They have no alternative: Egyptian crisis is a crisis of globalization’s authoritarian soul

This column in HuffPo makes an important point about the Egyptian events: they are fundamentally linked to the neo-liberal policies backed by both US political parties over the last twenty years. Those policies have been an abysmal failure, except in creating massive new inequalities from China to South Africa to the United States as financial interests have driven corporations to extract increasing profits at the expense of progressive economic development.

As one study of Egyptian economic policy put it about the reforms in place in Egypt in the post-Cold War period:

The neo-liberal programme did not remove the state from the market or eliminate ‘profligate’ public subsidies. These achievements belonged to the imagination. Its major impact was to concentrate public funds into different hands, and many fewer. The state turned resources away from agriculture and industry and the underlying problems of training and employment. It now subsidised financiers instead of factories, cement kilns instead of bakeries, speculators instead of schools.

Timothy Mitchell, “No Factories, No Problems: The Logic of Neo-Liberalism in Egypt,” Review of African Political Economy, Dec., 1999).

This “model” backed by the IMF and US, began to fall apart in the following decade. In a word, what started in Greece is now echoing across the Mediterranean in Egypt. This is not just about a brutal dictatorship, it is about the fact that the Washington Consensus requires authoritarianism on a massive scale to survive.

As Mitchell continues, it is clear that the model requires authoritarian politics for survival:

Neo-liberalism in Egypt was facilitated by a harsh restriction of political freedoms. Its character included a parliament more than one hundred of whose members the courts declared fraudulently elected, but that announced itself to be above the law in such matters; and in which the handful of opposition deputies were increasingly deprived of opportunities to question the government. It included a regime that allowed no right to organise political opposition or hold political meetings, and allowed the few legal opposition parties no right to public activities. It included a steady remilitarisation of power, especially as control shifted away from ministries, many of which were now run by technocrats, to provincial governors, most of whom were still appointed from the high ranks of the military. And it included the repeated intimidation of human rights workers and opposition journalists by closures, court cases, and imprisonment. In 1999 the regime consolidated these new restrictions, by passing an NGO law that dissolved all the country’s licensed non-governmental organisations and required them to apply for permission to re-form under new and more restrictive regulations, including a ban on any activity that the state considered political. Meanwhile, the United States refused every appeal to speak out in public on these issues, quietly dropping the ‘Democracy Initiative’ it had introduced in the early 1990s when political transformations in Eastern Europe seemed to threaten its autocratic allies in the Middle East, and declaring no serious concerns in Egypt beyond the endurance of the regime and its neo-liberal reforms.

In the decade that followed repression only increased and neither the Bush nor Obama administrations did anything serious to stop it. No wonder the Obama regime is trying to prop up Mubarak – he was their man on the ground and they have no alternative.

Joseph A. Palermo: “Ripples of Hope” in Egypt.