Egypt uprising is turning point for region and U.S.

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When the mass uprising in Tunisia spread to Egypt last week, it took a qualitative turn.

Unlike Tunisia, Egypt has for decades been a linchpin of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Egypt occupies a highly strategic position, straddling Africa and Asia, and it controls the Suez Canal, the vital shipping link for oil and other products moving between Asia and Europe and beyond.

With the largest population of any Mideast country and a highly developed working class and intelligentsia, Egypt is perhaps the pre-eminent intellectual, cultural and political center for the entire region.

And since signing a separate peace pact with Israel in 1978, Egypt has been seen as a key silent partner for U.S. policy in the region. Since 1978, the U.S. has given Egypt about $60 billion in foreign aid. Of that, $35 billion has been military aid, according to the New York Times, "making Egypt the largest recipient of conventional American military and economic aid after Israel."

Yet, as in Tunisia, economic inequality has sharpened. Add in decades of political repression and the result is an explosive mix.

While a small group has benefited from what Georgetown University political scientist Samer Shehata has described as "merciless" neoliberal economic policies pushed by the U.S., World Bank and International Monetary Fund since the 1990s, nearly half of Egyptians live at or below the poverty line, and prices have soared for basic items like bread.

Film star Omar Sharif put it this way in an interview with France Inter radio from his Cairo home: "The president [Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak] hasn't improved the standard of living of Egyptians. There are some people that are very rich - maybe 1 percent - and the rest are all poor trying to find food."

Shehata, interviewed about Tunisia on The Real News, said, "Tunisia was referred to as an economic miracle because of the high rates of growth - and in fact they were high rates of growth. But as many people have said, you know, average citizens don't eat macroeconomic statistics. And this is the problem, that on paper the economies look quite good, but when you really get down to income inequality, who gets what, as it were, things look significantly different."

The same applies to Egypt, and across the region, Shehata told American Public Radio's Scott Tong. Egypt's economy is growing and opening up to the free market. "Big government" - nationalized industries and public services opened by Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser with Soviet support in the 1950s - is shrinking, foreign investors keep coming. But Shehata says the "vast majority" of Egyptians aren't keeping up. Citing the young Tunisian who set himself on fire last month and died, Shehata said, "The gentleman who set all of this off, the 26-year-old high school graduate who resorted to selling fruits and vegetables in a stand, he is symptomatic of the condition of millions of people in the Arab world."

In Egypt as in Tunisia, young people under 30 make up a growing chunk of the population, and while many are well educated they can't find jobs.

Shehata estimates unemployment among new college graduates is 30 percent, and they are turned off by the notion of the "market economy."

Emad Shahin, an Egyptian who is associate professor of religion, conflict and peace-building at the University of Notre Dame, wrote in the New York Times that Mubarak's regime has "produced an army of educated, unemployed youth; and created deep social and political malaise."

Thus we should not be surprised that young people have played a leading role in the uprising, and that the April 6th Youth Movement, formed largely through Internet social media like Facebook, has drawn diverse parts of Egyptian society into the streets.

The April 6th Youth Movement's Facebook page features the slogan, "The people united will never be defeated." That is a slogan associated with Chile's Popular Unity government led by socialist Salvador Allende, crushed by a bloody U.S.-backed coup in 1973.

The movement, formed three years ago, takes its name from an April 6, 2008, general strike that itself stemmed from a year-long strike by textile workers in Ghazi el-Mahalla. Key issues in the general strike were the soaring cost of bread and other basic necessities, and demands for increased wages.

The call for the 2008 strike was issued by doctors, educators and lawyers associations, grain mill workers, and several opposition parties and movements. They said in part, "We need salaries allowing us to live, we need to work, we want our children to get education, we need human transportation means, we want hospitals to get treatment, we want medicines for our children, we need just judiciary, we want security, we want freedom and dignity, we want apartments for youth; we don't want prices increase, we don't want favoritism, we don't want police in plain clothes, we don't want torture in police stations, we don't want corruption, we don't want bribes, we don't want detentions."

The same themes and social forces, but perhaps on an even broader scale, are on the streets of Egypt today.

"What we're seeing right now is very interesting," Ahmad Shokr, an editor at the influential Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, told Democracy Now. "We're seeing all kinds of different groups coming out. We're seeing workers. We're seeing opposition political parties, who had at first been reluctant to support these protests, coming out in full force. And so, I think what we're witnessing is a transformation from what started as a youth-led movement, a movement of Egyptian young people demanding change, to a popular uprising."

This ideologically diverse, nonviolent movement is united around a few key demands, summarized by Shahin as: "freedom of expression and association, and an end to corruption, poverty, unemployment and Mubarak's three decades long reign." This is not an Islamic-led movement. Its makeup and demands should put an end to the stereotyping of Arab peoples as uniquely mired in religion.

Regardless of the immediate outcome, the mass uprising in Egypt marks a turning point not only for Egypt, but for the Middle East and surrounding countries, and for U.S. foreign policy.

Mass protests have erupted in nearby countries ruled by U.S.-backed "great leader" dictators and rulers-for-life, including Sudan and Jordan. Sooner or later, the feudal Saudi regime will undoubtedly face its own moment of truth.

Shahin and Shehata are among a growing list of scholars (currently over 100) who have signed an open letter to President Obama calling for a new U.S. foreign policy that treats Egypt and the Middle East region "through a framework of shared values and hopes, not the prism of geostrategy."

"We urge your administration to seize this chance, turn away from the policies that brought us here, and embark on a new course toward peace, democracy and prosperity for the people of the Middle East. And we call on you to undertake a comprehensive review of U.S. foreign policy on the major grievances voiced by the democratic opposition in Egypt and all other societies of the region."

Photo: Protesters fill Tahrir square in downtown Cairo on Sunday, Jan. 30. (AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)

 

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  • On the Fifth-Month Anniversary of the triumph of the Egyptian's Historical Largest Peaceful Revolution, I still submit and confirm that the only common denominator of the Egyptian Revolution of January 20, 2011 and the other Revolutions in the Middle East is oppression of the Working Class, otherwise known in Marxism as the Proletariat, by the oppressors, self appointed Kings and dictators, regardless of the use of fancy and modern titles such "President Mubarak", and President Assad", etc.

    The Arab Proletariat of the whole Middle East has been oppressed for decades by these selfish monsters and gangsters... and to prove what I had predicted, one should examine the military attacks on the Libyan and Syrian civilian armless population. Therefore, whether it's Mubarak, who would have done the same to his people if it wasn't for the Egyptian Army, Assad of Syria, Qadafi of Libya, King of Saudi Arabia, Amir of Qatar are all thugs that should be practically hanged to dry... they are the cancer of the Middle East and Human Race.

    Now, let's not underestimate the power of the Muslim Brotherhood Organization and other Religious Organizations in the Region, as they are waiting for the right moment to take control... and will prove more devastating than Kings, because they will persecute and kill every person who is not one of them, beginning with Christians of all denominations, democrats, Shea'a Moslems, and Jews.

    Dr. Waleed N. Akleh

    Posted by Waleed Akleh, J.D.. LL.M., 06/20/2011 6:15pm (3 years ago)

  • No disrespect to any comrades in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Iran etc.... BUT WHERE IS THE PARTY, while the middle class public sector employees are jamming the capital of Wisconsin!!!
    Where is the support for re-engaging and re-energizing the mislead, beleaguered and abused American Middle Class worker???

    Posted by poindexter, 02/17/2011 10:46pm (3 years ago)

  • Valiente y revolucionario egipcios han demostrado al mundo ya la historia se hayan hecho, que con Proletariado solidaridad y la determinación se centró, cualquier cosa y todo es posible bajo el sol!

    Ya han cambiado la faz de todo el Oriente Medio, casi sin derramamiento de sangre! Esperemos que las revoluciones iguales o similares siguen en Siria, Líbano, Jordania y el resto de los países de Oriente Medio. Más y más al proletariado internacional. Únete a nosotros, somos el nuevo proletariado de las Américas y Oriente Medio. Www.americanalaw @ yahoo.com
    Proletariado Internacional
    Dr. Waleed N. Akleh (www.aclaw.com)

    Brave & revolutionary Egyptians have proven to the World and to the History being ‎‎made, that with Proletariat Solidarity and focused determination, anything and ‎‎everything is possible under the sun! ‎

    They have already changed the face of the whole Middle East with almost no ‎‎bloodshed!!! Hopefully same or similar revolutions are following in Syria, Lebanon, ‎‎Jordan and the rest of the Middle Eastern Countries. More and more to the Proletariat ‎‎International. Join us, we are the New Proletariat of the Americas and Middle East. ‎www.americanalaw@yahoo.com ‎


    Proletariat International
    Dr. Waleed N. Akleh (www.aclaw.com)

    Posted by Dr. Waleed Akleh, JD, LLM., 02/13/2011 7:50pm (3 years ago)

  • I see a big problem. In other parts of the globe a re-awakening of socialism, I.E. Russia is possible. The mid east is trapped in a religion furver of fundementalist islam. It seems other systems as Communism, or even Christianity are taboo to these poor subjugated parts of the world. A friend from Iran told me that his state was heavily involved with sabotaging the Soviet rescue attempt in the afganistan. Sepriate from the US obvoisly. Now the US because of Reagan era sabotage of the Sovietski plan is now stuck there. Egypt may be open to socialism but I doubt it.

    Posted by Vasilli Zietzev, Sniper-Volgrad Patriotic War, 02/06/2011 3:42pm (3 years ago)

  • Guess what Viviana---They already have Socialism-- under Mubarik.

    What they are asking for is FREEDOM from socialism.

    Posted by a. hans aphusermieu , 02/04/2011 7:02am (3 years ago)

  • Economic systems are the core cornerstone of any society. Should it happen that you are a leader and forget very duties and responsibilities you are suppose to serve your country men with in favour of your own or the interests of others, therefore the people will organize themselves and rebel against the system. Capitalism led economies are causing chaos every where and especially to the Developing Countries of Asia and Africa.
    Mubarak must accept the rights of people because he is the president of the people,The rights of the Egyptians are widely known worldwide rather than for him to use money to buy people to fight for him and weaken the fellow Egyptians, Mr. president it is time for you to step down you are rejected by the Led.

    Posted by Liel Deng Liel, 02/04/2011 1:44am (3 years ago)

  • Where are the Communists? Is there no Communit Party in Egypt and other Arab nations? Why don't we hear anything from them or about them? The uprising in Egypt was or seemed to be peaceful at the beginning.A peaceful revolution is no revolution at all.That is the lesson we learn from history. I hope I am wrong. The King of Jordan dismissed his cabinet. Why doesn't he dismiss himself? That is political science! This is also an opportunity for communists who feel marginalised everywhere to come out of their shells and to be active again. Let us put socialism back on the agenda!

    Posted by R. Lakshminarayanan, Bangalore, India, 02/04/2011 12:44am (3 years ago)

  • Nice work, Sue...your article exposes the inequality at the root of the crisis!

    Posted by Mark Walton, 02/03/2011 6:55pm (3 years ago)

  • Hail the PEOPLE OF EGYPT
    VICTORY TO THEM
    DOWN WITH AUTOCRACY

    Posted by Joseph Daniel, 02/02/2011 11:34pm (3 years ago)

  • I was moved by the statement cited calling for the general strike in 2008: "We need salaries allowing us to live, we need to work, we want our children to get education, we need human transportation means, we want hospitals to get treatment, we want medicines for our children, we need just judiciary, we want security, we want freedom and dignity, we want apartments for youth; we don't want prices increase, we don't want favoritism, we don't want police in plain clothes, we don't want torture in police stations, we don't want corruption, we don't want bribes, we don't want detentions." Once again we see that working people all over the world yearn for the same things. Thanks for shedding light on this complex situation.

    Posted by Bobbie, 02/02/2011 5:25pm (3 years ago)

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