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Gordon Campbell on the latest events in Egypt

Gordon Campbell on the latest events in Egypt

by Gordon Campbell

The bloody events in Egypt have a familiar ring. The “clearing” of long term encampments convened as a passive protest in defence of democracy. The brutal application of military force. An unknown number of deaths, with the most credible estimates in the low hundreds at least. Praise by the authorities for the “restraint” shown by its heavily armed military enforcers. The arrest of protest leaders and sympathizers. Yes, the army crackdown and clearance in Egypt 2013 sounds very, very reminiscent of the Tiananmen Square massacre, 1989. It will be interesting to see if the West can summon the same outrage and compassion for today’s victims of repression, at the hands of a militarized state.

If Egypt wasn’t already polarised enough, the tentative steps being made towards political consensus have now been swept away by this latest atrocity. As Associated Press reports:

Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-reform leader in the interim government, resigned in protest over the assaults as the military-backed leadership imposed a monthlong state of emergency and nighttime curfew.

AP also reports on the suspension of economic activity and tourism, at least in the short term:

In imposing the state of emergency, the government ordered the armed forces to support the police in restoring law and order and protect state facilities. The nighttime curfew affects Cairo and 10 provinces. The Egyptian Central Bank instructed commercial banks to close branches in areas affected by the chaos. The landmark Giza Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum also were closed to visitors for the day as a precaution, according to the Ministry of Antiquities.

So, in order to save the country, the Army seems likely to destroy it. It has used military might - armoured bulldozers, tear gas and sniper fire, against its citizens. In the process, any public expression of support for the Muslim Brotherhood (still Egypt’s most widely supported political and social movement) has become a virtual shoot-on- sight offence.

Both sides have blamed the other for the latest violence:

The pro-Morsi Anti-Coup alliance claimed security forces used live ammunition, but the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said its forces only used tear gas and that they came under fire from the [main] camp. [i.e., the one near the Rabbah al-Adawiya Mosque.]

The Army and its militia supporters may claim that they were not using live ammunition, but the toll of victims indicates otherwise. Reportedly, the current level of attacks on journalists has been unprecedented.

Among the dead, AP reports:

Asmaa Mohammed el-Batagy, the 17-year-old daughter of the senior Brotherhood figure who was detained by police, was shot and killed. Her brother, Ammar, confirmed her death on his Twitter account. Two journalists were among the dead - Mick Deane, 61, a cameraman for British broadcaster Sky News, and Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, 26, a reporter for the Gulf News, a state-backed newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, the news organizations reported. Both had been reported to be shot.

Elsewhere in Cairo, the Army appears to have pursued a policy of shooting and/or threatening to shoot female journalists in the leg. E.g. “Reuters photojournalist Asmaa Waguih is being moved to the international medical center after she was shot in the leg. On her twitter feed, Washington Post Cairo bureau chief Abigail Hauslohner reports: “Police officer who told me earlier I was "provoking" him by writing in my notebook now says: 'if I see u again I will shoot you in the leg.'"

The same evidence of Army ultraviolence against civilian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood – snipers shooting to kill, many victims shot in the back – was reported weeks ago, from the killings after early morning prayers in early July:

Doctors and journalists said the majority of the fatal gunshot wounds struck their victims from behind, as if they had been praying or fleeing. The military failed to produce any photographs or videos showing the initial alleged attack. The few they did provide showed two Morsy supporters responding later, during street battles after sunrise, with homemade pistols.

On AP, the Muslim Brotherhood is reported as saying: "The world cannot sit back and watch while innocent men, women and children are being indiscriminately slaughtered. The world must stand up to the military junta's crime before it is too late." Right. But unfortunately for many supporters of Egypt’s first freely elected President, it is already too late. It may be too late for Egypt as a whole. The country seems now hellbent on a course of more violence, political repression, mass arrests and guerrilla warfare – all of which seem likely to cause lasting damage to the economy and to tourism.

Already it has only been a bailout bankrolled by Saudi Arabia and Qatar that has kept the Egyptian economy afloat and postponed the imposition of IMF conditions that had included the scrapping of subsidies. (Needless to say, Mohammed Morsy was offered no similar sized bailout and breathing space, and faced the dire prospect of having to imposing IMF conditions on his poorest and most vulnerable supporters. At least the Army coup saved him from having to make that decision.) Here’s the basic problem:

Egypt has a $36 billion annual trade deficit, against earnings of about $5 billion a year from the Suez Canal, an undetermined amount (probably about $7 billion) from tourism, and a few billion workers' remittances--that is, an annual financing requirement of over $20 billion.

And here’s that same problem in slightly more expanded form:

Egypt is struggling to meet a financing gap of perhaps $20 billion a year, made worse by the collapse of its major cash earner — the tourist industry. Malnutrition is epidemic in the form of extreme protein deficiency in a country where 40% of the adult population is already "stunted" by poor diet, according to the World Food Program. It is not that hard to get 14 million people into the streets if there is nothing to eat at home.

Nearly half of Egyptians are illiterate. Seventy percent of them live on the land, yet the country imports half its food. Its only cash-earning industry, namely tourism, is in ruins. Sixty years of military dictatorship have left it with college graduates unfit for the world market, and a few t-shirt factories turning Asian polyester into cut-rate exports. It cannot feed itself and it cannot earn enough to feed itself….Someone has to subsidize them, or a lot of them will starve. Unlike Mexico, Egypt can't ship its rural poor to industrial nations in the north.

Egypt's people embraced the military because they remember that the military used to feed them. In fact, the military probably can alleviate the food crisis, because — unlike the Muslim Brotherhood– Egypt's generals should be able to count on the support of Saudi Arabia.

So much then, for Egypt’s brief shot at democracy-without-bread. So much for hopes of Egypt regaining its former status in the Arab world. The Army intervention – and the over-arching economic crisis – has plunged the country back into Mubarak era military repression, and into a client state role with respect to its paymasters in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Washington. The Muslim Brotherhood is not its biggest problem, and never was.

ENDS

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