James Houle: A Revolt From Neo-Liberalism?

Redwood Valley

The Arab Revolt

What are the common features of all eight Arab countries that are now in open revolt against their governments? Lack of democratic governments, heavy dependence upon the US for military assistance, and dedication to the Neo-Liberalism that has made their ruling classes rich and the majority of their citizens impoverished. From Morocco to Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain and Jordan, we find four kings, four autocrats, no free elections, no middle class and rampant corruption. The wealthy class in each of these eight has been enriched through the economic system called “neoliberalism” that the United States, the UK, the EU, the World Bank and the IMF have promoted over the past half century. While outright thievery of public funds by the royal family has played a role in some cases, more often than not it has been by allowing free and unregulated trade, and monopolization of commerce by a favored few, that the wealthy and well-placed have come to hold all the wealth.

Abu Atris, writing in Al Jazeera English, 02/24/11 describes this as “a conflation of politics and business under the guise of privatization – less a violation of the system than business as usual. Mubarrak’s Egypt is the quintessential neoliberal state.” David Harvey, the English geographer and lecturer at CCNY, explains that a cardinal feature of neoliberal thinking is the belief that well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within a framework of strong defense of private property rights, free markets and free trade. The state’s only legitimate function should be to assure the sanctity of open markets. (A Brief History of NeoLiberalism, David Harvey. Oxford University Press 2005.) “The assurance that individual freedoms can best be guaranteed by the freedom of the market and of trade is and has long dominated the stance of the US and of the IMF towards the rest of the world.” We all talk about bringing freedom to the impoverished when what we actually want is a system that assures that the common man has as little on his plate as possible.

Will A Truly Revolutionary Change Take Place in Egypt?

Putting neoliberalism into practice in Egypt has led to unemployment rising to over 20%, a weakened health care and public education, and more than 20% of the population living on less than $2 per day. Labor unrest has been widespread for many years: there have been 1900 strikes between 2004 and 2008 involving over 1.4 million workers. There has been little attempt to protect workers as the neoliberal policies of Mubarrak and his son Gamel have driven the minimum wage down from 60% of gross national product per capita in 1984 to only 13% in 2007. Previously nationalized companies were opened to private sector investment by the wealthy and well-positioned. Board seats on both public and private sector companies were distributed to high level military officers. Typical of the pattern is the fact that the General Secretary of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) Ahmad Ezz has suddenly cornered the entire market on steel while the Parliament Minister Talaat Mustafa was able to purchase vast tracts of public land without competitive bidding so that he might build upscale housing. According to Abu Atris, “the failure of neoliberalism to deliver human well-being to the large majority of Egyptians was one of the prime causes of the January 25th Revolution. At this point in the “transition”, we see the highest ranks of the Army no longer interested in the tricky job of actually ruling Egypt as they once did after King Farouk was deposed by Colonels Naquib and Nasser in 1952. Now they want reassurance merely that their plush life style and corporate connections are guaranteed. We can expect former officials of the Mubarrak government to come forward dressed as independents and suddenly supporting open democracy. Amr Moussa, Secretary General of the Arab League and Mohammed Baradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency are typical of these. They will talk of reform and a new independent foreign policy but will quietly assure the United States of their continuing support for Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. If real change were to come about in Egypt, it will take far more action on the streets than we have seen so far.

Is Israel Our Only True Interest In the Middle East?

“The core of US interest in all of this is Israel” said David Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator. “It has always been easy to be the carrier of the Israeli agenda when one had merely to deal with the Arab autocrats, but when one has to deal with Arab democrats, that’s not possible.” The Egyptian Army collaborated in Israel’s murderous siege of Gaza, assisted in the CIA’s rendition program, provided torture services to the United States, and has served Israeli interests by keeping the people of Gaza on meager rations with no means for human betterment. The peace treaty Anwar Sadat signed back in 1979 has assured that Israel need no longer feel threatened from the south. This cooperation and this treaty are unlikely to survive if there is a real transition to democracy Egypt. This is a major concern to both the US and Israel and will probably dominate our government’s thinking in the months ahead.

Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Yemen: Is There Any Common Thread?
Each of these countries, now in open rebellion against their governments, has received massive military assistance from the United States over past decades. Why do we do this? If our purpose has been to provide environments wherein democracy will prosper, where governments are open, and where there are social programs for improvement of the lives of the common people, then why are all of these countries still dominated by autocratic rulers and why are the majority of their people living in poverty? Obviously our policy has been primarily to assure stable governments that support American military strategies, neoliberalism, and our commercial and political interests in the region. Primary amongst our political interests has been the survival of the Zionist State of Israel, regardless of their violations of human rights, periodic attacks upon their neighbors, and their lack of any resources of particular value to us. The recent US veto in the United Nations of a condemnation of illegal settlement activity by Israel in the West Bank exposed our incredibly contradictory policy. We have worked for years to restrain Israeli encroachments into Palestinian land. Yet when the Palestinians themselves demand UN action, we backed off and supported our troublesome ally, much to our own disgrace.

The United States Sixth Fleet moves in close to Libya’s shores hoping to take appropriate action to ensure the swift departure of the Gaddafi government and its replacement by friends of the Pentagon and State Department. In Bahrain, the United States looks aside while Saudi King Abdullah sends 30 heavy tanks across the 16 mile causeway to support his fellow Sunni Monarch Hamid Al Khalifa in the continued suppression of the Shi’ite majority on this small island where we berth our 5th Fleet. Any Shi’ite trouble might inflame the Shi’ite minority living in the eastern Saudi Arabian towns of the Qatif oasis. These people have been poorly treated for more than 50 years by the Saudi royals. There is no likelihood that Hillary Clinton will repeat her mantra about “an orderly transition to democracy” in Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, or Oman where we find these royals much to our liking. How long will it be before the Palestinians come out in the West Bank demanding the US support them in their demand for democracy and freedom from Israeli domination? There will be much more to come.