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The situation in Egypt remains highly unsettled and the eventual outcome is still an unknown, but two things are clear: first that Obama is a failure, in spite of all his record of fine sounding rhetoric; and secondly, the empire struggles on, with as good a chance of winning this round with the Tahrir Square democracy protestors.
Obama’s speech in Cairo was essentially about terrorists, extremists, and the U.S.’s will to combat them, surrounded with a bunch of other nice language about friendship with Islam, democracy, and growing economies. Obama’s recent slow and ineffectual reaction to events in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt demonstrate the lie behind the fine sounding rhetoric of “hope” and “change” that he used in his election campaign and the fine sounding rhetoric of “democracy” used in his Cairo speech. At this point in time they are meaningless words in relation to events in Egypt.
Obama fits in very well with the military-industrial-political elite of the U.S.; so well that he is incapable of acting in support of the very democratic ideal he purportedly wishes for the people of the Middle East. With a demonstration that was largely peaceful, that covered people from all facets of life in Egypt — save the military-political elite — Obama hesitated in support of real democracy in Egypt.
Unfortunately this is not surprising. The U.S. is meddling in politics throughout the region even though one of its favorite public mantras is about allowing no “foreign” interference in the affairs of other countries, that they have to settle it themselves through dialogue and discussion. The U.S. is the most common foreign meddler in the region, using a variety of means to influence their control of the regimes, people, and resources of the region. The influence comes in various strands.
The most obvious is the military, with the unilateral military attacks and occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan being predominate. Further military support is provided to the autocratic regimes of the area — Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Pakistan — who deny the very democracy the U.S. disingenuously calls for, and use it to support the elites who survive on the beneficence of U.S. foreign aid. That aid is frequently tied to military purchases from U.S. firms, thus recycling the U.S. dollar to maintain the electoral base in the homeland and the employees of weapons manufacturers across the states. The military complex also incorporates covert actions within the region, and supports the renditions and torture of “unprivileged enemy belligerents”, the new phrase incorporated into U.S. military law that removes all rights of being a person established over centuries of customary international law.
The current situation in Egypt reinforces how the military are tied in with their allegiance to the existing order. Their very passivity in controlling the reactionary pro-Mubarak thugs and police and allowing them into Tahrir Square in order to attack the democracy protestors signals their passive receptive allegiance to the existing regime. While they have not fired on the demonstrators, their passivity reflects Obama’s passivity in allowing the government time to try and implement some action that will allow it to stay in power, thus continuing U.S. hegemony in the region.
Economics is another area where there is a large influence. That cannot be isolated from the military, as explained above with the circling loans for military hardware. The more powerful economic machine is that of neo-liberal free market capitalism. The “Washington consensus” that pushes those financial tactics is an economic order consisting of those countries — the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., and the E.U. — along with the many associated non-government organizations and think tanks. The majority of the latter are actually funded by the governments of the countries they represent — at least within Canada and the U.S. This is coupled with the global institutions that collude for our overall governance, among the largest of which are the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The many global financial agreements for “free trade” speak only to the free flow of finance capitalism, and not the free flow of labor and democracy.
Two facets of economic power are visible in Egypt: pre-demonstration and post-demonstration. Before the demonstration, Egypt suffered from high inflation, high interest rates, rapidly increasing food prices, an employment situation wherein 51 percent of employment is in the low wage service sector, an official unemployment rate of 9.4 percent, and as with most economies, a rising and large gap between the few of the elites that have and the many who struggle with little. That, in short, is the neo-liberal new economic order, the harvesting of the wealth to the few, abolishing as much as possible the labor unions, shifting manufacturing to low wage, poor working condition environments. This is coupled with massive financial aid from the government (taxpayers’ dollars) to the financial sector corporations of the world and the imposition of “structural adjustment programs” in other countries whose economies are suffering under the globalization of capital.
That is where the Egypt is now, on a dividing line. On one side is the old financial order that has created the demand of the demonstrators for both economic equality and for getting rid of the elitist autocratic political control. On the other is either a continuance of the same, if Mubarak or his cronies stay in power, or, if not, the IMF has already hinted at the economic chaos that will follow the change of power, ready and waiting to step into the country with massive financial aid that will impose the same non-democratic financial regime on the country once again.
The empire is faltering, but it is still powerful. Obama is a failure in the context of his own words, but is operating well within the parameters of the Washington power structures. The combined forces of military and economic power are still very large and will continue to pose a great danger to the people of the Middle East. The fight for democracy and economic equality will continue on well after the success of the demonstrators.