I have been watching the news on Egypt with great interest and concern. Tens of thousands have flooded the streets in protest, demanding the ouster of Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak has been in power since 1981 after the assassination of then president Anwar Sadat. That’s around 30 years, ten years longer than the Marcos dictatorship. When I was still in grade school, Mubarak’s name was among the many we had to memorize during current events and social studies class. Thats how long he’s been in power. He’s now 82 years old.
Egypt is a known close ally of the United States. Any dictator hoping to stay in power for three decades can do well to get the support of the US. The US government doesn’t mind supporting dictators so long as they promote US interests. They did the same to Marcos for 16 years, after he declared Martial law. They did the same for Latin American banana republics.
Mubarak’s hold on power was boosted by continued US support, both military and economic. Next to Israel, Egypt is the second largest recipient of US Foreign Military Financing, a staggering $1.3 billion a year. (The Philippines only gets $30 million a year). Egypt also receives an additional $815 million in economic aid.
The Federation of American Scientists estimate that from 1978 to 2000, the US has poured in $38 billion in aid to Egypt. The Christian Science Monitor pegs the amount at $50 billion worth of aid since 1975.
Despite all the “aid”, Egypt has a very high unemployment rate between 9% to more than 11% during the past decade. Some 40.5% of the Egyptian population is in the range of extreme poor to near poor. Egypt’s government is also among the world’s most corrupt.
Most of the aid of course goes to state security forces which are viewed as crucial in stabilizing the region in favor of US interests. Egypt is also important for the US because of the Suez Canal which is an important trade route to Africa and Asia.
The US considers Egypt an ally against Al Qaeda, a partner in winning over Hamas, and a means to amplify US position on the Palestine conflict.
The US government has maintained a high level of military aid to Egypt despite widespread human rights violations, including torture committed by state security forces.
The 2009 US State Department report describes the situation as :
“Security forces used unwarranted lethal force and tortured and abused prisoners and detainees, in most cases with impunity. Prison and detention center conditions were poor. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals, in some cases for political purposes, and kept them in prolonged pretrial detention. The executive branch exercised control over and pressured the judiciary.”
So far, statements by Obama administration have been lame, simply calling on the Mubarak regime to dialogue with various groups, while remaining silent on the huge aid given to Egypt. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made references though to “transition” and “power vacuum”. Obama may find himself on the wrong side of history on this one.
The US government is responsible for the deteriorating situation in Egypt. US hegemonic policies in the Middle East is responsible for the rise of this dictator.
The people of Egypt are well within their rights to demand the ouster of Mubarak. So far, protests have entered their sixth day. As write this, thousands gather in Tahir Square. The Egyptian armed forces have moved in tanks and fighter planes have flown dangerously over the square. Still, the Egyptian military seems careful in cracking down on the people. Last week, Egyptian police were overrun by protesters. Armored vehicles were torched by the angry mob.
A lot of media reporting has focused on the looting and the chaos in the streets, the ransacking of the museum of antiquities, and the prison break-out in at least 4 jails. One analyst on TV says that the jailbreaks were deliberate on the part of government so that lawlessness will take place and the Egyptian middle class will beg for the intervention of the police and the restoration of order.
Al Jazeera’s office has been closed down by the Egypt authorities. Their permits have been revoked. Internet services have also reportedly been cut off. But these repressive measures will do little to prevent the escalation of the protests.
In response to the protest, Mubarak has fired his entire cabinet and has appointed, for the first time, a vice-president. The appointee, a member of Mubarak’s regime, was also the former intelligence chief of the military.
IN today’s rally, anti-US sentiments were clearly expressed. Many are angry or frustrated with the frle fo the US in propping up Mubarak’s regime. The guns and ammunition being used against the protesters are US-made.
Meanwhile the Philippine government has reportedly allotted P25 million to evacuate OFWs in Egypt, but at the same time said that there is no need yet to evacuate them. Other nations like the US and Turkey are preparing to evacuate their citizens. The best way to secure their safety is for the Mubarak regime to step down.
There seems to be no turning back now. The people of Egypt are determined to make sure Mubarak will be ousted. They have defied curfews and are remaining in the streets. The proverbial camel’s back has been broken.
Who will replace Mubarak? Ah, a similar question was posed to Fiipinos in the fight against Marcos, Estrada and Arroyo. The people of Egypt should be the ones to decide who they want to govern. There should be clean and fair elections. A new regime must break with the old pro-US foreign policy. Economic reforms that would benefit the people should be pursued. Human rights should be upheld.
From one nation that has gone through two ‘people power’ uprisings, we wish the people of Egypt success in the struggle for democracy. We offer our solidarity to their cause. And we remind them that toppling the dictator is not the be-all and end-all of the struggle. We should know.