Egypt today, Mexico in 1910

The insurgency and possible revolution in Egypt reminds me very much of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, I told my students.

As in the case of Egypt with dictator Gen. Mubarak, Mexico was also ruled for over 30 years by a former military general, Porfirio D'az from 1877 to 1910. D'az like Mubarak ruled with an iron fist and allowed little political opposition if any. D'az’s dictatorship was tied in with a new economic policy that opened up Mexico for outside investments principally from the United States.

The dictator understood that in order to entice foreign investors he had to insure order even it this meant a repressive regime. D'az welcomed foreign capital to build the railroads in order to stimulate commercial agriculture and the mining industry. These raw materials however were not meant for domestic consumption but for export mainly to the U.S.

This new policy worked for some and created a “Mexican Miracle” with respect to significant economic development. The problem was that this growth benefited only the American companies in Mexico and a minority around D'az. On the other hand, thousands of peasants suffered dislocation as their lands were stolen from them to convert them into agri-business.

But there was one other significant change in D'az’s Mexico that in particular resembles what is happening in Egypt. Economic development also brought in its wake a new middle class with increased education in order to serve as the managers or intermediaries between the foreign corporations and the D'az government. This middle class also prospered and had no problem with D'az’s economic strategy. However, in time they began to demand more of a political voice and a greater role in the governing of Mexico.

They called for U.S. style democracy since many of them had been educated in the U.S.

Their demands were rebuffed by D'az who refused to open up the political system and instead chose to remain in power. This recalcitrance on the part of the dictator led to revolution as the only way to bring an end to authoritarian government in Mexico. This became the Mexican Revolution of 1910 that overthrew D'az in a bloody civil war that lasted for a decade.

I can’t help but see similarities with the conditions in Egypt. Like D'az, Mubarak has ruled with an iron fist but at the same time opened up Egypt to significant economic development that has created an important and educated middle class although as with Mexico, the masses remain impoverished. But this middle class, as in the case of Mexico, is now demanding a more open political system that will allow them to share in the governing of their own country.

If Mubarak does not step down now and allow the opportunity for some semblance of political democracy, the middle class will lead a revolution against him. There will be no other choice.

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