Imperialist exploitation at the heart of every grievance raised at Tahrir Square
How Wall Street & the Pentagon underdeveloped Egypt, part 2
Published Feb 28, 2011 9:35 PM
The Egyptian people were promised that aligning their country with the U.S.
would raise their standard of living.
The U.S. government started pouring money into Egypt after it signed the treaty
with Israel in 1979 — at least $40 billion in 30 years. Egypt became the
second largest recipient of U.S. aid, right behind Israel. That money, however,
was not meant for the Egyptian people.
William Hartung explained on “Democracy Now!” that money from the
U.S. government “goes to Egypt, then it comes back for F-16 aircraft, for
M1 tanks, for aircraft engines, for all kinds of missiles, for guns, for tear
gas canisters. ... Lockheed Martin has been the leader in deals worth $3.8
billion over the period of the last 10 years; General Dynamics, $2.5 billion
for tanks; Boeing, $1.7 billion for missiles, for helicopters; Raytheon for all
manner of missiles for the armed forces. ...
“[T]his is a key element in propping up the regime,” stressed
Hartung. (Jan. 31) He is the author of “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin
and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.”
In fiscal 2009, the U.S. spent about $1.5 billion on aid to Egypt, and 86
percent of it was military aid, reports the Congressional Research Services.
That most of it went back to U.S. arms manufacturers, Hartung calls “a
form of corporate welfare. ... Taxpayers could just as easily be giving it
directly to Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics.”
IMF and World Bank underdevelop Egypt
One of the reasons why former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser made
economic gains for Egypt’s poorest in the 1950 and 1960s was that he
nationalized the Suez Canal, some multinational corporations and all foreign
banks. Former President Hosni Mubarak did just the opposite. He sold off
nationalized industries and invited the biggest and most predatory foreign
banks to make “structural adjustments” to the Egyptian economy.
In 1991 Egypt signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund and the
World Bank to privatize the public sector. As a result both the standard of
living and working conditions in Egypt plunged.
Mubarak’s last government, which took office in 2004, accelerated those
neoliberal policies. It cut the top rate of tax from 42 percent to 20 percent,
so that multimillionaires paid the same proportion in taxes as workers who made
less than $800, explained the Guardian, citing a 2009 report from Egypt’s
General Authority for Investment. (Nov. 8, 2009)
Public factories were privatized, and markets were opened to exploitation by
foreign companies by decreasing tariffs and import taxes and by introducing
subsidies for agribusiness in place of those for small farmers.
Special economic zones were created for foreign companies. Foreign investment
increased dramatically — $13 billion in 2008 — but it was in
sectors like finance and gas, which create few new jobs. The public sector,
where most Egyptians worked, was shrunk, with parts sold to Mubarak’s
cronies at discount prices.
“These policies benefitted a small Egyptian elite and foreign
corporations, while condemning the country’s working class to a new form
of labour-slavery,” reported Al Jazeera on Feb 15. The average private
sector employee works 12-hour days and 6-day weeks for just $120 to $400 a
“While national resources like natural gas have been sold at subsidized
rates to the tycoon owners of iron and fertilizer factories, the cost of
ordinary commodities like bread and cooking oil has spiraled,” reported
By following IMF dictates, “Egyptians have got steadily and dramatically
poorer: when structural adjustment began 20 percent of the population were
living on less than (inflation-adjusted) $2 a day; today, that figure stands at
44 percent,” the Guardian noted.
Poverty, unemployment and inflation increase
Today a tiny rich clique lives in mansions behind high walls, while many urban
working-class neighborhoods don’t even have a sewage system. A million
poor people live in Cairo’s main cemetery because they cannot afford
housing, and 50,000 homeless children live on the streets. (Guardian,
Egypt’s educational system, once the pride of the Arab world, now ranks
106 out of 131 countries. There are no jobs for the college-educated middle
class. (New York Times, Feb. 6)
The population of Egypt today is 2.5 times what it was in 1970, but no new land
has been cultivated for food in 30 years. To feed its people, many of whom
survive mostly on bread, Egypt imports wheat, much of it from the U.S. When
Washington has pressured Mubarak, it has held back wheat shipments,
precipitating bread rebellions by hungry Egyptians.
What a fall the Egyptian people took when their government surrendered
Egypt’s sovereignty and independence to the Pentagon and to U.S. banks
and companies! No wonder they have risen up.
U.S. trying to paper over 30 years of exploitation
After 30 years of exploitation, it took a revolution for a U.S. president to
suddenly discover that the Egyptian people have rights. Obama’s praise
for the demonstrators in Tahrir Square is an attempt to paper over U.S.
responsibility for their plight. It reflects Washington’s fear that they
might sweep away U.S. dominance of the Middle East.
Vice President Joe Biden gave the U.S. administration’s real position on
Jan. 27, before Washington understood the full power of the Egyptian revolt.
Biden told PBS, “Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things.
And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in
the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative
to normalizing relationship with Israel. ... I would not refer to [Mubarak] as
Obama’s real position was described later. After Mubarak was deposed, the
New York Times explained that Obama really supported keeping Mubarak in office
and a long transition process. “But he apparently feared that saying so
openly would reveal that the United States was not in total sync with the
protesters, and was indeed putting its strategic interests first.” (Feb.
The U.S. government has no permanent allies, only permanent interests. It
always puts its strategic interests first. An 11th hour about-face by a U.S.
president will not get Washington off the hook. The deed is done. Egypt has
been plundered by imperialism, and its relationship as a vassal of U.S. finance
capital is at the heart of every grievance raised at Tahrir Square.
After 30 years of humiliation, corruption and poverty, the act of taking to the
streets has given the Egyptian people dignity and pride. They are determined to
continue and deepen their fight for the release of political prisoners; for
lifting the emergency laws; and for a living wage, social services, human
rights and many other social and economic reforms. Their expectations are high,
and their revolution has just begun.
The line is drawn. The U.S. government, its imperialist allies in Europe, its
corrupt Arab clients and Israel stand on one side. On the other are all the
struggling peoples of the Middle East.
Which class will learn the lesson of history?
Capitalism and imperialism, which it spawns, are predatory by nature. The U.S.
has never accommodated to the independent existence or aspirations of any
people. So too, it cannot accommodate to the Egyptian revolution, and will look
for every way to derail it and impose a self-serving solution that counters
social development. This is the old historic order.
The Egyptian people have taken back their rightful place in history. They now
stand with pride on the side of the Lebanese, who twice defeated Israel; the
Palestinians, whose struggle never ceases to inspire and who hail the Egyptian
Intifada; and the Tunisian people, whose protests showed them what they too
These struggling people represent the new historic order. Their revolution will
continue and deepen until the old order is swept away.
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