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.

Rojava: An Experiment in Direct Democracy

ypj_fighters_2

Zaher Baher, who visited Rojava in May 2014, has posted a report of his findings on Anarkismo.net.  It’s his view that that Syrian Kurds, in founding the self-governing province of Rojava, have taken a distinctly positive route in contrast to other Middle East and North African countries that participated in the 2011 Arab Spring. The story of Rojava has been largely ignored in the corporate media.

Various commentators have favorably compared Rojava’s experiment in direct democracy to the self-governing communes Spanish Republicans formed during the Spanish Civil War (see Workers Self-Management Committees) or to the self-governing communities the Zapitistas have formed in Chiapas (see The Zapatistas are Building the World We Ask For

The citizens of Syrian Kurdistan believe that the revolution must start from the bottom of society and not from the top, that it must be a social, cultural and educational as well as political revolution and that final decision making responsibility must rest with the people themselves at the community level.

The Structure of Rojava Self-Governance

In January 2014 the Rojava People’s Assembly established a Democratic Self Administration in all three cantons of Kurdistan (Al Jazera, Kobany and Afrin). The DSAs, which are autonomous, are charged with implementing the decisions of the “House of the People” and overseeing administration in the local authorities, municipalities, education and health departments, trade and business organizations, defence and judiciary systems etc. Each DSA is made up of 22 men and women and organized to enable people from all backgrounds, nationalities, and religions to participate.

In Syrian Kurdistan, there is also strong support for the WPJ (the Women’s Protection Units), which have been created to fight the traditional women’s oppression (manifested in high legal tolerance for rape, domestic violence, underage and forced marriage, and honor killings) that characterizes most of the Middle East. For more information about the WPJ, see The Women’s Revolution in Rojava

The Communes are the smallest and most active cells in the House of the People. Communes form on the basis  of direct participation of people in the villages, on the street and the neighborhoods and the towns. Their role is to build agricultural and commercial cooperatives and to discuss and solve issues of education, security and self-defense. They meet weekly and decisions are made by all commune members over age 16. Each Commune has their own representative in the House of the People and in the neighborhood, village or town where they are based.

 The Role of Established Political Parties

 In his article, Baher expresses reservations about the role of the PYD (Democratic Union Party), United Democratic Party and PKK (in Kurdistan Democracy Movement) in driving the mass democracy movement in Syrian Kurdistan. As political parties, all three groups operate as hierarchical organizations with orders and commands issuing from party leaders to the grassroots. He sees Tev-Dem (Tevgera Civaka Demokratîk), the multi-ethnic coalition that established the Peoples Assembly, as holding the opposite view – that revolution must start from the bottom. Many members of Tev-Dev movement have never been members of the PKK or PYD and do not believe in state powers and authority. As the Communes and TSAs grow and develop, Baher believes the power of the organized political parties is diminishing.

Rights of Non-Kurdish residents of Syrian Kurdistan

The population of Al Jazera (over one million people) is 80% Kurdish, with the rest of the population consists of Arabs, Christians, Chechens, Yazidis, Turkmens, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Armenians. 80% percent of the population is Kurdish. In Al Jazera, there are more than twenty political parties. The majority of non-Kurdish parties oppose the PYD, the Tev-Dem and the DSA for their own reasons. Nevertheless they have total freedom to carry out their activities without any restriction. The only restrict they face is a ban on fighters or militias under their own control.

International Support

At present, there is no support for the DSAs or Tev-Dem from China, Russia or from the US and their allies – despite the fact Syrian Kurds are the  main opposition fighters against ISIS in Syria.

People can follow the ongoing development of Rojava as a self-governing direct democracy at Rojava Report

Photo credit BijiKurdistan, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

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.