Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarek's "emergency rule" is deep into its third decade, with modernizing son Gamal teed up as the pharaoh-in-waiting. While Gamal's efforts to open up Egypt's state-heavy economy have progressed nicely the past few years, so has Mubarek the Elder's repression of all political opponents, yielding the Arab world's most ardent impression of the Chinese model of development.
This writes Thomas P.M. Barnett (email@example.com), a visiting scholar at the University of Tennessee's Howard Baker Center and author of the forthcoming book "Great Powers: America and the World After Bush."
But with the global recession now reaching down deeply into emerging markets, serious cracks emerge in the Mubarek regime's facade. Unemployment is - unofficially - somewhere north of 30 percent. Worse, it's highly concentrated among youth, whose demographic bulge currently generates 800,000 new job seekers every year.
Ask young Egyptian men, as I did repeatedly on a trip, what their biggest worry is, and they'll tell you it's the inability to find a job that earns enough to enable marriage - a terrible sign in a society becoming more religiously conservative.
At 83, Hosni Mubarek is an unhealthy dictator who's achieved a stranglehold on virtually every aspect of Egyptian life, creating an immense undercurrent of popular resentment. While Washington focuses on Iran's reach for nukes and its upcoming presidential election, Egypt is more likely to be plunged into domestic political crisis on President-Elect Barack Obama's watch.
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