There's many things Nathan Anderith would like to Undo and he's probably not alone. Only one man, however, has the power to hit Ctrl-Z in real life...
Of all the ballyhooed technological advances that have changed our lives, from social networks to airplanes to self-heating toilet seats, none has done so much with so little recognition as the quietly powerful Undo feature. A click of a button, the press of a shortcut, and instantly you return to a state of grace, sins washed clean. All is forgiven by the compassion and mercy of Ctrl – Z.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could undo real life? Imagine if you could untell every bad joke, untake every wrong turn, unsleep with every one-eyed transsexual. Think of the carefree ease with which you’d live your life, unfettered by consequences or doubt. You and I don’t have that ability, which is probably for the best, since we’d just go around guerilla-shaving Salafis.
No, that power is reserved for someone who has the wisdom, responsibility and political acumen to use it well. I am speaking, of course, of the Egyptian government. Only they have the boldness to announce sweeping policies one day and rescind them the next, confident each time that an eternally forgiving public will forget the old lies and swallow the new. Let’s take a walk through the Morsi government’s Ctrl-Z Hall of Fame.
1. Iran Tourist Flights
In February, Iranian President Ahmadinejad visited Cairo, a first for an Iranian head of state since 1979. Insider reports say he and President Morsi stayed up all night painting their nails and having pillow fights. Ahmadinejad got a shoe to the head for his trouble, but he was so desperate to have a friend that he still sent a planeload of 45 Iranian tourists to Egypt, apparently to replenish Iran’s vital stock of plastic Sphinxes. The Salafis threw a fit, claiming the tourists were part of a demonic plot to convert all of Egypt to Shi’a (Iran’s demonic plots just aren’t what they used to be). Ctrl- Z! The government terminated the flights a week after they started, in what must have been a stressful week for Iranian travel agents.
2. Election Dates
Remember those parliamentary elections we were supposed to have? The ones that were going to be last fall, then last winter, then this spring, and now won’t happen until October? Back when we thought we might have a parliament before Half-Life 3 came out, Morsi announced that Egypt would be blessed with a multi-stage election, the first round of which to be held on April 28th. Apparently no one on his staff has a calendar, because that’s Easter. The Copts threw a fit, claiming the date was part of a demonic plot to prevent Copts from voting (The Brotherhood’s demonic plots really aren’t what they used to be). Ctrl-Z! The election dates were pushed back, then back again, and are now scheduled for the day after Vanilla Ice’s comeback.
3. Lights-Out Law
So Egypt’s got a little electricity problem. Apparently the grid was never designed for 80 million people, and what with a slight cash deficiency the government’s been dealing with lately, it decided to get people to cut back a little. What uses a lot of power? Lights. When do people use lights? At night. Ah –ha!
All you’ve got to do is force the entire country to shut down every store, café and restaurant at 10:30pm. The government seriously proposed this last year, because apparently none of them had ever been to Cairo, the city that doesn’t get out of bed before sundown. People didn’t flip out as much over this one, mostly because they found it hilarious that Morsi even thought he could pull it off. Ctrl-Z, and the government tried to pretend it all never happened.
4. Investor Asset Freeze
So back in 2007 there was some sort of fraud involving selling a bank to another bank. With its trademark lightning speed, the government took until last month to freeze the assets of 23 businessmen, including Mubarak’s sons and, crucially, 6 Saudi investors. Saudi didn’t like that much. Now, I’m all for catching corporate crooks, but this was not the goddamn time to be flogging a five-year-old case, spooking investors and aggravating a rich neighbour. The market tanked, the courts hit the ol’ Ctrl-Z, and all was forgiven.
5. Capital Gains Tax
A capital gains tax is a tax on money that you earn from something other than your salary, usually from selling stocks or property. It’s not a bad way for a government to get revenue, but only if the investment climate is strong, and Egypt’s is about as resilient as a tissue in a sandstorm.
The government announced the tax, but never implemented it. Then Qatar decided to buy NSGB, a massive Egyptian joint-stock company, and suddenly the government said, “Hey, guys, remember that tax we all forgot about? Well, guess what, it’s back! I’ll be taking 10% of that deal.” The market tanked again, but the government held its ground, at least until Qatar cleared its throat and gestured meaningfully at the billions of dollars it’s lent Egypt in the last year. I assume the Qatari princelings made Egypt dance for their amusement before they let it hit Ctrl-Z on that one.
6. IMF Tax Plan
This one’s my favourite. Seriously, I’ve seen a lot of political blunders in my time, but nothing’s ever hit this level of hilarious incompetence. Picture the scene: it’s December 2012. Morsi had infuriated the country by announcing that he was immune from judicial oversight, basically leaving him without any political checks. Then he infuriated the country again by rushing through a constitution in the middle of the night, with no support outside his Islamist base.
Flush from the joy of being the most popular man in Egypt, he decided that it was the perfect moment to raise taxes. Not just raise them, raise them almost entirely on the backs of poor – on things like cigarettes, cooking oil, soda, and alcohol. He did it to secure the loan from the IMF, which was both desperately needed and incredibly unpopular. This was so rushed and poorly thought out that the head of the tax authority didn’t even know about it – he got to hear on TV, like everybody else, and I bet he felt like going out and joining them in torching the presidential palace.
This was the fastest Ctrl-Z of all, less than eight hours from announcement to retraction. Except this one wasn’t a real Undo; the tax was never formally rescinded. It was verbally retracted, but that has no legal weight – technically, all the taxes are still on the books, and the government can pull them out of nowhere any time it likes (like that capital gains tax). It can even demand back taxes.
No one has any idea what it’ll do, really, which gets at the heart of this column. If no one can predict you, no one can trust you. If you’re always Undoing things, nothing you do has any meaning. Maybe the government should disable its keyboard shortcuts and live like the rest of us: do, or do not, there is no Ctrl-Z.