Syria Under Fire, Egypt Under the Radar, U.S. Bombs Away (Part 2)
Note: This is the second article in a three-part series. Part 1, which examined potential U.S. intervention in Syria, can be found here. Part 3 will be posted on Thursday.
By NAVID FARNIA
On August 14th, Egypt’s military commenced a brutal attack on supporters of recently deposed President Mohamed Morsi. The military massacred pro-Morsi protesters for days thereafter, and during the ensuing week, Egypt stood at the epicenter of international attention. Observers from around the world condemned Egypt’s military for its reprehensible actions against innocent people.
A week later, on August 21st, a chemical attack killed hundreds of people in Syria. Syria President Bashar al-Assad and his government subsequently became the new target of global censure, and Egypt escaped world headlines as quickly as it made them. Syria remains the subject of heated world debate. Meanwhile, Egypt fell under the radar, though the military continues to violently repress protesters and arrest opposition figures.
Enter the Empire
The United States is the main outside entity that stays heavily involved in both crises. Thus, the U.S.’s influence should garner our collective attention, especially given the curious way in which Egypt completely disappeared from American media coverage.
Egypt’s ties to the U.S. are particularly noteworthy for this reason. The United States has been the most consistent force in Egypt’s political system since 1981, when former President Hosni Mubarak came to power. American political persuasion even outranks that of the Egyptian military, which derives its power from the U.S. Egypt’s military apparatus is largely funded and supplied by the U.S. and American arms manufacturers.
From Mubarak to Morsi and now to the military regime, the U.S. unflinchingly backs Egypt’s ruling establishment. In fact, the government’s cozy relationship with the U.S. constantly supersedes its accountability to the Egyptian people.
This is because neocolonialism and neoliberalism work hand-in-hand in Egypt. The U.S. backs tyrannical governments – sometimes tepidly and sometimes more convincingly – and has contributed tens of billions in military aid to the country. Whether led by Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood (and their representative, Morsi) or the military, Egypt’s government upholds a doctrine of authoritarian neoliberalism – that is, a security state that represses challenges to neoliberal policies. While the government suppresses the Egyptian people, it acquiesces to foreign interests. Egypt’s ruling class is primarily concerned with deregulating and privatizing the economy in order to profit from its imperial backers.
The U.S.’s central involvement in Egyptian affairs dates back over thirty years. Egypt represents the ideal of U.S. neocolonial administration in the Third World, which functions to entrench white supremacy by creating profit for imperial powers (and their native administrators). This occurs through exploitative measures that are imposed against the racialized working class. But Egypt’s protesters threaten the country’s status as the neocolonial ideal.
The Patron and the Client
Soon after the August 14th massacre, U.S. President Barack Obama and his government condemned the Egyptian military. Obama cancelled the U.S.’s bi-annual military exercises with Egypt, which was scheduled for September. However, the Obama government stopped short of halting U.S. military aid to Egypt, aside from a temporary token punishment of suspending two weapons system deliveries.
At that point, Syria captured world headlines, which alleviated the mounting pressure on the Obama government to cancel Egypt’s military funding. While debate surrounding Syria floods the airwaves, the bloody massacre of Egyptian demonstrators is already old news in American circles. Whether the sequence of events in Egypt and Syria is coincidental or not, the massive shift of media coverage from Egypt to Syria is not merely happenstance. The U.S.’s ties to Egypt’s military and its hostile relationship with Syria likely dictate American media agenda setting.
Excluding Israel, Egypt is the world’s greatest beneficiary of U.S. military aid. The U.S. has provided Egypt’s military over a billion dollars per year since 1979. But the funding that Egypt receives from the U.S. also directly serves American interests. And unsurprisingly, ties between the U.S. and Egypt revolve around Israel. Frida Alim explains further in her article, “The Moral Ambiguity of United States Aid to Egypt”:
In the case of aid to Egypt, it has represented a political maneuver to secure Egyptian allegiance to U.S. foreign policy objectives in the Middle East, as military aid has been linked to Egypt’s adherence to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and regional security. According to a U.S. embassy cable from March 2009 released by Wikileaks, military aid to Egypt is considered “untouchable compensation” for the maintenance of a favorable relationship with Israel.
Military aid to Egypt also buys the U.S. easy access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace. Moreover, the agreement between the two countries stipulates that aid money be used to pay for contracts with American arms companies. “The $1.3 billion that goes to the Egyptian army doesn’t really go to the Egyptian army,” says Farouk El-Baz, an adviser to late President Anwar Sadat. “It goes to an account that stays in the U.S. for the Egyptian army to buy U.S. hardware.” U.S. military aid to Egypt therefore, also profits the U.S. arms industry. Indeed, tear gas canisters launched at protesters in the 2011 revolution were made in the U.S.A.
The U.S. is unwilling halt its military aid program because such an action would undermine its own interests and also cost American arms manufacturers, like Lockheed Martin. Between 2009 and 2011, Lockheed Martin received $259 million from contracts with Egypt. Thus, the deafening silence in the past few weeks accompanied by the shifting focus toward Syria reflects these interests. American officials’ denunciation of the Egyptian military following the August massacre proved to be hollow. But this is expected given the U.S.-Egypt cash flow’s strategic significance to American and Israeli interests.
Subverting Neocolonial Influence
Understanding the U.S.-Egypt relationship vis-à-vis the circumstances on the ground helps to address Egypt’s political question. The aid agreement particularly exemplifies how Egypt’s ruling class is in the U.S.’s back pocket. Furthermore, the longstanding aid program demonstrates the U.S.’s support of authoritarian neoliberalism.
Conversely, mass demonstrations are a direct result of Egypt’s neoliberal policies. Economic deregulation, privatization and unfettered foreign influence has led to escalated costs for food, fuel and other necessities in the country. Additionally, since the 2011 revolution, unemployment has increased and poverty remains rampant.
The Morsi government was surely no friend to the working class, as his policies contributed to neoliberal expansion. But the military will likely continue these policies, as current government officials have publicly supported cutting subsidies to secure foreign funds.
Egypt’s neoliberalism translates to neocolonialism, where the ruling establishment – whether led by Mubarak, Morsi or the military (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces or SCAF) – caters to foreign interests for its own profit. Retaining U.S. military aid, and foreign aid in general, comes at the expense of working class Egyptians. And when Egyptians protest, the ruling class expands state authoritarianism to protect its power – just this week, the military government extended Egypt’s state of emergency, which grants the government greater powers to arrest people.
The U.S. turns a blind eye to violent repression because mass protests undermine American imperialism and Israeli influence. The U.S. and Israel’s relationship with Egypt reflects a commitment to the growth of global white supremacy, whereby people of color are victim to ruling class and foreign interests. Neocolonial processes dictate that Egypt’s government prioritizes American (and by proxy, Israeli) desires before those of its own people.
In this sense, the U.S.’s condemnation of the Egyptian military is entirely disingenuous given the reality that the U.S. propped up the similarly violent and repressive Mubarak regime for almost thirty years. “For the United States, the question of cutting military aid to Egypt is not a question of democracy or human rights. It is a matter of repercussions for domestic defense contracts, as well as the destabilization of an important cornerstone of U.S.-Egyptian relations, the Israeli peace treaty,” says Frida Alim.
As a result, leadership changes in Egypt do not translate to broad ideological change in the political system. Maintaining the U.S.-Egypt patron-client relationship depends on the Egyptian political leadership’s compliance with American interests. The U.S. and Israel will do everything in their power to retain an authoritarian Egyptian government that embraces neoliberalism. Fair elections, which would provide opposition groups the time to organize their platforms, are fantastical because foreign powers recognize that an Egyptian government that truly represents its people will oppose neoliberal expansion and the foreign “aid” that accompanies it.
More than Two Options
This is why protesters widely opposed the Morsi government. Morsi and the Brotherhood’s authoritarian and neoliberal policies resembled Egypt under Mubarak. Moreover, this is also the reason Egyptians will likely turn against the military regime.
Tarek Shalaby, an activist from Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists, explains it best, “Revolutionary forces and SCAF did share, for a moment, the same interest – to remove Morsi – but for opposite reasons: the revolutionaries to strengthen their power against the system, and SCAF to preserve it from a major perceived threat.” Speaking about his organization’s challenge, Shalaby continues:
If we do our work right and spread our message and use alternative media and other forms of communication not controlled by the state and its allies, people will start realizing that they don’t have to choose – they can oppose both forces. They can be against the Brotherhood without supporting massacres; they can be against SCAF without wanting Morsi back in power. What we need to do, all of us, is bring all the revolutionary groups together against SCAF, Mubarak and the Brotherhood. We need to rebuild the revolutionary coalition.
From Mubarak to the current military regime, the ruling class’ continuance of business as usual neoliberal policies ultimately drives an undying agitation. The Revolutionary Socialists released a statement denouncing the military’s massacre and rejecting both the Brotherhood and military rule. Moreover, they have organized and supported frequent labor strikes and consistently opposed the state’s neoliberal expansion projects.
By extension, the labor movement also implicitly opposes U.S. imperial influence and its exploitation of Egyptian workers. A U.S.-led entrenchment of white supremacy in Egypt via a tyrannical native bourgeois ruling class reinforces labor exploitation. In other words, outside imperial and racial dynamics combine with the classed component of Egypt’s society to subjugate Egyptian workers.
This process undoubtedly occurs throughout the Third World. Wealth is not only concentrated in the U.S. and Europe, but it is particularly saturated in hands that promote policies of neocolonial white racial dominance. Such self-interested greed is what drives neoliberalism in Egypt, which translates to poverty, unemployment and rising costs.
U.S. interests shape Egypt’s political and economic climate. Although U.S. government officials were quick to condemn the August 14th massacre in rhetoric, they did very little in practice. History shows us that if violence against protesters is necessary, the U.S. will support it, even if quietly. With respect to Egypt, American silence reflects its support for the antagonistic Egyptian military apparatus. Unlike Syria, Barack Obama drew no red line in Egypt; the only red lines there stem from protesters’ bloodstains, caused by Egyptian security forces toting weapons that are “Made in the U.S.A.”
Navid Farnia received his Master of Arts degree from the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University in New York. He is an Iranian American who was born and raised in Oklahoma.
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