Islam - Facing A Tipping Point

March 22, 2017

        In my two previous articles, I have discussed the long-term issues of who will hold controlling power within Islam and how a struggling civilization can function in a modern, trans-global world. Another hardship – equally agonizing and equally destructive – looms over the Islamic heartland, impacting the short term. It is a collapsing economy, and the data are startling. In Egypt, for example, inflation hit 29.6%1 in January 2017, which is the country’s highest price hike since Egypt freely floated its currency against the U.S. dollar. Researchers attributed the spike to a sharp jump in basic goods and services. For example, in January 2017, the cost of foodstuffs and beverages had risen 38.6% year-on-year.2

        Many citizens, however, are doubtful of the veracity of even those soaring government statistics. “Everything the state says isn’t to be trusted,” says a young technical developer, who wishes to remain nameless because he is frightened by regime reprisal for speaking out.3 Furthermore, the ranks of Egypt's poor – those living on less than $2 a day – are now 50% of the population.4 Most importantly, at the end of 2016, the number of unemployed Egyptians climbed to a record 3.6 million,5 while the rate of unemployment for youth 15-29 – those most likely to join radical or terrorist organizations – reached 27.3%.6

        Meanwhile, at the other end of the economic ladder, the families of the Egyptian plutocracy have accumulated great wealth, having acquired monopoly positions in iron, steel, cement, and wood, or having garnered exclusive rights to import electronics, cable TV, and automobiles. Likewise, military elites continue to secure commercial holdings throughout Egyptian society. Its dossier now includes positions in consumer goods, food, minerals, water, construction, mining, land reclamation, and tourism. Military records are, by law, secret, and financial data in these sectors are uncertain, but military business interests are vast and may account for 40% of the country's gross national product. Similar income inequities can be found in most countries throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, and in conflict-ravaged places like the Gaza Strip, Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, the story of Egypt is blissful by comparison.

        Let us not forget the Oil Curse, the spoiler of much of the social and economic activities of the Gulf region. The idea that natural resources might be a curse rather than a blessing seems counter-intuitive. But various studies7 have shown a connection between resource wealth (particularly oil and gas) and weak or negative economic growth. During the last third of the 20th century, for example, OPEC countries experienced a decline in Gross Domestic Production, while the rest of the developing world saw increases.8 What’s more, there are strong arguments to suggest that many oil-rich nations have become welfare states. Royals or oligarchs rule these countries and their residents depend on unlimited social services, free education, government jobs, housing and even direct handouts. For citizens of such countries, it is labor free life – in some Gulf States, 80 percent of those that do work are foreign nationals. 9

        Some will say that all these modern troubles began in the late 1940s when a reported 711,00010 Arabs were forced from their homes in Palestine. To Arabs, the event was called Nakba, the catastrophe – for Israelis, it was the long-awaited godsend, the establishment of an Israeli nation. This legendary event has morphed into the issue of “right of return” for expelled Palestinian peoples and their descendants. Today, few Westerners know about or acknowledge the affair, but it remains one of the critical matters blocking a lasting peace between Israelis and Arabs. In my opinion, however, there are other issues of equal importance.

        For example, the 2011Arab Spring was not about the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Central concerns were rising inequality, corruption, isolation, distrust, and violence throughout the region. The one slogan of every street demonstration that took place in 20 countries (Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Western Sahara and Yemen.11) was Ash-sha`b yurid isqat an-nizam – the people want to bring down the regime.12 Finally, the common man and woman on the street had a voice. But it was soon quashed.

        The long-established method for subduing such uprisings is a dispassionate, violent, military crackdown, and that’s what happened. But there was one place where everything raged out of control – Syria. When the protesters called for democratic reforms, the release of political prisoners, and the removal of President Bashar al-Assad the revolt escalated, and a six-year long armed conflict ensued. Casualties there now exceed 1.2 million, and refugee numbers have surpassed 12 million.

        So what happens next? I believe the Arab world has reached a tipping point. Something has to change, and the entire globe may be affected. The Islamic world is facing difficult choices, and even the elimination of such vile forces as ISIS and Al-Qaeda will not stem the tide. At this moment in history, it is our duty to abandon the band-aid approach of political convenience, and to seek out genuine and permanent solutions to long-standing problems before a conflagration of 30-Syrias cannot be contained.

        Stay tuned; solutions begin next week.  



  1. Ahram Online. Egypt's annual headline inflation hits highest level since pound flotation. Retrieved: February 11, 2017.
  2. Ditto
  3. Newsweek. Michaelson, Ruth. Egypt’s Economy Is In Crisis. So Why Is The Government Spending Millions On A Fancy New Space Agency? Retrieved: February 28, 2017.
  4. Dorell, O. “Egypt's ailing economy is at the heart of unrest.” USA TODAY, July 2, 2013.
  5. Trading Economics Report: Egypt Unemployment Rate:

Retrieved: January 31, 2017.

  1. Report. The Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  2. Sachs, Jeffrey D, Warner, Andrew. Natural resource abundance and economic growth. M. NBER Working Paper 5398: February 2, 1995.
  3. Gylfason, T. Natural resources, education, and economic development. European Economic Review, 45 (4-6): 847–59, 2001.
  4. Thompson, William; Hickey, Joseph (2005). Society in Focus. Boston, MA: Pearson. 0-205-41365-X.
  5. Ditto
  6. Abulof, Uriel (10 March 2011). "What Is the Arab Third Estate?". Huffington Post. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  7. Ruthven, Malise (23 June 2016). "How to Understand ISIS." New York Review of Books. 63 (11). Retrieved 12 June 2016.

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