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Egypt- From Nasser to Mubarak: a country under outside control

Translated Sunday 20 February 2011, by Kieran O’Meara and reviewed by Henry Crapo

US interference in Egypt, motivated by the Israel-Palestine conflict and the country’s geographical location, at the junction of a key global commercial route, has brought the régime to breaking point.

Egypt is a key piece of the Arab world. Its modern history, punctuated by wars which have been related both to the Israel-Palestine conflict and to a geographical location which places it at the crossroads of global commerce, indicates the extent to which it remains a decisive strategic asset. One can understand, therefore, why the former European colonial powers first of all, then the United States have made every effort to bring the country under their control.

When Nasser, one of the army officers who had deposed the former king Farouk two years earlier and proclaimed a republic, came to power in 1954 it gave rise to great hope both among Egyptians and in the greater Arab world. The British and French former colonizers resisted the policies of the new head of state, who sought to free the country from its old economic and political dependencies, without success. The Suez war, set off by Tel-Aviv in 1956 with the open support of Paris and London, aimed to prevent the nationalization of the famous canal. It was a resounding fiasco. Nasser came out of it with considerable prestige in his own country and in the Arab world as a whole. The Egyptian leader also gained a unique standing within the Nonaligned Movement.

In the mid-1960s, Nasser’s régime became harsher (limiting of civil liberties, banning of the Communist Party), and was weakened at the same time. It would be totally shaken by its defeat, this time, at the hands of Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967.

After the death of Nasser in 1970, Anwar Al-Sadat took over. Although he was a leader of the same all-powerful party as the late president, he moved to secure a rapprochement towards the United States. On the economic front, there was a first wave of privatizations which quickly gave rise to great social inequalities. In politics, after the Yom Kippur war (1973), in which the Arab countries were defeated once again, Sadat would openly play the peace card with the former Israeli enemy. This led to the so-called Camp David peace accord, of which Sadat was a co-signatory along with Jimmy Carter, president of the United States, and Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister.

The assassination of Sadat in October 1981 by Islamic extremists, enabled Hosni Mubarak to come to power. The alliance with the United States and the accompanying rapprochement towards Israel was thereby speeded up, leading to the return of Sinai to Egypt in 1982. At the same time, acceptance of the norms of neoliberal globalization intensified under the aegis of IMF-led reforms. This gave rise to a renewed deepening of social divisions and greater discontent, to which the régime responded with greater authoritarianism. Drawing on a higher level of suffering among the people, the Muslim Brotherhood extended their influence despite repression. Fundamentalists were also responsible for regular attacks on touristic targets. The régime used the Islamist threat to crack down harder and gagged the democratic opposition. Then came the explosion of the last few days.

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