Egypt’s Chronic Bread Shortages: How US Trade Deals Have Bankrupted Egypt’s Economy

Egypt on the Breadline

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This film is about Egypt’s chronic bread shortage and a corrupt system of subsidies that severely threatens the country’s food security.

Under Nasser (1956-1970), Egypt was self sufficient in wheat, its main staple crop. In the 1980s, as Egypt allied itself more closely with the US, farmers were pressured to grow export crops instead of wheat. The ultimate effect was to bankrupt Egypt’s economy, as it fell victim to global commodity prices and were forced to borrow to pay for wheat imports.

Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring revolution and 2013 military coup have significantly reduced its productivity. 6,000 factories have closed and there has been a significant decrease in cultivated land.

The current government continues the pattern that emerged under the deposed dictator Mubarak. It allows government officials to monopolize Egypt’s imported wheat market, by setting a fixed price for wheat and flour that barely covers production costs.

At present, there are two main types of bread in Egypt. The first is government subsidized. Produced from imported flour, it has a fixed price of 10 cents per loaf. It’s widely described as “unfit for human consumption” – due to its tendency to contain insect parts, nails, cigarette butts and sand. The second type of bread is made from Egyptian-grown wheat and costs ten times as much.

Many analysts believe a skyrocketing increase in global fuel and food prices was a major trigger for the 2011 Arab Spring “revolutions.”

“Bread, freedom and social justice,” was a common chant in Tahir Square.

 

Egypt Post-Arab Spring: Women Street Sellers

Egypt’s Women Street Sellers

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

Another documentary that offers a rare glimpse into the lives of poor women in modern-day Egypt. Too often, we in the industrial North have no sense of the human struggle to survive in the third world.

The film profiles five Egyptian women who have overcome male resistance to sell farm products at a market they started in the poor Egyptian town of Manshiyat al-Qanatir. Owing to the scarcity of full time work, most men are unemployed. In many cases, these female street sellers are the sole providers for their families. Typically they get up at 2-3 am to buy produce from rural farmers. Then they seek out transport into town to re-sell their foodstuffs at the market they started.  All of them want their children to go to university so they can get good jobs.

The Failed 2011 Arab Spring: Extreme Poverty and Repression in Egypt

Zabbaleen: Trash Town

RT (2014)

Film Review

This film offers a rare glimpse into how little life has changed for Egypt’s poor following the 2011 Arab Spring “revolutions.”

It specifically concerns the Cairo dump and the tens of thousands of people who live and work there collecting and sorting garbage for Egypt’s capitol. Most of the residents are Coptic Christians, but there are also Muslim families.

Men with trucks work in teams of 12 to collect trash from their assigned neighborhoods. Sorting and recycling metal plastic is also considered men’s. The plastic is cleaned and ground into powder to be sold to factories that remold it into plastic utensils and containers. Women mainly sort food waste and distribute it to chicken and pig farmers.* Children begin working at age 10-12, unless the family is destitute and needs the income of younger siblings.

Zabbaleen is largely self-governing and self-supporting. Ten percent of the community are managers and fairly well off. The managers refer disputes and criminal acts to a group of elders to resolve. Zabbaleen residents despise the police and army.

Many residents are descendants of Zabbaleen families engaged in this work for 40 or more years. The community has their own butchers, grocery stores and schools – though most children are too busy working to attend.

The average life expectancy in Zabbaleen is 55. This contrasts with an overall Egyptian life expectancy of 70.9.


*Raising pigs was banned for the two years the Muslim Brotherhood ran the Egyptian government.

USA: Exporting Democracy Since 1948

NGOs are the Deep State’s Trojan Horse

James Corbett (2018)

Film Review

This is a documentary about CIA-funded nonprofit foundations (aka NGOs or Non-governmental Organizations) that pose as charities as they work to destabilize and/or overthrow governments unfriendly to Wall Street interests.

In the past decade a growing number of countries (including Kyrgyzstan, Russia, China, India, Egypt and Bolivia) have kicked them out.

President Kennedy created USAID (US Agency for International Development), which is run by the State Department, by executive order in 1961.

In 1983, President Reagan created NED (National Endowment for Democracy), the other big democracy manipulating foundation. The NED bankrolled Oliver North’s illegal arms sales to Iran during the Reagan presidency, the manipulation (and ousting of President Ortega) of Nicaragua’s 1990 elections, regime change in Bulgaria and Albania, attempted regime change in Armenia, (along with George Soros) all the “color” revolutions in Eastern Europe and the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions.

The NED and its sister organizations have been funding and training Syria’s rebels since 2006, including the notorious White Helmets – which were founded by former British intelligence agent James Le Mesurier.

Abby Martin Presents the Real House of Saud

The Real House of Saud

TeleSur (2015)

Film Review

This documentary was released following the appointment of Saudi Arabia to head the UN Panel of Human Rights in 2015. Its primary purpose is to highlight Saudi Arabia’s scandalous human rights record and the utter hypocrisy of the Obama administration in supporting their appointment to this role. Saudi Arabia’s recent economic attack (via economic sanctions and a boycott) on its former ally Qatar – coupled with its demand they shut down Al Jazeera – serves to remind us of their abysmal record in the area of civil and human rights.

The totalitarian Saudi dictatorship executes its citizens (via head chopping, stoning or crucifixion) at the rate of one every other day. Limb amputation and severe lashings are also frequent punishments. It’s common for women who report being raped to be punished via lashing.

Human rights groups are illegal in Saudi Arabia. In addition to an absolute prohibition on women driving, they need permission from a male relative to work, attend school or seek heath care. Seventy per cent of Saudi women who have graduated university – including 1,000 PhDs – are unemployed.

Only one family, the House of Saud, has ruled Saudi Arabia since its founding in 1925. Saudi princes live in opulent luxury from the country’s oil revenues, while 20% of Saudi citizens live in abject poverty. Youth unemployment is 30%.

Thirty percent of the Saudi population are migrant workers, subject to a slave-like system of indentured servitude in which they must work fifteen hour days, even if they’re sick and often without payment. They’re subject to arrest if they try to leave their employers, as well as being subject to execution for minor offenses.

The most interesting part of the documentary concerns the sordid history of US political and military support for Saudi’s ruthless dictatorship – including their open funding of international terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban – for the sake of cheap oil concessions for US oil companies. This support includes training by the CIA in suppressing unions and other grassroots organizations.

I was very surprised to learn that despite this brutal totalitarian control, popular uprisings are still fairly common, especially in Eastern Saudi Arabia, where much of Saudi Arab’s Shia minority reside. At the time of filming, Eastern Saudi Arabia was under virtual martial law to suppress mass protests inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions.

A Film About Dismantling Corporate Rule

Owned and Operated

Relic (2012)

Film Review

Owned and Operated is a documentary about dismantling corporate rule. This non-ideological film features dissidents across the political spectrum, among them John Oliver, George Carlin, Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Rifkin, Rob Hopkins, Ron Paul, Ray McGovern, James Corbett, Alex Jones and Brian Wilson. In addition to the film’s touchy-feely ending, I was also disappointed in the filmmakers heavy promotion of technology as the solution to the world’s urgent political and ecological crises.

In my view, the best part of the film is Part 1, The Freak Show. This is a humorous but surprisingly accurate depiction of modern corporate culture and the dangerous and bizarre effect of systematic corporate indoctrination on human behavior.

Part 2, Class War and Organized Greed, concerns the obscene greed of the 1% and their systematic takeover of our supposedly democratic political systems.

Part 3, Freedom vs Security concerns the systematic loss of civil liberties that has accompanied the War on Terror.

Part 4, The Awakening, concerns recent mass movements triggered by the 2008 global economic meltdown, including Occupy, the Arab Spring, Anonymous and the Zeitgeist, Transition and Open Source Ecology movements.

Part 5, the Future, heavily promotes Jeremy Rifkin’s views on the role of the Internet and mass connectivity in solving mankind’s most pressing problems. I tend to agree with Ronald Wright’s analysis (in A Short History of Progress) that humanity’s eagerness to rush into new technologies has tended to create more problems than it solves.

That being said the film ends on an extremely positive note by scrolling the web addresses of scores of social change movements for viewers to explore.

The Arab Spring: Made in the USA

arabesques image

Arabesque$: Enquête sur le rôle des États-Unis dans les révoltes arabes

(Investigation into the US Role in the Arab Uprisings)

by Ahmed Bensaada

Investig’Action (2015)

(in French)

Book Review

Arabesque$, an update of Ahmed Bensaada’s 2011 book L’Arabesque Américaine, concerns the US government role in instigating, funding and coordinating the Arab Spring “revolutions.” Obviously most of this history has been carefully suppressed by the western media.

The new book devotes much more attention to the personalities leading the 2011 uprisings. Some openly admitted to receiving CIA funding. Others had no idea because it was deliberately concealed from them. A few (in Egypt and Syria) were officially charged with espionage. In Egypt, seven sought refuge in the US embassy in Cairo and had to be evacuated by the State Department.

Democracy: America’s Biggest Export

According to Bensaada, the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Arab Spring revolutions have four unique features in common:

1. None were spontaneous – all required careful and lengthy (5+ years) planning, by the State Department, CIA pass through foundations, George Soros, and the pro-Israel lobby.*.
2. All focused exclusively on removing reviled despots without replacing the autocratic power structure that kept them in power.
3. No Arab Spring protests made any reference whatsoever to powerful anti-US sentiment over Palestine and Iraq
4. All the instigators of Arab Spring uprisings were middle class, well educated youth who mysteriously vanished after 2011.

Nonviolent Regime Change

Bensaada begins by introducing non-violent guru Gene Sharp (see The CIA and Nonviolence), his links with the Pentagon and US intelligence, and his role, as director of the Albert Einstein Institution, in the “color” revolutions** in Eastern Europe and the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002.

The US goal in the Arab Spring revolutions was to replace unpopular despotic dictators while taking care to maintain the autocratic US-friendly infrastructure that had brought them to power. All initially followed the nonviolent precepts Sharp outlines in his 1994 book From Dictatorship to Democracy. In Libya, Syria and Yemen, the US and their allies were clearly prepared to introduce paid mercenaries when their Sharpian “revolutions” failed to produce regime change.

Follow the Money

Relying mainly on Wikileaks cables and the websites of key CIA pass through foundations (which he reproduces in the appendix), Bensaada methodically lists every State Department conference and workshop the Arab Spring heroes attended, the dollar amounts spent on them by the State Department and key “democracy” promoting foundations,*** the specific involvement of Google, Facebook, Twitter and Obama’s 2008 Internet campaign team in training Arab Spring cyperactivists in encryption technologies and social media skills, US embassy visits, and direct encounters with Hillary Clinton,  Condoleezza Rice, John McCain, Barack Obama and Serbian trainers from CANVAS (the CIA-backed organization that overthrew Slobodan Milosevic in 2000).

Bensaada focuses most heavily on the Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt. The Washington Post has estimated approximately 10,000 Egyptians took part in NED and USAID training in social media and nonviolent organizing techniques. For me the most astonishing information in this chapter concerned the role of an Egyptian exile (a former Egyptian policeman named Omar Afifi Suleiman) in coordinating the Tahrir Square protests from his office in Washington DC. According to Wikileaks, NED paid Suleiman a yearly stipend of $200,000+ between 2008-2011.

When Nonviolence Fails

Arabesques$ devotes far more attention to Libya, Syria and Yemen than Bensaada’s first book.

In the section on Libyia, Bensaada zeroes in on eleven key US assets who engineered the overthrow of Gaddafi. Some participated in the same State Department trainings as the Middle East opposition activists and instigated nonviolent Facebook and Twitter protests to coincide with the 2011 uprisings in Tunisian and Egypt. Others, in exile, underwent guerrilla training sponsored by the CIA, Mossad, Chad and Saudi Arabia. A few months after Kaddafi’s assassination, some of these same militants would lead Islamic militias attempting to overthrow Assad in Syria.

Between 2005 and 2010, the State Department funneled $12 million to opposition groups opposed to Assad. The US also financed Syrian exiles in Britain to start an anti-government cable TV channel they beamed into Syria.

In the section on Syria, Bensaada focuses on a handful of Syrian opposition activists who received free US training in cyberactivism and nonviolent resistance beginning in 2006. One, Ausama Monajed, is featured in the 2011 film How to Start a Revolution about his visit with Gene Sharp in 2006. Monajed and others worked closely with the US embassy, funded by the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). This is a State Department program that operates in countries (such as Libya and Syria) where USAID is banned.

In February 2011, these groups posted a call on Twitter and Facebook for a Day of Rage. Nothing happened. When Sharpian techniques failed to produce a sizable nonviolent uprising, as in Libya, they and their allies (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Jordan) were all set up to introduce Islamic mercenaries (many directly from Libya) to declare war on the Assad regime.


*I was astonished to learn that Forum Fikra, a forum for Arab activists working against authoritarian governments, was mainly funded by the Nathan and Esther K Wagner Family Foundation. The latter also funds numerous pro-Israel groups and projects, as well as the Washington Institute for Near East policy (a pro-Israel group with close ties to AIPAC).

**The color revolutions were CIA-instigated uprisings that replaced democratically elected pro-Russian governments with equally autocratic governments more friendly to US corporate interests:

Serbia (2000) – Bulldozer Revolution
Georgia (2002) – Rose Revolution
Ukraine (2004) – Orange Revolution
Kyrgyzstan (2005) – Tulip Revolution

***Democracy promoting foundations (as used here, “democracy” is synonymous with capitalism, ie favorable to the interests of US investors). Here are seven of the main ones involved in funding and training Arab Spring activists:
USAID (US Agency for International Development) – State Department agency charged with economic development and humanitarian aid with a long history of financing destabilization activities, especially in Latin America.
NED (National Endowment for Democracy) – national organization supported by State Department and CIA funding dedicated to the promotion of democratic institutions throughout the world, primary funder of IRI and NDI.
IRI (International Republican Institute) – democracy promoting organization linked with the Republican Party, currently chaired by Senator John McCain and funded by NED.
NDI (National Democratic Institute for International Affairs) – democracy promoting organization linked with the Democratic Party, currently chaired by Madeline Albright and funded by NED.
OSI (Open Society Institute) – founded by George Soros in 1993 to help fund color revolutions in Eastern Europe. Also contributed major funding to Arab Spring revolutions.
• Freedom House – US organization that supports nonviolent citizens initiatives in societies were liberty is denied or threatened, financed by USAID, NED and the Soros Foundation.
CANVAS (Center for Applied Non Violent Action and Strategies) – center originally founded by the Serbian activists of Otpor who the US funded and trained to over throw Slobodan Milosevic and who were instrumental in training Arab Spring activists. Funded by Freedom House, IRI and George Soros.

Originally published in Dissident Voice