Revolution #226, March 6, 2011
From A World to Win News Service
Egypt: Some Background to Today's Revolt
We are making this article from A World to Win News Service available to our readers:
A World to Win News Service. February 21, 2011. Following are excerpts from an interview by AWTWNS with Ray Bush, Professor in African Studies and Development Politics in the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds (UK).
- Could you tell our readers something about the nature of the Egyptian military, its role in Egypt, in the region, and its relationship to the U.S. and other Western powers?
There is much rhetoric about the demonstrators and the army being "hand in hand." It may well be that the foot soldiers know and understand the need for change and identify strongly with the demonstrators. However, the military itself is deeply and inextricably linked to and underpins the Mubarak regime. The $1.3 billion [from the U.S. yearly] has mostly kept the military happy with their guns and technology, yet they have actually been kept most quiet by feeding at the trough of capital accumulation.
They have done this by being entrepreneurs, industrialists and real estate managers. The military is involved in production of commodities – from toasters to shopping malls and development of desert land. It might be that they have become impatient with the declared neoliberal zeal of Gamal Mubarak [one of President Hosni Mubarak's sons and until now chosen successor] and they did not want him to inherit the presidency. They didn’t want this as they feared even Gamal’s limited neoliberalism would penalize the cronyism of the military economic adventures, and therefore they have seen a good opening to clip the wings of Gamal and those who have toyed with a privatization that might undermine their "unfair" economic interventions. The point is that the military are at the core of the regime and of the economic system that underpins it and these issues will need to be resolved in any transition arrangements.
- It seems that the revolt against the Mubarak regime has won the support of broad strata in Egyptian society. What do you think accounts for this?
There are three reasons why this has happened. The first is the long-term structural attacks on the living standards of the poor that have been driven by economic reform since 1991 that started in 1987 in the countryside. Despite sustained levels of economic growth there has not been any "trickle" down alleviating poverty. About 40 percent of the population live on less than $2 per day (but some people have actually said that 80 percent live on less than $2, which would make people poorer than Zimbabweans).
The medium term is the upsurge in working class (and farmer) unrest. Driven by unofficial trade unions since mid 2000s – between 1998-2010 there were more than 2,000 workers' collective actions, especially after the Nazif "liberalizing" government from 2004.
And finally the street demonstrators, the incredible sacrifice of Egyptians killed by security forces in the opening days of protest, many assembling to mark and rebel against the security forces guilty of killing Khalid Said murdered on 6 June 2010 [when he was dragged out of an Internet café and beaten to death].
- Could you say a few things about the way that Western imperialism has shaped Egyptian society, and the economy in particular—I heard on BBC that Egypt is now the world's largest importer of wheat? How did this come about in the country with the fertile Nile delta?
Imperialism has always been keen to ensure the Suez Canal and links with Israel are stable. Additionally the large labour force is a potentially enormous source of cheap labour. [Egyptian workers abroad] have at different times been crucial in the development of the industrial and petroleum sectors in the wider region.
The underdevelopment of Egyptian agriculture relates to decades of impoverishment and neglect and since law 96 of 1992 the changes in land tenure of tenants to whom Nasser had given rights to the land in perpetuity.
Farmer struggles have been largely undocumented and downplayed, yet rural violence is systemic and systematically applied to dissenters. Between 1998-2000 there were more than 100 deaths and in 2010 between January-May alone there were 116 killed in rural conflicts. Rural conflicts relate to struggles over access to land and also demarcation disputes and struggles over irrigation.
After law 96 of 1992, all land ownership was politicized in a way unheard of since 1952 and relatives of landlords dispossessed by Nasser have returned in many locations to claim back land that they argue is "their land." This has led to court battles, and battles with police and thugs employed by old landed elites. [These attempts by the old landed elites] are being met by opposition in villages, by women challenging authority and by support for farmer resistance from urban intellectuals.
Egypt cannot be ignored as a powerful state. One out of four Arabs is Egyptian and what happens there will have demonstration and other impacts on the broader Middle East. The problem the West has is the need they see to establish a "stable" transition but not being seen to determine the outcome of that transition. The West's links with [Mubarak's Vice President and now de facto head of state Omar] Suleiman are key here, as he is implicated in links with U.S. security over many years.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.