Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, February 2011
The Groupthink Problem
By Lawrence Davidson
Redress, Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, February 8, 2011
Lawrence Davidson argues that unless Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak and
his deputy, Omar Suleiman, are made to bridge the gap between their parallel
universe and the reality of life in Egypt, and draw the right conclusion and
go, Egypt could embark on a ruinously dangerous path.
Mubarak suffers from the same syndrome as did Louis XVI just prior to the
French Revolution. Louis lived in the royal complex of Versailles. He rarely
visited Paris, which was just 25 miles away, and knew almost nothing of the
daily lives of his non-noble subjects. Like Louis, Hosni too lives in
isolation from the people who go about their business beyond the walls of
his presidential palace. Thus, when Mubarak says he loves Egypt and will
never run away from his country, he is talking about a place as distant from
that of the ordinary citizen as the moon.
Along with the isolation that rulers, and especially dictators,
experience comes the phenomenon of "groupthink". In his book
Groupthink (Houghton Mifflin, 1972), Irving L. Janis shows how
governing political elites create self-reinforcing decision-making circles.
In other words, in the last 30 years Mubarak has surrounded himself with
like-minded advisers and aides. These are people who have a vested interest
in his regime. They constantly reinforce his worldview and second his
decisions. There are no devil’s advocates here. Being a military dictator
also probably drives the groupthink outlook. Generals give orders, they do
not normally take them. And, all too often, it is the orders given that are
meant to shape reality and not the other way around. It is assumed that
whatever deviation there is between the two can be swept away by force.
But Egypt is not like Iran, neither the Iran of 1979 nor 2011. There is no rational reason to believe that the Muslim Brotherhood will suddenly turn into the Sunni version of a Republican Guard. However, if the Egyptian government does "get tough" and ends up applying force, there is yet another scenario that presents itself, and that is the recent history of Algeria.
Back in 1991-92 the Algerian military crushed the country’s Islamic political movement, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), just at the moment when it had won democratically-conducted national elections. A military dictatorship was established which proceeded to arrest or kill all the moderate FIS leaders (those who had "worked within the system"), thus opening up the movement to much more violent factions. Indeed, these factions were ready to be as violent as was the country’s military. The result was decades of vicious civil war.
One assumes that Omar Suleiman knows of the Algerian experience, and one assumes that someone from the State Department has filled in Barack Obama. Maybe they are both hoping that all the Egyptian protestors will just get tired and go home now that negotiations are said to be underway. This is unlikely to happen. With thousands of protestors still in the streets the opposition is most likely telling Suleiman that their reality is much more real than that of his dictator boss. If Suleiman is wise he will get the message and make it crystal clear to Mubarak that he has quite suddenly become a liability his nation can no longer afford. For unless Mubarak can shake off the groupthink, Egypt risks spelling liability, A l g e r i a. Now that will be chaos for you.
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