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    Middle East
     Feb 11, 2011


CRISIS IN EGYPT
Bread, dignity and lies

By Pepe Escobar

So Omar "Sheik al-Torture" Suleiman has warned that the only alternative to dialogue with the opposition is "a coup". The suave United States Central Intelligence Agency point man for extraordinary renditions to Egypt, now Washington-anointed "orderly transition" conductor, may be more versed in electroshocks than onanism; otherwise he would have realized that a military dictatorship toppling itself still ends up as a military dictatorship.

Yet maybe that's exactly what he meant. Suleiman said protests are "very dangerous" - not so subtly implying the interference of

 
hidden agendas by foreign journalists; a subversive coalition of the US, Israel, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and al-Jazeera; the Muslim Brotherhood (MB); and all of the above (and all duly evoked by the regime).

Osama Saraya, editor-in-chief of the pro-government newspaper al-Ahram, who was there when Suleiman uttered his sinister warnings, is assured he meant not only a military coup, but an Islamist coup as well.

The street reaction was swift. The sit-in in front of parliament - a second front beside Tahrir Square - is now permanent; thousands of protesters have already forced military junta member turned Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq to relocate to the Civil Aviation Ministry on the other side of Cairo. Recapitulation: the current military junta in power is Suleiman, Shafiq, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi (minister of defense for 20 years now) and Lieutenant General Sami Annan (the army chief).

And what about thousands of workers protesting in front of the Oil Ministry? Blogger Hossam El-Hamalawy is right on the money; the "working class has officially entered the battle".

The MB for its part is giving the regime a deadline of "one week" to comply with popular demands. The April 6 Youth movement, in an e-mail to all members of its Facebook page, reminded them there are no talks with the regime until President Hosni Mubarak goes. Only then comes the meat of the matter; key constitutional reforms on civil rights, political freedom and judicial independence; and key new economic policies to fight poverty, unemployment, social injustice and monstrous corruption.

As for Sheik al-Torture's "dialogue" with the opposition, the street as well as a more institutionalized opposition strand has seen it for what it is; a mirage. No wonder strikes are spreading like wildfire; state media employees are abandoning ship; new cabinet appointees are resigning; the regime is trying every trick in the book - from prosecuting former ministers to offering a 15% raise in salaries; and street protests are getting bigger and bigger.

Diaa Rashwan, of the self-described Council of Wise Men, says the negotiations are dead; "The regime's strategy has been just to play for time and stall ... They don't really want to talk to anyone. At the start of this week they were convinced that the protests were going to fade away."

Meanwhile, around the Potomac ...
That's what you get when the horse you bet is of the addicted-to-torture kind. Washington's power players, their dedicated imperial courtiers, their hordes of media sycophants in bad suits, they are absolutely stunned.

Very few, if any, scattered around this cozy, wealthy, high-tech, sprawling apparatchik land could even imagine being confronted by a non-violent, non-sectarian, non-Islamist, non-ideological, non-hierarchical, leaderless, street-level revolution conducted by decent, ordinary citizens of - Holy Koran! - an Arab client-state.

There's no (decrepit) army to fight - or to make a cynical deal with (well, "Sheik al-Torture" and his military cohorts can always be bought, but they are not the enemy; they are "our" horses). Where's Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara, Ruhollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden when you need them?

There's no one to demonize, there's no "you're either with us or without us", there's no territory to be bombed by shock and awe. Unless you consider the "enemy" the youth groups (and not "wise men") that spearheaded the revolution, who on Sunday formed a coalition called Unified Leadership of the Youth of the Rage Revolution. "Wow, that sounds communist!" - many will be whispering at Langley.

The "enemy" is young Egyptians - guys from the April 6 Youth Movement, the Justice and Freedom Group, the Popular Campaign to Support [Mohamed] ElBaradei, the Democratic Front Party, and - terrorist alert! - the MB. That makes for a combined leadership of 14 guys in their late 20s to early 30s. In an ideal "us against them" world, a crack special forces team - or, more cost-effectively, a Reaper - would drone some realpolitik into their skulls.

How to topple Mubarak when the 325,000 goons/informers at central security and the 60,000 soldiers from the National Guard are under Mubarak's Ministry of Interior? And how to do it keeping the military dictatorship in place - the same military that got filthy rich by Mubarakism? How to make them accept some token electoral concessions to appease and demobilize the street revolution? And how to make this all credible, with the working class now into the fray, so that a mass of poor, rural, conscripted soldiers also don't start entertaining revolutionary ideas? (and we're not even mentioning the countryside, where 57% of Egypt lives, and 40% with less than $2 a day).

No wonder Washington is scared. No drone-infested surges apply.

Meanwhile, the other dictatorial pillars of "stability" in the Middle East - routinely described by imperial sycophants as "moderate" - are even more scared. Jordan's King Abdullah is pressing for "a quiet and peaceful transition" - as if Sheik al-Torture and his gang were Disney characters. That bastion of enlightenment, the House of Saud, at least showed its true colors, warning Washington that a hasty Mubarak departure could "undermine US interests" - as in "we're next".

Bread and torture
Under three decades of Mubarak, Egypt was kept poor - 116th place in the world for gross domestic product per capita. It's fair to say that lately it has been kept even poorer by Wall Street.

Corn is up 92% in a year, wheat is up 80% - with the usual knock-on effect on the cost of bread, meat and dairy products. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization has shown that global food prices have hit a record high, even higher than during the 2007/2008 food crisis. Food inflation now rules all over the world, not only Egypt (where, crucially, more than half of an average income goes for food; food price inflation in Egypt is at an enormous 17% a year).

But the absolute key point in all this is not rising demand from emerging giants such as India and China; cuts in food subsidies; states using more corn-based biofuel; or droughts and poor harvests in Russia, Australia, Argentina, or the next one in China. These are all factors. But to ask the protesters to pray for rain in China is a cheap shot. The absolute crucial factor is casino speculation by investment banks in food commodities.

To sum it all up: as much as the mortgage bubble exponentially increased the wealth of already wealthy global bankers (and plunged millions into homelessness), the food bubble works the same way (and is plunging tens of millions into starvation), with no end in sight.

That's a direct consequence of the deregulation operated by the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, approved by the Bill Clinton administration, and the advent of "dark" unregulated futures trading markets such as the Intercontinental Exchange in London - invented by Wall Street, European investment banks, and sectors of Big Oil.

Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar Robert Alvarez notes what hedge fund manager Michael McMasters told a US Senate panel in 2008; this amounts to "a form of electronic hoarding and greatly increases the inflationary effect of the market. It literally means starvation for millions of the world's poor."

Masters has estimated that on US exchanges, 64% of all wheat contracts were pure speculation. It's probably more by now. This is what George Soros described as "secretly hoarding food during a hunger crisis in order to make profits from increasing prices".

Then there's Goldman Sachs and its commodity index fund - plus the artificially created "demand shock", which is essentially inventing an artificial demand to buy wheat, and then setting up the price. Who cares about hungry people in Northern African countries when there are billions of easy dollars to be made? And the bubble will go on. And Egypt will keep suffering from it.

Talk about suffering. Creditors from the "international community" are already waiting like a pack of vultures to collect. Egypt owes 17.6 billion euros (US$24 billion) to France; 10.7 billion to the UK; 6.3 billion to Italy; 5.35 billion to the US; and 2.4 billion to Germany. The vulture-in-chief International Monetary Fund is preparing more structural adjustments.

The same "international community" is already busy diverting tourism flows to Egypt (55% of the country's foreign currency) to other destinations in Africa - while foreign capital is going, going, gone, following leads by the small Mubarak-linked oligarchy, which includes telecom tycoon Naguib Sawiris and steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz.

The Western power elites demand from Egypt political "stability" and preservation of the status quo. This implies total security for Israel, draconian isolation of Gaza and Egypt totally aligned with Saudi Arabia and Jordan as faithful US vassals.

That's not exactly what the street revolution wants - after they finish with phase I. The Unified Leadership of the Youth of the Rage Revolution, via its spokesperson, attorney Ziad al-Olaimai, 32, has laid out its seven key demands - for now. Here they are: resignation of Mubarak; immediate lifting of emergency law; release of all political prisoners; dissolution of both upper and lower chambers of parliament; formation of a national unity government to manage the transitional period; investigation by the judiciary of the abuses of security forces during the revolution; and protection of the protesters by the military.

And this would be only the beginning; a truly sovereign Egyptian government won't possibly behave as a subservient US satrapy. But now there's no turning back. The street knows that it simply can't pack up and go home - as the regime badly wants.

They know that in the dead of night Suleiman could order his immense "secret" goon squad to ship the hundreds of thousands of them to the torture chambers he runs on behalf of the CIA, such as Abu Zaabal, or the maximum-security dungeon Scorpion, so they can be waterboarded, or electro-shocked upside down, or forced to lie in a electrified bed frame, or be beaten by electric cattle prods, or be anally raped by specially trained dogs, or have their spines hyper-extended to the point of fracture, or be kept for days in the dreaded "tiny coffin" cage, or simply be left to rot wrapped head to toe in duct tape, like a mummy.

And Suleiman would be there to supervise it all. All in secret, of course, so the "international community" would not be disturbed in their silent praise of "stability".

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

(Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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