Here’s an example of how lame our fourth estate has become: They’re reporting the Egypt protests as though there has never, ever been any unrest in Egypt. Nothing could be further from the truth, and if they were doing their job, they’d put some context into their reporting. It would help with a couple of things; namely, the ongoing hand-wringing over the possibility of a leadership void and the shape a new government would take. Here are some recent examples. I can find them going back 30 years.
- Time Magazine April 13, 1993, in an article concerning unrest in Egypt attributed to fundamentalist Muslims:
Western experts do not dispute the President’s claims entirely. But Egypt would face a fundamentalist threat even if Iran and Sudan did not exist. Homegrown poverty, overpopulation, poor housing and rampant corruption would almost certainly stir radicalism and unrest without any agitation from outside.
- Daily News, June 12, 1994 regarding a newly-released UN report linking poverty to possible disintegration of governments in 17 countries:
The report also noted that Mexico, Egypt and Nigeria have worrisomely large disparities between regions in terms of income and education and said Algeria’s continuing political unrest also puts it in danger.
The report also assesses indicators of “human security” to help pinpoint potential trouble spots: food scarcity, high unemployment and declining wages, human rights violations, ethnic violence, widening regional disparities and an overemphasis on military spending.
The team this year did similar analyses for Egypt, Nigeria and Brazil.
“In each one of these countries, the disparities are far greater than Chiapas. We all hope that they won’t blow up. all that we are doing is allerting the policy makers to be very mindful of the kinds of tensions they may have to face in these countries,” said ul Haq, a former finance minister for Pakistan.
- The Record, July 17, 1995 (Excerpt – Full article behind paywall)
Relief was widespread when the assassination attempt on President Hosni Mubarak failed last month. His wave that he was OK reassured many but discontent is rising again in Egypt. People want Mubarak to get moving on the long-delayed structural economic reforms needed to spur the economy, ease growing poverty and reduce the 20-per-cent unemployment rate. Instead, new libel laws have been implemented to stem criticism and tough security measures have been implemented. Intellectuals fear the crackdown guarantees more violence.
- New York Times, November 12, 1996: Concerning economic plight of Palestinians, a brief nod to poverty in Egypt and surrounding countries.
The core economies in the Middle East are doing well, though poverty remains extensive and disparities in income are great. Jordan and Lebanon are growing faster than Western Europe and with tolerable inflation. Egypt is growing slowly, but has recently adopted pro-growth reforms. Israel’s growth rate is 6 percent. Israel starts out at income levels — above $15,000 per person — four times higher than those of its neighbors.
- Newsday, Long Island, NY, November 23, 1997 (Excerpt – Full article behind paywall):
Egyptians have an average GNP per capita income of $720, the lowest such figure among the region’s principal states. About 45 percent of the country’s population lives in poverty. The national economy’s annual growth rate just barely keeps up with the annual increase in population: Both hover around 2 percent. This means, essentially, that the government of Egypt is under constant economic and population pressure, against which it makes very slow progress. Too slow, in the opinion of many within Egypt.
- Time Magazine, June 24, 2001 in an article discussing seesawing oil prices and their impact on countries dependent upon foreign oil:
The mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of laid-off migrant workers –mainly Egyptians, Palestinians and Pakistanis–from the Persian Gulf could overtax their native lands and stir political unrest. While singling out no particular country, Secretary of State Shultz cautioned last week, “History teaches that nations in deep economic distress are more vulnerable to political instability, to the simplistic appeals of demagogues who preach siren songs of war and confrontation as a diversion from home.”
- Christian Science Monitor, April 8, 2002, in an article discussion Egyptian protests over the war:
Hanna says that the region’s lack of democracy, its economic disparities, the growing gap between the rich and the poor in the Arab world, and mounting political strife, were bound to force a change soon enough. “That is why all the Sheikhdoms will eventually crumble,” he says, even though the forces that would replace them “have no brains or strategy.”
No comment on the editorializing, but the comments on the relationship between regional unrest, poverty, and lack of democracy aren’t much different than today.
- WSWS.org, May 5, 2004, quoting Haaretz:
An Egyptian businessman told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “We are in a situation in which we are talking about pulling out of poverty, improving the economic situation and increasing employment, while reality does not recognise these goals. After so many years we are being forced to return to the food vouchers and check who is poor. While the whole world is progressing, we are regressing.”
Although government figures claim that poverty in Egypt has dropped from 20 percent of the population to 17 percent the businessman continued, “The problem is not in the reports or the statistics published by the government. Even if we assume that all the numbers are correct and verified, which is doubtful, the feeling on the street is what counts, and the street cries out that there is poverty. This should trouble the Egyptian government and anyone who is worried about the stability of the state.”
- Reuters, April 3, 2008:
In Egypt, where more than 14 million people live on less than $1 a day, inflation jumped to an 11-month high of 12.1 percent in February, largely due to rising food prices.
For decades, Egypt has provided cheap bread to its working poor to help them survive and to ward off discontent. This year queues for subsidized bread have lengthened, tempers have flared and 11 Egyptians have died in the lines since early February.
Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif told Reuters in March that people who were once willing to pay extra for free-market bread could no longer afford it, adding to demand for subsidized loaves.
The Egyptian government has banned rice exports from April to October to hold down local prices.
- IPS News, March 16, 2009:
Egypt is no stranger to labour unrest. From early 2007 and throughout 2008, Egypt was gripped by a similar wave of workers’ actions, the most serious of which was a series of strikes by public sector textile workers. After several months of angry strikes and demonstrations, the government finally conceded to most of the strikers’ chief demands, which included salary increases and bonus payouts.
“The success of the labour actions in 2007 and 2008 encouraged workers to demonstrate and call strikes to realise longstanding demands,” said Abdelazim. “Many people now see labour strikes as the only means of forcing the government to address their grievances.”
Last year, public disaffection climaxed with a nationwide labour strike on Apr. 6 – involving workers of many professions in both the public and private sectors – to protest skyrocketing food prices and political stagnation. Although the number of participants was never determined, the Apr. 6 strike – organised largely through social networking website Facebook – has come to be viewed as a successful recent example of nationwide labour solidarity.
“The people have woken up twice,” wrote Kandil. “Once on April 6 of last year, and now again in recent weeks, which have seen a wave of strikes that have paralysed the regime’s decision-making.
“Egypt is seeing three new workers’ strikes every day, and the phenomenon is set to increase further,” Kandil said, warning of the dangers of widespread economic hardship and labour disaffection. “Sooner or later, this wind will turn into a storm, which will sweep away this unrighteous regime.”
Related: Washington Post, September 26, 2009: Wave of Labor Unrest Grips Egypt at Crucial Juncture
The winds of discontent have been blowing in Egypt for a very long time, despite all efforts to pin them on “extremists”. For decades, Egyptians have had no voice, little hope for better lives, and as time has gone on, less hope for even the basics. When discontent turns to anger, the winds blow harder, and as was predicted, the wind has turned into a storm.
Just for perspective, Hosni Mubarak’s fortune is estimated to be between $40-$70 billion, accumulated over the past 30 years.
President Hosni Mubarak’s family fortune could be as much as $70bn (£43.5bn) according to analysis by Middle East experts, with much of his wealth in British and Swiss banks or tied up in real estate in London, New York, Los Angeles and along expensive tracts of the Red Sea coast.
After 30 years as president and many more as a senior military official, Mubarak has had access to investment deals that have generated hundreds of millions of pounds in profits. Most of those gains have been taken offshore and deposited in secret bank accounts or invested in upmarket homes and hotels.
According to a report last year in the Arabic newspaper Al Khabar, Mubarak has properties in Manhattan and exclusive Beverly Hills addresses on Rodeo Drive.
His sons, Gamal and Alaa, are also billionaires. A protest outside Gamal’s ostentatious home at 28 Wilton Place in Belgravia, central London, highlighted the family’s appetite for western trophy assets.
Amaney Jamal, a political science professor at Princeton University, said the estimate of $40bn-70bn was comparable with the vast wealth of leaders in other Gulf countries.
“The business ventures from his military and government service accumulated to his personal wealth,” she told ABC news. “There was a lot of corruption in this regime and stifling of public resources for personal gain.
“This is the pattern of other Middle Eastern dictators so their wealth will not be taken during a transition. These leaders plan on this.”
A tipping point. That’s where Egypt is right now. This is where people go when they have an understanding that their “leader” is not leading them toward prosperity, but profiting from their labor and country’s resources. If anyone needs evidence that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, look no further than the decades-long pillaging of the Egyptian people.
These were easily discoverable facts. Why is no one in our most widely-watched media circles reporting them? Instead they’re fearmongering about Israel, Muslim extremists (never mind the endless photos of Muslims and Christians standing together), and the inevitable leadership vacuum they’re sure will consume Egypt if Mubarak leaves tomorrow.
That leadership vacuum exists, and has for at least 20 years, possibly longer. Respect the resolve of the Egyptian people to work for a more democratic society where they can once again hope for a better future.
- Fear has been defeated; there’s no turning back
- Help find Octavius Howell