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I S THE ECONOMIC CRISIS A THREAT TO DEMOCRACY? – Pages 6 -7
JANUARY 2012 N o 1201
Suez: revolution or Salafism?
Recent violence in Tahrir Square has confirmed the split between Egypt’s armed forces and the protestors. Meanwhile in Suez the Salafists, who triumphed in the legislative elections, will have to respond to demands for social justice and freedom
GASTON CHAISSAC – ‘Composition’ (1960)
Presidents who don’t preside by Serge Halimi
European summits come and go and the White House and Congress bicker endlessly, to no effect. “The markets” are well aware of this, they see the elected representatives of the American people running round like headless chickens, at the mercy of forces they created but are now unable to control. Yet there will soon be presidential elections in the US, France, Russia and elsewhere. The media are concentrating on these, creating a surreal sense of disconnection between words and action. Ordinary people may not expect the candidates to do much, or anything at all, but they do at least know all about their records, their faults, their friends, associates and networks. The attention is on Barack Obama and Newt Gingrich, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, rather than the hedge funds and credit institutions.
But what use are the candidates? Sarkozy, whose monetary policy reflects the interests of BNP Paribas (1), has accused the British prime minister, David Cameron, of trying to make the UK “an off-shore zone in the heart of Europe”. The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, angrily attacked “the boundless greed, the quest for ever-increasing profits on the financial markets, which are to blame for the economic and banking crisis we have been facing since 2008, a crisis that has come to affect whole countries” (2). It did not stop him from exposing ruined and penniless European nations to that “boundless greed”. As the Bundesbank president, Jens Weidmann, explained to them: “It would be fatal to completely remove the disciplinary effect of rising interest rates. When credit becomes expensive for states, the appeal of further borrowing sinks” (3). If the most heavily indebted countries cannot control the urge to yield to the “appeal”, or the recession precludes any return to financial balance, or their creditors’ “ever-increasing profits” finally strangle them altogether, the European Union will help, by imposing a fine… Private banks will continue to be given all the credit they ask for, at little or no cost. Thus, they will be able to lend to the indebted states, and make a handsome profit.
The comfortable future lined up for capital doesn’t save it from verbal abuse. This is now the paradox that marks all pre-election periods. Last month Obama warned fellow citizens of threats to social mobility and democracy: “Inequality distorts our democracy. It gives an outsize voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists. … The wealthiest Americans are paying the lowest taxes in over half a century … Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1%. One per cent!” He also insisted that “the free market has never been a free licence to take whatever you want from whoever you can” and that he considered it essential “to rebuild the middle class”.
No one thinks he will achieve that objective, or reduce the hold that money has on the political system, or impose progressive tax reforms. He has done nothing about these for the past three years and has not said how he means to achieve them if he is re-elected. In this respect, he is a living incarnation of what the system has become: a cockleshell adrift on the ocean, with a demoted captain shouting orders as the hurricane brews. If this election year does not produce the political will and necessary means to regain the powers currently held by finance, all future elections will be to no avail.
Translated by Barbara Wilson (1) Michel Pébereau, who has just stepped down as chairman of BNP Paribas, sat on government councils discussing public assistance to the banking sector and the Paris proposals on sovereign debt, which were tipped in his bank’s favour. BNP Paribas was a big buyer of Greek and Italian sovereign debt. See “Michel Pébereau, le banquier dans les coulisses de l’Elysée”, Le Monde, Paris, 2 December 2011. (2) See Les Echos, Paris, 16-17 December 2011. (3) See The New York Times, 14 December 2011.
y François Pradal
’m against Egypt becoming an Islamic state, but I would rather see a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government than have the military regime stay in place,” said Ghehareb Saqr. I met him in a Suez café, close to the entrance of the Canal from the Red Sea. Saqr, a militant communist, is in charge of airconditioning at Misr-Iran Textile, where workers had just won a 10% pay rise after a three-week strike.
Ahmed Mahmud, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and leading candidate for the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Suez, echoed this: “I would rather see a democratically elected communist government than the military regime. The armed forces should answer to the government, the way they do in France, and should not have special prerogatives.” Mahmud, 60, had just been released at the end of a threeyear prison sentence and was surrounded by young supporters. Asked about the protests in Suez and in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which started again on 19 November 2011, he distanced himself from the national position of the FJP: “Although I am not calling for the square to be occupied again, I support the demonstrators’ demands and denounce the human rights violations. We must keep up the pressure on the military regime.”
He was less in favour of strikes: “This is not the best time [to strike], given that the economy has shrunk by $40bn. But the workers’ demands are legitimate.” The militants (of both sexes) around him were unconvinced: “People on poverty wages can’t wait.” What about the planned constitution? “It must include all Egyptians,” said Mahmud. “To protect Egypt’s national interests, we aim to build the broadest possible coalition, one that includes Christians.” Whether the FJP is motivated by a desire to unite, anxious not to cut itself off from Egypt’s young people (who are so eager for revolution), or opportunistic, it seems to have accepted that it must break with the Supreme Council of the
Armed Forces (SCAF) and take part in the democratic process.
In December 2011 the election campaign was in full swing on Suez’s main thoroughfare, from the old colonial quarter of Port Taufik (1) to Arbaeen Square, the equivalent of Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Banners made from sheets hung between lampposts, palm trees and electricity poles. Candidates held meetings under awnings like those Egyptians put up after a funeral. Salafist and feloul (counter-revolutionaries who support the military regime, often former members of Hosni Mubarak’s party) campaign staff put up posters with photos of their candidates; though the only female candidate on the Salafist list (every party must have at least one female candidate) had her photo replaced with a picture of a flower.
One hundred and nine independent candidates were standing for two seats; 12 formations were contesting four more. Everyone was brandishing their party’s emblem: a pair of scales for the Muslim Brotherhood or a fanous (Ramadan lantern) for the Salafist al-Nour Party; a mobile phone, a house or a bottle of water for other parties. Apart from the Islamists, none of the parties that emerged from the revolution had managed to establish a foothold, and the older established parties had disqualified themselves. The left was not in the running – the distinction between leftwing and rightwing is unclear, so similar are their policies. (In the end, the three Islamist parties won 78% of the vote, the four liberal parties took 14% and four feloul parties took 7%, while the Nasserist Party got less than 0.1%. The Islamists can therefore expect to take four or five of the six seats.)
Continued on page 2
François Pradal is a journalist inside this issue Return of the US right, as government bails out big business Page 4 End of the affair: Europe falls out of love with the euro Page 5 Rangoon: will a fast track to development help the Burmese people? Page 8 Maoist rebellion: India’s Supreme Court challenges a local government Page 10
New Amazons? Women take the reins of power in Latin America Page 12 Past Empire: what nation states have to learn from earlier forms of rule Page 14 Room at the bottom: what use is a degree in a McJob economy? Page 16 The Global Fund: poised to turn the tide against AIDS and malaria Pages i–iv