What it means to be in a nondemocratic developing country

Like I assume most of the people who read this blog, I've been watching events unfold in Egypt with a mix of (mostly) hope and (some) worry. Ignoring for the moment possible outcome trajectories, the specifics of what's been going on, the response from other countries, and everything else, I think it's interesting to focus for a second on why and how Egypt got here:
"... a carnival atmosphere descended on the square, where vendors offered food at discount prices and protesters posed for pictures in front of tanks scrawled with slogans like, '30 years of humiliation and poverty.'"
That's from an online NY Times article from yesterday that's been getting continuously updated (and now no longer shows the original quote). The set of events that have to go down to bring about the kind of social unrest we're seeing in Egypt aren't trivial. People routinely toss around the idea of "revolution" when discussing topics like a change in US political party or new regulations (e.g., of gun control, carbon taxation, health care...) but the costs of revolution, in particular in terms of the uncertainty of its outcome, are huge. So I think it bears thinking about for a second:

30 YEARS of humiliation and poverty. Notoriously brutal secret police. Elite capture. Enough frustration to push your way across a bridge guarded by hundreds of cops willing to turn a water cannon on you.

We often talk about development, its constraints, and the various political, economic, and historical forces which result in countries being "developed" or not. Sometimes those conversations can get very abstract. It's worth remembering that being in a typically underdeveloped, undemocratic country means dealing on a day to day basis with issues so debilitating and frustrating that you're motivated to spray paint your grievances on the side of a tank.

*Note: the graffiti on the side of the tank says "Down with Mubarak," and comes from Ramy Raoof's flickr stream, here.

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