Austerity

Independent opposition to the IMF

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(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.

Britons want to exit Austerity, not the EU

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(to be published in Arabic for Arabi21)

Da’esh supporters are celebrating the Brexit vote, and claiming that the “rise of the Islamic State” is bringing about the disintegration of the European Union.  They are retroactively claiming that creating a desperate refugee crisis, de-populating Syria and driving thousands of horrified, traumatized, poor Muslims to seek asylum in Europe, was part of their master plan all along.  Never mind the fact that they bitterly criticized any Syrians who chose to seek refuge in the “Infidel West”.  By forcing people in Iraq and Syria to flee for their lives, Da’esh claims, they have successfully flooded Europe with refugees and created a volatile and divisive atmosphere throughout the EU, which has led to the UK referendum on the Brexit.

So, let’s analyze that.  Certainly, immigration was on the minds of many Britons when they voted to leave the European Union.  They are afraid their culture is being taken over by foreigners; afraid their jobs will be lost to foreigners; afraid foreigners will cause a drop in wages; afraid foreigners will drain the social welfare services paid for by British taxpayers. OK, fair enough.

But look, the UK has agreed to resettle only 20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of the next 5 years. Yes, 4,000 refugees per year until 2021. Around 333,000 people immigrated to the UK last year; in other words Syrian refugees comprise only a tiny fraction of total immigration.  That doesn’t mean that Britons do not incorrectly perceive that Syrian refugees are flooding the country, I’m sure many do; but that is attributable to the distortive propaganda of Right Wing parties and the media, not to Da’esh.

So, what is the reason for this kind of propaganda? The exaggerated fear of refugees and immigrants is occurring within the context of Austerity, domestically applied Neoliberalism, and the gutting of public resources by the private sector. It is occurring within the context of the bailout of Greece, and the justified popular paranoia that as long as Britain remains part of the EU, they will not be able to keep Europe’s hands off their pocketbooks.

Understood properly, the Brexit vote was a vote against Austerity, but no one gets to vote on Austerity, so this was their only outlet for protest.

When millions of voters said they wanted to leave the EU, what they were actually saying was that they want £350 million to be allocated to the National Health Service every week, because that is what they had been told the Brexit meant.  One of the major points of the “Leave Campaign” was precisely this; that hundreds of millions of pounds now being channeled to the EU would be redirected to domestic public spending, which has been drastically reduced in recent years under government Austerity measures. If the referendum had been “Do you want to leave the EU and continue Austerity, or do you want to remain in the EU and end Austerity?” I don’t think the results would be difficult to predict.  Obviously, the ruling corporate elites know this too, that’s why no such referendum could ever take place.

So, why would these elites promote the Brexit?  Well, as UK Independence Party leader and former commodities broker Nigel Farage said, “we have a £10 billion a year, £34 million a day feather bed, that is going to be free money we can spend…”.  The “Leave Campaign” implied that this “feather bed” would be enjoyed by the general public, but the UKIP supported David Cameron’s Austerity budget measures, and  accepts the argument that reducing Britain’s deficit should take priority over all else (the basic logic behind Austerity), so there is little indication that those who campaigned for the Brexit will fight for funding of public services.  In fact, they have already backtracked from the very promises they used in this regard to win votes for the British exit from the EU.

So no, sorry Da’esh; you did not cause the Brexit.  If the EU is disintegrating (which remains to be seen) it is disintegrating because of the greed of domestic elites who want to devour the money currently being allocated to the EU.  The most we can say is that Da’esh and the Neoliberals share a common disregard for the general public, but that is not something Da’esh has ever seemed to comprehend, and, if their triumphalist rhetoric over the Brexit is any indication, it appears they never will.

 

تضييق أغلال العبودية                       Tightening the slave chains

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يقال للمصريين أن يستعدوا لتدابير التقشف التي (بلا شك) لن تكون مفاجأة لهم، لأن معظمهم يشعرون أنهم بالفعل يعيشون في تقشف شديدة على الأقل طوال العامين الماضيين.

ولكن ما رأيتموه حتى الآن ما هو إلا مقدمة لبرنامج الفقر والحرمان القادم إليكم، سيكون هناك المزيد من التخفيضات في الدعم على الوقود والغذاء والمياه، وستزيد تكلفة وسائل النقل العامة أكثر، وسترتفع تكاليف السلع الاستهلاكية عندما يبدأ التجار في دفع ضريبة القيمة المضافة، كما أن تقليص وظائف القطاع العام سيزيد من البطالة. … وطبعا للأسف، سيكون عليكم صرف مبالغ أكبر من الجنيه المصري متدني القيمة وهي المفروض أنها مبالغ تكسبونها من وظائف ليست لديكم، فقط لكي تحافظوا على جودة الحياة المتدنية بالفعل.  ولكن الخبر السار هو أنه من خلال تدهور الأوضاع الاقتصادية المزرية التي ستعانون منها، ستصبحون قادرين على تحويل مدفوعات أكبر لمقرضي مصر فاحشوا الثراء لخفض العجز في بلدكم، وهو عجز لا يحتاج للخفض أصلًا.

هذا هو ما يحدث عندما تتم صياغة السياسة الاقتصادية عن طريق الدائنين والمستثمرين الأجانب الذين يفضلون أن تكون القوى العاملة جائعة وبائسة… ونعم، هذا هو أيضا ما يحدث عندما لا يكون للقادة الثوريين أي فكرة عن السياسة الاقتصادية، ويصبحوا مهتمون فقط بالطموحات السياسية الشخصية.

لقد قلت هذا من قبل، وسأظل أردده: ثورتكم يجب أن تكون حول السياسات، لا لصالح أو ضد الأفراد أو الأحزاب، احشدوا وثوروا ضد “أجندة السياسات المؤلفة من 79 صفحة” التي تلائم صندوق النقد الدولي والتي عرضها رئيس الوزراء شريف إسماعيل أمام البرلمان، نقطة نقطة.

طالبوا بأن يقوم أي وكل ما يسمى بأحزاب المعارضة والقادة، والإخوان المسلمون، وحتى الأحزاب الصغيرة، طالبوهم بقراءة وشرح والرد على هذا البرنامج، اطلبوا منهم أن يحركوا بدائل سياسية حقيقية تعكس ليس فقط الشريعة والمبادئ الإسلامية، ولكن تخدم مصالح الشعب بشكل حقيقي.  فإن لم يفعلوا، ولن يفعلوا لأنهم لا يستطيعون، فأنا أنصحكم أن تدركوا أنهم ليسوا جادون، وأنه يجب تجنبهم هم وخطابهم الثوري الفارغ، لكي تتحركوا فورًا نحو التنظيم الذاتي والنشاط الشعبي على أساس السياسات… تبنوا استراتيجية الثورة مفتوحة المصدر، واجعلوا معركتهم ضد هيكل السلطة الحقيقي الذي فرض جدول أعمال الاستعباد والقهر الاقتصادي على مصر.

Egyptians are being told to brace of austerity measures, which will no doubt come as a surprise, since most will feel they have already been living under severe austerity measures for at least the last two years.But, what you have faced thus far has been but a prelude to the program of impoverishment and deprivation still to come. There will be further cuts to subsidies on fuel, food and water, and the cost of public transport will increase;costs of consumer goods will rise as merchants begin paying VAT, and slashing public sector jobs will increase unemployment .  So yes, you will have to spend more of the drastically devalued Egyptian Pounds you earn from the jobs you don’t have, just to sustain an already substandard quality of life.  But the good news is that by worsening the miserable economic conditions you suffer, you will be able to remit bigger payments to Egypt’s super-rich lenders and decrease your country’s deficit, which does not need to be decreased.

This is what happens when your economic policy is written by your creditors and by foreign investors who prefer a hungry and desperate workforce.  And, yes, this is also what happens when your revolutionary leaders have no clue about economic policy, and are only interested in their own personal political ambitions.

I have said it before, and I will keep saying it: your revolution has to be about policies; not for or against any individuals or parties.  Organize and mobilize against the “79-page policy agenda” of the IMF presented to parliament by Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, point-by point.

Demand that any and every so-called opposition party and leader, that the Muslim Brotherhood, and that the smaller parties, read, explain, and respond to this agenda, and demand that they articulate actual policy alternatives that not only reflect Islamic law and principles, but also genuinely serve the interests of the population.  If they don’t; and they won’t because they can’t; then  I advise you to recognize that these are not serious people, and you should shun them and their empty revolutionary rhetoric, and move immediately towards self-organizing and grassroots activism on the basis of policies.  Adopt the strategy of Open Source Revolution, and take the fight to the real existing power structure that is imposing an agenda of enslavement and economic subjugation in Egypt.

أين النسخة الإسلامية للشين فين…؟                         Where is the Islamist Sinn Fein…?

دائمًا ما كانت لقرون التمرد الايرلندي ضد الاحتلال البريطاني طابع اقتصادي قوي، بالطبع كان لدى الاحتلال البريطاني الكثير ليفعله نحو فرض الهيمنة الاقتصادية، بل لقد احتوى فعلا على البذور المبكرة لنموذج الاستعمار الرأسمالي.

لم يكن المتمردون الأيرلنديون مجرد حركة مناهضة للاستعمار وحسب بل كانوا معارضين للإقطاع، ولا زال الشين فين (الجناح السياسي للجيش الجمهوري الايرلندي) مستمرًا في حفظ هذا الميراث في السياسات الاقتصادية والسياسية التي يدعو لها.

حيث يعارض الشين فين بشدة ما يسمى بالتدابير التقشفية (المصطلح الذي يطلق على النيوليبرالية عندما يتم فرضها على العرق الأبيض) في كل من ايرلندا وبقية أوروبا.

“انهم يطرحون برنامجًا واضحًا يدعو للاستثمار الذي تقوده الدولة كبديل، وإلى ضرائب أكثر عدلًا، وإلى الاستثمار في البنية التحتية والخدمات العامة وحقوق العمال”، ومثل هذه السياسات تكسبهم دعمًا متزايدًا بين السكان.

مر الجيش الجمهوري الايرلندي بعدة مراحل والعديد من التغييرات، ولكنه كان دائمًا الحركة التي أفرزتها بل وعَرَّفَتها طبقة الفقراء والعمال والمواطن الأيرلندي العادي ممن عانوا تحت نير الاستعمار البريطاني. في حين أنهم لم يلتزموا بالإعلان صراحة عن قيام “الجمهورية الاشتراكية”، إلا أن الجيش الجمهوري الايرلندي كان مهتمًا أساسا بالعدالة الاقتصادية، واليوم، الشين فين هو الحزب السياسي الوحيد صاحب التأثير الهائل في أيرلندا وصاحب المواقف المشهودة ضد التقشف والنيوليبرالية والاستعمار الاقتصادي.

أين هو النظير الاسلامي لهذه الرؤية؟

يمكننا أن نتعلم دروساً قيمة من الجيش الجمهوري الايرلندي من حيث تكتيكات واستراتيجيات المواجهة الفعالة، ولكن يمكننا أن نتعلم أيضا الكثير من برنامجهم السياسي كذلك.

نحن في انتظار الأحزاب الإسلامية لكي تقدم بدائل سياسية حقيقية في مقابل العقيدة البائسة للنيوليبرالية التي قمعت اقتصاداتنا واستعبدت شعوبنا.

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The centuries of Irish rebellion against British occupation always had a strong economic element.The British occupation itself, of course, had a lot to do with economic domination, and, indeed, contained the embryonic beginnings of the model for capitalist imperialism.

Irish rebels were not only an anti-imperialist movement, they were anti-feudalist.

Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, is carrying on this tradition in the economic and political policies they advocate.

Sinn Fein is staunchly opposed to so-called Austerity measures (what neoliberalism is called when it is imposed on White people) both in Ireland and the rest of Europe.

They put forward a clear programme calling for state-led investment as an alternative, fairer taxes, investment in infrastructure and public services and for workers rights“, and such policies are winning them increasing support among the population.

The IRA has gone through many phases, many changes, but it was always a movement that was drawn from, and identified with, the poor, the working class, the average Irishman and Irishwoman who suffered under the yoke of British colonialism.

While they never committed themselves to establishing an explicitly “socialist republic”, the IRA was fundamentally concerned with economic justice, and today, Sinn Fein is only formidable political party in Ireland to take a stand against Austerity, against neoliberalism, against economic colonization.

Where is the Islamist counterpart to this vision?

We can learn valuable lessons from the IRA in terms of tactics and strategies for effective confrontation, but we can also learn a great deal from their political program as well.

We are waiting for the Islamist parties to offer real viable policy alternatives to the miserable orthodoxy of neoliberalism which is subjugating our economies and enslaving our people.