Although press coverage of events in Egypt may have dropped off the front pages, discussion of the post-Mubarak period continues to dominate the financial news. Over the past few weeks, the economic direction of the interim Egyptian government has been the object of intense debate in the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). US President Obama’s 19 May speech on the Middle East and North Africa devoted much space to the question of Egypt’s economic future – indeed, the sole concrete policy advanced in his talk concerned US economic relationships with Egypt. The G8 meeting in France held on 26 and 27 May continued this trend, announcing that up to US$20 billion would be offered to Egypt and Tunisia. When support from the Gulf Arab states is factored into these figures, Egypt alone appears to be on the verge of receiving around $15 billion in loans, investment and aid from governments and the key international financial institutions (IFI).
The press releases accompanying the announcement of these financial packages have spoken grandly of “the transition to democracy and freedom”, which, as several analysts have noted, conveniently obfuscates the previous support of Western governments for the deposed dictators in Tunisia and Egypt. This article argues, however, that a critique of these financial packages needs to be seen as much more than just a further illustration of Western hypocrisy. The plethora of aid and investment initiatives advanced by the leading powers in recent days represents a conscious attempt to consolidate and reinforce the power of Egypt’s dominant class in the face of the ongoing popular mobilizations. They are part of, in other words, a sustained effort to restrain the revolution within the bounds of an ‘orderly transition’ – to borrow the perspicacious phrase that the US government repeatedly used following the ousting of Mubarak.
At the core of this financial intervention in Egypt is an attempt to accelerate the neoliberal program that was pursued by the Mubarak regime. The IFI financial packages ostensibly promote measures such as ‘employment creation’, ‘infrastructure expansion’ and other seemingly laudable goals, but, in reality, these are premised upon the classic neoliberal policies of privatization, de-regulation and opening to foreign investment. Despite the claims of democratic transition, the institutions of the Egyptian state are being refashioned within this neoliberal drive as an enabling mechanism of the market. Egypt is, in many ways, shaping up as the perfect laboratory of the so-called post-Washington Consensus, in which a liberal-sounding ‘pro poor’ rhetoric – principally linked to the discourse of democratization – is used to deepen the neoliberal trajectory of the Mubarak-era. If successful, the likely outcome of this – particularly in the face of heightened political mobilization and the unfulfilled expectations of the Egyptian people – is a society that at a superficial level takes some limited appearances of the form of liberal democracy but, in actuality, remains a highly authoritarian neoliberal state dominated by an alliance of the military and business elites.
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.