Arab Oil Cash to Kill Democracy in Egypt
In order to determine whether the turmoil in Egypt is in the best interests of the mass of ordinary Egyptians, we should use the trusted maxim – follow the money.
Within hours of the military’s arrest last week of now-deposed President Mohamed Morsi, the Persian Gulf Arab monarchies were offering their congratulations to defense minister Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and the new interim president, Adli Mansour.
With Morsi still under arrest, incommunicado, and his whereabouts as yet unknown, the Persian Gulf oil kingdoms this week have swiftly moved, in the words of the Financial Times, “to prop up” the new rulers of Egypt with USD 12 billion in cash grants, central bank deposits and oil deals.
That capital transfusion is seen as critical to bailing out the sinking Egyptian economy and ensuring the viability of the military-led interim administration.
Widespread popular discontent over the parlous state of the economy was one of the main grievances that drove millions of Egyptians on to the streets in protest against Morsi since his election last year.
Over the past two years, political upheaval and the faltering of Egypt’s crony capitalist economy has seen the country’s foreign currency reserves plummet by nearly 60 per cent, down from USD 36 billion to USD 15 billion.
That plunge in state funds has hit the ability to cover import costs, which has led to shortages and soaring inflation, all of which hit the poor majority of Egyptians hardest.
The money pledges from the Persian Gulf Arab monarchies are welcome relief to stabilizing Egypt. Saudi Arabia is to supply USD 5 billion, the United Arab Emirates USD 3bn and the latest to stump up is Kuwait with a pledge of USD 4bn.
To put these huge sums into perspective, the annual bilateral foreign aid to Egypt from the US – America’s second biggest foreign recipient after Israel – amounts to USD 1.5bn.
Another comparative figure is the loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that Egypt is still trying to negotiate – some USD 4.8bn.
Thus, the Arab monarchs are all of a sudden donating funds to Egypt that are approximately double the combined sum of annual US aid and the prospective IMF “mega loan”. That urgency is more than telling.
Moreover, the oil money from the Persian Gulf is not all told yet. Missing so far from the list of Arab sponsors of the new regime in Egypt is Qatar. Its recently appointed Emir, Sheikh Tamin, joined with the other autocrats of the Persian Gulf to congratulate Egypt last week, but he has refrained from putting up money – yet.
Qatar is, however, expected to open it coffers soon as a way of distancing itself from the sacked Morsi administration. Qatari officials told the New York Times “Qatar’s financial aid in the past had been to the Egyptian people, not any individual figure or party.”
Furthermore, the Financial Times reported this week that US President Barack Obama has been on the phone to the rulers of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to emphasize the need for their support to the Egyptian interim regime.
Putting those two developments together – massive Arab oil money and US coordination – spells a significant response to the events in Egypt.
But the significance is not what it may appear to be, that is, promoting the wellbeing of the Egyptian people – far from it.
We should not be under any illusion about this apparent largesse from the oil-rich Arab autocrats and their American patron.
Much of the promised money will in reality go towards subsidizing the luxurious lifestyles of the Egyptian elite and paying off the debts that they have racked up with US-dominated international banks, not to help the Egyptian masses overcome unemployment, poverty and destitution.
Proof of this?
The pointed refusal by Washington to condemn the blatant interference of the Egyptian military in the country’s political process, including the de facto arrest and ongoing abduction of President Morsi, as well as the massacre of dozens of civilian protesters in the aftermath, speaks of chilling American cynicism towards international law and human rights.
Even when the military junta-appointed interim president, Adli Mansour, assumed dictatorial powers this week to personally oversee the drawing up of a new constitution, Washington did not blink an eye at the astounding doublethink.
Instead, US officials revealed that the Pentagon would be proceeding with the delivery of F-16 fighter jets to the Egyptian armed forces.
A devil’s advocate may say that Washington is acting pragmatically, trying to stabilize the most populous Arab country, to encourage the military to return to the civilian political process, and to stave off further bloodshed.
For a start, you don’t defend the people of a nation by pandering to a military machine with a long record of brutally repressing its own people during 30 years of US-backed dictatorship under Hosni Mubarak, before his ouster in February 2011.
To give Washington the benefit of the doubt in motives towards Egypt is to be recklessly in ignorance of the facts about American imperialism in the Middle East and its congenital reliance on repressive regimes to crush democracy.
But if there were any lingering doubts about the recent turmoil in Egypt, the role of its military and agenda of its American sponsor, those doubts can be dispelled by following the money of the US Arab puppets in the Persian Gulf.
These absolute feudal despots are the last place we should look to as evidence of democratic support. Indeed, the speed with which these family fiefdoms have rushed to throw money at the new rulers of Egypt tells us the exact opposite.
The Arab oil money is being used to shore up the military regime precisely in order to make sure that the people of Egypt do not realize democratic freedom. Democracy in Egypt, and its possible contagion across the region, is anathema to the Arab dictatorial monarchs, as it is to Washington and its imperative of maximizing corporate profits.
Deposed president Morsi had more than his share of faults. But his dismissal by the American-backed military machine cannot in any way be seen as progressive. It is rather a regressive onslaught against the historic struggle for democracy and freedom by the Egyptian people.
The money flowing into Egypt’s new dictatorial elite from the even more dictatorial Persian Gulf Arab oil sheikhdoms is designed at buying off the country’s pro-democracy movement by sweetening the rule of autocrats. It is a sure sign of the wrong direction Egypt is currently taking.
Finian Cunningham, originally from Belfast, Ireland, was born in 1963. He is a prominent expert in international affairs. The author and media commentator was expelled from Bahrain in June 2011 for his critical journalism in which he highlighted human rights violations by the Western-backed regime. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in journalism. He is also a musician and songwriter. For many years, he worked as an editor and writer in the mainstream news media, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. He is now based in East Africa where he is writing a book on Bahrain and the Arab Spring.He co-hosts a weekly current affairs programme, Sunday at 3pm GMT on Bandung Radio.More articles by Finian Cunningham