By Stephen Gowans
While the Western media loudly demonizes the government of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, it is fairly silent on the repressions of the US client regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
Outdoing each other in the quest for the William Randolph Hearst prize for excellence in yellow journalism, Western newspapers slam Mugabe as the “Monster” and “Hitler of Africa .” At the same time, civil society hagiographers compromise with imperialist forces to help oust the “dictator” in Harare, but on Egypt, have little to say.
Meanwhile, wave after wave of strikes rock Egypt, sparked by rising food prices, inadequate incomes, political repression, and the government’s gutting of the social safety net.
Virtually absent in a country which receives $1.3 billion in US military aid every year are democracy promotion NGOs helping to organize a people’s revolution. Indeed, it might be hypothesized that the amount of democracy promotion funding a country receives is inversely proportional to the amount of US military aid it receives.
Egypt is not even a limited democracy. It is a de facto dictatorship. You might, then, expect to find Stephen Zunes’ International Center for Nonviolent Conflict training nonviolent democracy activists to overthrow the Mubarak regime. You might expect the Voice of America to be broadcasting “independent” news and opinion into Egypt, urging Egyptians to declare” enough is enough!” Predictably, this isn’t happening.
A year and a half ago, Hosni Mubarak – seen in Egypt as “Washington’s lackey” (1) — reversed the country’s social security gains of the 50s and 60s. The changes, he said, would “not only aim to rid Egypt of socialist principles launched in the 60s, but also seek a more favorable atmosphere for foreign investment” (2) – the same goal the opposition seeks in Zimbabwe.
Elections held last June to select members of the upper house of Parliament were described by election monitors “as manipulated to ensure that the governing party won a majority of seats.” (3)
Still, in the West, few have heard of vote-rigging in Egypt. Most, however, are familiar with vote-rigging allegations against Mugabe. Few too know that in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, “the only opposition group with a broad network and a core constituency,” is banned. (4) At the same time, Zimbabwe’s opposition MDC has never been banned, despite its conspicuous connections to foreign governments that have adopted regime change as their official policy.
The Brotherhood’s “popularity is based on a reputation for not being corrupt and extensive solidarity work in clinics, nurseries and after-school tutoring.” Its volunteers “fill the gaps left by a state system that has seen illiteracy rise and services fail as liberal economic reforms enrich businesses close to the regime.’ (5) Zimbabwe’s opposition, by comparison, seeks to privatize, slash government spending and give the country’s prized farm land back to European settlers and their descendants to restore the confidence of foreign investors.
In recent years, “Egyptian officials have stepped up repression as a means to blunt the rising popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood, locking up its leaders without charge. There is also talk of amending the constitution for president, but in such a way as to prohibit any independent candidate aligned with the Brotherhood.” (6)
As in Zimbabwe, a vast majority live in deep poverty, but unlike in Zimbabwe, “Egyptian authorities have cancelled elections, prohibited the creation of new parties and locked up political opponents.” (7)
Last June, “President Bush lavished praise on President Hosni Mubarak…while publicly avoiding mention of the government’s actions in jailing or exiling opposition leaders and its severe restrictions on opposition political activities.” (8) Bush’s silence contrasts sharply with his accusations against President Mugabe, who hasn’t jailed or exiled opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai or banned his party.
So, how is it that a regime that “arrests political opposition figures, beats street demonstrators, locks up bloggers, and blocks creation of new political parties” (9) gets so little attention in the West, while Zimbabwe gets so much?
And why is there a liberal-progressive-left affinity with opposition forces in Zimbabwe, when those forces are funded by a billionaire financier, capitalist foundations and Western governments, while if there’s any solidarity movement with the people of Egypt, it is virtually invisible?
The answer, I would suggest, lies in the failure of the greater part of the Western left to understand how corporate officers, corporate lawyers, and investment bankers set the agenda through their ownership of the media, domination of government, and control of high-profile foundations and think tanks.
Mubarak’s pro-investment policies and repression of the Arab street serve
the bottom-line interests of the US corporate class. Accordingly, the media and foundation agenda steers clear. What foundation grants are distributed, are handed out to groups that eschew confrontation, and seek to work within the system, rather than against it, to change it.
On the other hand, Mugabe’s land reform and economic indigenization policies challenge Western corporate and investment interests. It’s in the interests of European-connected commercial farmers, resource-extraction companies and Western banks, through their control of the media and foundations and domination of Western governments, to mobilize public opinion and forces on the ground to oppose these policies and replace them with more investment-friendly ones.
Not surprisingly, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the principal immediate potential beneficiary of the corporate-directed mobilization in Zimbabwe, promises to “encourage foreign investment” and to bring Zimbabwe’s “abundant farmlands back into health” (10) – that is, to return Zimbabwe to raising cash crops and to reverse legislation mandating majority ownership of the economy by the majority population.
This is an agenda that serves Western corporate elites, not ordinary people. Cheerleaders for a left practice of compromising with imperialism say this is a sign of independence. But a left that is regularly mobilized on behalf of corporate and investor interests when those interests are threatened, and remains quiescent when the same interests are being challenged, is hardly independent.
Western leftists should ask themselves fundamental questions.
Who owns and controls the media? Are the media neutral, or do they shape public opinion in ways that advance the interests of the media’s owners and others who share the same interests and connections? What are the interests of the people who own and control the media?
Who owns and controls the foundations that fund policy experts, including those on the left? Do foundations give money to people who effectively oppose their interests or to people who effectively advance them?
How will a leader, political party, or movement that effectively advances the interests of ordinary people over those of corporations, banks and imperialist governments be treated by the media and by foundation-connected experts (recognizing that corporations and banks own the media and foundations and dominate imperialist governments)? Will they be given grudging respect? Are will they be vilified?
If a leader promotes the interests of corporations and investors while cracking down on ordinary people (Mubarak) will he be demonized? If not, why not? And if a leader promotes the interests of ordinary people over those of foreign corporations, investors and colonial settlers (Mugabe), will he be treated indifferently?
1. New York Times, September 20, 2006
2. Al-Ahram Weekly, February 1, 2007
3. New York Times, June 15, 2007
4. New York Times, April 9, 2008
5. The Guardian (UK), July 19, 2007
6. New York Times, October 22, 2006
7. Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2006
8. New York Times, June 17, 2008
9. New York Times, September 20, 2006
10. The Guardian (UK), April 7, 2008