FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Egypt and the IMF

by ERIC WALBERG

The Popular Campaign to Drop Egypt’s Debts was launched at the Journalists’ Union 31 October, with a colourful panel of speakers, including Al-Ahram Centre for Political & Strategic Studies Editor-in-Chief Ahmed Al-Naggar, Independent Trade Union head Kamal Abbas, legendary anti-corruption crusader Khaled Ali, and the head of the Tunisia twin campaign Dr Fathi Chamkhi.

Moderator Wael Gamal, a financial journalist, described how he and a core of revolutionaries after 25 January started the campaign with a facebook page DropEgyptsDebt. The IMF offer of a multi-billion dollar loan in June was like a red flag in front of a bull for Gamal, and their campaign really got underway after that, culminating in the formal launch this week, just as election fever is rising.

“Just servicing Egypt’s debt costs close to $3 billion a year, more than all the food subsidies that the IMF harps about, more than our health expenditures,” Gamal said angrily. “We are burdened with a $35 billion debt to foreign banks, mostly borrowed under the Hosni Mubarak regime, none of it to help the people.”

Ali explained the basis of the campaign, which does not call for wholesale cancellation of the debt, but for a line-by-line review of the loan terms and useage to determine: whether the loan was made with the consent of the people of Egypt, whether it serves the interests of the people, and to what extent it was wasted through corruption. He explained that the foreign lending institutions knew full well that Mubarak was a dictator conducting phoney elections and thus not reflecting the will of the people when they showered him with money, and they should face the consequences — not the Egyptian people.

These are the internationally accepted conditions behind the legitimate practice of repudiating “odious debt”, which were used by the US (though mutedly) in 2003 to tear up Iraq’s debt, and by Ecuador in 2009. “Ecuador had an uprising much like our revolution and after the next election the president formed an audit committee and managed to cancel two-thirds of the $13 billion debt,” noted Gamal, leaving the conferencees to ponder what a truly revolutionary government in Egypt could do for the health sector and for employment.

Al-Naggar told how the loans propped up the economy as it was being gutted under an IMF-supervised privatisation programme from 1990 on, allowing foreign companies and Mubarak cronies to pocket hundreds of millions of dollars and spirit them abroad. Meanwhile, what investment that trickled down from the loans went to financing prestige infrastructure projects like the Cairo airport expansion, which was riddled with corruption and serves only the Egyptian elite. Virtually all the loans from this period should be considered liable for writing off.

No government officials deigned — or dared — to come to the conference. On the contrary, Egypt’s Finance Minister Hazem Al-Biblawi told Al-Sharouk that it defames Egypt in the world’s eyes, saying, “like the proverb ‘It looks like a blessing on the outside, but is hell on the inside’.”

Both Gamal and Al-Naggar criticised Biblawi for distorting their intent, which is not to portray Egypt as bankrupt, like Greece, but to shift the burden of the bad loans to the guilty parties — the lenders, and thereby to help the revolution. “It is the counter-revolution that is discrediting Egypt. And they are the old regime that got the loans and misused them, and are now trying to discredit the revolution. The international community should willingly write off the odious loans if it wants the revolution to succeed,” exhorted Al-Naggar.

The enthusiasm and sense of purpose at the conference was infectious. Indeed, this campaign is arguably the key to whether or not the revolution succeeds. But it requires a political backbone that only an elected government can hope to muster. The fawning of Al-Bablawi — this week he hosted another IMF mission — looks like the performance of someone from the Mubarak era, not someone delegated to protect the revolution. He welcomed the delegation and “the possibility of their offering aid to Egypt”.

Al-Naggar pointed out that the purpose of the IMF is not to aid the Egyptian people, but to tie the government to international dictate. Rating agencies are part of this, downgrading Egypt’s credit rating after the revolution. Why? Because Egypt is less democratic? Or because it will be harder to ply Egypt with more loans to benefit Western corporations, and to keep the Egyptian government in line with the Western political agenda. “Silence is golden,” Al-Naggar advised Biblawi, meaning, “If you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything.”

Chamkhi brought Tunisian warmth to the meeting, though he further incensed listeners as he explained how the Western debt scheming is directly the result of 19th c colonialism. He told how France colonised Tunisia, stole the best agricultural land, and then how the quasi-independent government in 1956 had to take out French loans to buy back the land that the French had stolen, thereby indenturing Tunisia yet again, in a new neocolonial guise. The foreign debt really exploded with Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali’s kleptocracy, just as did Egypt’s under Mubarak. Shamati eloquently expressed how “debts are not for our development, but to make us poor. To create a dictatorship of debts.”

Tunisia’s first democratic elections brought the Congress for the Republic, which supports the debt revision campaign, 30 seats. So far in Egypt, according to organiser Salmaa Hussein, Tagammu, the Nasserists and Karama support their efforts, along with presidential hopefuls Hamdeen Sabhi and Abdul Monem Abul Fotouh.

There is an international campaign dating from the 1990s, the 2000 Jubilee debt relief movement, and the Cairo conference heard a report from London about efforts on behalf of many third world countries — now including Egypt and Tunisia — by public-spirited Brits. The Arab Spring success stories now have a determined and politically savvy core of activists who know what the score is and will be pushing their respectively revolutionary governments to repudiate the debts from the corrupt regimes they overthrew at the cost of hundreds of lives. As the fiery Independent Trade Union head Abbas cried, adding an apt phrase to Egypt’s revolutionary slogan: “Topple the regime, topple their debts!”

Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him athttp://ericwalberg.com/

Exclusively in the New Print Issue of CounterPunch

 

THE SLOW DEATH OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH – Nancy Scheper-Hughes on Clerical Sex Abuse and the Vatican. PLUS Fred Gardner on Obama’s Policy on Marijuana and the Reform Leaders’ Misleading Spin.  SUBSCRIBE NOW

 

Order your subscription today and get
CounterPunch by email for only $35 per year.

 

 

 

February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The “Great” Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail