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Neo-liberalism & Egypt’s Working Class

December 18, 2008 by  


By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS Columnist

Berkeley–Joel Beinin is a remarkable American scholar on Egyptian labor and the Middle East in general.  As a Jew from the United States, he spent several years on an Israeli kibbutz, but became disenchanted with the Zionist world view, and is a fierce critic of Tel Aviv’ policies.  He has strongly advocated a two State solution, and has been attacked aggressively by right-wing Zionists in North America and abroad for his positions.  He is a professor at Stanford, and currently is in residence here at Berkeley this year.

The working class has always been a dynamic force in Egypt.  Therefore, Bush’s Middle East initiative not only received complaints from our allies, but opposition to Free Trade from Cairo itself.  Our present Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice has criticized the Middle East regimes for their lack of stability and resistance to democracy.  Still,  several “grassroots,” movements in Egypt have advocated economic and political change – especially to allow for the direct election of the Presidency. 

In 2005, the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist Movement, won 202 seats within the national Parliament.  Although full democratic governmental reform was not realized in that poll, for the plebiscite was less than fully free and fair in that only twenty percent of the electorate voted.  In 2005 independent parties were allowed to partake, but by 2006 State repression had increased against those new political alliances – especially the Muslim Brotherhood.  Newspaper editors, who supported the new parliamentary  factions, were prosecuted.  Torture was commonly employed to induce terror within the larger Commonweal.

Democratization is strongly supported in Egypt and the Islamic World as a whole.  Although it is a popular Movement from below, Washington still does not apprehend the sentiment from these Movements since it will only deal with elite forces.

Neo-liberalism (the type of late Capitalism that has led to the current worldwide monetary calamity) has advanced the GNP (Gross National Product) of the Nile’s Republic, and has enhanced the the quality of the lifestyle for the haute bourgeois there,   but the “real” wages of the toiler are lower.  (This is what has happened in our ongoing worldwide fiscal crisis in the First World, too!)  Public services have been degraded.  Unprecedented strikes in Alexandria and all over the nation burst forth as a proletariat expression of resistance.

After 2004 the government directly tried to break up the industrial actions.  Cairo’s worker associations linked up with European Trade alliances.  Following international Trade Federation pressure, the laboring factions within that ancient North African country were not, thereafter, assaulted by the police.

This discouraged the Nile’s participation as a whole in International Capitalism as it had been evolving (and is now being questioned within the Metropolitan capitals themselves in Europe and America as well!)

More dramatic actions against privatization (the selling off of State owned industry and other resources to the private sector) broke out.  Previously, many labor-management struggles were within this emerging private sector.  The workers were being deprived of the promises of privitatization!  Even women employees struck!  Traditionally, women’s wages were low, but they were cast down even more under Neo-liberalization.  This put a tremendous stress on the women who were forced into industrial drudgery.

The labor clashes only increased.  Most were won by the Unions.  More remarkably, though, the government remained neutral.  Beinen surmised that this was connected to a retreat from democratization.  (Strangely, democratization was a main [American] Neo-Conservative goal for the Middle East, and this represented a gross failure for them and the Bush Administration!) 

The situation in Cairo — and in much of the developing world, also — is that no business can operate without cronyism with the government.  Further, the NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations)  are politically responsible to their international donors, and not to the country  — or the people — in which they operate.  Thus, they function separately from the people and their aspirations.

The Non-Democratic Brotherhood is the the only real opposition to the government.  Yet, they are too weak to confront the Center (of power).

Middle Class activists have connected with the workers, but they have not made a political impact as yet.  Above all, though, the basis for democratic change resides within the Working Class.  As a Union leader declared, “Politics and workers’ rights are inseparable!”

A resistance has developed that continues in the line of Ikhwani Muslimoon and other 20th century Muslim “reforming” scholars, combining Socialism and Islamic Law. Although Egyptian labor is poorly organized, it is still crafted after the predominantly successful European model.

10-52, MMNS

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