Friday, February 4, 2011

Many More Teachable Moments from Egyptian Crisis Than Meet the Eye

We have seen this movie before--thousands march into the streets against a brutal or at least ruthless dictator and we stand by applauding while moderately and never obnoxiously patting ourselves on the back for our love of freedom and democracy that we celebrate and believe is a universal value and what happens? Many times the revolution is crushed and we go back (after an seemly silence and rebukes) to going back to the way things always were.  This pattern of events maybe the last of these episodes if we can encourage ourselves and our media to look more deeply at the pattern. The US as David Rieff points out in his excellent piece for the New Republic. Since 1975 as Rieff points out the US has given $23 billion in Aid to Egypt and still the country ranks..

"According to the U.N. Human Development Index, .. one hundred and first, between Mongolia and Uzbekistan. In the context of the Arab Middle East, it ranks tenth, below not just rich countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, but behind Libya, Jordan, and Algeria as well. According to Isobel Coleman of the Council on Foreign Relations, over the past decade, Egypt has experienced rising income inequality while failing to address root poverty. Ordinary Egyptians, she writes, simply not feel they were “reaping the benefits of [their country’s economic] expansion.” Food prices are rising to levels not seen since the global food crisis of 2007-2008, a recent World Bank study showed that the higher educational system is doing a very poor job of producing qualified graduates, and, whatever their qualifications, unemployment among the young is well over 30 percent nationally. "

 "Washington seems never to have believed that any quid pro quo should have been demanded in return for the $28 billion USAID provided over the past 36 years. And yet, there is absolutely no reason why successive U.S. administrations should not have made this assistance conditional on, say, a serious attempt by the Egyptian government to curb corruption. It is not as if Mubarak would have then said, “That’s it, I’m breaking ties with Israel, lifting the Egyptian blockade of Gaza, and seeking a rapprochement with the Iranians.”

As Rieff goes onto argue things are worse in Pakistan--another major receipient of aid:

"According to a report issued this January by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, more than four million people remain homeless six months after last year’s floods. And, in those regions, Islamist charities are often the only providers of medical services, shelter, and food that is not prohibitively expensive for most internally displaced people. And yet, while the U.S. government would certainly like to see something done (rather as it would have “liked” to see less corruption and torture in Egypt), it has not put anywhere near the pressure on the Pakistani government to alleviate these people’s suffering that it has in pushing Islamabad to escalate its military operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan along the Afghan border. "

When we send money for weapons and where we gain influence over those governments as a consequence we should not be pressured by the military so that they believe that these funds are there's
to keep. Nor should we take the Orwellian lies that our government then tells us about the ways those funds are supposed to be helping the economy more broadly. Rieff  refers in particular to the
'' the grotesque claim that “USAID has helped Egypt become a “success story in economic development.” More specifically, the site claims particular success in improving the quality of education, and, the administration of justice,” improved “access to justice for disadvantaged groups..”
The only response to that type of whitewash is quite simply "garbage."

However the final situation in Egypt turns out the teachable moments coming out of the crisis are many and need to be taken seriously after CNN and all the world's news crews depart the scene and we move onto the next crisis. Understanding this crisis in more detail might help in fact avoid the next one.

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