July 10, 2013

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After Richard Nixon’s landslide victory in 1972, New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael lectured:

I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.

Kael’s Conundrum has muddled much of the Western coverage of the current turmoil in Egypt and Turkey, where urban protestors are denouncing democratically elected Islamists. Few of the educated urbanites in Cairo and Istanbul who Tweet in English for the edification of Western journalists voted for Islamist election-winners such as Egypt’s recently deposed Mohamed Morsi or Turkey’s still reigning Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

One reason that democracy in Egypt and Turkey led to the election of Islamists is because pious Muslims in the sticks and the slums have long had higher average birthrates than secular sophisticates in the metropolises. (The fertility rate in Istanbul, for instance, is lower than in 44 American states.)

This is a general factor in the long-term decline of the old modernizing military-based ruling parties, such as Turkey’s Kemalists and Egypt’s Nasserites. Their Islamist rivals simply had more kids.

“€œHaving babies is evidently one of those jobs Americans just won”€™t do.”€

In the 30 years between 1981 and 2011, the population of Egypt grew from 46 million to 84 million. The most recent UN projections forecast Egypt’s population to be 130 million in 2050, although that seems unlikely to happen.

It’s hardly a new observation that Westernized Egyptians have been losing the war of the cradle with downscale Muslims. It’s a running theme in the informative 1988 book The Arabs by David Lamb, the Cairo bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times. A generation ago, Lamb’s bourgeois Egyptian friends were already lamenting the long lost good old days when Cairo was something of a Mediterranean city with a skilled film industry and other glamorous amenities. (As far back as 1871, the Khedive of Egypt had famously commissioned Giuseppe Verdi to compose Aida, which premiered in the new Cairo Opera House.)

But by the 1980s, Lamb observed:

The capital is sinking under the weight of people, people, and more people….Cairo is being transformed into a vast slum of rural peasants.

Today the population of Cairo’s metropolitan area is over 19 million. The city may be the world capital of noise pollution. A 2008 New York Times article, “A City Where You Can’t Hear Yourself Scream” recounted an audio engineer’s report on Cairo:

…the average noise from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. is 85 decibels, a bit louder than a freight train 15 feet away….At other locations, it is far worse, he said. In Tahrir Square, or Ramsis Square, or the road leading to the pyramids, the noise often reaches 95 decibels, he said, which is only slightly quieter than standing next to a jackhammer.

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the most famous urban planner from Cairo, Mohamed Atta, blew up the World Trade Center on 9/11.

In the mid-1990s, Hosni Mubarak’s military dictatorship finally got around to promoting contraception and the ideal of a two-child family. But when Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood (which was just deposed in a military coup) came to power, the new leadership stopped talking about the need for population restraint. Although the government kept quietly funding family-planning programs, the number of births quickly spiked.

Note that the Islamist government didn”€™t overtly promote a larger Egyptian population. They merely stopped publicly obsessing over keeping growth down. When asked, one Islamist politician explained:

The real problem is with us, as an administration. The population in China is over a billion, but there is good management and good utilization of resources. The population is a blessing if we use it well, and a curse if we mismanage the crisis.

Regarding population policy, Morsi and the other Egyptian Islamists are moderates compared to the current American establishment, which demands a massive increase in immigration to solve the presumed problem that the US population has only grown from 281 million to 316 million in this century.


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