A big reason for the unrest in Egypt? The widening gap between the rich and the poor:
“These big guys are stealing all the money,” said Mohamed Ibraham, a 24-year-old textile worker standing at his second job as a fruit peddler in a hard-pressed neighborhood called Dar-al-Salam. “If they were giving us our rights, why would we protest? People are desperate.”
He had little sympathy for those frightened by the specter of looting. He complained that he could barely afford his rent and said the police routinely humiliated him by shaking him down for money, overturning his cart or stealing his fruit. “And then we hear about how these big guys all have these new boats and the 100,000 pound villas. They are building housing, but not for us — for those people up high.”
The widening chasm between rich and poor in Cairo has been one of the conspicuous aspects of city life over the last decade — and especially the last five years. Though there were always extremes of wealth and poverty here, until recently the rich lived more or less among the poor — in grander apartments or more spacious apartments but mixed together in the same city.
In the next few days, I'll start summing up some of my first impressions from the opening month of my year of income inequality-welfare state reading. The United States isn't Egypt, in any number of ways, but it still seems that Egypt might serve as a cautionary tale to our own elites. Widening income inequality -- a system in which the rich get richer and everyone else gets left behind -- is ultimately destabilizing over time. America's own problems with a growing income chasm aren't just a problem for the middle class and poor; they could end up being a problem for everybody. Don't kid yourselves: It could happen here.