The storming of the US embassy in Cairo has diverted attention once again from the real issues facing Egypt. It couldn’t have come at a better time for those who want to convince the Egyptian people to accept an International Monetary Fund loan, and extend former president Hosni Mubarak’s liberalisation of the economy.
While the western media and politicians seem content to view Egypt through the prism of political rights versus Islam, the economic causes of the revolution, the waves of strikes and economic demands of the activists are barely discussed.
This allows the US and European governments to portray the $4.8bn IMF loan under negotiation, the “assistance” funds that will shortly start flowing into public-private “partnerships” and free trade zones being planned by the EU, as “gifts” to the Egyptian people. In recent days, highly critical rightwing commentaries about the US embassy incident have even suggested withdrawing such “gifts” until the Egyptian government can keep its people under control.
The diversion into religious tension is also helpful to economic conservatives in the Egyptian administration, who are intent on pushing through the IMF loan, repaying Mubarak’s odious debts and opening the country to western capital. It allows President Mohammed Morsi to stand firm against the US on issues that are more symbolic, while giving way to its economic agenda.
The IMF agenda is not popular. When it tried to negotiate a loan with the unelected interim military government last year, it was turned down on the grounds that the resulting IMF interference would be unacceptable.
At the time, the opposition Muslim Brotherhood said it was firmly against the loan. Today, in government, the party hierarchy is supporting it, despite serious doubts in the wider organisation, where many are rightly concerned that an IMF agenda is incompatible with Islamic principles of finance.