(To be published in Arabic for Arabi21)
On October 9th, the IMF was scheduled to announce the release of the first tranche of money from a $12 billion loan to Egypt. Approximately 2 weeks before the announcement was to be made, individual Egyptians self-mobilised, without instruction from party leaders or groups, and began sending messages to the IMF representative in Egypt, and to the local offices of multinational companies, expressing opposition to the loan and its accompanying Austerity program.
Messages warned that, since the neoliberal policies demanded by the IMF are designed to benefit multinationals and foreign investors, the revolutionary movement would impose consequences on the private sector if the loan proceeds. A few days before October 9th, the IMF announced that the decision on the loan would be indefinitely delayed. The American, British, and Canadian embassies issued alerts to all their citizens in Egypt to beware of possible risks around the 9th of October. The Ministry of Finance began hiring recent graduates to open at least 2 Facebook accounts each to promote a positive opinion about the loan on social media.
In short, the people forced their way to the IMF negotiating table.
Christine Lagarde, Head of the IMF, suddenly began to include mention of the Egyptian people when discussing the policy reforms required by the loan, “I think the measures that the Egyptian authorities…and the Egyptian population are considering in order to improve the economy are the right ones”, she said in an interview with Al-Jazeera. As there has not been any referendum on the loan in Egypt, and the population had no role in negotiating the agreement with the IMF, Lagarde is implicitly acknowledging that, by their collective action, the Egyptian people have suddenly made themselves part of an equation from which they had been very deliberately excluded; and the acquiescence of the population is now an issue for the IMF, though it never has been before.
This is a significant development at the most critical moment Egypt has faced since 2011. This will be the biggest loan the IMF has ever granted anyone in the region, and it will force policies on Egypt that will drastically undermine the country’s potential for economic sovereignty and political independence, regardless of who may sit in the presidential palace. The Islamist opposition has been uniformly silent, conspicuously so, even the new Ghalabah Movement, which has organized mass protests for November 11th and claims to represent the poor and downtrodden of Egypt. Nevertheless, the people took the initiative against the loan despite the apparent apathy of their leadership. All the opposition parties should take note of this fact.
Frequently I have been told by Islamists that the ordinary people cannot understand the complexities of economics. If the collective action of the Egyptian people, acting as individuals to oppose the loan, was not sufficient to disprove this theory, we saw recently the powerful comments by a tuk-tuk driver in Egypt eloquently summarizing the economic situation in the country, better than anyone from the Islamist elite.
It is well past time for the Islamist opposition to begin finally to address the real policy issues that are intensifying the suffering of the Egyptian people. It is time to stop playing politics and jockeying for position, and it is time for them to use their platforms to discuss the specific issues that are affecting the daily lives of the masses, because the masses are not waiting.