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Contextualizing the Egyptian and Tunisian struggles

February 6, 2011

As the people of Egypt continue to struggle for freedom from the abusive Mubarak regime it is important for those of us in the US to think about the role of the US government and the historical significance of this liberation struggle.

It is important to continue to follow the daily news coming out of Egypt, but it is just as important that we understand the context of this struggle. There has been some good commentary and analysis on the contextual significance of the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings.

Naomi Prins helps us understand that the uprising in Egypt is not just a response to the politically repressive Mubarak regime, it is also a response to the economic conditions imposed by Capitalism. Prins states, “Mubarak wasn’t pushing subprime loans onto Egyptians; instead, he was embarking on an economic strategy that entailed selling large pieces of Egypt’s banks to the highest international bidder.

When it comes to the US role in Egypt it is important that we understand the US has backed the Mubarak regime for decades. And while it is likely that the US will support Mubarak stepping down they are not likely to allow the Egyptians to determine their own future. Here Paul Street has some important things to say about the Obama administration’s response to far. Street correctly acknowledges that the US will not allow real democracy in Egypt, since it would conflict with the long term goals of the US and its allies in the region.

“……the administration is certain to strictly qualify any support it might be seen as giving the people in the Arab streets for fear of helping reinforce a new wave of democratic national independence across the oil-rich Middle East, whose petroleum reserves are seen by American planners as too critical for U.S. power for them to be controlled by the region’s actual residents.

The strategic and resource acquisition motives of the US in Egypt are further supported by an excellent piece from Vijay Prashad on the people the US has used to work with the Egyptian regime to protect elite interests. Thus, the “transition” away from the Mubarak regime that the US is likely to endorse will involve backing the vice president Omar Suleiman. Stephen Soldz points out in a piece on CounterPunch that Suleiman, the most prominent intelligence officer in the country, has been involved in torture for years while being a US/CIA asset.

There are issues that civil society in the US must come to terms with if we are to truly support the Egyptian and Tunisian struggles. We have to be willing to question our own understanding of the Arab world, the role of Islam and our notions of liberal Democracy. These are issues that were the subject of a recent show on Al Jazeera that involved a conversation with Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek.


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