Egypt’s revolution has delivered a resounding “No” to free market neoliberal capitalism.
Ordinary people created a mass movement that finally gave them a chance to reject political and economic policies endured for over 30 years—policies that became principles for global economic development.
The revolution is a problem for globalisation and the assumption that the market must shape affairs across the planet.
This raises huge questions about Egypt as a model for economic reform and as a base for US imperialist strategy in the Middle East and Africa.
By bringing down Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians have questioned the status quo. Who rules? Whose interests do they serve? Who determines policy?
These issues touch a raw nerve across the region, where scores of states are signed up to neoliberalism and its slogan that “there is no alternative”.
Neoliberalism says that private business, not governments, should make decisions on economic policy. Egypt has been a laboratory for testing this creed.
Long before Thatcherism President Sadat introduced “infitah” or “the opening”.
This was a commitment to dismantle the social and welfare provisions of the state and to hand the initiative to private business.
Mubarak embraced this and in the 1980s and 1990s he reduced state subsidies on staple foods—government spending on bread, flour, rice, sugar and cooking oil declined by two thirds.
After further reductions many families were living at the margin of survival. In 2007 there were food riots in several cities—11 people were killed in four months as crowds fought at bakeries in desperate efforts to get bread.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) applauded Mubarak’s efforts, urging him to cut more deeply.
He privatised state-owned industry, forcing millions of peasants from their cultivated plots.
Under notorious Law 96, the Egyptian parliament decreed that land should be returned to the owners of the colonial era. Entire villages were evicted, with court rulings enforced brutally by police.
When the government started the evictions in 1997 there was resistance in over 100 villages.
Some 17 people died, 533 were wounded and 1,588 were arrested in disputes between landlords and “fellaheen”—peasants.
There have since been battles in villages across Egypt, between thousands of peasants and gangs of armed men employed by landlords and supported by the police.
Egypt has gone far down the road of neoliberal change. In 2007 the World Bank declared that Egypt was “the world’s top reformer”.
Economic journalists in Cairo described Mubarak as “an IMF poster child”. The regime became a model for the IMF. States worldwide have been encouraged to follow its example.
Egyptians have long known who benefits from pro-business policies. Mubarak has protected a network of new capitalists, financiers and speculators who have acquired huge wealth.