For thirty years, the greatest Good of the government of Egypt has been Stability. To preserve the safety and well-being of the country and the region, Hosni Mubarak and his top team have argued against change in these last weeks as they have for decades previously.
My research has shown that there are Eight Great Goods that any nation bases its top-level decisions on. There is nuance in every choice, of course, but nations usually have an implicit top priority. You can easily categorize any grouping of people according to their decision-making Goods.
If the Stability of the Mubarak regime is no more, what will become of Egypt?
Stability. There is a good chance that the country will remain a country based on Stability. Egypt is a nation full of laws and customs that are built around the greatest Good of Stability — anyone coming into power through whatever short term means (election, coup, foreign manipulation) could pretty naturally slip back into the old command and control structure that Mubarak has perfected during thirty years of practice.
Individuality. The United States always gives moral support to nations trying to adopt real democracy. Remember, this is the same US which has supported countless regimes of Stability because they were ultimately in the best interests of US Individuality. But even in strongman countries like Cambodia, a forced set of elections and the beginnings of democracy can — over decades — lead to Individuality emerging as a much more important Good — eventually even the Greatest.
Growth. America’s favorite sidekick to Individuality is Growth. Our belief — borne out by some good evidence — is that an economically growing nation will have less social strife and be less interested in adopting an aggressive stance internationally. China is a great example of a country with Stability as its Greatest Good, but they leave us alone — and we, them — because of a strong focus on Growth. Singapore, interestingly, is one of the best examples of a country that has swung the pendulum from Stability to Growth in the last decade. Casinos, luxury cars, gay bars, and even chewing gum — all practically outlawed a decade ago — now flourish in Singapore. If you can afford it, you can have it. Growth is unlikely to be the greatest Good in Egypt, but it will have to be near the top.
Belief. One of the fears of many Americans is that Egypt will become a much less secular state. There is a strong possibility that religious leaders will rise to fill the power gap and a national system will be built around Islamic law — where Stability, by the way, would still be very important — but the greatest Good would ultimately be Allah. There is, perhaps, a bit of hypocrisy in this American fear. We as a people place more emphasis on Belief than any developed nation on earth: 27% of Americans report that Belief is their greatest good — almost as many as those who choose Life itself —compared to 2% of respondents in a place like Japan.
Life. Speaking of Life and Japan … Life is written all over Japan’s national system: from Japan’s “Peace Constitution,” to its anti-gun legislation, to its neighborhood police boxes with daily death tolls posted on the front wall, to its health care system, to the employment policies that make it almost impossible for an employer to take away someone’s livelihood, to the strict laws against “working an employee to death.” The economy might not be growing in Japan, but people do live long and very comfortable lives. Egypt’s future government is unlikely to make this a top priority — but would it be so bad if they did?
Society. This Good is all about interpersonal relationships — the connections between people. These epitomize feudal societies. American Taliban-busting in Afghanistan was designed to destroy a Belief and Stability hierarchy; in its place emerged the primacy of human relationships. But before you throw this Good out just because I mentioned Afghanistan, let me also mention Switzerland, which holds together three language groups and 26 semi-autonomous cantons — really neighborhoods; it is the law of social harmony that drives this country more than any other. A move from strongman to sophisticated Society is highly unlikely in Egypt; sadly, feudalism and Balkanization might be the natural results of a shift to the Greatest Good of Society.
Fairness. This philosophy was behind every communist government that ever existed. But in every case, their downfall was that the greatest Good ended up being Stability instead of real Fairness. Scandinavian countries are much better examples of a real implementation of this Good: income disparity is small, taxes are relatively high, access to social services is even, and still things like access to the top of a corporation is Fair in a place like Norway where a 2003 law requires that 40% of all corporate Board posts be women. Fairness could be a very nice national priority within a Muslim nation, but it would be a new experiment that has never been tried in the past.
Joy. My favorite Greatest Good for a nation is the one that the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has adopted. Here Gross National Happiness (GNH) is measured instead of GNP. It is hard work for them to constantly balance things like economic Growth and Stability with Joy. But, having sat in on meetings of the Prime Minister and Cabinet members there, I can tell you that when push comes to shove, Joy is always the winner in their debates. Britain and France have made noises about trying to adopt some of Bhutan’s thinking. I hope that Egypt’s next regime won’t rule out these emerging notions either.
Whatever government emerges, Egyptians have the chance now to begin a discussion about what they want to be in the future. If the conversations are about trade-offs amongst Goods rather than brawls about good and evil, the outcomes will be more clearheaded and longer lasting.