Monday, February 07, 2011

Egypt, Economic Justice And The Rest Of Us

Egypt, Economic Justice And The Rest Of Us

People took it to the streets in Egypt on Tuesday, January 25, and they’ve been on the streets ever since.  They’ve been demanding the removal of President Hosni Mubarak, who now says he won’t seek reelection, and agitating for “freedom, democracy, and change.”  

Unemployment is high, economic opportunity is low, and people are so frustrated that they are taking it to the streets.  In Egypt, at least 40 percent of the population lives in poverty, on less than $2 a day.  The population of 80 million skews young, with an average age of 24 (in contrast, the average age in the U.S. is 36).   President Mubarak, at 82, seems out of touch with the population.

The gap is not really about age.  It is about class, about employment, about social and economic justice.   People are furious that the elites live well while others scratch and scramble for a living…. 

It is important to note that these protests are both political and economic.  People want democracy, and they also want an opportunity to participate in a vibrant economy.  They want to work, they want to thrive, and they are clear that the playing field is not level; that the elites extract surplus value from them, and that their lives will not change until the economic rules change….

I wonder about economic justice in the United States.  While we have the possibility of political participation that both Egypt and Tunisia lack, there are sectors of our population that feel as marginalized around employment issues.  

The official unemployment rate, of 9.4 percent in December, can translate to as high as 28 percent for African Americans. And yet, President Obama’s State of the Union Address addressed unemployment, but did not directly address issues of poverty.  Those who were listening had to be frustrated that our leader did not give even a nod to their pain.  Will this frustration ever spill into the streets?   Will we ever demand social and economic justice with the same vigor as the Egyptian people?   There are many differences between the situation in the U.S. and that in Egypt, but the frustration over poverty and economic injustice is universal.

(Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women.  She can be reached at

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