Mubarak’s Pyramid Scheme
Did Hosni Mubarak take Political Science 101 or its Cairo University equivalent? Maybe he did, but if so, he seems to have relied too heavily and for too long on the teachings of Machiavelli and Hobbes. He might have gotten an “A” in governing according to their doctrines, but eventually he fell victim to a dogmatic reliance on theories which are increasingly irrelevant in the digital world. In the age of Facebook, Twitter and the Internet, a government cannot sustain itself by creating and maintaining an environment of fear.
Mubarak would seem to have been a perfect disciple of Machiavelli and Hobbes. Over thirty years he built a pyramidal society with the mass of Egyptians on the bottom held captive by a small elite at the top. The Egyptian president held this rigid hierarchy in place with an effective network of informers and enforcers, and a secret police that instilled fear in the population. He chose, as Machiavelli suggested, to be feared, rather than to be loved, as a means to retain power. In the volatile Middle East he suggested that only he could protect a stable nation, albeit one with limited civil liberties, from the Hobbesian nightmare of chaos that would surely flow from the proponents of religious fundamentalism who waited in the shadows for an opportunity to seize power. Mubarak, consistent with Hobbes’ theories, believed that the Egyptian people would not rise up and overthrow their sovereign.
Yet, overthrow him they have. It cannot be predicted whether a stable government, political instability or the dreaded ascendancy of Muslim fanatics awaits Egypt. However, the inability of Mubarak to withstand less than two weeks of public protests in major cities in the nation suggests that an environment of fear can only go so far in maintaining a sovereign in power. Fear is an emotion based on the unknown. It is a feeling of isolation, of being left out, of having nowhere to turn. In the past, despots maintained their power through intimidation and force, turning people against each other, dividing and, therefore, conquering. The social media has changed that by forging bonds among the people that the terror apparatus of the State cannot tear asunder. People who can communicate with one another and thereby share their concerns and coordinate their actions are less likely to be paralyzed by fear. Mubarak’s scheme, like all pyramid schemes, was based on false perceptions which, when punctured by the reality of social networking, collapsed