Frustration, shame, humiliation: it does not take much for Egyptians to call up these feelings. It’s still often said that ‘what happens in Egypt affects the entire Arab world,’ but nothing much has happened there in years. Egypt has fallen behind Saudi Arabia – not to mention non-Arab countries like Turkey and Iran – in regional leadership. Even tiny Qatar has a more independent foreign policy. Egypt is by far the largest Arab country, with 80 million inhabitants, yet it’s seen by most Arabs – and by the Egyptians themselves – as a client state of the United States and Israel, who depend on Mubarak to ensure regional ‘stability’ in the struggle with the ‘resistance front’ led by Iran. The liberalisation of Egypt’s economy – launched by Sadat’s Infitah (Open Door) policy in 1974 – has earned Mubarak praise from the World Bank. The 2007 constitution, purged of references to socialism, says that ‘the economy of the Arab Republic of Egypt is founded on the development of the spirit of enterprise.’ Yet Egypt’s market is anything but free: businesses tend to have very close, and mutually profitable, relationships with the state, in which the Mubarak family often participates and takes its cut. Hussein Salem, a hotel magnate, arms dealer and co-owner of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Company – an Egyptian-Israeli consortium that recently secured a $2.5 billion contract to sell Egypt’s natural gas to Israel – is thought to be one of Mubarak’s frontmen; the gas began flowing in early 2008, just as Israel was tightening the siege of Gaza.
more from Adam Shatz at the LRB here.