Sunday, February 13, 2011

Democracy Without Economic Independence is Worthless

By Sarakenos

The Egyptian military, with a US green light, got rid of Mubarak for precisely the same reason they sent the police and thugs that killed over 300 and injured thousands last week — to allow for the economy to run smoothly again. In other words, the disposing of Mubarak is just another solution, as undesirable as it may be, to re-open banks and have business run as usual. Factories, banks, real state, and other businesses are still owned by the same corrupt leaders, with the fate of the Mubarak family stock still unknown.

The High Council of Armed Forces, in all their four communiqués, stressed the “economic interests” of the country, which, in a heavily-privatized economy like Egypt’s, means the interests of the private owners, some of whom are military generals. The forced removal of Mubarak, in the end, served owners’ interests foremost. This economic concern was ranked as the most important objective in the High Council of Armed Forces’ latest communiqué:

•First: The High Council of the Armed Forces is committed to all contents in previous communiqués.
•Second: The High Council of the Armed Forces has great confidence in the ability of Egypt, its institutions, and its people in surpassing the current critical conditions. And based on this, all sectors, public and private, must commit to their glorious and patriotic mission to push the wheel of economy forward, and that the people are held responsible in this matter.
The third point in the communiqué was only natural to forcefully uphold “the glorious and patriotic mission,” which is to keep the current government under Suleiman in power until new elections are held. The Council did not set up a time frame for these elections, but it definitively did so for resuscitating the economy (i.e. retrieve flow of income and profits on their investments) as a priority that cannot wait for democracy; which is now! This communiqué went short of repeating Suleiman’s patronizing words yesterday when he said: “Go back to your homes and your jobs.”

There are a lot of people who simply cannot accept that the economy, at this stage, is of much concern to the Egyptian military regime (which is still in power) and the Obama administration and other US officials, let alone the general public and the revolution. But that is because these people are not trained sufficiently to have an economic eye on world affairs. The focus then shifts to the political aspects of the revolution: democracy, fair elections, and freedom of speech and religion. Make no mistake, these are absolutely important elements of any successful revolution, and achieving them deserves euphoric celebrations. But to ignore the economic demands, the very reason why this revolution even took place, is really an act of infanticide against this new-born Egyptian revolution. Bou Azizi (the true catalyst of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions) did not set himself on fire because he couldn’t vote in free elections. He set himself on fire because his only source of income was humiliatingly taken away from him.

All indications seem to favor sustaining the Egyptian economic system and excluding it from the revolution. For example, the Finance minister, Samir Radwan, appointed by Mubarak during the January 25 Revolution, is still running the country’s economic affairs with almost no objection from anyone. He spoke to CNN’s Piers Morgan last night to share his feelings of jubilee, but in fact refrained from using any revolutionary words, and referred to the last eighteen days as “the crisis.” Luckily so far, according to Qatar News Agency (Feb 7, 2011), he refused IMF intervention:

“The minister quoted the CBK chief as stressing that the government’s procedures would be enough to confront the current crisis.”

But then yesterday, he was quoted saying that a stimulus package may be needed, without specifying the source of those funds, to boost up employment. These all sound like innocent events to the economically illiterate. But lessons must be learned from past revolutions, like the Polish Revolution in 1989, when all the fruits of revolution were finally reaped by private owners of the country’s most important resources and industries, after being drowned by IMF loans in return for speeding up the process of privatization and doing away with labor laws and trade barriers.

The January 25 Revolution does not address the private ownership of the country’s telecommunications industry, power grid, water, post, and other major financial infrastructures. Should the country’s resources also belong to the people in the same way that the parliament and presidency ought to? Would democracy be worth anything if the democratically-elected government had no say or authority over the country’s oil, gas, water, energy, agriculture, stock markets and banking regulations, because they are “privately” owned?

Recall that the world stood by watching as the Free Officers Movement, led by Mohammad Najib and Abdul Nasser, took over power in Egypt in 1952. It was only when Abdul Nasser began a campaign of nationalizing the economy (especially the Suez Canal), that the world super powers (Britain, France, and Israel) turned against Egypt and declared war in 1953. This must be a hint to all spectators, that as long as the new freely-elected Egyptian government (to be) secures business contracts and foreign investments, the world shall embrace Egyptian democracy. However, should they choose to nationalize the major sectors of the economy, the free world will turn against Egypt, and we’ll hear western media pundits talking about how Egyptians were never ready for democracy, and how democracy does not fit the Arab mentality or society, and how dictatorships are necessary for the security of the United States of America against possible terrorist cells growing in chaos-hot-bed Egypt.

The Egyptian military, however, being itself invested in the privately owned neo-liberal economy of Egypt, had made assurances in their communiqués to the effect that they are going to protect the economy (read securing investments, foreign and domestic) as a major priority. The Egyptian Revolution of January 25 has put Egypt on the road to democracy, but will it lead to Egyptian economic independence — where economic decisions are made in Egypt, by Egyptians, and serve the interests of Egyptians? Or will they forfeit economic independence and honor free trade agreements that supersede democracy and the people’s will?

One thing is for certain. The Egyptian military rule (and all other dictatorships) can only be forced to make concessions through peaceful and total economic paralysis, as had been witnessed in the past eighteen days of the greatest Arab victory since Saladdin. The lesson to be learned for future Arab revolutions, and all world revolutions, is to keep the economy in the background of all tactics, strategies, and objectives.

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