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Egypt in Transformation: Unfolding Dynamics of Resilience in a Complex System in Real Time


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Egypt in Transformation: Unfolding Dynamics of Resilience in a Complex System in Real Time

  1. 1. ©2011 Editor and Author/s fall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt in Transformation: ending a presidency that began before the majority of the current Egyptian population Unfolding Dynamics of Resilience was born. in a Complex System in Real Time By all accounts, the popular movement was Nicholas Cooper1 a youth movement cutting across religious and socio-economic lines. The sequence ofIn the first edition of this journal (Cooper events seen in Tahrir Square (Cairo) and2010), I argued that the „youth bulge‟ elsewhere (including Alexandria) exposedcurrently observed in Egypt‟s population highly complex systems and sub-systemsstructure confronted decision-makers with a with cultural, political, social and economicfork in the road. On the one hand, layers threatening to peel off very quickly.programmers and policy-makers could Motivated by longstanding frustrations overinvest in young people, utilizing the high unemployment, persistent poverty, andSustainable Livelihoods framework to government corruption, Egyptian youth hadassess, plan for, and fulfill the needs of faced a dearth of opportunities for theEgyptian youth by investing in their development of resilient, sustainablefinancial, human, social, physical and livelihoods. As highlighted in my proposalnatural capital. Choosing this path offered to promote their resilience it was clear thatthe promise of peace and prosperity as the young people‟s access to social capital wasrelative size of the working age population mixed. While “bonding” social capital,expanded, the dependency ratio decreased, between youth and their friends and family,and youth were provided with viable and may be high, “bridging” social capitalattractive opportunities that allowed them to between young people and the largerpursue resilient livelihood strategies. On the community and state seemed to fall short.other hand, failure to create an enablingenvironment for young people‟s livelihood The 18 days of protests preceding thestrategies raised the specter of unrest. As President‟s resignation revealed thethis large youth cohort becomes dissatisfied disconnect between the Egyptian state andwith the status quo, the absence of attractive its people, particularly its youth. It is theand viable livelihood opportunities pushes responsibility of the state, through itsthem to the margins, carrying the possibility institutions, policies and processes, to createthat Egyptian youth could turn to an enabling and supporting environment forunconventional, or even maladaptive, the lives of its people. Widespreadstrategies to meet their needs. corruption is but one example of this disconnect, as those who have beenEgyptian President Hosni Mubarak has now empowered by the system perpetuated thatresigned following popular protests that system and their own self-interest, ratherlasted for 18 days, catalyzed by similar than the interests of the Egyptian in neighboring Tunisia that led to the The Sustainable Livelihoods model I had1Nicholas Cooper is a researcher at the FXB proposed last year highlighted theCenter for Health and Human Rights, relationships between these factors. PovertyHarvard School of Public Health. is both a cause and consequence of non-Correspondence: sustainable and non-resilient livelihoods.nick.marshall.cooper@gmail.comResilience: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Science and Humanitarianism, Volume 2, March 2011 v
  2. 2. With little access to financial and otherforms of capital, Egyptian youth had fewattractive, viable and resilient livelihoodstrategies they could pursue. As a result, theoutcomes of available livelihood strategiesdid not meet young people‟s needs,perpetuating the cycle of lack ofopportunities, and increasing thevulnerability of their livelihood strategies toexternal shocks and challenges.The timing and form of Egypt‟s recentupheaval were impossible to predict.However, application of the SustainableLivelihoods framework highlighted theinadequacy of the status quo prior toPresident Mubarak‟s departure, and itspotential effects on peace and security.Rather than providing viable and attractiveopportunities for its young population, thestate failed to embrace the opportunityprovided by its population structure to drivedevelopment and provide young people withthe tools and the environment to fulfill theirlivelihood goals. President Mubarak‟sdownfall came about by the strength oforganization demonstrated by young peoplein particular, as they turned tounconventional strategies to meet theirneeds. Many of them have asserted theirownership of the process of change theirmovement has ushered in. However, thechallenges and opportunities confrontingEgypt remain the same. In this new era, withthe implications of failure at the forefront,Egypt will have to redefine its approach toyoung people, reaping the developmentaldividends of young people‟s potential. Itremains to be seen to what extent themilitary and state apparatus allow youthparticipation to remain the signature oftransformation - Egypt‟s “new era”.Resilience: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Science and Humanitarianism, Volume 2, March 2011 vi