The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

cheap dig


Ok ok. My apologies to the fine boys who come out to make sure that law and order are maintained during these demos. Sometimes you just can't resist though.

Today's Kefaya demo at Sayeda Zeinab mosque, marking the thirty-year anniversary of the Bread Riots, was more energetic than usual, and the crowd seemed more diverse. At the same time security seemed more at ease, though the tactics followed routine practise: squish the protestors into the smallest possible space and keep a troupe of beltagaya posted around the corner just in case.

I've posted a couple of other shots of the proceedings on my flickr site.

Also see Hossam Hamalway's report here or check out a contemporary account of the events by Henry E. Mattox, economic reporting officer at the US Embassy at the time. He seems to have observed the events from the vantage point of his office, but he did offer this:
The root cause of the recent unpleasantness was what we in the economics racket call in technical terms an effort to extract blood from the corpus of a turnip.

And then he went on to describe how the government has "painted itself into an uncomfortable corner" with "this subsidy lashup."

Worth noting that Sadat's government got itself out of the corner not by easing off subsidies while doing something about the repressive and corrupt mode of economic "management" that they enabled, but by a cheap sleight of hand: keeping the price of bread the same while reducing the size of the loaves (oh yeah, and bashing a lot of heads). So the working class today finds itself in the same position as 1977: dependent for their daily bread on a regime that acts like a violent dead-beat dad, at once stifling the ability of those without the capital to buy up state assets at knock-down prices to support themselves, and unable to provide an alternative.

Mattox's conclusion also says much about the nature of US-Egyptian state-level relations, though perhaps unintentionally. After bemoaning the billions of dollars that the subsidies are costing the Egyptian government, referring to cutting out the subsidies as "bringing sanity" and hiding under his well-polished desk for several days, Maddox reports that "the natives are quiet again."

What a relief.