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Egypt: The Prospective Politics After the Increase in Food Prices
Egypt: The Prospective Politics After the Increase in Food Prices
The increase in the price of bread, a number of repurcussuions of the larger inflation of food prices on a global scale in recent years, has brought about manifestations, arrests and fatalities. Egypt questions its future, in the light of a probable withdrawal of Mubarak to the candidacy for the next presidential elections in 2011.
Tuesday, May 13,2008 18:59
by Stefano Torelli UK.Equilibri.net

The increase in the price of bread, a number of repurcussuions of the larger inflation of food prices on a global scale in recent years, has brought about manifestations, arrests and fatalities. Egypt questions its future, in the light of a probable withdrawal of Mubarak to the candidacy for the next presidential elections in 2011. They urge reforms to speed up the growth of the country. The American influence and the presence of groups organised by the Islamist matrix, inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, represents the dilemma of the society and the Egyptian political class. On the horizon there is a new executive class which must live alongside these two opposite forces.

Equilibri.net (13 May 2008)

The Strikes and the Muslim Brotherhood

The recent tension in Egypt caused by the continuous rise in the price of bread, has opened the debate regarding a state asset still not respecting the principle democracies, against a social condition which needs a profound structural reform in order to step out of the unease which characterises it. On one hand the same conditions with which the popular protests are shown, and on the other, the repressive response of the regime, which led to the death of about twenty people in the square"s clash, represent the nature of the relationships between the State and society. In Egypt, approximately 44% of the population live in conditions of poverty, according to the United Nations standards, with less than two dollars per day (source: UNDP, United Nations Development Programme, 2007). The data supplied indicates how the social discontent can easily lead to a revolt, fueled also by contingencies pretending to ride a structural unease. The sight subtracted by the primary excellence, such as bread, explains in this sense the anger of the Egyptians, now unwilling to put up with similar frustrations. Despite the counter measure undertaken by President Hosni Mubarak, in particular the benefits to the bakers (thanks to those which the State sells to the producers of flour at inferior prices to those of the market, in order to decrease the price of the supplies and therefore make the bread more accessible to the poorer families), it is the same government responsible for the difficult social condition.

In the face of a progressive polarisation of the internal positions, the propoganda of the Muslim Brotherhood finds fertile ground. The presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is a unicum in respect to the relationship between the organisation and the state entity in any other Arabic country. First of all, it is well known that the movement was founded in Egypt at the end of the 1920s, and this makes its position in the Egyptian territory more deeply rooted in respect to what has happened in the other countries in which it is present. In other respects, for this sort of identification of the movement with the Egyptian territory and population, every succeeding president in Cairo, since Nasser a Sadat (killed in 1981 by a fundamentalist organisation linked to the Muslim Brotherhood), had to compromise and was not able to embank or eliminate the Brotherhood actions. Egypt therefore enforces a policy half way between the acceptance and the repression of the Brotherhood, whereas – to quote the two most extreme examples – the Jordan Monarchy made a fundamental ally from the movement for the legitimation of its power on the basis of the common membership of the Islamic religion, while Syria brutally eliminated the presence of the Brotherhood on its ground by means of killing around 20 thousand people in the bombing of the city, Hama, in 1982.

In Egypt, the members of the Muslim Brotherhood cannot officially take part in the political life of the country. However, many members of the movement take seats in Parliament, thanks to the elections in the rows of affiliated parties. The influence of the Brotherhood was also developed thanks to the many social actions carried out, especially in the education and health fields, as well as economic help to families from the lowest layers of society. Equal to the power in the social camp, the presence of the Muslim Brotherhod is also very strong in the union organisations and the representation of the various social and working classes. In this way, rising to a real movement of opposition to President Mubarak, accenting the Islam nature of the movement, the Brotherhood attracts sympathy from the poor classes. On the other hand, these classes see their rights of systematic representation violated by a regime still too overbearing, closed and not democratic, despite consideration by the International Community, one of the most moderate and democratic in the Middle East.

Possible Scenarios and the Actors Involved

Mubarak therefore fears seeing his regime overthrown by a force of funnelled mass in an Islamist movement; however, there are still serious doubts on the effectiveness triggered by the reform. The tensions in recent weeks and Mubarak"s fears do not seem to be sufficient for a real change in this sense. The privatisation process of the companies and the slow opening of the global market proceeds was, in many cases, useful to the President to make it up to the military establishment. The Army always had a rule of the first plan of the country, as demonstrated by the fact that the three Presidents who went on to lead Egypt all come from military backgrounds. However, In the last 10 years, Mubarak wanted to renovate the executive class in parts, giving more power to the new bourgeois generations, more open to liberalism, but needing to counterbalance the partial loss of political influence of the military. Therefore, the privatisation process became the occassion to redistribute their economical power in the direction of the Army. Sixty percent of the banking sector, an obvious case, is controlled by military apparatus. The President is in this way opening the door to his succession, therefore able to count on the fidelity of the Army, which the stability of the regime depends on.

The figure of Gamal Mubarak stands out in particular as the son of the current president, filo-western and under United Status influence. Despite the continuous denials of a "dynastic," succession, the facts seem to demonstrate the opposite. Gamal was assigned General Secretary of the National Democratic Party (NDP), the majority party in which Mubarak took part. The election of Ahmed Nazif to Prime Minister, a man committed to Gamal, seems to be a clear sign in this sense. For the presidential elections in 2001 there is still time and the son-dolphin of the president could plan his succession (Mubarak will be 83 years old and it is unlikely that he will put himself forward again for a legislation of 6 years). At the same time, they could be the first true multi-party elections of the country, after the constitutional reform in 2005 which opened the way to a similar process. In that same year the first presidential elections with the new system were held, but the vote was conditioned by the limitations to the opposition"s movements, such as the case of the arrest of Ayman Nour, leader of the el-Ghad party ("Tomorrow"). As it has been six years since the electoral reform, it could be very useful to the more democratic elections.

Here the actions of the Muslim Brotherhood enter in the field, which for decades have attempted to form a society in the country true to the Islam rules, suggesting that Islam is the principle inspirer of a third practicable path in respect to the western democracy and the Middle East regimes. The social unease represents the point which levers on the population to make it adhere to the Brotherhood"s programmes, contrasting with the current politics, pointing out the responsibility of the poor living conditions in which the citizens are confined. After all, the 88 parliamentarians affiliated with the movement, who currently represent the front of the opposition most extensive – close to parties such as el-Ghad and Kifaya, of the more lay form – are the mirror of a society which appreciates the rhetoric and the intents of the Brotherhood, commiting their destiny to these. Therefore the fear returns which, through the democratic process, can arrive at a State governed by the Islamic forces (of such inspiration), with all that which it concerns. The same process, therefore, which brought Hamas to power in the Palestinian territory and, in the 90s, the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, giving the road to an almost 10 year long civil war. Not only: the westernised and secular Turkey sees a party of Islamic inspiration in power /the AKP) which, although moderate and respectful of the principle democracies, represents a symptom of the rediscovery of the Islamic values on the part of the Muslim society. At the Eastern border it is then the estabilised presence of Hamas, part of the Brotherhood in Palestine (even if with other substantial differences regarding Egypt) in the Gaza Strip, which makes Mubarak"s condition even more delicate.

In Conclusion: Washington"s Longa Manus

However, Egypt is also a fundamental ally of the West and Washington in the Middle Eastern area, together with Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Moreover, Cairo, together with Amman, is the only government to maintain formal relationships with Israel. Egypt depends largely on help from the United States concerning its security (it is the third country to receive military funds from the US, after Saudi Arabia and Israel, and before Colombia) and the supply of wheat (of fundamental importance, as the recent events in Egypt have shown...) and other foods. This dependence shows that profound structural changes are not likely in the mid-term, despite the influence from the Muslim Brotherhood. If necessary, this will be banned or kept aside from the Egyptian executive, in order to not allow it access to power, as also agreed by Washington. The problem will consist of the value of the popular reaction to the numerous anti-democratic acts to keep the "Pharaoh" standing (in the propoganda of the Brotherhood thus called Mubarak) corrupt and to analyse the United States" strategy in the region.

However, the Egyptian situation must be monitered as it is more than likely that it can represent one of the first test beds for the government of these countries in which the increase in the price of good foods is a primary repurcussions. The trend seems practically unstoppable, caused by the given agricultural political choices on a global level. The poorest zones are, and will be, the first to be directly hit by the food market trend and, without adequate reform which contrasts with this tendency, many African and Asian areas could explode.

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