'Each man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world'
-- Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

'Artists are tricky fellows sir, forever shaping the world according to some design of their own'
-- Jonathan Strange, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Davos Looks On

Not afraid to use Wikileaks when it suits, The Daily Telegraph has muddied the waters of the Egyptian protests: in today’s paper they lead with a story about cables showing US government support for a young Egyptian dissident. No motivation for this apparent move has been given, but it does place American backing behind both groups and serves only as pro-Western propaganda – now, which ever side emerges with more credibility or control, the US can acknowledge its positive, proactive role in proceedings.

Mubharak gave a national televised address yesterday – in a US presidential style visual – that could not be streamed over the internet or to mobile phones, since the government had closed all five national internet service providers to internal traffic. The five nodes still processed traffic through the country, but wary of the cohesive, aggregating snowball effect of social media here, it also closed mobile networks across the country. The Street reacted to the speech with apathy – believing that it did not go far enough in its concessions. For it to take thirty years and mass rioting for the president to now mention the economy and corruption appeared to many that at least the popular aggravation has worked to some extent and more can be expected today.

The president is playing a one-time game – the measures he has introduced here in an attempt to quell the riots will not be successful again. Internet rerouters through proxy servers or wireless grids will develop in response to this action when the internal network is finally restored. And the economy suffers when business cannot access the information superhighway – imagine your own economy if national access to the Internet was shut down for a number of days. When protestors are incensed at corruption, low living standards and denial of human rights, access to the Internet can be seen as a freedom of sorts. This denial of service attack from president to populus is a one-time deal – he either quenches the protests or he goes. And what will be left? This national discontent will scare investors and in the short-term, economic prosperity may plummet to new depths. 

Coincidentally, the World Economic Forum at Davos has been convened whilst the riots are ongoing. At Davos, as Peston notes, there are a total of US$3 Trillion worth of investment funds – heads of state become ‘super-salesmen’ in an attempt to procure some of these liquidity injections for their own national infrastructure and corporations. What can have a worse effect on an already disenfranchised population than the advertisement that the Middle East is currently sending out across the international airwaves? 

Riots in Jordan, Lebanon and a complex series of protests in Yemen, with the latter being subject to an ‘Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’ warning to other Sunni Muslims of a Christian-Shi’ia pact over the country. The regime is back by the United States, even though it is the second poorest (after Mauritania) country in the Middle East – the role of Islamist and Jihadi elements in the country has meant that the US has sought to stabilise the weak government there. A ‘senior Yemeni official’ survived an ambush on Friday suggesting that Islamist and Jihadi elements are stepping up their campaign against the government to coincide with the popular protests across the Middle East. These mixed messages are what the Islamists want to conflate – popular discontent juxtaposed to militant religious grievances. 

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