Yaskoot Ho$ni Mu-Barak!



Egypt is aflame. Reports are that there are 500,000 people on the streets in Alexandria, where “security forces appear overwhelmed” (AJE), and where they just torched a government office. Riot police have withdrawn from Suez after they were forcefully repelled by the people. 100,000 Egyptians are on the streets of Mahalla. From the footage, the air in Cairo looks drenched in tear gas, and tens of thousands of protesters earlier took over the Qasr al-Nil bridge in downtown Cairo. Overwhelmed, the Egyptian government has deployed army vehicles on the streets, where they are being welcomed by protesters.The Egyptian internal security forces have killed at least 18 protesters, while the army has strangely re-occupied the Rafah crossing into Gaza. Egyptian army vehicles have “secured” the Radio and TV Building (from the images it looks like they’re mixing with the protesters), and a curfew has been announced: 6 M to 7 AM. The state has unleashed its army on its people, but it’s not clear that people are returning the favor: apparently police who were injured in Alexandria were treated by the protesters to show them they are on the wrong side of the struggle. People are still out on the streets at 1 AM, defying Mubarak’s curfew. It’s dusk on the dictatorship.
The question is how it will play out.
Obama, as I write, is ordering Mubarak to “address…the grievances of the Egyptian people…a meaningful dialogue between the government and its citizens.” This is purely reactive diplomacy: the Obama administration is hoping that there can be a slight institutional shuffle at the top, perhaps a transition to a very-carefully guided democracy, perhaps long-on-process-short-on-policy reforms that take months to wend their way through the Egyptian political system while the boil of protest slowly subsides.
Mubarak just announced that he’ll appoint a new government. No doubt the populace will give this pronouncement the respect it deserves and duly torch another empty riot lorry. Meanwhile, in the back pocket of the empire is former head of the IAEA Mohammed El-Baradei (I’ve heard he barely speaks Arabic, although that may not be a disqualification to run Egypt as a managed democracy), and can be relied upon to emplace a system of political liberalization and economic neo-liberalism, slightly softened with some isolated elements of a social welfare regime, designed to dissipate popular rage.
What’s at stake? Internationally, without a secure Egypt on Israel’s borders, Israel cannot hold in its current form. With the keystone of the imperial arch in the Middle East removed, Saudi Arabia, the real prize, will be next, and the US will not let it go down without a fight. Too much is at stake: the capital extracted from Saudi Arabian petrol is the lifeblood of the capitalist circulatory system, and given who runs this country and this world, they will not be sucked dry without resisting.
Aware of the incipient clicking sound of collapsing dominoes, the US is still blithely insisting that Mubarak is, as Biden put it, “not a dictator”: he’s a democrat. He follows imperial orders.
The usual crowd is insisting that the collapse of the dictatorship should be interpreted solely through the lens of its support for the Zionist entity, or The Lobby. Do not listen to them. The phrase is class war. Many in Egypt live on 400 Egyptian pounds a month, maybe 70 dollars, or close to two dollars a day. There is not much of a middle class—mostly the wealthy living in Zamalek and the ring suburbs, suspended above their society, and the masses of poor inhabiting the slums of Cairo.
The dictatorship has funneled 7.5 billion dollars to Mubarak’s pocket, and his retinue has profited too, along with the rest of the Egyptian over-class, where wealth and proximity to the state apparatus correlate strongly. Timothy Mitchell notes that the neo-liberal reforms of the 90s put public funds into fewer and fewer hands, diverting resources from industry and agriculture and the human infrastructure problems of employment and training. The state now “subsidizes financiers instead of factories, speculators instead of schools. Although the IMF has shown no interest in raising the question, it is not hard to determine who benefits from the new financial subsidies.
The revitalized public-private commercial banks lend big loans (tax-free) to large operators. The minimum loan size is typically over $300,000 and requires large collateral and good connections.” Perhaps three percent of the population accounts for 50 percent of consumer spending. Multinational capital likes this arrangement, as it likes sending military aid to Egypt which dutifully routes it back to Lockheed Martin. These issues are linked: dictatorship allows for subservience to imperial dictates, for support for the Zionist siege of Gaza, for intolerably low wages, for the diversion of public resources to the wealthy and the connected.
Youth, aware that the current configuration offers them no future, have been at the forefront of the revolt, and that includes some of the scions of the elite. But the rebellions haven’t come from nowhere. The April 6 Movement and others have been pushing to bring the Egyptian people out onto the streets to confront the government over the past several years. Nor has labor been quiet. Socialist journalistHossam el-Hamalawy comments, “You can’t isolate these protests from the last four years of labour strikes in Egypt,” such as the massive Mahalla strikes, “or from international events such as the al-Aqsa intifada and the US invasion of Iraq.
The outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada was especially important because in the 1980s-90s, street activism had been effectively shut down by the government as part of the fight against Islamist insurgents.”
There will be those fighting for merely cosmetic reforms at the top, or those fighting for more political opening and political liberalization. And then there will be those fighting for what the people of Egypt, mired in poverty, need: social revolution. For the moment, the latter two groups will be working together. As el-Hamalawy continues, “I would assume that if our uprising became successful and he’s overthrown you’ll start getting divisions.
The poor will want to push the revolution to a much more radical position, to push the radical redistribution of wealth and to fight corruption.” Yallah. Let’s hope that the attempts to tamp down the unrest with sops fail, that the guns of those who try to drown the revolt in blood misfire, that the people in Egypt rip apart the system and put something decent in its place.
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