Month: September 2016

Unity under whose auspices?

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(To be published in Arabic for Arabi21)

The recent closed meeting in Washington D.C. to ostensibly unite the Egyptian rebel factions, including the Muslim Brotherhood, the April 6th Movement, and others, has been a subject of discussion for all the wrong reasons, it seems to me.

 

The online community has rejected the initiative’s point about secularism (predictably), and there has been a great deal of debate about “identity” and the “state”.  But I think it is more useful to look at the initiative from a different angle.

 

Right away, holding the meeting in Washington is conspicuous.  It is instantly restrictive against any rebel factions that do not have access to entry into the United States.  Attendees will automatically be wealthy, will be able to obtain visas, and be people accepted by the US government.  Remember, the US recognizes Sisi, and does not acknowledge the validity of opposition in Egypt.  By definition, a meeting of “revolutionaries” in Washington D.C. will preclude attendance by any revolutionaries.  The prerequisite for attendance in the Washington meeting to unite the rebels was that you could not actually be a rebel.

 

So what can we deduce about this meeting?

 

First of all, if it was held in Washington D.C., this means that it was not independently organized.  Why D.C.?  Why not a country where genuine rebel factions could easily attend?  Why not Turkey?  Why not Sudan?  I realize that subsequent meetings are planned in Turkey, Qatar, and Europe, but what about revolutionaries who may not have Frequent Flier Miles accounts? And the fundamental framework was concluded at the Washington meeting, so whatever follows will keep to these parameters.

 

No.  We do not know under whose auspices this meeting was held, but being held in D.C. means it was held under the auspices of the US, period.  We are not talking about a conference on Arabic poetry; we are talking about a meeting to supposedly organize the overthrow of a government the US supports.  This would not be allowed in the US unless it was sponsored by the US.  The location of the meeting was dictated, and they were told who would be allowed to attend.  We can also deduce that the recommendations agreed upon at the meeting were also dictated to them. And this explains why the meeting was closed.  We will only be informed about what they agreed upon, but we will not know what was discussed or how these agreements were reached, and by what means of persuasion.

 

There is something positive about this meeting, though.

 

It means that Washington, for whatever reason, takes the revolutionary movement seriously enough to try to co-opt it.  It also indicates that the US may be trying to prepare the groundwork for the replacement of Sisi. It is possible, of course, that they want to manage the opposition so as to neutralize it, and keep Sisi in power.  However, the exclusionary nature of the meeting suggests otherwise.

 

From the outset, it is a given that whatever such a meeting will agree upon, it will carry no weight on the ground.  It would be like a conference of plumbers setting forth protocols for how electricians do their job.  And this is the main qualification to be anointed by power as a leader: to have no influence and no connection to the street.  This ensures that they will not have divided loyalty; they will be beholden exclusively to those who appointed them to the leadership position.

 

On a side note, it is worth mentioning that this meeting reliably failed to address the most important factor in the “identity” of the state: actual independent political and economic sovereignty. The debate is between whether Egypt should be a secular colony or an Islamic colony under foreign domination; but foreign domination is neither discussed nor even acknowledged; and indeed, it appears that the meeting itself reflects that domination.

هل هي إدارة جديدة في مصر؟                   New management in Egypt?

من الغريب أنني كنت أفكر الأسبوع الماضي في إمكانية ترشح جمال مبارك للرئاسة المصرية . والآن هو، على ما يبدو، يعتزم القيام بذلك.

لقد كنت أفكر في ذلك لسببين: أولا، لأن هناك نوع من الحنين إلى الماضي كثيرًا ما يميل للظهور على السطح بعد بضع سنوات من الإطاحة بأي دكتاتور، ولا سيما عندما يكون خليفته أكثر وحشية أو أكثر انعدامًا للكفاءة مما كان عليه.  وفي مصر، يبدو بشكل واضح أنه لا يمكن أن تكون هناك عودة لحسني مبارك، لهذا فجمال مبارك يبدو كخيار واضح.

فهو شاب و”مدني” بشكل أساسي، بل ويمكن أن يبني حملته على أساس أنه سيكون زعيم ديمقراطي يتعهد بتحقيق تطلعات “الربيع العربي”، بل ويهاجم الدكتاتورية العسكرية للسيسي، فمن الواضح أنه أكثر تعليمًا وثقافة من السيسي، بل وأكثر تأهيلاً لمنصب سياسي، وأنا متأكد من انه سيتمكن من كسب تأييد شعبي كبير.

وكنت أفكر في هذا الاحتمال أيضا لأن هناك مؤشرات في لغة الخطاب الأخيرة لصندوق النقد الدولي تشير إلى أن مجتمع الأعمال الدولي يريد أن يرى حصة الجيش المصري في الاقتصاد إلى تفكك، وهذا بمثابة إنذار للسيسي بأنه قد أصبح زائدًا عن الحاجة.

جمال مبارك نيوليبرالي بكفاءة وإخلاص، وقد دعا منذ فترة طويلة للخصخصة الكاملة للاقتصاد المصري، بما في ذلك الأصول الخاضعة لسيطرة الجيش حاليا، لهذا فمرة أخرى، هو خيار واضح.

والسؤال: كيف سيتم إجبار الجيش للتخلي عن السلطة وعن مصالحه الاقتصادية؟

التخلي عن السلطة قد لا يكون معقدًا كما يبدو. في الواقع، سيكون تحرك حكيم جدًا للجيش، فهم ليسوا في حاجة للسلطة من أجل مواصلة دورهم الاقتصادي، لأنها في الحقيقة تتعارض مع استقرارهم المؤسسي، وتعرضهم لردود أفعال عنيفة وسلبية. فمن وجهة نظر تجارية بحتة، بل ومن المنطقي أن يعملوا بعيدًا عن الرأي العام.  ولكن واحدًا من الأسباب الرئيسية، إذا لم يكن السبب الرئيسي، وراء الانقلاب كان هو خوف الجيش من فقدان حصته الاقتصادية؛ لهذا فحملهم على الانسحاب من الحياة السياسية سيتطلب أولا نوعًا من الضمانات أن مشاريعهم ستبقى على حالها، وهذا على ما يبدو شيء قد لا ترغب الأعمال التجارية الدولية أن تقدم فيه أية تنازلات. ولكني أعتقد أن هذا أمر يمكن التفاوض فيه بما يرضي كلا من أصحاب رؤوس الأموال العالمية وكبار قادة الجيش.

الجزء الأكبر من القوة الاقتصادية للجيش منذ الانقلاب لم يعد ينبع بالكلية من الهيمنة الفعلية على المشاريع الضخمة، ولكن من قدرتهم على الاستفادة من نفوذهم عبر مجموعة واسعة من المشاريع، التي تمولها رؤوس الأموال الأجنبية وأغنياء المصريين، مما ترك الجيش (بشكل عملي) عرضة لضغوط مموليه.  فبقدر ما تحولت الشركات والمؤسسات إلى أدوات مالية أولا، ثم إلى صناعات إنتاجية ثانيًا، بقدر ما نستطيع أن نتصور أنه من الممكن أن تتم إعادة تشكيل حصة الجيش ببساطة، والسماح لهم، على سبيل المثال، باستثمار صناديق التقاعد (ربما) في الشركات التي ستتم خصخصتها.  أو شيء من هذا القبيل.

لن يكون سلب الاقتصاد من الجيش المصري أمرًا سهلًا أو مباشرًا، لا شك، ولكن من المعقول أن يتم السعي وراء هذا الأمر بشكل تدريجي. ويبدو أن هذا مسار حتمي للبرنامج النيوليبرالي في مصر، كما يبدو أيضًا أن إمبراطورية رأس المال ستفضل جمال مبارك، عن غيره، للإشراف على هذه العملية.

تنويه: هذه النسخة منقحة ونهائية!  

 

Oddly enough, I was just thinking last week about the possibility of Gamal Mubarak running for the Egyptian presidency; and now it seems, he intends to do it.I was thinking about it for two reasons. First, because a kind of nostalgia often tends to emerge a few years after a dictator has been overthrown; particularly when his successor is more brutal or more incompetent than he was. And, in Egypt, there clearly cannot be a return to power by Hosni Mubarak, so Gamal Mubarak would be the obvious choice.

He is young, technically “civilian”, and could even campaign as a democrat vowing to fulfill the aspirations of the “Arab Spring”, and attacking the military dictatorship of Sisi. He is obviously more educated than Sisi, and indeed, more qualified for political office. I am sure he would garner considerable popular support.

I was also thinking about this possibility because there have been indications in the recent language of he IMF that the international business community wants to see the Egyptian army’s stake in the economy broken up; which is tantamount to Sisi being given a redundancy notice.

Gamal Mubarak is a devout neoliberal; he has long advocated the complete privatization of the Egyptian economy, including the assets currently under the army’s control. So, again, he is the obvious choice.

The question is: how will the army be forced to give up its power and economic interests?

Giving up power may not be as complicated as it seems. In fact, it would be the wisest move for the military. They do not need to be in power to continue their economic role; it actually interferes with their institutional stability, and exposes them to negative backlash. From a business perspective, it makes more sense for hem to operate out of public view. But one of the major reasons, if not THE reason for the coup was the army’s fear of losing their economic stake; so getting them to withdraw from politics will first require some sort of guarantees that their enterprises will remain intact; and this appears to be something that international business may not want to concede. But I believe this is a matter that can be negotiated to the satisfaction of both the global owners of capital and the army CEOs.

A lot of the army’s economic power since the coup stems not so much from actual domination of mega projects, but from their ability to leverage their influence across a broad spectrum of enterprises, financed by foreign capital and rich individual Egyptians.  Practically speaking, that leaves the military vulnerable to pressure from their financiers.  Insofar as companies and corporations have  turned into financial instruments first, and productive industries second; it is conceivable that the army’s stake can simply be reconfigured, allowing them, for instance, to invest pension funds perhaps in privatized companies; or something along those lines.

It is not an easy or straightforward thing to divest the Egyptian military from the economy, no doubt.  But it is plausible that it can be pursued incrementally; and it does appear that this is the inevitable trajectory of the neoliberal program for Egypt; and it may well be that the Empire of Capital will favor Gamal Mubarak to oversee this process.

Dismantling European democracy

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(To be published in Arabic for Arabi21)

Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister for the Syriza government, is quickly becoming the most dangerous man in Europe.  Why? Because he wants to democratize the EU, and because he is exposing how desperately it needs to be democratized.

 

Varoufakis resigned from the Syriza cabinet (under pressure), when he refused to accept the Austerity plan of the Troika and another massive tranche of new IMF loans that would have enslaved the Greek economy under an un-payable  burden of unprecedented debt.

 

But for five months, the radical Left-wing economist got an inside look at the power structure in Europe, the way decisions are made; and now he is energetically, and eloquently, sharing with the people of Europe what he saw. And it is shocking.

 

When Varoufakis first entered office, he attended a meeting of the Euro Group, which includes the finance ministers of all the EU countries that use the Euro.  The Euro Group is presided over by the Troika, which is comprised of representatives from the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF.  Varoufakis addressed the ministers regarding the Austerity plan they had demanded for Greece, and which the Greek people had elected Syriza specifically to oppose.  He told them that the new government was willing to compromise with the Troika, but that they also had a responsibility to the electorate; to fulfill their promises to the Greek people, and to take steps to grow the domestic economy.  In short, he was saying that the Troika’s plan would have to be changed to reflect the will of the Greek population, and to serve the interests of revitalizing the economy.  Varoufakis was promptly interrupted by Wolfgang Schoible, the finance minister of Germany, who said, “Elections cannot be allowed to change the economic policy of Greece.”

 

The Troika presented Varoufakis with the IMF loan offer along with a comprehensive Austerity plan that would determine Greece’s economic policy for the next 20 years.  Christine Lagarde, the director of the IMF conceded to Varufakis that the structural adjustment program would not work, but that it was nevertheless necessary to accept it for his own political credibility, and to protect the Troika’s ‘investment of political capital’ in the effectiveness of Austerity.   Basically, the political power of the IMF to dictate economic policies that bankrupt nations must be upheld, no matter what.

 

Why?

 

That is an important question.  Schoible answered this in a private conversation with Varoufakis when he told him that none of the periphery countries, like Greece, can be allowed to challenge Austerity because the aim is to “take the Troika to Paris.”  In other words, they want to centralize and monopolize control over economic policy in even Europe’s most important economies; to dominate the entire continent, and in so doing, subvert any still existing democratic mechanisms.

 

It is telling that Varoufakis believes it would constitute enough of a revolutionary and democratizing action to simply demand that the closed meetings of the Euro Group be live streamed on the internet.  That is just how un-democratic the EU decision making process is: it could not safely take place in front of the public

 

All of this will come as a tremendous surprise to most of us in the Muslim world, since we imagine that Europe is a great center of democracy.  Varoufakis is tearing down that illusion for us, and for the people of Europe;  he is exposing the reality of private power and the anti-democratic nature of global capitalism today.  We would all be well advised to listen carefully to his message, and adapt our strategies for liberation according to the invaluable information he is giving us.