Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ride the Youth Unemployment Highway from Cairo to Wall Street and Chicago.

[Note: This long, meandering post, last updated 9/7/11, is a running history of historic events that began in December 2010 in the Middle East - in Tunisia - and are spreading to Europe and the United States. The author teaches writing courses at a community college in the north suburbs of Chicago. This post takes the form of a letter to two students of his who last spring wrote papers about Egypt's Arab Spring. One of them, Ossama, is Egyptian, but, like the author of this piece, he knew next to nothing about the extraordinarily powerful youth-centered forces that appear to have transformed the Middle East and are now impacting the rest of the world.]

Hi Taniya and Ossama,

I just stumbled on a trove of information about Egypt that I want to share with you. My discoveries began with this story in today's New York Times about ousted Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak's wealth. It's interesting: Swiss banks have frozen Mubarak's accounts. But I wanted to know more about the youth organizers of the Egyptian revolution. Midway through the Times story I saw this link to the National Association for Change in Egypt at the Carnegie Guide to Egypt's elections. Here I found this fascinating 15 minute interview with youth activist Ahmed Maher, a civil engineer and co-founder of the April 6 movement. I had struck gold.

Maher speaks of the April 6 Movement (website here) as a group of "young people with an abundance of energy and awareness and self-discipline" (3:33 of the clip).  If you scroll down to the "Use of Technology" segment of the above video, you'll see that the April 6 movement made heavy use of Facebook and cell phones. But Maher hastens to say that the April 6 movement was equally concerned to reach people without Internet access: old, young and "people in the street." And, he says, it has did so, often face-to-face. Here's a useful piece about him from Wired Magazine going back to his activities in 2008. 

Maher says that his April 6 movement feeds into Mohamed ElBaradei's larger National Association for Change, described as we've seen at the Carnegie Egypt site, and which Wikipedia describes here. Then, at Wikipedia, I linked to its coverage of the Egyptian revolution of 2011. This page is an impressive piece of work. And from it I linked to the mind-boggling and frequently updated Wikipeida page on the 2010-2011 Arab World Protests, which begins with this simple declarative sentence:
The 2010-2011 Arab world protests are an unprecedented series of major uprisings, demonstrations and protests in the Arab countries of Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan, with minor incidents occurring in Mauritania Saudi Arabia, Oman Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Morocco.
and features a terrific color-coded map the likes of which I've seen nowhere else:

  Governmental changes
  Major protests
  Minor protests
  Other Arab League nations

Wow. I hate to say so, but these developments were news to me until I say this page. And to think that the Arab World protests have been mostly non-violent in the face of all kinds of government harrassment, provocation and repression. Incredible discipline. Where is it coming from?

Yesterday, in our Saturday class, I noted that several Buddhist priests had immolated themselves in the late 1960's in order to arouse the world to the horrors of the Vietnam War. Read down the Wikipedia Arab Wold page, and you will see that the December 2010 revolution in Tunisia was in fact sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, "a Tunisian street vendor who [Wikipedia says] set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the humiliation that was inflicted on him by a female municipal official." [update 9/18: in this video a man from Greece sets himself afire after being denied a loan modification.]

Bouazizi strikes me as the Rosa Parks of Tunisia: Rosa Parks, the 48 year-old African American riding a Montgomery, Alabama bus who sparked the entire U. S. civil rights movement when she refused the order of a white busdriver to surrender her seat to a white passenger. On Feb 20 CBS' 60 Minutes ran this fine 13-minute segment on Bouazizi.

But wheras the American civil rights movement enjoyed the non-violent leadership of Dr. King, young Tunisians and Egyptians had  . . . what or whom? Maher makes clear that the Egyptian police had long jailed and tortured student leaders but did not respond with violence. Why not? At one point in the video above, Maher refers to "principles of non-violence" that guided the Egyptian revolution. So had his April 6 colleagues read Dr. King or Gandhi? Probably not. Interviewed by the New York Times, Maher says he "stumbled upon" a writing by the little-known American activist Gene Sharp, whose humane, no-nonsense 90-page manual for nonviolent liberation, From Dictatorship to Democracy, has been translated into two dozen languages. Videos of Sharp are here (13 min) and here (1990, 90 min).

Stepping back a back to look at the larger picture, it seems certain that what's happening in Egypt is part of something larger than what young people are now risking their lives to achieve throughout the Arab World. As I said in class yesterday, historians fifty years from now may well look back on the Arab world revolutions of 2011 as the most important development in world affairs since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1980. 
And to think it's all been done so far without tanks, bullets or bodybags. Gandhi, King, Tutu, Mandela and old Gene Sharp must be happy.
OK, OK, you say, but Mr. Sewall what about the youth unemployment highway running from Cairo to Chicago? That's easy. Tunisia and Egypt are waking up the planet - our entire global village - to the alarming fact of youth unemployment worldwide, not just in the Middle East. You want proof? Check out this Feb 7 Bloomberg BusinessWeek cover story for 2/07 by the magazine's Economics Editor, Peter Coy. It has this photo:

The story's headline asserts that:
From Cairo to London to Brooklyn, too many young people are jobless and disaffected.
So there you have it: a respected mainstream media source is saying outright that the youth unemployment highway runs from Cairo to Brooklyn - and from there of course it's only a short hop to Chitown. The headline of the magazine text is even sharper and more to the point:
Youth unemployment is driving unrest in the Middle East and hollowing out societies from Europe to the U.S.
So what about Chicago? The Windy City is a tale of two cities: affluent Loop/Lakefront and gang/drug dominated South and West sides. Doubt this assertion? It's substantially verified in "Walk With Me," a  brilliant and comprehensive mapping of Chicagoland gangs by Chicago rapper D.J. Smart:

In 1992, I heard Mayor Richard M. Daley himself tell 50 Chicago high school students straight out that "Chicago has lost two generations of young people to gangs and drugs." I could not believe what I was hearing, but in fact Mayor Daley often talks like this in his fairly frequent visits to the South and West sides. (Chicago's mainstream media don't follow him there.)  And of course he was not exaggerating Chicago's loss, not one bit. In Chicago, chronic youth unemployment - almost five decades of it - wears the mask of gangs and drugs, as in virtually every American city. The Obama administration knows all this too. In his autobiographical Dreams of My Father, President Obama devotes almost 170 pages to his three years as a community organizer in the early 1980's in Chicago's gang-infested Altgeld Gardens projects. So what is his administration doing about gangs and drugs? Nothing, when it comes down to it. Nothing substantial.

But I'll bet you that Homeland Security is working overtime to see how Americans will react to the Arab Spring revolutions against oligarchy and plutocracy.* In my wildest dreams I'd never have guessed, not even a month ago, that a global sea-change would first occur in Tunisia, of all places, and flower in Egypt, a country where
  • 50% of the total population of 84 million is under 30.
  • Among Egypt's approx. 40 million citizens under 30, unemployment and illiteracy rates are 60%.
  • 90% of all wealth in Egypt is own by only 200 families.
These figures come from Dr. M. Cherif Bossiouni of the Egyptian American Society and DePaul University at 1:20 of this informative Jan 31 interview on WTTW public TV in Chicago:

      Dr. Bossiouni's account forces an astonishing conclusion: that the non-violent revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt sprouted and matured from the precisely the groups deemed by the U.S. State Department and America's intelligence services to be the recruiting grounds for terrorists and suicide bombers that have waged the so-called War on Terror: the impoverished, uneducated, unemployed Muslim youth from whose ranks the likes of Al Qaeda, Taliban and Hamas draw their followers. Tunisia and Egypt are proof positive, it seems to me, that of a miscalculation - a misjudgement of human nature - of historic proportions.

      Another argument for the idea that the winds of the Arab world will blow in the United States comes from Economist Jeffrey Sachs, who in this video asks, "Do we have to have our own Egypt here in the United States?"

      [March 29] Here Paul Farrell of MarketWatch warns against an Egypt-style revolution against plutocracy in the United States.

      [Sep 7] And here Paul Farrell writes about the impending Sept. 17 "invasion of Wall Street":
      The start of WWIV? Too strong? Maybe just the “Second American Revolution?” Too dramatic? Either way, this is a new D-Day, the invasion of Wall Street. And a global game-changer.
      On Sept. 17, the Arab Spring becomes the new American Fall, with 20,000 revolutionaries in a tent city. Plus “solidarity” occupations in major financial centers worldwide, all ready for a long siege, vowing not to leave till they get their “one simple demand.” . . . They want their democracy back: “One citizen. One dollar. One vote.” Get the corrupting influence of money out of elections.
      Occupy Wall Street is a “leaderless resistance movement” spearheaded by the edgy Adbusters magazine, which in July issued a call for the Sept. 17 occupation of Wall Street.
      So: from Cairo to our own Chicago the youth unemployment highway runs, via London and (as of 9/19/11) Wall Street. Going back in time to last March, here's what happened London: "London Protests Gather Strength After Massive Budget Cuts Announced.
      More than 250,000 people took to London's streets to protest the toughest spending cuts since World War II – one of the largest demonstrations since the Iraq war – as riot police clashed with a small groups. More than 200 people were arrested.]
      [June 7] Here is an account from the German paper Der Spiegel of youth protests in Europe.

      [August 19] Here is Time magazine's (subscriber only) "Decline and Fall of Europe (and Maybe the West)" cover story focused on youth riots and high unemployment in England:

      [March 29] Hey, my job as your English teacher is not to tell you what to write or think but how to do so. So me point out that for every argument, including all of the above, there are counterarguments. Count on that! For instance, a thoughtful counterargument to much of what I say here is found in this short history on the origins of the Tea Party by Fox News contributer Stephen F. Hayes. It closes as follows:
      When President Obama spoke before the United Nations General Assembly in September 2009, he declared that a world order that elevates one country or group of countries over others is bound to fail. So he’s changing that order. If his domestic policy priority is the redistribution of wealth, his foreign policy priority seems to be the redistribution of power. [italics mine]
      Most Americans don’t agree with the president’s priorities. And many of these Americans are now active in the Tea Party movement, a movement that has succeeded in starting a serious national conversation about a return to limited government.
      The operative sentence here is the assertion that "Most Americans don't agree with the president's priorities." If this is so, and for all I know it could be so, then the best alternative to violence in America may be new dialogic public forums that enable all Americans to deal rationally and non-violently with the extraordinary winds of change that began in Tunisia and Egypt. (But note that Hayes made this speech "during a Hillsdale College cruise running from Rome to Dover." Sounds pretty upperclass to me. Context, people, Context!)

      So - Taniya and Ossama - Good luck with your Egypt papers - but are they really only about Egypt?!

      Mr. Sewall

      * Plutocracy and oligarchy are terms that most observers agree accurately describe Egypt, and since they are being increasingly applied to the United States, here are some links : [plutocracy - Wikipedia definition] [plutocracy - 2005 Citigroup Memo to investor clients] [plutocracy - Robert Reich] [plutocracy - Matthew Skomarovsky] [plutocracy - Francis Fukuyama] [plutocracy - Bill Moyers and Kevin Phillips] [oligarchy - Weekly Standard]

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