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The Gray Zone: Role of U.S. Policy & Financial Crisis in Middle East Upheaval

February 11, 2011


It is a dangerous game the United States has been playing for many decades by propping up dictators and autocrats such as Hosni Mubarek. The list is long and inglorious. A couple more well-known were Noriega in Panama and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. We are still strongly allied with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah II of Jordan. The costs have been in billions of dollars of aid, largely military, to these countries in exchange for diplomatic favors and agreements that are in U.S. interest. But the sands are shifting. We are losing leverage as old paradigms break down and cultural shifts are taking place across the globe.

Understandably, many younger populations who were not alive during the Cold War are not on board with the old ways. They see it as corrupt and counter to their personal interests, those being employment and prosperity. Basically they are tired of being at the bottom of the global capitalism pyramid. As the saying goes, all politics are local.

Salon reports:American support for the Egyptian government — to the tune of $60 billion in aid over the last 30 years — garnered virtually no regular attention before the protests began.

There are now reports of anti-American sentiment among the Egyptian protesters, who are angry about U.S. support for Hosni Mubarak over the years and about the Obama administration’s hesitance to throw its full support behind the movement. A powerful symbol has emerged in tear gas canisters bearing “Made in the USA” labels that police have fired into the crowds.

Thus, President Obama is in the gray zone, the place between what once was and what will be. A major paradigm shift is taking place. It is paramount that the U.S. handles itself in such a way as to not inflame more radical elements, but more important, to plug into the needs and aspirations of the Egyptian people as a whole. What Obama will have more trouble with is creating renewed confidence in American policy. His challenge is to help pave the way, a new way to how U.S. policy will adapt to the rise of democracy in Egypt and possibly the Middle East as a whole if the contagion spreads.

Al Jazeera reports: Yes, the tens of thousands in the streets demanding the ouster of the cruel Mubarak regime are pressing for their right to make a political choice, but they are being driven by an economic disaster that have sent unemployment skyrocketing and food prices climbing.

And this leads to the second part of the problem facing the United States. The rise in global food prices and mass unemployment in the Middle East and throughout the world is largely due to our financial crisis stemming from lack of oversight of Wall Street activities.

Al Jazeera continues: As Nouriel Roubini – who was among the first to predict the financial crisis while others were pooh-poohing him as “Dr Doom” – says, don’t just look at the crowds in Cairo, but what is motivating them now after years of silence and repression.

He says that the dramatic rise in energy and food prices has become a major global threat and a leading factor that has gone largely unreported in the coverage of events in Egypt.

“What has happened in Tunisia is happening right now in Egypt, but also riots in Morocco, Algeria and Pakistan are related not only to high unemployment rates and to income and wealth inequality, but also to this very sharp rise in food and commodity prices,” Roubini said.

For instance, prices in Egypt are up 17% because of a worldwide surge in commodity prices. Now here’s a key fact buried in a CNN Money report – the kind intended for investors, not the public at large: “About 40% of Egypt’s citizens live off less than $2 a day, so any price increase hurts.”

Think about that: what would you be doing if you were living off $2 a day? You won’t be drinking mochaccinos at Starbucks, that’s for sure. Trust me, the people on top are following this unrest closely on Wall Street as anxiety grows.

That is an astute assessment because what we are battling right now in the U.S. is anti-regulation forces as embodied by the Republican Party, the billionaire Koch Brothers, the too-big-to-fail-banks who are now larger then ever are continuing today with nefarious practices through speculation in the commodities markets driving up food, coal, cotton, etc. These financial endeavors do not put the U.S. in a positive light. Other nations know that the U.S. dropped the ball big time in 2008 as we failed to properly oversee our own financial system. They see the exploitive nature of global capitalism and the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis as interwoven. People are waking up to the whole scheme, including the Egyptians. The Egyptian people were not only sick and tired of their fearless leader Mubarek, they were sick and tired of being poor and at the bottom of the food chain. They, as many around the globe plus everyday Americans, are sick and tired of global capitalism and corporatism robbing them of opportunities to work and be prosperous. They are shunting oligarchal forces and embracing self-determinism. And that my friends is real democracy spitting in the eye of the rich and powerful. I think this may be the beginning of worldwide change as we see the old ways of the 20th century die.

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