2011-02-07

A private estate called Egypt

Filmed over the morning and afternoon of Saturday 29 January 2011.


We all helped suppress the Egyptians. So how do we change?
(…)
Very few British people would praise a murderer and sell him weapons. Very few British people would beat up a poor person in order to get cheaper petrol. But our governments do this abroad all the time. Of the three worst human rights abusers in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Iran – two are our governments’ closest friends, showered with money, arms and praise. Why?

In Cairo, there is an area called the City of the Dead. It is a large ancient graveyard filled with tombs. One million families with nowhere else to go have had to break them open and live in the graves. It’s a symbol of the living death the dictators we arm and fund have inflicted on the Middle East. While the people live in coffins, Mubarak’s family buy palaces here in London: I just went to see the five-storey Georgian mansion they own round the corner from Harrods here in London.

It doesn’t have to be like this. We could make our governments as moral as we, the British people, are in our everyday lives. We could stop them trampling on the weak and fattening thugs. But to achieve it, we have to democratize our own societies and claim control of our own foreign policy. We would have to monitor and argue and campaign over it, and let our governments know there is a serious price for behaving viciously abroad. The Egyptian people have shown this week they will risk everything to stop being abused. What will we risk to stop our governments being abusers?

Revealed: US envoy's business link to Egypt
Frank Wisner, President Barack Obama's envoy to Cairo who infuriated the White House this weekend by urging Hosni Mubarak to remain President of Egypt, works for a New York and Washington law firm which works for the dictator's own Egyptian government.

it is inconceivable Hillary Clinton did not know of his employment by a company that works for the very dictator which Mr Wisner now defends in the face of a massive democratic opposition in Egypt.

So why on earth was he sent to talk to Mubarak, who is in effect a client of Mr Wisner's current employers?

Patton Boggs states that its attorneys "represent some of the leading Egyptian commercial families and their companies" and "have been involved in oil and gas and telecommunications infrastructure projects on their behalf". One of its partners served as chairman of the US-Egyptian Chamber of Commerce promoting foreign investment in the Egyptian economy. The company has also managed contractor disputes in military-sales agreements arising under the US Foreign Military Sales Act. Washington gives around $1.3bn (£800m) a year to the Egyptian military.

Mr Wisner joined Patton Boggs almost two years ago – more than enough time for both the White House and the State Department to learn of his company's intimate connections with the Mubarak regime. The New York Times ran a glowing profile of Mr Wisner in its pages two weeks ago – but mysteriously did not mention his ties to Egypt.

"The key problem with Wisner being sent to Cairo at the behest of Hillary," he says, "is the conflict-of-interest aspect... More than this, the idea that the US is now subcontracting or 'privatising' crisis management is another problem. Do the US lack diplomats?

"Even in past examples where presidents have sent someone 'respected' or 'close' to a foreign leader in order to lubricate an exit," Mr Noe adds, "the envoys in question were not actually paid by the leader they were supposed to squeeze out!"

A private estate called Egypt
Only a thousand families count in a country that Mubarak and his cronies regard as their fiefdom

There is a lot more behind Hosni Mubarak digging in his heels and setting his thugs on the peaceful protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square than pure politics. This is also about money. Mubarak and the clique surrounding him have long treated Egypt as their fiefdom and its resources as spoils to be divided among them.

Under sweeping privatisation policies, they appropriated profitable public enterprises and vast areas of state-owned lands. A small group of businessmen seized public assets and acquired monopoly positions in strategic commodity markets such as iron and steel, cement and wood. While crony capitalism flourished, local industries that were once the backbone of the economy were left to decline.

In the last few months of 2010, Egyptians protested for an increase of the minimum monthly wage to less than $240, but the now departed Nazif government decreed that less than $100 was sufficient as a basic income. This, at a time when the prices of food staples and utilities tariffs increased at very high rates. Indeed, as one local economist asserted, every single commodity and service cost significantly more under the Nazif government – which is the government of business that ended progressive taxation and replaced it by a single unified income tax.

Additionally, public social services underwent masked privatisation, taking health and education beyond the reach of vast segments of the population. Many poor families were forced to give up the hope of educating children and had to send them to do menial work to contribute to the income of the household. There was little public investment in most services, and in infrastructure such as roads, water and sewerage.

Thugs have become an arm of the police and they have been used as informants in popular quarters of the city. They are rewarded with licences to operate kiosks or run minibus services. In a sense, practices of thuggery have been adopted by the regime to maintain itself and protect the interests of the ruling elite for decades now.

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