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Friday, July 05, 2013

Bell-weather Egypt and the Million Person Rule

A June 29th article in The Economist titled "The March of Protests Around the World" summarizes the impact of protest movements.  Egypt has revolted against their government twice in three years, indicating how the impact of social movements seems to be limitless and their energies cannot be underestimated.

Now, governments are trying to mitigate the Egyptian street rebellions.  Foreign governments, reacting to the Egyptian military's move against ousted Mohamed Morsi, are getting into semantic knots about the difference between a "coup" and a "military intervention" – though no-one disputes that a democratically elected president, albeit an unpopular one, has been overthrown.

Egypt is a bell-weather for the success of social movements leading to outright rebellion.  Although some movements seem to be effective in initiating social change, others, like the Occupy movement, may be simmering, while burning out.  

Nevertheless, what's evident in the growing numbers of movements is how quickly they arise, sometimes out of nowhere, and rapidly gain  followers.

The rhythm of protests has been accelerated by technology. As a result, it's just a matter of time when these movements, eventually, get together.  Why?  Because (i) they have a common origin caused by discontent (ii) they are driven by the growing numbers of middle class people and (iii) they are technologically fueled by savvy  people adept in using social media.

As the Economist article points out, movements of all kinds are almost all started by middle class people who feel economically or socially marginalized.  Regardless of what starts a movement, the root cause is driven by ordinary middle class people who rise up when they're unheard and marginalized. 

People who join movements are among those who yearn to be part of their destiny, rather than victims of the ambition of powerful ruling classes. 

The Economist reports:

"Protests have many different origins. In Brazil people rose up against bus fares, in Turkey against a building project. Indonesians have rejected higher fuel prices, Bulgarians the government’s cronyism. In the euro zone they march against austerity, and the Arab spring has become a perma-protest against pretty much everything. Each angry demonstration is angry in its own way."

Predicting what protests will grow and which fail requires a certain amount of social clairvoyance. Frankly, people "know it when they see it".  Unfortunately, those being rebelled against are often the last to know, caught blind sided and, consequently, suffer tragic consequences.

Those who marginalize social movements, in this day and age, do so at their peril, because successful movements inspire the growth of others.  Let's recall how the French Revolution (1789-1799) was inspired by the American Revolution; it was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France that had a lasting impact on French history and more broadly throughout Europe.

Think of Egypt as a modern French Revolution, because of the rebellion's still to be determined international impact.  

Egypt is a bell-weather, meaning any entity, in a given arena, that serves to create or influence trends or to presage future happenings.

And therein is the lasting impact of the Arab Spring, perhaps better named the Million Person Rule, i.e., we just don't know what the Egyptian revolts will ultimately resolve.  Yet, it's absolutely clear that in the ancient country where the seeds of Western Civilization began, thousands of years ago, the descendants of the Pharaohs are, once again, impacting the world.  

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