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Futuring the revolution: watching Egypt's 30-year-old dictatorship come to an abrupt end inspired futurists to reflect on wild cards, tipping points, and the power of information-empowered people.

For 18 days in January and February, the virtual voices of protest were united to bring about a new reality for Egypt.

Called the People's Revolution, it was truly one of the world's first socially networked revolutions, embracing not only the activists organizing flash-mob protests and the demonstrators filling Cairo's Tahrir Square, but also a worldwide community of keenly interested witnesses.

In our own community of futurists, our Web site hosted the observations of several expert trend watchers, including More Than Human author Ramez Naam, an Egypt-born U.S. citizen. Futurists' role in analyzing the Egyptian crisis was to provide a context for the present outcome of identifiable trends, as well as lend ideas for what may happen next.

Here are a few excerpts from our bloggers' comments during these extraordinary events. To read the postings in their entirety, please visit www.wfs.org/blog.

Egypt: Lessons for U.S. Foreign Policy

Posted by Ramez Naam, Sunday, January 30, 2011

... Egypt was the first Arab country to recognize and make peace with Israel. For that, Egypt is rewarded with aid. In addition, Egypt is a key military partner. U.S. and Egyptian forces conduct joint exercises in the area every year. ... For those reasons and more, the U.S. has continued to prop up the government of Hosni Mubarak for decades.

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There are good reasons for the United States to want a stable and pro-U.S. government in place in Egypt. Yet the protests on the street today show how supporting convenient dictators can have negative consequences. ...

In the long run, democracies make the best friends and allies. In the long run, encouraging democracy--through free and fair elections, through personal freedom of expression, through the establishment of a free and uncensored press--is the best foreign policy investment any free nation can make.

"Malecontentment" in Egypt

Posted by Erica Orange, Thursday, February 3, 2011

... In Egypt, the unemployment among young males (aged 15 to 29 years) was 32% in 2009. In other words, one in three young men were out of a job, and, because of increased education, many more were affected by underemployment. Clearly, growing unemployment has led to insecurity over their future, which to many, seems bleak. But when you take a generation of young males who have no future, and have no outlet for their aggression (and testosterone), a range of potentially dangerous problems could occur. ...

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

So the question then becomes this: What do we do with the young males? As we're seeing now, testosterone-fueled aggressiveness can disrupt or even tear apart societies that don't find ways to channel those drives into activities that aren't destructive to the communities. In a worst-case scenario, it may be that countries afflicted by the imbalance could to go to war as a means of sending young men's aggressiveness to where it can do no harm internally.

Egypt and Changing Units of Analysis

Posted by Eric Garland, Thursday, February 3, 2011

... One of the biggest implications of the past few weeks of major unrest in the Arab/Middle Eastern world is that the units of analysis are being scrambled. Remember: foreign policy experts use the nation-state as the key unit of analysis. ...

September 11th screwed things up by suggesting that non-state actors would no longer play bit parts, but could influence the whole geopolitical game. ...

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

A nation-state is truly the result of a social contract, and when the millions of people who form that contract decide it's no longer for them--it's not the same thing anymore. It can't be used as a unit of analysis in the same way. Let's say the people of Egypt follow through on their popular revolt and elect a parliament of all taxi drivers. Can a foreign policy analyst in Paris seriously expect the same type of future behavior that it got from foreign-educated elites who understood what was expected of Cold War nation-states?

Nope, it's a whole new world.

Egypt, Twitter, and the Collapse Of Top-Heavy Societies

Posted by Ramez Naam, Saturday, February 5, 2011

... The weight that eventually caused the collapse of both the Maya and the Roman Empire wasn't just any sort of complexity, it was an upper layer of society that was largely parasitic, consuming more and more of the resources of society without producing much value.

I'm struck by this in the case of Egypt. The protests in Egypt are fueled by the frustration of lack of opportunity and the anger of lack of ability to change the system or even speak out against it. ...

Neither state control of the economy nor rampant corruption that lines the pockets of ministers and high officials is truly a form of additional "complexity." It's parasitism.

By contrast, services like Twitter and Facebook or more basic telecommunication via cell phones, SMS, and e-mail do increase the societal complexity of a country. They increase the number of voices being heard. They add density to the social graph.

Yet that complexity does not belong to the old world of Hosni Mubarak's government or its elite friends. It belongs to the younger generation on the street. Face-book, Twitter, cell phones, e-mail, and SMS add complexity, but it's a peer-to-peer complexity that empowers those who use those tools. That peer-to-peer complexity may cause a collapse, but not of the side that uses it. ...

I'm optimistic about the future of both Egypt and of modern society as a whole. ... We should expect the collapse of parasitic and top-down societies and institutions, and the emergence of more and more network-centric institutions and societies.

North African Dominoes

Posted by Stephen Aguilar-Millan, Monday, February 7, 2011

First Tunisia, then Egypt, and on to Jordan and Yemen. Ought we to have been surprised by recent events in North Africa and the Middle East? No! Despite the timing of the revolutions now under way, I don't think that we ought to be surprised at all.

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... At a seminar at the World Future Society conference in Chicago in 2009, as a demonstration of the International Futures computer simulation model, Professor Jay Gary and Dr. Tom Ferleman showed us that a combination of economic and demographic trends, in conjunction with a number of social and political trends, were leading to the possibility of a significant event in North Africa and the Middle East in this decade. For a reasonably sustained period, the warning bells have been ringing and those investors and businesses that have been tuned into this potential hotspot are now able to deploy their contingency plans.

... The important factor now is to consider what might happen next--to look to the future rather than to the past. To my mind, the most significant future factor is that the "youth bulge" in North Africa and the Middle East has yet to peak. Over the course of this decade, even more unemployed, impoverished, and bored young men will reach the age when they might be predisposed to action in changing their world. If this cohort can be fulfilled, then the prospect of the future (growth, employment, and prosperity) is very bright. If, on the other hand, nothing changes, then the prospect is quite dim.

Mom and Mubarak

Posted by Cynthia G. Wagner, Friday, February 11, 2011

My mother, who died two and a half years ago, probably would have had some sympathy for Hosni Mubarak this week, for no other reason than that she once shook his hand. ...

From her diary [1994]:
  We were resting near King Tut's tomb when a motorcade suddenly
  appeared--out jumped security guards--young, lean, in dark suits with
  white shirts and ties. In moments they were positioned all round--and
  President Maburak [sic] appeared. I asked the guard in front of me if
  I could take pictures--at first he said "no"--but then the President
  gave different orders. Before I quite realized what was happening, I
  was shaking his hand and chatting with him about the opera and my
  appreciation of all that had been done for that event--and my
  enjoyment of Egypt. When we got back to the hotel, I discovered that
  I was an instant (though temporary) celebrity. I was on the 6 o'clock
  TV news and people started recognizing me everywhere.


Mom was far more interested in the history of Egypt--its ancient beauties and mysteries--than in the turmoil of contemporary geopolitics. Shaking the man's hand was enough to charm her. Politics isn't just local; it's personal.

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I think about Mom and Mubarak when I look back on how differently I feel about people after I have met them. I was as charmed by Newt Gingrich as by Al Gore when I met them at World Future Society conferences.

But of course I would not want either gentleman running my country for 30 years.

About the Authors

Ramez Naam is a computer scientist and author.

Erica Orange is vice president of Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc.

Eric Garland is the founder and managing partner of Competitive Futures Inc.

Stephen Aguilar-Millan is director of research at the European Futures Observatory.

Cynthia G. Wagner is editor of THE FUTURIST.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:AS BLOGGED
Author:Naam, Ramez; Orange, Erica; Garland, Eric; Aguilar-Millan, Stephen; Wagner, Cynthia G.
Publication:The Futurist
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:May 1, 2011
Words:1512
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