Argument

The Revolution Continues

Egypt is witnessing the slow-motion collapse of a stagnant and brutal political order.

Egypt's cinematic drama has created a global audience that yearns for a hero and a happy ending. Yet the tale playing out in Cairo is not a Hollywood movie: Egypt is in the throes of a traumatic confrontation with modernity, which will continue to define the country's direction regardless of individual actors and political micro-dramas. This crisis was the primary cause for the Jan. 25, 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak, and the events of the past two years are merely the symptoms of Egypt's current state of affairs.

What we are witnessing is the last, dying gasps of the Nasserite era. The ideological vision of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who led the 1952 revolution that overthrew Egypt's monarchy, has defined the last six decades of Egyptian politics: Arab nationalism, vehement anti-colonialism, the nationalization of the country's economy, and the preeminence of the military are the foundation on which modern Egypt is built. While Nasserism was arguably successful in helping Egypt emerge from its political past, it has long been in slow decline -- and is now on the verge of collapse.

The crumbling of the Mubarak regime two years ago momentarily wrenched Egypt's population out of a decades-old slumber. But today, many vestiges of Nasser's Egypt -- key structures of state, society, and the economy -- linger on. They are the creaking, dysfunctional machinery of a protectionist system still striving to shut out the forces of modernity and globalization in order to preserve the vested interests of an elite few.

Egypt's insidious state security establishment is a prime example of the country's unfinished revolution. The Jan. 25 protests proved to be the watershed moment when -- for all its networks of informants, secret police officers, and legions of thugs -- it had no answer to modern technology, digital media, and mobile communications. While describing the uprising as a "Facebook Revolution" remains misleading, protesters understood how their technological advantages enabled them to outmaneuver a clumsy and brutal security apparatus. Two years on, however, the Interior Ministry remains unreformed, the scars of years of brutalization of Egyptian society are yet to be healed, and civilian law enforcement faces an undetermined future.

Depressingly then, though no less predictably, the Muslim Brotherhood has quickly revealed itself as representing a continuation of this broken system. President Mohamed Morsy has shown himself as eager to maintain an authoritarian stranglehold over the political process as his predecessor, unilaterally issuing a declaration that granted him far-reaching powers and ramming through a new constitution on short notice. In another sinister echo of the old regime, the Brotherhood is now employing its own armed thugs to violently confront protesters, as seen in the December 2012 clashes outside the presidential palace.

Meanwhile, despite Morsy's house cleaning of the military's senior leadership last August, critical aspects of the country's controversial new constitution leave the uniformed establishment's independence from civilian oversight and autonomy over its own opaque affairs intact. Key clauses have kept the military's vast budget away from parliamentary view and formally sanctioned the use of military trials for civilians. It is difficult to envisage how the country can genuinely move into a new era while the military, representing the immovable institutional foundation of Nasser's Egypt, continues to dominate the country's commanding heights.

The decay of Egypt's education system provides a window into the slow collapse of Nasserite Egypt. In the years following the July 1952 revolution, the barely existent public education system underwent an exponential expansion: By the mid-1970s, the education budget represented more than 25 percent of the government's total expenditure, while spending on school construction increased by 1,000 percent. During the same period, overall school enrollment grew by a staggering 400 percent.

This early commitment, however, faltered long ago. Nowadays, education spending represents a pitifully small portion of the public budget, more than 80 percent of which goes to pay bureaucrats' salaries. Primary school classes of up to 60 children are taught in multiple daily shifts, while education relies on rote memorization, stifling intellectual curiosity and creativity.

The failure of Egypt's education system has a dramatic political impact. Egypt's leaders have cynically created factories that produce unimaginative, uninquisitive recruits for their vast military and civil service bureaucracies. The intellectual class, whose efforts initially helped to conjure Nasser's Egypt into existence, has increasingly been squeezed and hounded into silence by a paranoid regime that hears whispers of dissent at every turn.

The struggle of secular liberals to find their feet in the last two years is an indirect consequence of Egypt's intellectual rut. The result of Egypt's decaying academic institutions is an absence of ideas and a near-total lack of political vision. It is telling that Mohammad ElBaradei, arguably the most prominent member of the secular-liberal opposition, spent almost his entire career outside of the country.

Meanwhile, a parallel deterioration in Egypt's mainstream religious institutions -- most notably Al Azhar University, which was once the preeminent global seat of Islamic learning -- has paved the way for the rise of foreign Islamist ideologies. Egyptian politics has not only become less secular, but Islamist politics has become more radical and less inherently "Egyptian."

The limping legacy of the Nasserist state is also evidenced in Egypt's bloated public sector. Poorly functioning government departments and sluggish bureaucracy have come to epitomize for many the ailing nature of an ossified state, and the burden of public sector salaries on a near bankrupt economic system cannot endure forever. Meanwhile, the gulf in professional standards between Egypt's introverted public sector and an increasingly globalized commercial business community grows greater by the day.

Nasser's seismic nationalization policies have unintentionally granted his successors a handy mechanism of exerting power and influence through the gradual redistribution of the nation's wealth to a small clique surrounding the ruling establishment. The startling disparities of wealth within Egypt represent a cruel and dangerous paradox: According to World Bank statistics, 20 percent of Egyptians live below the poverty line.

Yet even as Egypt teeters on the edge of economic cataclysm, any efforts toward a redistribution of wealth and resources, or alterations to its inequitable system of fuel and food subsidies, have so far remained half-hearted. Political forces have buckled to domestic political expediency, so far resisting the IMF's warnings that reforms of taxes, subsidies, and the public budget are prerequisites for Egypt to receive its $4.8 billion assistance package.

On the two-year anniversary of the revolution, solutions to Egypt's crisis of modernity are hard to come by. Morsy's intrinsically conservative government appears just as authoritarian as its predecessors, and the opposition has failed to build a political organization or define its agenda. Meanwhile, the retrograde visions of the radical Islamist opposition threaten to pull Egypt even further from the modern world.

Despite their differences, the diverse political forces in Cairo all hold to a misguided notion that Egypt's main challenges are relatively fixable, superficial abuses -- not fundamental issues related to the broken structures of their state and society. Two years ago, demonstrations against the established hierarchy sparked protests from almost every corner of the country -- from schools, to hospitals, places of work, and even within families. These pressures will continue to represent an existential threat to Egypt's political elite.

The 18 days that brought down Mubarak demonstrated that Egypt is capable of achieving the unthinkable. Today, more of the honesty, courage, and soul-searching that stirred the public's imagination during those days will be required to bring an end to the old, dying political order in Cairo.

Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

National Security

The French Connection

Why is the United States paying for its ally's adventures in Africa?

French forces launched a military offensive last week in Mali to push back Islamic militants and help the nascent government assert control in the northern part of that former French colony. Although senior U.S. officials have expressed interest in the fight because of the militants' connection to al Qaeda's North African franchise, the White House declined to intervene directly. Instead, the Defense Department has dispatched surveillance, refueling, and transport aircraft to aid the French effort, providing their troops with the capability to conduct sustained combat operations roughly 2,500 miles from Paris. Since then, the U.S. and French governments have tussled over what, exactly, the United States would do to support the Mali campaign, and how much, if anything, France would pay for this support.

However, this diplomatic row obscures a much larger issue between the U.S. and its European allies. Put bluntly, France and NATO countries spend too little on their defense to afford the kind of global power-projection capability they need to support missions like Mali. This problem will likely grow worse as U.S. defense budgets go down and European countries continue to spend their funds on other priorities. The Mali campaign shows both the problem, and also a possible solution, blending French willingness to put their boots on the ground with the substantial global capabilities of the U.S. military.

At a very fundamental level, every nation must identify its interests and choose the best ways and means to pursue them. For decades, the United States has chosen a robust defense strategy, providing its military with trillions of dollars to develop the capabilities it has today. For better or worse, the French have invested their money differently, opting to spend a much smaller percentage of its GDP on defense, dedicating public spending to other priorities such as social welfare programs. France currently spends 2.2 percent of its GDP on defense, compared to U.S. defense outlays that equal 4.7 percent. The French level of spending gives them the capability to act -- such as their deployment of ground troops to Afghanistan or ground-attack planes to Libya -- but not the capacity to sustain such action for weeks and months.

Enter the U.S. Air Force, with a fleet tied together by a global network of command, control, communications, and computing systems. Although Washington's immediate dispute with Paris was triggered by a request for approximately $20 million to cover the operational costs of supporting French forces, these costs represent a tiny fraction of the investments it takes to build the capability and capacity to deploy forces around the world, command them, sustain them logistically, and provide precision strike capabilities to support them in combat.

The biggest costs are the aircraft themselves. The C-17 cargo aircraft is the workhorse of the Air Force, capable of conducting transoceanic flights with mid-air refueling en route, and delivering an infantry company (sans equipment) with every planeload. Each C-17 costs roughly $225 million; during the past three years alone, the Pentagon spent $4.5 billion on procuring new C-17s and maintaining older ones. The per-plane costs include some of the extensive research and development that went into these aircraft, but not all of it. The C-17 leverages decades of Air Force investment in previous aircraft such as the C-130, C-141, and C-5, as well as the broader U.S. aerospace industry. The end result from all these billions of dollars is an ability to project power around the world that is unparalleled by any other country -- in large part because no other country spends what is necessary to develop and maintain these capabilities.

However, planes without people are nothing. Even though it takes only three people to fly a C-17, maintaining and operating a fleet of cargo aircraft means the Air Force must recruit, train, house, pay, and care for thousands of pilots, technicians, mechanics, and support personnel. The average cost per active U.S. servicemember is $385,000 per year -- and pilots are significantly more expensive because of the millions of dollars necessary for initial and refresher training. And that figure does not include military retirement costs, nor the long-term care and benefits provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. France does maintain a sizable military force, but its air force lacks the size and transport capability to truly give France a capacity to sustain global deployments like the current mission to Mali.

In addition to planes and people, there are substantial operations and maintenance costs. Here again, the U.S. global transport capability rests on decades of multi-billion dollar investments in military training exercises, operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and continuous maintenance for its aircraft. The C-17 costs roughly $12,000 per hour to fly, and U.S. airmen have logged many millions of miles, particularly over the past 12 years of war. These expenditures, combined with the procurement of people and machines, are necessary investments for any country if it wants to have the ability to move men and materiel around the world on a moment's notice, as the United States has done in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Korea, and countless other locations in the past decade.

For years, Republicans and Democrats alike have asked our allies (particularly those in NATO) to shoulder more of the cost for providing security in our interconnected world. To their credit, many allies -- including the French, Germans, British, Italians, Canadians, Australians, and Poles -- maintain robust ground forces and have provided significant numbers of troops in Afghanistan. However, these same countries have largely refrained from the types of long-term investment in their defense capabilities necessary to secure their interests (and ours) in places like Mali, Libya, or Syria. And, for better or worse, the United States enables this behavior by continuing to backstop these missions, whether with precision-guided munitions for the Libya campaign, or strategic airlift for the Mali offensive.

This tradeoff may be worthwhile in the short term. French forces are, after all, bravely sallying forth into the heart of northern Mali, where they are fighting Islamic militants who may, one day, seek to export violence to the West. This serves our interests as well as those of the French. And it may be the case, as Kori Schake writes, that denying such support now would merely antagonize our allies, and do nothing to force the French (or other allies) to pay for more of their foreign policy.

However, in an age of fiscal austerity and declining defense budgets, we cannot afford this arrangement indefinitely, or justify such expenditures for future conflicts where we have a tangential interest at best. At some point the United States must force this issue with its allies, lest we create a moral hazard by allowing France and other friends to construct a foreign policy that's built on a foundation of U.S. military capability and funded by U.S. taxpayers. We need a new business model for NATO, one in which our allies share their security burdens more smartly, with greater complementarity and collaboration between allies than we have today. To date our allies have resisted this model, largely because they think it will diminish their sovereignty. This must change, and only a "tough love" policy, such as the one being pushed by the White House on France now, will incentivize our allies to shoulder their share of the task, whether in Mali or the next place where we act in the world.

ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images