Behold, the present is no different from the past; the human spirit exists in every time and place. Its essence is never changed…What is beyond a doubt is that the Nile flowed in the past as it flows today, that the stars shone in the past as they do today. Everything is just as it was…It is our duty to strive until we resurrect Egypt in all its power, glory, and greatness. |Ahmad Husayn
By Ayesha Villalobos
Year 2010 per capita income of $6,200 PPP; Egypt is a Third World country at the mid-income level. It is located in the Middle East, a strategic, oil-rich region which for a long time constituted one of the fault lines of superpower rivalry. This favourable location facilitated the state to obtain geostrategic rent in the shape of foreign loans and income arisen from the burning Middle East conflict, highly benefited when it brought stability to the region by affirming a peace accord with Israel. For this between 1980 and 2000, it received hefty amounts of assistance from the United States, averaging US$1.2 billion per year in military assistance and $835 million per year in economic assistance. The economy burdened with population explosion – it rose from 26 million in 1960 to 80 million in 2010. This, among others, prevented the state from investing the economic aid in ways that would have yielded long-term returns. Gradually the loans received by the government accumulated to form a suffocating mountain of debt. By the end of the 1980s the state found itself at the brink of bankruptcy.
Egypt’s political system has been authoritarian, the armed forces have been an important factor in Egyptian politics, and thus far every single president has been an officer:
Muhammad Naguib, who served as president from 1952 to 1954 Gamal Abdel Nasser, who presided over the country from 1954 to 1970 Anwar Sadat, who ruled from 1970 to 1981 and now Hosni Mubarak, who is in power since 1981
Ever since the peace accord with Israel in 1979, the political character of the armed forces has declined, but the institution remains a vital guarantor of political stability. While the government considered to be a democratic political system, it is far from the ideals of a functional democracy, in which free elections reflect the political atmosphere or will of the populace in determining the changing governing alliances. From the time of the revolution when King Farooq was deposed, no president has left the office as a result of electoral process. Every successive government has employed schemes to secure it's victory at the polls; it has prevented formation of parties and forbid organizations that could contest and force a regime change through elections by vote-rigging and voter coercion. It has destabilized genuine opposition parties so that only the ruling party single-handedly manages to ascertain an organizational infrastructure with reach into the rural area. In addition to influencing elections in its favour, the state leadership has suppressed the antagonism by various means, among them press censorship and a stringent law governing the formation of civil society organizations and their right to association has been banned. The authoritarian state's ability to perpetuate its grip on power in the face of increasing external pressure for trade liberalization, human rights abuses and political freedom occur on a daily basis.
In the early 1990s the Egyptian state experienced enormous pressure from core states. This pushed the state into eliminating what remained of its strategy of state capitalism and industrialization through import substitution (ISI). President Mubarak’s government found itself in an uncomfortable position, short of giving up power it had to choose between the rock and the hard place: it had the option of resisting its creditors, thus securing the allegiance of the domestic ISI coalition until state resources were entirely depleted. Else it could opt for the hard place, appeasing the creditors but antagonizing its domestic coalition partners. External pressure on the state was overwhelming, and so the state complied with creditor demands. In doing so it lost domestic support and risked political upheaval.
It therefore aided the president to prevail over his dilemma and alleviate the government's grip on power. As economic strategy ISI dated back to the early part of 1960s during the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser determined that economic development could only materialise if state and society made a concerted effort to attain growth. To acquire Egyptians support, the state comes into a social contract with employed sector. This contract stipulates that Egypt’s labour force was to carry out its energy to the national development projects by maintaining no-strike policy in majority of state-owned firms. The government in return promised the social benefits, living wages and security of tenure. The state desperation to defend its end of the bargain, it compromised amidst the rapidly growing populace while also implementing costly foreign policies – mainly under Nasser. Economic growth soon proved to be inadequate to finance the state’s political commitment. Early in the 70s the state started to rely greatly on financial backing from the United States and various foreign creditors that further proved to be an octopus like grip over the Egyptian State Machinery.
By the early 1990s it had plotted itself into heavy dependence on external loans, Egypt's state had succumb itself into an uncertain financial situation, subjecting itself vulnerable to external pressure that left Egypt with no choice but to agree with the new economic compromise that the central states had forged by giving the liberal international economic order a concrete legal foundation. This heightened the ideology of globalization and export-driven growth at the cost of socialism and state capitalism, as alternative ideologies. Egypt’s adherence to the state-owned monopoly model, was characterised with extreme bureaucracy and its incapacity to innovate, The medium for deliberate coercion was a structural adjustment program, and the Paris Club of creditor nations pressed Egypt to accept it, a typical carrot and stick scheme.
At the end Gulf War the creditor states conveyed their gratitude to government of Egypt for the support it had provided to the U.S.-led coalition. By announcing in the early part of 1990’s that they would reduce Egypt’s $20 billion debt weight by fifty percent, under three stages, the Paris Club wanted to make certain that Egypt would execute the structural adjustment program, and in May 1991 it specified that two of which would be contingent upon Egypt’s successful carrying out of World-Bank administered adjustment measures; that is to convert the economy from a state-capitalist economy with a heavy prescribed amount of ISI into a private sector, export-driven economy towards the global market. The modification programs consisted of the customary measures: exchange rate on a floating status, sale of state-owned enterprises, and reduction in subsidies and passage of laws that would produce transparency for private-sectors.
External pressures started to surface, all opposed to the Egyptian economy, thus, urging it to abandon its strategy of ISI, and create instead the infrastructural and legal conditions for export-led growth. Egyptian government was dealing with the collapse of the USSR, the support for state capitalism and import substitution diminished. Now Egypt was totally dependent on the Western sources that were working to create New World Order – a Zionist programe.
The political weight bearing down on the Egyptian government was overwhelming thus it gave in. Under the aegis of the World Bank it embarked on its economic reform program. Prior to 1995 it did so unwillingly, dragging its feet on agreed reform measures, causing bad blood on the part of the IMF. But carrot and stick ultimately succeeded that coaxed the government into compliance. It began to sell state-owned enterprises, raise tax revenues, cut subsidies and deregulate rents.
By conforming in these reforms the state had submitted to the demands for adaptation to the new world economy. But it created various consequences. The said adjustment scheme implemented unreasonable economic costs specifically those who had benefitted from the social contract and welfare policies of Gamal Abder Nasser.
Now, with the World Bank in charge, this change was characterise as anti –poor , anti-masses , citizens welfare was at risk, a reality which was destined to alienate the educated middle class. Another reform measure was the blue-collar workforce of the state owned enterprises, who lost their income as companies were sold out.
The most deliberate mugging on privileges granted under Nasser occurred on the countryside. In June 1992 the National Assembly passed a land reform bill to make farming leases respond to market forces. But people are thankful to tenancy contracts back to the time of Nasser which protects the rent on the countryside had been lasting and have maintained it at low price. Whereas the new law permitted landlords to triple rents instantly and effectively in September 1997 landowners had the liberty to impose steep rents or repossess the land.
It is clear that the adjustment programs confirmed the prospect of the citizen to be buried deeper into poverty. since the early 1990s to the present time, it was thus apparent that economic liberalization would bring the state into chaos with the citizens, who are workers in state-owned factories, the university-educated middle class and peasants in the rural areas suffering a terrible blow.
Present Day Egypt
Presently, the Egyptian state was in a quagmire, we have witnessed Tunisia revolt against a dictator and how that shockwave magnified and shook the Egyptian populace. How globalization, liberalisation and Western imperialistic manoeuvrings proves to be a double-edged sword. In the short run such belief would have raised the government's legitimacy. But as soon as it would have become clear that the promise was empty, hope could have turned into disappointment, despair and anger. A state that exist like that of a political purgatory is doomed to failure.
Nature has set limits to the aspirations of other men, but not to those of the Egyptians. Resistance has already begun to separate themselves from the clout of demonical power and oppression provided by Hosni Mubarak’s rule, condemning the tyranny they suffered for thirty two long years is now the “awakening” of the Egyptian nationalism, “denouncing Mubarak, America, Israel as entities who paid lip service only to virtue of evil and greed. This manifestations of unity of the people who are bold enough to declare that “enough is enough” and that the failure to create a united front is tantamount to defeat , defeat of human existence, that the people cannot build a nation out of thin air. While the fact that Egyptian resistance has taken a nationalistic overtones rather than religious overtones, the whole Muslim world was not yet united at this time but they feel stronger kinship with the Islamic populations throughout the world. This shows that corrupt governance will ignore, ridicule, or attempt to drastically redefine the citizenry; it is likely that he will be overthrown by the power of the people.
Despite great pains, repression that the government has forced on people into compliance in places such as Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia and Pakistan where citizens are not only watched but tortured, abused and executed if they exhibited resistance. In the end, whether because of the multitudinous sins of these political vultures, or on account of their sluggish rule the tyrants were eliminated to be replace by ignorance, vulgarity, dejection, in short, despair everywhere reigned supreme…the people have the power to control their destiny under the society of repression after all Egyptians have taught Greeks and Romans the art of civilization, it is proper to surmise that “People were a product of the environments they occupied.”
The bankrupt and western oriented leadership of many Arab states is often the cause for a political vacuum that invites revolutionary ideology into the public sphere. Failing to respond effectively to a “wide range of social, economic and political problems in the Arab world,” has not only jeopardized the legitimacy of the current regimes but have made it vulnerable to people’s movement. Muslims, including Arabs, are exceptionally resistant to western ideology in pursuit of national self-determination…..
Ayesha (Sylvia) Villalobos is a scholar and a political activist from Phillipines. She is a student of InternationalRelations with extensive research in Muslim world. She has her heart vibrating for Muslim unity and creation of a Muslim Common Market that she refers to as ‘Ummah.’ For the past sometime, she has been writing for Opinion Maker.