And I wrote an analysis
of Islam in the July, 2001 issue of IS. Never let it
be said that I shy from controversy.
the thought. Hm. You're saying there's no reason for this fire to
be contained in the Middle East I wonder if there's any reason
for this fire to be contained by religion or culture. I'm remembering
the mass protests I got caught up in Belarus, just a few weeks ago,
which is about as far from the Muslim world as you can get. I have
to wonder if Lukashenko, the Belarusian dictator, is watching what's
happening in Tunisia and Egypt and wondering how close he came to
being forced to flee the country if the military had switched
sides on December 19, as they appear to have just done in Cairo,
he'd be toast. I have to wonder if people suffering under other
highly repressive regimes around the world are watching and wondering
if their time has come to reach for freedom. Could it be that we're
seeing another "shot heard round the world" today?
I think the chances are excellent. Whatever happens, I'm convinced
that the next five years are going to be among the most interesting
in history, from about every point of view. At some point it should
get interesting enough for me to jump in to the Egyptian, Tunisian,
Pakistani, and Iraqi stock markets with both feet.
in the Chinese sense of the word.
Yes. Particularly interesting is the risk of 21st century Robespierres.
The problem is that all these people still think in terms of government
by nation-state. In that regard, unfortunately, what's happening
is not really revolutionary changing one ruler for another doesn't
get to the root
problem of the rule of some people by others.
Egypt is a
perfect example. The government there serves absolutely no useful
purpose whatsoever. It has done nothing but repress the people,
act as a vehicle for theft by those in power, and hold the place
back for decades. It's likely that whoever replaces Mubarak is just
going to have his own goofy ideas of what the government should
do, instead of just getting the government out of the way.
You know how
it is: it's the most cunning, ruthless, and polished liars the
ones who can persuade the most people to support them by promising
to take from others who get elected. Dictatorship is no answer,
but absolutely neither is democracy.
Over the long
term the entire span of history humanity has gone from a state
of 100% plunder by rulers to now only about 50% plunder. The long-term
trend is, therefore, good but I don't see any reason why we should
take a cosmic leap forward just now, as nice as that would be.
like you've been listening to that song by The Who, Won't
Get Fooled Again: "There's nothing in the street, looks any
different to me, and the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
the new boss, same as the old boss."
Does seem appropriate. Behind the scenes, the U.S. is certainly
going to be agitating for another repressive stooge, such as it
always picks. Since World War II or really, since the days of
Teddy Roosevelt when has the U.S. not picked the most repressive
toady? And while the U.S. won't have much power around the world
in a few years, because of the economic problems it's going to have,
it's pretty powerful now, and it will be pushing in that direction.
instead of a freer world, would you say this new revolutionary fervor
is going to end up a big step backwards, setting the stage for worse
repression and more war?
It's entirely possible, but I'm not going to make that prediction.
Remember the French Revolution. Remember
Rome: they assassinated Caligula, but then got Claudius; they
killed him and ended up with Nero. And after Nero, they had a bloody
civil war, in the Year of Four Emperors.
Nero, I've read, at least had the grace to kill himself. Okay
investment implications seem pretty clear; oil just shot up over
Yes indeed. I think the commodity bull market is likely to stay
intact, and this instability is bullish for energy prices good
news for companies not operating in the Middle East or other areas
at high risk. Sustained higher oil prices are also very bullish
for alternative energies, especially alternatives to light sweet
crude, including heavy oil, oil sands, and shale oil. All of these
are abundant in the Americas, and some even in Europe. These are
the kinds of opportunities we specialize in, in our energy
On the other
hand, this is very bearish for the economies directly affected.
The top revenue industry in Egypt, for example, is tourism, and
tourism there has dropped to zero. That's going to be devastating
and make it all the harder for the place to get better.
bearish on the region, but bullish on commodities.
Yes, but looking ahead for the bright side, once places like Egypt
bottom out, there could be some real bargains to be had there. There
could be fantastic deals on prime real estate in Cairo and Tunis,
and the local stock exchanges could become a gold mine, for those
daring enough to buy when no one else will. Too early now, but the
time could be coming.
more question. A lot of people are probably wondering what you think
of the changing odds for open warfare in the Middle East? If pro-Israel
stooges get replaced by people whose sentiments more closely reflect
those of the Arab masses who are no fans of Israel doesn't that
bring the area that much closer to a shooting match?
Well, it's anyone's bet, but these people have been having wars
with each other for the last 5000 years I see no reason for them
to stop now. And as close to the edge as the poor people in these
repressive Arabic countries live, and with the economic outlook
looking so grim, anything could happen. Even with Israel's nuclear
deterrent, anything could happen.
a very sobering thought. If the oil fields of the Middle East turn
into large glass bowls, that will have obvious and dramatic consequences
for energy prices but what if this all blows over instead of blowing
up? Could oil prices retreat, hurting those who buy in now?
I think oil prices will go up anyway. There are new technologies
on the horizon that could all but eliminate the use of oil as an
energy source, but that's years away. Based on the fundamentals
that underlie the commodity, I expect steadily rising prices for
years to come, with fluctuations along the way, of course. Everything
we see says that trend is very solid, so on top of that, political
turmoil is just a bonus.
then. Not exactly pleasant thoughts, but important ones. Thanks
for your insight.
You're welcome. I feel insulated from the turmoil, here in Argentina.
But only a plane ride away if I want to smell tear gas in the morning.
Til next week.
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