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The Friday Podcast: The Difference Between Egypt And Libya

Libyian men carry the coffin of a protester who was killed during a recent demonstration.

Libyian men carry the coffin of a protester who was killed during a recent demonstration. Hussein Malla/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Hussein Malla/AP

When Egyptians rose up against their government, the Egyptian military protected them. When Libyans rose up against their government, the military started shooting.

On today's Planet Money, we try to figure out why the responses were so different.

In Egypt, the military runs lots of different businesses — from bottled water to household appliances. The Egyptian people are the military's customers.

So the military was following a a basic rule of business: Don't kill your customers. (For more on this, listen to our podcast, "Egypt's Military, Inc.")

In Libya, on the other hand, the entire economy is based on oil and gas exports. And the government controls the money those exports bring in. So neither the government nor the military has to answer to the people.

This is a classic problem in resource-rich developing countries. It's called the resource curse.

On the show, Mansour El-Kikhia describes one small but telling sign of what things are like in Libya: Government workers there often bring two coats to work. They hang one on the door of their office, then leave for the day, wearing the other coat.

You as a citizen come to get something done in the governmental department.

You say, "Is this person here?"

They say, "Yes he's here. His coat is right there. He's somewhere in the building."

So you wait for five hours, [he] never shows up.

Subscribe to the podcast. Ahmed Fakroun's "Awedny." Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

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