The IMF & Arab Spring

“Could someone please arrest the head of the IMF for screwing the poor for 60 years?” Paul Kingsnorth.

I recently read that the IMF offered to make several loans to Egypt to speed up its post-revolution economic recovery. My immediate reaction was dread. No country has ever taken a loan from the IMF and survived. My personal theory is that the IMF (and World Bank) are there to make sure that neo-colonialism is kept in place and that no developing country succeeds/does well. I just read a fantastic article on the IMF and Egypt by Austin Mackell, who argues that IMF loans would ruin Egypt & Tunisia even before post-revolution elections take place (link here).

To some extent, though, the IMF is aware that its policies contributed to the desperation that so many Egyptians and Tunisians currently face, and is keen to distance itself from its past.

Beginning in the 1990s, IMF-led structural adjustment programmes saw the privatisation of the bulk of the Egyptian textile industry and the slashing of its workforce from half a million to a quarter-million. What’s more, the workers who were left faced – like the rest of Egypt – stagnant wages as the price of living rocketed. Though you wouldn’t know it from western coverage, the long and gallant struggle of these workers, particularly the strike of textile workers of Mahalla el-Kubra, is credited by many Egyptian activists as a crucial step on the Egyptian people’s path towards revolution.

I think that’s a very important point: the Egyptian revolution did not begin on Jan 25 2011. It began a few years earlier when workers at Mahalla began strikes demanding better wages and benefits. The protests were brutally suppressed, but they were a clear sign that neo-liberalism, which include IMF loans, was ruining the country. In fact the first signs of unrest were in 1977, with the Egyptian bread riots. These riots were a response to the first wave of neo-liberalism, in the form of Sadat opening up the economy (opening it up to be raped, really).

This failure to appreciate the revolutions as a rebellion not just against local dictators, but against the global neo-liberal programme they were implementing with such gusto in their countries, is largely a product of how we on the western left have been unwitting orientalists, and allowed the racist “clash of civilisations” narrative to define our perceptions of the Middle East. We have failed to see the people of the region as natural allies in a common struggle.

This is brilliant! The revolution can’t work if it only happens in a few countries. We ALL need to revolt against the capitalist, patriarchal, neo-liberal system that enslaves us ALL. That’s why it is so amazing to see what is happening in Spain. A global revolution is needed, not just an Arab one.

These new loans from the IMF threaten to bind the newly democratic Egypt and Tunisia in much the same way. Once more, local elites could collaborate with the institutions at the helm of global capitalism to screw the broader population. If this occurs, these revolutions will be robbed of much of their meaning, and a terrible blow will be dealt to the broader Arab spring.

An important question is why the IMF is making back-room deals with the old regime instead of addressing the new players on the Egyptian scene. Hmmm, I wonder. Easier to bribe? control? manipulate?

At this point, taking a loan from the IMF is maybe the worst thing Egypt can do.

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