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The Revolution Against Neoliberalism

[Images by Walter Armbrust] [Images by Walter Armbrust]

On February 15th at 9:45 AM a comment was posted on the wall of the Kullina Khalid Sa’id Facebook page, administered by the now very famous Wael Ghoneim, referring to a news item reporting that European governments were under pressure to freeze bank accounts of recently deposed members of the Mubarak regime. The comment said: “Excellent news … we do not want to take revenge on anyone … it is the right of all of us to hold to account any person who has wronged this nation. By law we want the nation’s money that has been stolen … because this is the money of Egyptians, 40% of whom live below the poverty line.” By the time I unpacked this thread of conversation twenty-one hours later, 5,999 people had clicked the “like” button, and about 5,500 had left comments. I have not attempted the herculean task of reading all five thousand odd comments (and no doubt more are being added as I write), but a fairly lengthy survey left no doubt that most of the comments were made by people who clicked the “like” icon on the Facebook page. There were also a few by regime supporters, and others by people who dislike the personality cult that has emerged around Mr. Ghoneim.

This Facebook thread is symptomatic of the moment. Now that the Mubarak regime has fallen, an urge to account for its crimes and to identify its accomplices has come to the fore. The chants, songs, and poetry performed in Midan al-Tahrir always contained an element of anger against haramiyya (thieves) who benefited from regime corruption. Now lists of regime supporters are circulating in the press and blogosphere. Mubarak and his closest relatives (sons Gamal and ‘Ala’) are always at the head of these lists. Articles on their personal wealth give figures as low as $2-3 billion to as high as $70 billion (the higher number was repeated on many protesters’ signs). Ahmad ‘Izz, the General Secretary of the deposed National Democratic Party and the largest steel magnate in the Middle East, is supposed to be worth $18 billion; Zohayr Garana, former Minister of Tourism, $13 billion; Ahmad al-Maghrabi, former Minister of Housing, $11 billion; former Minister of Interior Habib Adli, much hated for his supervision of an incredibly abusive police state, also managed to amass $8 billion — not bad for a lifetime civil servant. Such figures may prove to be inaccurate. They may be too low, or maybe too high, and we may never know precisely because much of the money is outside of Egypt, and foreign governments will only investigate the financial dealings of Mubarak regime members if the Egyptian government makes a formal request for them to do so. Whatever the true numbers, the corruption of the Mubarak regime is not in doubt. The lowest figure quoted (in the New York Times) for Mubarak’s personal wealth, of “only” $2-3 billion, is damning enough for a man who entered the air force in 1950 at the age of twenty-two, embarking on a sixty-year career in “public service.”

This article is now featured in Jadaliyya's edited volume entitled Dawn of the Arab Uprisings: End of An Old Order? (Pluto Press, 2012). The volume documents the first six months of the Arab uprisings, explaining the backgrounds and trajectories of these popular movements. It also archives the range of responses that emanated from activists, scholars, and analysts as they sought to make sense of the rapidly unfolding events. Click here to access the full article by ordering your copy of Dawn of the Arab Uprisings from Amazon, or use the link below to purchase from the publisher.

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5 comments for "The Revolution Against Neoliberalism "


It is all right, but "neoliberalism" is but a new face of old not so good capitalism. To hope that capitalism, esp. in the former colony could be nicer is a mistake. Capitalism took the form of neoliberalism out of need - it could not survive otherwise. Imperialist states which got rich enough out of Egypt and others could not go on with the model of after WWII capitalism and turned to the new tools, really not SO new. The real foe of Egypt is not the fancy-named "neoliberalism" but the same old imperialist capitalism.

lidia wrote on February 24, 2011 at 03:55 AM

Excellent. I concur.

bassem wrote on February 24, 2011 at 06:46 PM

If these are revolutions against "neoliberal" regimes, then it is hard to imagine a "shock doctrine" deepening of the neoliberal regime in Egypt, without first dealing a very bloody defeat against the revolution. That would require the cooperation of the very same officer corps that your article quotes the NYT as depicting as "statist" barriers. So a counter-revolutionary neoliberal "deepening" would require that imperialism ( = 'neoliberalism') cooperate rather than castigate this officer corps, and I think that is exactly what they are doing.

Part of the perceptual problem here lies in a failure to understand the dominant social character of the 1989-91 events. These were not revolutions but *counterrevolutions*, who main social actors and eventual beneficiaries were the regime players themselves and already privileged middle classes of the ex-Soviet bloc. The "revolutions" themselves were remarkably peaceful - yes, like 'velvet' - for this very reason, with the exception of Romania, where even there the regime players largely conducted the transition. This is why it was so easy to impose "neoliberal" policies. These were "revolutions" *for* neoliberalism, *for* imperialism, *for* capitalism, make no mistake. This is true despite the legitimate grievances against what were essentially Stalinist dictatorships, regimes moreover that themselves had embarked down the capitalist road some time before, therefore eliminating all reason for their existence.

The Arab revolutions are in this sense very much a revolt against the results of 1989-91.

MattRusso wrote on February 24, 2011 at 08:20 PM

"human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.”

This is exactly what DIDN'T happen in Egypt. Egypt's regime was fascist, not liberal, or neo-liberal.

The quote I pasted above is the basis for true freedom. It is not the fault of the philosophy itself that people insist on believing that ANY government, in the end, exists for any reason other than to plunder it's citizens.

Lizzie wrote on February 26, 2011 at 01:07 PM

It was a fascinating read. Thank you for bringing the issue to light. I concur the army generals, and their neoliberal backers in the west, have every reason to implement some cosmetic changes and call everything off as mission accomplished. Democracy is what will suffer the most should that happen. Those who started this revolution need to remain vigilant to see to it that justice is done to the aspirations and hopes of millions who march on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, and elsewhere.

Tariku wrote on February 27, 2011 at 01:50 AM

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