Saturday, November 05, 2016

Egypt Digs Itself Back To 1977

Ahmed Kamal, a medical student, was arrested by police and delivered to his family the following day via the mortuary. Ahmed had been sentenced to two years in absentia and only recently arrested and killed by Egyptian police, possibly tortured to death. Sometime in the past this may have been breaking news, causing outrage in Egyptian society, and perhaps even internationally. But in today’s Egypt, this is a repeated story, predictable in every way.
The state will cover up for its security apparatus, and as its ridiculous story is exposed, details may shift slightly until the whole ordeal is forgotten. If Giulio Regeni’s murder did not bring about any accountability for the Egyptian regime or its security bodies, it is highly unlikely that Ahmed Kamal’s murder will result in any better.
Security bodies will deny wrongdoing; forensics may end up fabricating a report like they did in the case of Khaled Said. Regime apologists at best will ask people to wait for meaningless investigations by the state. Even if the forensics report doesn’t appease state institutions and the evidence is found to be compelling, then arrests may be made, but only to silence public pressure. These arrests will not result in a condemning verdict, and if they do it will be repealed quickly.
The murder of Ahmed Kamal and the story that follows is not an isolated incident; it reflects the workings of a brutal regime whose institutions are complicit in crimes against Egyptians and works in perfect harmony to provide impunity to its members. This state of complicity and criminality is hard to digest even when witnessing it. Yet time and time again the regime has consistently proven that this systemic injustice is its modus operandi.
Police brutality is the government’s chosen means of looking out for its interests and enforcing policy. While political protests bore the brunt of re-establishing these means, the same will be applied to enforce harsh economic policies advocated for by Egypt’s ‘allies’.
An implicit agreement between the Egyptian government and the people was negotiated over the past six years, following the murder of Khaled Said whereby police brutality and government impunity became more or less accepted. Yet, even with the carte blanche provided by the regime’s supporters to use excessive violence, dire economic conditions may breech that agreement. Egyptians are angered by their struggle with the prices of basic goods, medicine, and cost of living.
Despite this anger, the people do not have the power, or perhaps the will, to attempt to change the regime or depose President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Any such attempt may start a new wave of harsher economic conditions that the people are not ready to handle. The people have willfully given up their right to protest this regime. Many feel compelled to live with the consequences having deprived themselves of influence. But can we call the inability to remove Al-Sisi or influence his regime’s policies ‘stability’?
Egypt needs reforms in order to address its ailing economy, but these reforms need to be political rather than strictly by the numbers. It’s disingenuous and far removed from reality to claim that a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an answer to Egypt’s ailing economy. The incessant advocacy to impose IMF conditions, such as the value-added tax or lifting of subsidies, is far too reminiscent of the 1977 bread riots. Likewise, back then, subsidies were lifted causing a large wave of protests that left 79 dead and 566 injured. These austerity measures were taken without regard for the political backlash or the context which made these measures back-breaking to the average Egyptian.
Besides, the government is underperforming in most sectors, exhibiting even more incompetence than under Hosni Mubarak. No matter what the plan is, it is unlikely it can be executed efficiently, with the farfetched assumption these are the reforms Egypt needs.
What hope is there for a country whose economy is systemically worsened by pouring state money into a military economy that neither pays taxes nor contributes back to the state budget? How can any tax reforms be sustainable while the military continues to take money out of the economic cycle? What mechanisms or possible oversight could there be for a regime that has ignored its own laws as well as international treaties to further its own political and economic agenda?
Can any loan or condition stop the military from manipulating the market and muscling out competition to push forward its own products and services? What is there to address policies that favour the army’s air conditioning units, bottled water, and food products that cripple civilian competition? Can any condition be imposed to change the contracts that are being delivered directly to the army and revenue not being pumped back into the economy through taxes and parliamentary oversight?
For many in the Egyptian government, corruption is a way of life they’re not willing to give up. Economists advocating loan conditions fail to address these pressing issues that are key to Egypt’s structural economic problems. The present debate sidesteps some of the most important factors that are negatively influencing the economy. Some of these factors include political repression, lack of judiciary reforms, the police state, and military economic interests driving policy.
Ahmed Kamal is a recurring story, symptomatic of a security state that has turned criminal, motivated by narrow economic interests that favour an economic elite over the Egyptian populace. Ahmed won’t show up in the numbers punched up by experts, nor will the nonsensical story provided by the government be questioned.
The present regime has alienated numerous factions of society: doctors, lawyers, journalists, students, youth, businessmen, and even some civil servants. Meanwhile, Egypt holds its own future hostage. Youth are threatened constantly and barred from decision-making circles. Many are detained in jail, tortured or placed under solitary confinement without fair judicial process, and some, like Ahmed, are killed in police custody.
Egypt’s problems will not be solved by applying cosmetic reforms, they will only entrench Egypt deeper down an abyss, like a car stuck in the sand digging itself deeper when the accelerator is pushed hard. Further austerity, which comes hand in hand with state violence and repression, may cause the eruption of an already simmering street. What’s more, even if understated, Egypt cannot move forward as long as stories like Giulio Regeni and Ahmed Kamal and countless others persist. It will take real change and the unchaining of Egypt’s youth—its future—to dig it out of this hole that’s growing deeper by the minute.
First published in DNE on 3 Sept 2016.

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