Captains of industry clamour for a new Cairo

Captains of industry clamour for a new Cairo
Comment: A massive economic and social divide in Egypt caused by neo-liberal economic policies has just got worse while Sisi suppresses dissent and aims at rebuilding the social order.
5 min read
31 Mar, 2015
A new capital city is planned for Egypt, supposedly to ease congestion in Cairo [AFP]

The announcement that Egypt would create a new capital city to replace Cairo understandably confused many people into seeing this as a sign that the country was entering a new era of progress and prosperity. The truth is that it represents the exact opposite. 

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's project has more in common with dynastic Egyptian projects than any of the president's preferred historical precedents.

Two Sinai's

The announcement came during a massive economic conference earlier this month at Sharm el-Sheikh, where, for the first time since the counter-revolutionary coup, Sisi announced to the world that Egypt was open for business. 

Regional and international elites flocked to the Red Sea resort, with representatives from the Gulf and western countries all pledging different kinds of investments. 

In the bubble world of the 'international community', it was business as usual. 

Nowhere on Sharm's sun-kissed, beautifully paved streets was there any indication of the brutal insurgency that is rumbling on in the Sinai, not far from the resorts, involving groups affiliated to the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS). 

The situation in the Sinai serves as an extreme example of what is happening in the rest of Egypt. The elites hold conferences in their five-star hotels, while ordinary Egyptians, long ignored and locked out of Egypt's political system, are excluded from the admittedly barren fruits of 'economic growth'.

It was the same under the Hosni Mubarak regime, but now the masses have been forced into the clutches of destructive jihadi groups. The only small mercy is that most of the Sinai is so under-developed and barren that there's barely anything for them to destroy. 

Outside the Sinai, things are scarcely any better. The counter-revolutionary coup of 3 July represented not just the overthrow of the Morsi government but also the dismantling of democracy and the democratic gains that were made following the 25 January revolution.

Two years later and a coup put Egypt's power and interests into the hands of anti-democratic neoliberal elites and ruling classes. 

What drove the masses onto the streets and into the squares throughout Egypt was that during the Mubarak-era neoliberalism had devastated the country. 

David Harvey, a Marxist academic, has written extensively about the system of neoliberalism.

He says it entails the 'creative destruction' of the social order, by which he means central governments enacting policies that see the institutional frameworks of countries served up on a plate to profiteers.   

In Egypt, former president Anwar Sadat first initiated this through a series of 'liberalisation' reforms during the 1970s, a period referred to as Infitah ('openness'), which unlocked the economy to private investment. This was a sharp turn away from Gamar Abdel Nasser's strong emphasis on public ownership. 

These reforms were seized upon and expanded by Mubarak, who, under the patronage of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), began to carve up Egypt's welfare state, civil infrastructure and natural resources.

This decimated much-needed public services and forced millions of Egyptians into extreme poverty and hardship. It did create a new elite of super-rich moguls and beneficiaries who were tied to the regime.  

Moreover, this system relies on a lack of meaningful democracy, with a strong centralised government making policies beyond any democratic process on behalf of kleptocratic forces that could only operate beyond democratic scrutiny. 

In a liberal democracy, the invasive and 'destructive' capacity of neoliberalism is subject to an admittedly rather lax and hollow form of restraint, usually through democratic processes. But in an authoritarian dictatorship such as Egypt, no such restraint exists. 

     The result is a form of social apartheid that defies belief.

The result is a form of social apartheid that defies belief, with state-of-the-art shopping malls catering to the rich and urban elites existing almost side-by-side with vast 'third world' slums.

Struggle for life

Millions of lower middle class Egyptians live economically stagnant and precarious lives, completely unaffected by the 'economic growth' so often boasted by the regime. 

The democratic system that emerged out of the January 25 revolution was, in this sense, a massive setback for the ruling forces of Egypt and a genuine gain for the poor. 

For the first time, Egypt's poor and numerous under-classes had a means to challenge the vast, previously impervious monopoly the urban elites held over every aspect of Egyptian society.

It's why under Sisi's counter-revolution, things are only getting worse for the average Egyptian.

Egypt's parasitic elites are constantly looking for new ventures from which profit can be squeezed from and with the country's infrastructure already decimated, they must move on to pastures new. 

What could better serve as a stimulus for such 'creative destruction' as an entirely new capital city? 

However, there's something more deeply destructive about this move from the Sisi regime – it's almost like we're witnessing a government declaring independence from its own people and society. 

The Egyptian regime and the elites it represents, with the full connivance of the international community and institutions of global finance, do not have the ability or the will to deal with the destructive effects of their catastrophic economic policies, so the plan is to literally abandon the sinking ship. 

When this occurs simultaneously with the Sisi regime's violent and murderous repression of all the democratic opposition on an unprecedented scale, it's not difficult to imagine, similar to the Sinai situation, the despair of a section of the population manifesting itself more extremely and destructively. 

It is of note that one of Sisi's major justifications is the fact that he's allegedly fighting a 'war on terror' and that, as he has stated himself, his regime is a major element in the global effort against IS. 

Indeed, given the comprehensively brutal nature of Sisi's counter-revolution, IS has been a godsend. 

The extremist group's destructiveness serves as both a fantastic pretext for and vindication of the Sisi's regime's own destructiveness, especially in the mind of the compliant international community (especially the United States) and this is true of much of the Arab world. The difference is a matter of perspective. 

While the world focuses on the destruction of the precious natural heritage of Iraq and Syria, the mundane and grim destructiveness of the Sisi regime is masked by these grand schemes, supported by these captains of industry around the world. 

The victims of decades of neoliberal tyranny, whether it is the school child living in a slum who must forsake elementary education in order to work so his family can survive, or the person who dies of a common illness because the local hospital is decrepit, are buried under the spectacle of these grand mirages.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.