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A historic weekend: things fall apart?

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Robin Lustig | 18:24 UK time, Friday, 15 June 2012

I have a suggestion for you: take a look at a calendar and make a note of Sunday's date. June 17, 2012 -- it may just be a date that goes down in history.

A date like November 9, 1989, the day the Berlin wall was cracked open. Or June 28, 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo and Europe slid into war. Or perhaps September 11, 2001, when two hijacked airliners smashed into the Twin Towers in New York (and a third crashed into the Pentagon in Washington).

On each of those dates, a single event changed the world. On Sunday, we'll have two events to choose from. And that's not something that happens very often.

Elections in Greece -- and elections in Egypt. Rarely have so many voters had so much power to influence so much. (And my apologies to voters in France, who will also be doing their civic duty on Sunday -- but frankly, the make-up of the Assemblée Nationale in Paris pales into insignificance when compared with what'll be happening in Greece and Egypt.)

So let's take Greece first. You'll remember that their last election in April did not turn out well -- no party or combination of parties could form a government, so they decided to have another go.

This time round, it's quite possible that the left-wing Syriza bloc will emerge as the largest single group in parliament -- and if they do, given their pledge effectively to rip up the euro bail-out deal which has plunged the country into austerity, you can expect a pretty dramatic reaction from the financial markets come Monday morning.

Where that will leave the euro is anyone's guess. Spain is already in deep trouble -- and there's now talk of another bail-out being needed to prop up Spanish government debt, on top of last weekend's deal that was designed to save the Spanish banking system.

Cyprus is in big trouble too, but given how little it is, no one seems much bothered about that. What they are bothered about is Italy, which has a deeply problematic debt-to-GDP ratio and where the government's borrowing costs are up again at record levels. There's a G20 summit in Mexico this weekend, and an EU summit in Brussels due at the end of the month. No prizes for guessing what they'll be talking about.

If you read the musings of economic commentators as I do (believe me, I don't do it for fun), you'll know that even the most cautious of them are now sounding terrifyingly doom-laden.

Like this one: "For the last three years Europe's politicians have promised to 'do whatever it takes' to save the euro. It is now clear that this promise is beyond their capacity to keep -- because it requires steps that are unacceptable to their electorates. No one knows for sure how long they can delay the complete collapse of the euro, perhaps months or even several more years, but we are moving steadily to an ugly end."

So will the Greek election on Sunday sound the death knell for the euro? It might.

But that's not all that Sunday could have in store for us. In Egypt, voters will be choosing their next president, their first since the ignominious fall of Hosni Mubarak 16 months ago. On offer: Ahmed Shafiq, a former Mubarak prime minister, described by his critics as a throwback to the old regime, or Mohamed Mursi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, which won a sweeping victory in parliamentary elections earlier this year.

On the subject of which, yesterday Egypt's supreme constitutional court annulled the parliamentary election and ruled against an application to have Ahmed Shafiq's candidacy declared illegitimate.

And the effect of that was to lead some of Egypt's already deeply worried revolutionaries -- and some leading Muslim Brotherhood officials -- to talk of a military coup. Their reasoning is that if Shafiq wins on Sunday, and if parliament is dissolved, the old guard will be back in effective control of the country.

One British official was quoted late last night as saying it looks as if "things are coming apart at the seams." And if they do come apart, if Egypt's messy, faltering, imperfect transition from autocracy degenerates into chaos, the implications for the region could be profound.

Egypt, after all, is by far the most populous of the Arab states and has long been regarded as the leader of the Arab world. That's why June 17, 2012 is as big a deal for the Arab region as the outcome of the Greek election is for Europe.

The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman summed it all up a couple of days ago like this: "In Europe, the supranational project did not work, and now, to a degree, Europe is falling back into individual states.

"In the Arab world, the national project did not work, so some of the Arab states are falling back onto sects, tribes, regions and clans."

Me? I'm reminded of those lines from W.B. Yeats's poem The Second Coming: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world".


  • Comment number 1.

    I'll assume talk of the historical importance of the date of 17th June is rhetoric exaggeration. 11th September, assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the fall of the Berlin wall were all unpredictable sudden events. Pre-scheduled elections rarely go down into history as important events (do they ever?).

    What interests me is why does media say the Greeks are voting against austerity and treats it as such a natural thing. If this is what Greeks are doing, it seems a very illogical approach. I can understand protest votes against Pasok, which got Greece into this mess with excessive spending and even cooking the books to cover up the level of debt. The idea that Greeks are not angry because they are in this situation, but are angry because someone is trying to get them out of it seems to me crazy and worth further investigation. Sure, austerity and 40% pay cuts are definitely tough and difficult, but suggesting a 100% pay cut would be a reasonable alternative, which is what Syriza seems to be advocating, sound to me a lot like insanity. After all if Greece chooses to cut of the lifeline from Europe which is keeping the country afloat and defaults, the money in state coffers will simply run out. People's livelihoods, life savings will be wiped out, power stations and water pumps will grind to a halt. How can anyone think this would be an improvement? I wish a journalist would try to investigate what possible logic may stand behind such seemingly insane decisions.

  • Comment number 2.

    When things 'fall apart' seems to be a moving target already, even for the BBC.

    I am pretty sure I recall several instances when this was invoked when it suited in the past.

    And, suitably repackaged, even when it didn't suit.

    Oddly, in most cases, things did not work out the way predicted or feared or hoped.

    So maybe best to rely on what happens, once it has happened via one's own eyes and ears, rather than the 'analysis' of a class who really have no better clue but enjoy a pulpit to push opinion too often undeserved.

  • Comment number 3.

    The interesting thing about the Spanish crisis compared to Greece is that the crisis arose from an humongous property bubble that has developed over many years. The overhang of unsold property and delinquent mortgages has bankrupted the many caixa (building society) banks all over Spain. Bankia the troubled bank which was nationalised recently and precipitated the banking crisis was itself a combination of smaller caixas who had gotten into trouble earlier. Unlike Greece, the Spanish government has been relatively responsible in its fiscal policy.

  • Comment number 4.

    1. I can't believe that EZ will chuck Greece no matter what - too chaotic & if you will irresponsible for the global economy.
    2. In Egypt, Shafiq and all his military sidekicks must be ousted; this is what the people fought for. I believe the kicking out of the Parliament was just a legal game to delay the inevitable. The idea likely came from the west. Imagine a Muslim Govt in Egypt; it's enough to cause Israel & US to convulse.
    3. As impossible as it sounds, the EU will resolve its problems; it will survive.
    4. Some very bright financial analyst will see the light: the problem is not the EU or the Euro, or rich north and poor south. The problem is a saturation of derivative rot that must be removed from the balance sheets of huge investment banks too big to fail. This will impact London and US terribly. What these banks have done has just got to be (at least) partially illegal. So write down these worthless products, find the true level of debt...and let the banks too big to fail, fail - screaming.

  • Comment number 5.

    I still find it quite astonishing that so many people seem to think that changing to another currency can be achieved overnight. Most seem so impractical that it beggars belief. Detailed plans and books have to be written and essentially it always takes years and that is when it is being done in a planned way in stages. Chaotic change will throw up an enormous number of problems fro both the country getting a new currency and those still using the old. In fact I can't find any historic parallel. This uncertainty will be totally disastrous for the whole global financial community, especially London, as they will be forced abandon all trust with every counter-party for quiet a long time - months, perhaps years. This could bring about a liquidity crisis on a scale never ever seen before.

    In fact the downside for the financial community for expelling Greece may be so high that it is well worthwhile for the main commercial banks to rescue Greece so as to avoid the calamitous uncertainty!

    This is a magnificent weekend for gamblers!

    My best guess as a forecast is that nothing will be settled on Monday and we will just stagger on.

  • Comment number 6.

    My sympathies go to the Egyptian people.

    Europe has failed.

  • Comment number 7.

    BBC News reports that the New Democracy party has won the Greek elections by a tiny margin. NDP leader Antonis Samaras said that "the Greek people voted today to stay on the European course and remain in the Eurozone." Polls showed before the election that as many as 80% of the population wanted to keep the Euro, fearing monetary chaos if they were to return to the drachma. This means that the terms of the bailout treaty will be strictly kept and Greeks will have to continue enduring the austerity regime agreed to with the troika. Due to the closeness of the vote, a coalition of the major parties will have to be formed to rule Greece. Evangelos Venizelos, the leader of the previous government of PASOK, even proposed a grand coalition including the left wing SYRIZA which had proposed during the election campaign that the bailout be abandoned even though it would jeopardize Greece's membership of the Eurozone.

  • Comment number 8.

    Reuters --An anon. Spanish businessman

    "First, he said, national division was the price Germany paid for misery it exacted upon Europe. Second, he continued, giving up the Deutschemark and monetary sovereignty was the price for German reunification after the Cold War. Thus, he said, Germany’s historic responsibility must be above all to save the euro, as its creation marked the ultimate European reconciliation and end to World War Two.

    “If Europe blows up [because of the Germans],” he asks provocatively, “are we authorized to say Germany should be divided again?”

    -- and no words lost on Franco?


    "Merkel's options, though, are limited. Germany already has billions of euros invested in preserving the currency zone. About two-thirds of German voters are opposed to Berlin taking on further risks, and the coalition government of Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) is increasingly reluctant to impose new financial burdens on taxpayers. "Anyone who wishes to go that far," Horst Seehofer, the chairman of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), told SPIEGEL, "will have to ask the German people first."

    It is idiocy to kick the posterior of ´The Goose that lays the Golden Eggs´-- already suffering from constipation !

    -- A minor detail for incompetent Europe.

  • Comment number 9.

    For the benefit of anyone who cannot find it, a link to Mark Urban's blog.

  • Comment number 10.

    '9. At 11:47 19th Jun 2012, Scotch Git'
    Blimey, 3 and not yet closed. A BBC spring suggested?

  • Comment number 11.

    Spoke too soon. It's like they don't want to hear from folk.

  • Comment number 12.

    Yeah, if you didn't know where it was, you would never find it.

    It must be very frustrating for Mr. Urban.

  • Comment number 13.

    An important fallout from this historic weekend of elections and meetings which includes the G20 summit at Los Cabos, Mexico will be a collapse of pressure on the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad by the unholy alliance of Western imperialist powers and the anti-democratic monarchies of the Persian Gulf. First, to recap the elections. In the Greek elections, the conservative National Democracy party of Antonis Samara won the election by a small margin over the upstart far left SYRIZA coalition. Samara has pledged to continue the austerity program under the bailout memorandum conditionalities imposed by the troika. He will be under pressure to seek some small concessions from the troika as the economy continues to collapse under the unrelenting attitudes of the German chancellor Angela Merkel. The Egyptian election was won by the Moslem Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi but this turned out to be a complete disaster as the highest court in Egypt had delivered a bombshell verdict the previous week invalidating the previous parliamentary election in which the MB had gained control of the majority of parliamentary seats. The SCAF or military council then appointed a military commision to choose an interim body to make legislative rulings until a new legal parliament is reelected. Thus Morsi will take office in an legal limbo without any authority to exercise his office. This collapse of the Egyptian spring will have repercussions in Syria where the opposition to Bashar al-Assad has been riding the crest of the revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen and the already crushed revolution in Bahrain. Moreover with the recent report by intrepid reporter Rainer Hermann of the largest German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that the Houla massacre in which 109 Syrian women and children were murdered in the most brutal manner possible was the work of the Syrian opposition forces not the Syrian govenment as assumed by the Western media, will turn international opinion against the attempt of the Western imperialist powers to depose Bashar al-Assad. Hermann's report which was based on eye-witness accounts unlike the Western media's initial hasty reporting will reverse the doubts that had been planted by the crusading imperialist powers. Also to be noted was the failure of US president Obama's ill-concealed attempts to persuade Russian president Vladimir Putin to abandon his support of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad at their brief meeting during the G20 confab in Mexico.

  • Comment number 14.

    At least my European political analysis is shared by ONE other person on this Planet.


    -- I was beginning to feel a like ´misfit´.

  • Comment number 15.


    -- The author´s last paragraph is debatable.

    -- " especially when imposed from above without any democratic legitimacy. "

    -- Elected National governments have their say --as do citizens (who usually ignore) European elections.

    -- Much has been accomplished within the EU-- but many benefits have been destroyed by incompetent governments and (at times prejudiced) populations.

    -- This is Europe´s problem --and will remain its Achilles heel -- responsible for its past and future failures and downfall.

  • Comment number 16.

    The decisions of the ruling class in many countries is always the same: maintain power no matter what. The people must change their governments because the governments are unwilling to change themselves. The banks charge high interest rates to countries that can not pay those rates and it is all done in the name of saving the finances of those countries..bankrupt them into solvency. The sky is not falling and if the governments were not lap-dogs to the bankers better solutions would be offered. Greece can take a different path and may turn out to be the correct one. Long-term indebtedness to banks doesn't sound like a bright future. Of course the banks that caused it all have gotten off with no punishment, little or no contribution to the solutions and continue to be unregulated for the gambling they like to do with other people's money. the governments are always the last to recognize the pain of the people and often act surprised when they take actions to show that they have had enough. Weak international leadership, bankers deciding the fate of nations and rampant acts of violence is a stew that will boil over. Change occurs the way it does because the powerful are always believing that they can never lose their power. History shows that they do. Governments are the mistresses of bankers and as the affairs become known the bankers leave them and look for someone new. The political who have guarded the bankers will be dispatched like the aging street walker....that they are.

  • Comment number 17.

    Officials postponed declaring a winner in Egypt's disputed election on Wednesday; political tensions soaring.
    Last weekend's runoff election was landmark moment: choice of Egypt's first CIVILIAN president to take over the generals who have ruled since Mubarak's removal on Feb. 11, 2011. Instead, it has turned into a confrontation between the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood & entrenched elements of Mubarak's old regime: the military. Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters + some secular youth revolutionary groups camped out Wednesday night in Cairo's Tahrir Square, denounced the military, trying to push back against an evident power grabs by military.

  • Comment number 18.

    The Election Commission didn't say when winner would be announced - between the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohammed Morsi, & Mubarak's former PM, Ahmed Shafiq. Both candidates claim they won. The commission was supposed to declare the top vote-getter Thursday, but its Secretary-General, Hatem Begato, told the state newspaper Al-Ahram that the winner would be announced Saturday or Sunday. Why postponed? Allegedly because a panel of judges must look into about 400 complaints of voting fraud submitted by both campaigns, including lawyers for Shafiq claiming fraud in 14 of Egypt's 27 provinces where they said ballots sent to polling centers were already marked for Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate. Morsi's lawyers accused Shafiq of buying votes and being involved in forging lists of registered voters to include soldiers, who are barred from voting, & names of dead soldiers.

  • Comment number 19.

    Brotherhood says it is being targeted in an organized campaign to keep it out of power; even if Morsi is declared the victor, he will face deep resistance that will make it impossible for him to govern. After two days of voting that ended Sunday, the group declared Morsi won 52%. Shafiq's followers announced he had won 51.5%. (Personally, I find this extremely close result hard to believe.) A group of independent jurists known as the Judges For Egypt said Morsi was the winner; Shafiq's campaign accused the group of being affiliated with the Brotherhood. Foreign and local election monitors say the runoff was not marked by enough serious or large-scale irregularities to question its validity.

  • Comment number 20.

    Swift moves last week:
    1. generals granted themselves sweeping powers that would effectively subordinate next president & severely limit his capability for independent action
    2. court order dissolved parliament, which was led by the Brotherhood
    3. military issued a constitutional declaration that makes the generals the nation's legislators, gives them control of the budget, domination of security system after they reshape National Defense Council.
    4.generals will oversee the process of writing Egypt's new constitution.
    Earlier, Brotherhood & other Islamists had tried to form an assembly & write a constitution. The assembly was dissolved by a court order. Allies of the military (Mubarak-era officials) also hold sway in the judiciary, the prosecutor's office and the election commission.
    What room for the duly elected Muslim Brotherhood?

  • Comment number 21.

    One feels a US/Isreal presence - a presence with long ties to Egypt's military. US provides Egypt with @ $1B/year a year in "aid". I'm sure this is not for the Muslim Brotherhood. Secretary of State Clinton said the US "expects" the military to "support the democratic transition, to recede by turning over authority." She added: "The military has to assume an appropriate role, which is not to try to interfere with, dominate or subvert the constitutional authority." Why would the military subvert a constitution which it plans to write? Privately, U.S. officials expressed concern that a Shafiq victory could have dangerous fallout, with protests & ensuing instability that could lead the military to take even stronger measures, which the Muslim Brotherhood, I feel, would be quite justified to address.

  • Comment number 22.

    Further raising tension, rumors circulate on social media sites and even some state-run media of tanks moving on the outskirts of Cairo. The Brotherhood has warned that a win by Shafiq, widely seen as an extension of the Mubarak regime, could only be the result of fraud & that it would send its supporters out onto the streets. Still, the deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat el-Shater, sought to defuse fears that the group would resort to violence if Shafiq is declared the winner, saying the Brotherhood will use peaceful means, "not through violence or terrorism." Shafiq's campaign sought to appeal to the international community, holding a news conference in English for foreign correspondents to send a message that it will accept "whatever the outcome." Basil el-Baz, an adviser to Shafiq, said the campaign was confident he was the winner. But he added, "At the end of the day, candidate Shafiq is willing to accept the results regardless of the outcomes."
    We'll see...


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