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Egypt: Between the Pyramid and the Empire State Building
Egypt: Between the Pyramid and the Empire State Building
When it comes to US's foreign policy template in the Middle East, Egypt's geopolitical relevance is strictly rooted in the idea of geographically containing the 'Palestinian threat'. It came as no surprise then, when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak advised Israel to reject Qatar's offer of reconstructing the Gaza Strip in exchange for Israeli recognition of Qatar's political weight in the Middle East.
Friday, May 28,2010 09:54
by Khadija Sharife Huffington Post

In perhaps his most famous anti-imperialist essay, To the Person Sitting in Darkness Mark Twain critiques the self-evident truth of American imperial policy in Africa, China and the Phillipines:
"Privately and confidentially, it is merely an outside cover, gay and pretty and attractive, displaying the special pat-terns of our Civilization which we reserve for Home Consumption, while inside the bale is the Actual Thing that the Customer Sitting in Darkness buys with his blood and tears and land and liberty. That Actual Thing is indeed Civilization, but it is only for Export."

When it comes to US's foreign policy template in the Middle East, Egypt's geopolitical relevance is strictly rooted in the idea of geographically containing the 'Palestinian threat'. It came as no surprise then, when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak advised Israel to reject Qatar's offer of reconstructing the Gaza Strip in exchange for Israeli recognition of Qatar's political weight in the Middle East.

But in doing so, Mubarak Inc revealed the regime's vulnerability as a 'sub-imperial' power already in decline. Simply put, Egypt's draconian state cannot survive Qatar's proposal - normalising free movement of goods and material through Gazan borders religiously sealed by Egypt: Mubarak's regime depends on it. The military aid allegedly providing Egypt with the clout to 'contain' the Gaza Strip has been provided by the US for over three decades, following a tradition that began with Camp David Peace Accords of 1978. Since then, US military aid to Egypt, estimated at $1.3 billion annually, evidences Egypt as the US's primary recipient after Israel, on the receiving end of $38 billion.

Unsurprisingly, US military aid - a strategic 'rent' enabling the Mubarak edifice to capture state power, corresponds with Egypt's 'state of emergency laws', allowing for detention and arrest without trial as well as the use of secretive state security courts. The law, introduced in 1967, was consistently implemented from 1981, bearing witness to the assassination of President Anwar Sadat and Mubarak's rise to the highest office in Egypt. Opacity vehicles such as the extreme emergency law allows for opposition movements like the non-violent Muslim Brotherhood, branded by the state as terrorists, to be removed from Egypt's political canvas.

More recently, in the run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections to be held in 2010 and 2011, Mubarak's regime once again cracked down on political protests and opposition parties. The country's main opposition party is banned, while more than 45 members, including the leadership, were detained.

The aim? To erode potential gains by any opposition party. Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) requires a strong hold over parliamentary seats to facilitate 'legitimate' constitutional changes before the presidential elections. Though US President Obama selected Cairo as his pick to deliver a speech to the 'Muslim World' hubristically titled 'A New Beginning', more than 80% of Egypt's arms - used to sustain Mubarak's 28 year rule, is supplied by the US, with a $4 billion endowment fund in the pipelines. If alleged rumors related to high-level meetings bear fruit, this endowment may just be supplied without Congressional oversight. Attending such a meeting in August 2009 - Mubarak's first trip to Washington in five years, was son Gamal, groomed to be the next President as well as Intelligence Chief Omar Sulieman.

In that same month, Egypt allegedly discovered a terrorist cell planning to assassinate an Israeli ambassador - a political coup that landed Mubarak the personal thanks of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Just two months prior, Israeli warships and submarines received the blessing of Egyptian regimes to use the Suez Canal as a training ground for preparations in attack against Iran. According to an Israeli official quoted in a US Congressional Review, "Israel is investing time in preparing itself for the complexity of an attack against Iran. These maeuvers are a message to Iran that Israel will follow up on its threats."

Beyond military aid, Egypt also receives bilateral aid earmarked for democracy and governance initiatives via the US Agency for International Development (USAID), currently standing at $20 million. Yet according to the US-based Carnegie Endowment Center, USAID, "adopted a policy of only funding those organizations officially registered and approved as NGOs by the Egyptian government." The notorious 'NGO Bill', drafted by the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity, threatens to eliminate civil society movements in Egypt, following on the heels of the government's brutally restrictive current NGO Law of 2002, rendering the legal status, activities and focus areas, funding, board members and employees, subject to the approval of the Ministry.

According to the draft Bill, the Ministry must be informed of meetings 15 days in advance, reserve the right to have government representatives attend meetings, reserve the right to dissolve NGOs, imprison or detain deviant groups or individual, reject application for registration if it is deemed threatening to the public interest and prohibit civil society groups from accessing foreign funding, amongst other tentacles of repression.

Though the Obama administration recently expressed disappointment concerning the extension of emergency law, suggesting instead other means of containing 'terrorist activity', the US has turned a blind eye to Egypt's brutal human rights record. According to Abdullah al-Ashaal, a Professor at the American University in Cairo and presidential candidate, "If any terrorism arises it is because of the government policies - raising prices, the detention of people and the injustices which are prevailing everywhere."

But the terrorist activity alluded too has been justified by Egypt's status as the handpicked geopolitical Arab 'mediator', specifically concerning the democratically elected, US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, Hamas. As an Arab power of note, conveniently located astride both North Africa and the Middle East, Egypt is able to 'legitimately' quash - and lock in, the threat of movements perceived as a threat to Israel's geostrategic stronghold, and by default, Mubarak's regime.

Once a majestic civilisation, Egypt has since become a glorified US 'security guard' as the expense of Egypt's citizens. Mubarak, positioning himself as a modern pharaoh, comforts himself with the mantra informing the great game of empire: 'my enemy's enemy is my friend'.

But will the relationship last in its current form?

In his essay Imperial America, Richard Haass, then special assistant to President George Bush and a member of the National Security Council, articulated the means through which the US should re-conceive its role from a powerful nation-state to that of an imperial force.

"To advocate an imperial foreign policy is to call for a foreign policy that attempts to organize the world along certain principles affecting relations between states and conditions within them," said Haass. "Coercion and the use of force would normally be a last resort."

The paper, delivered at the Atlanta Conference on November 11, 2000, was the catalyst behind the decision to retain Haass as Director of Policy Planning in George W Bush Administration's State Department. But the ideology informing Haass's language - clothing hegemonic visibility, especially when sustained through khaki-force, as an undesirable and unsustainable means of empire, was lost on the Bush administration.

Currently President of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Haass's ideas on imperial foreign policy alluded to the formula of great empires -- those who maintained a forced peace not through territorial acquisition alone, but instead, preferred 'invisible' hegemonic structures located in geostrategic fulcrums constituting the blueprint of "realities" ie: global systems selectively designed to reinforce the notion of 'self-evident' truths.

Mubarak should take heed: though Egypt's location might be a relevant justifying agent, the nature of the authoritarian regime reflects badly on the US's war-stained brand of empire-for-export. As such, Mubarak Inc might just be too costly a friend to keep.

tags: Egypt / Anti-Imperialist / Pyramid / American Imperial / Mubarak / Gaza Strip / US Military Aid / Emergency laws
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