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Sunday, February 6, 2011

The US arms industry and the people's revolt in Egypt

"The military was greeted warmly on the streets of Cairo. Crowds roared with approval as one soldier was carried through Tahrir Square today holding a flower in his hand," reports Democracy Now! senior producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous.
He speaks of "a great sense of pride that this is a leaderless movement organized by the people. A genuine popular revolt. It was not organized by opposition movements, though they have now joined the protesters in Tahrir."

According to Abdel Kouddous, "The Muslim Brotherhood was out in full force today. At one point they began chanting "Allah Akbar" only to be drowned out by much louder chants of "Muslim, Christian, we are all Egyptian."
What he describes, reflected in the TV coverage, is truly a "people's revolution". Will it play out that way? So far, the main concern of the protesters has been to get rid of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's "president"-cum-dictator for the past 30 years.
The US has kept Mubarak in power, giving his regime 1.5 billion dollars in aid last year – mainly because he supported America's pro-Israel policies, especially by helping Israel to maintain its stranglehold on Gaza.

Egypt has been the number-two recipient (after Israel) of US foreign aid. In both 2009 and 2010, the economic aid amounted to 250 million dollars while military aid reached 1.3 billion dollars.
US military aid to Egypt has been spent primarily on strengthening the regime's "domestic security" and its ability to confront popular movements.
In a report for the Carnegie Foundation on US aid to Egypt, Ahmad al-Sayed El-Naggar asks: "Why don't Egyptians notice the role of American aid to their country? The simple answer is that US economic aid to Egypt, which amounted to 455 million dollars in 2007, translated to only 6 dollars per capita."
It was even less in 2010 when the total economic aid of 200 million dollars could provide less than 3 dollars per capita income. The people have suffered poverty while Mubarak supported his army and the US military-industrial complex.
The US has no reason to begrudge the amounts of military aid to Egypt. Much of it goes back to American defence contractors. Lockheed Martin received a 213 million contract for 20 new F-16s for Egypt in March 2010, boasted the company on its website.
BAE Systems, General Dynamics, General Electric, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin have all done business with the Egyptian government, selling tanks, fighter jets, howitzers and radar arrays to its military.
Meanwhile, half the people of Egypt live on less than 2 dollars a day. Is it any wonder that they have taken to the streets in protest?
When the tanks rolled into Cairo, some protesters climbed on them to a friendly reception by the soldiers. A couple of noisy fighter jets swooped threateningly overhead, but the protesters and the army remained friendly. Throughout the day people chanted: "The people, the army: one hand."
That wasn't the case when the police and the security forces threw tear gas canisters with labels "Made in America" into the crowds. The security police have represented much of what the Egyptian people have come to hate about Mubarak.
Meanwhile, the US administration has been waffling when asked whether they support the Egyptian public or Mubarak.
Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, stressed that Egypt's future lies in the hands of its people, hewing to the administration line of refusing to take sides publicly.
However, the administration has a growing fear that a government hostile to the US could gain control of such a large and important Arab nation.
The unspoken fear is that American arms manufacturers will lose a reliable customer.
* Paul J. Balles is a retired American university professor and freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for many years. He’s a weekly Op-Ed columnist for the Gulf Daily News. Dr. Balles is also Editorial Consultant for Red House Marketing and a regular contributor to Bahrain This Month.

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