by Yusuf Dhia-Allah (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 11, Muharram, 1431)
While Egypt is arguably the most important country in the Middle East by virtue of its population, a large number of highly-qualified professionals and scholars, and as seat of the Muslim world’s (indeed the entire world’s) oldest university, Al-Azhar, it would be hard to tell it apart from any two-bit regional player. What accounts for this contradiction? One man, above all others must bear direct responsibility for Egypt’s dismal failure: Hosni Mubarak, who has been president of the country since October 1981 when his predecessor,Anwar Sadat was gunned down by his own officers at a military parade in Cairo on October 6. A state of emergency declared at the time has been renewed every six months and Mubarak has ruled Egypt with an iron-fist ever since.
Mubarak was vice president at the time of Sadat’s killing and succeeded him. He was also favoured by the Americans because as an air force officer, Mubarak had eagerly bombed Sudanese villagers during skirmishes between the two countries. This endeared him to the Americans. He could be relied on to kill his own people to advance the US-Zionist agenda. Mubarak has not disappointed them.
Tens of thousands of people were immediately rounded up in the aftermath of Sadat’s killing. Many were executed following kangaroo trials while others are still languishing in horrible conditions in Egyptian jails that are akin to torture chambers. Guanta-namo Bay would look like a picnic resort in comparison.
Egypt was ranked 43rd in terms of the UN Economic Development Index when Mubarak took over in 1981; today it is ranked 123, below such countries as Guatemala and Cape Verde. Life expectancy at 69.9 years places it 102nd in the world while 7.2% of its population does not have the probability of reaching the age of 40. At least 6% of children under 5 are underweight.
There are other revealing statistics about this US-backed “Paradise on the Nile.” After Israel, Egypt is the second largest recipient of US aid: $1.8 billion annually. Since 1975, Egypt has re-ceived $28 billion. Here’s why.
In 1978, Egypt signed the Camp David Accords and essentially withdrew from the conflict with the Zionist State. This opened the US pipeline of aid but the bulk of it has gone to Mubarak’s family and his cronies.
Poverty is widespread and increasing alarmingly. There are millions of street children without access to clean water or sanitation. In much of Egypt’s towns, groundwater is polluted because the drains, which are supposed to transport wastewater to the river Nile, are blocked with waste. Every year 550 million cubic metres of industrial wastewater, 2.5 billion of agricultural wastewater and an unknown amount of sewage flow into the Nile. Nearly 40% of Egyptians have unsafe water. As a direct result, 17,000 children die every year from diarrhea and kidney failure rates are among the highest in the world.
Education is a pipe dream for many children mired in grinding poverty. Living conditions are so appallingly bad and housing supply so short that many people are forced to live in graveyards. Congestion on Cairo’s streets must be seen to be believed.
So how does the Pharaoh on the Nile control the seething anger of the people? The police force has swelled from 200,000 in 1981 to 2.5 million today. Mubarak’s Egypt can truly be called a police state. The army meanwhile has been gutted from one million strong to a mere 300,000, under pressure from the US to ensure that it does not pose a threat, however remote, to Israel.
Humanitarian relief activists trying to deliver much-needed food and medicines to Gaza got a taste of Egyptian police brutality on January 6 at Al-Arish. Many were mercilessly beaten; others were arrested and were only released after the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu personally intervened. Two days earlier, peaceful demonstrators from a number of Western countries among them Americans, British and French were beaten up in Cairo when they tried to denounce Western policy toward the Palestinians. They were holding a peaceful vigil outside the French embassy.
The brutality inflicted on peace activists from Western countries indicates the total disregard of the Egyptian regime toward people’s rights. If Mubarak’s police can beat up foreign citizens without any regard for their rights, being fully aware that such information would get published abroad, how much worse must it be for the Egyptian people? The beating of humanitarian peace activists and blocking food from being delivered to the Palestinians besieged in Gaza show the degree of collusion between the dictatorship in Egypt and the US and Israeli governments.
The enemy as far as the Egyptian government is concerned is its own people hence the overwhelmingly large police force to keep them in check.
As if the Zionist state’s 42-month-long siege of Gaza was not bad enough preventing much-needed food and medicine from reaching poor Palestinians, Egypt has now tightened its siege as well. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said that no relief convoys would be allowed to enter Gaza through Egyptian territory. His statement was carried by the government mouthpiece, Al-Ahram on January 10.
“Egypt will no longer allow convoys, regardless of their origin or who is organizing them, to cross its territory,” Abul Gheit was quoted by Al-Ahram as saying. The publicly declared ban came two days after plainclothes Egyptian police roughed up British MP George Galloway and his assistant, Ron McKay at theRafah border crossing and bundled them into a van to be whisked to the airport. There, they were put on a flight to London. Galloway was leading the relief convoy of 200 trucks carrying food and medicines to Gaza. There were more than 500 volunteers from different countries in the convoy.
In sealing the Rafah border crossing — Gaza’s only border that bypasses Israel — Egypt said the border post is an Egyptian-Israeli crossing and should not be used without Tel Aviv’s permission. Thus, the Mubarak regime admitted that it is a Zionist puppet. On January 6, the convoy broke the Egyptian siege at Al-Arish after more than 55 volunteers were mercilessly beaten up by 2000 club-wielding Egyptian policemen. The convoy managed to enter Gaza late at night on January 6 to be welcomed with flowers and cheers by the Palestinians.
Like the Zionists’ blockade of Palestine who are building an illegal wall around the West Bank, Egypt is erecting its own wall but underground. The 80-foot deep concrete wall is intended to prevent Palestinians from digging tunnels to bring in desperately needed food and medicines. The wall, like all other oppressive measures in Egypt, is being financed by the US. On January 18, three members of the US embassy in Cairo visited the border with Gaza to review “progress” of construction of the underground wall.
Egyptian MP Talaat Sadat resigned in protest over the parliament’s agreement with the regime to build the steel wall on the border with Gaza. Talaat Sadat, who is member of the Parliament Committee on Defense and National Security, said the government’s decision to construct the wall was illegal, because the parliament committee was responsible for deciding such issues.
Interestingly, the MP is nephew of the late President Anwar Sadat who was killed by Egyptian military officers on October 6, 1981 for his surrender to the Zionist State.