Indeed, the big question for Egypt is not only who rules but how anyone can rule? Can a fragile new democracy make progress in the face of such deep economic dislocation and distress? I just returned from Egypt. It is falling apart. A few weeks ago, I sat in a teahouse in Cairo interviewing Mahmoud Medany, a researcher at Egypt’s Agricultural Research Center and one of the country’s top environmental experts. Medany, 55, recalled that some 40 years ago, when he was in middle school, “we used to sing this song about how the whole world is talking to the 20 million Egyptians.” When Mubarak took over in 1982, “we were 33 or 34 million. Today, we are over 80 million.” Also the steady compacting of soil in the Nile Delta, he added, combined with gradual sea level rise due to global warming, is leading to more and more saltwater intrusion into the Delta. “The Nile is the artery of life, and the Delta is our breadbasket,” said Medany, “and if you take that away there is no Egypt.”
This confluence of population, climate, unemployment, water scarcity and illiteracy may be making Egypt ungovernable — and the job of president impossible — with such a stressed and mobilized population. I hope not, but I do know this: Egypt can’t just keep oscillating from a secular/military regime that isolates the Brotherhood and a Brotherhood regime that isolates the other side.