Swans Commentary » swans.com January 31, 2011  



Blips #103
 From The Martian Desk


by Gilles d'Aymery





Le goût de la liberté est amer. ("The taste of freedom is bitter.")
—Mikis Théodorakis

(Swans - January 31, 2011)   EXTRAORDINARY TIMES: Two weeks ago I concluded my last Blips regarding the mostly peaceful revolution in Tunisia, "all that is called for is a more just and equitable world." I also suggested, "the leaders of Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Jordan, Egypt, and beyond -- all corrupted autocrats -- [might] be worrying sick about these events." The masters of the world presently assembled in Davos, Switzerland, pondering how to keep political and economical matters under their control, must have changed the conversation. Egypt has erupted. Jordan, Yemen, and Algeria can follow. No pinstripe suit, Hermes tie, and Rolex watch-wearing chieftain grasps the extent of the situation. They beg that order prevail -- their order -- but hedge their bets as Obama did in his January 28 remarks on the Egyptian upheaval.

WHETHER THE MILITARY sides with the protestors is a matter of conjecture. The Egyptian state-owned TV has denied rumors that Hosni Mubarak's two sons, Alaa and Gamal Mubarak, have landed in London with their families. If true, however, it's hard to imagine that he can remain in power much longer. Like in Tunisia the masses are not asking for reforms, they want regime change. The appointment of intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to the vice-presidency is a guarantee of continuity that must be welcome in Israel and Washington, but it is doubtful that the protestors will accept him and the new government. No one predicted the extent of this popular revolt. It's worth noting that the revolutionary youth did not come from the Muslim Brotherhood. They appear to be attracted by Western culture. They want what the Mubarak regime has not given them for three decades: freedom of expression, democracy, an end to corruption, and above all, jobs that pay a decent wage. Once again, blood is being spilled in the streets -- already over 100 dead and 2,000 wounded -- as an 82-year-old autocrat clings to power.

WHAT'S MOST EXTRAORDINARY is the origin of the turmoil spreading all over the Middle East, or the spark that lighted the fire under an already boiling cauldron: The steep rise in the price of common food staples (as I noted in my last Blips), which led to the first riots in Northern Africa. Interestingly enough, the price hikes are in no small measure related to the ethanol boondoggle in the U.S., a gigantic waste based on faulty science that diverts corn production from feedstock and redirects it to the production of biofuels. Almost 40 percent of US corn goes into producing ethanol. Another 40 percent goes to feedstock, and only 20 percent for food staples. The price has soared from $176 to $276 per ton between July 2010 and January 2011. Corn prices are considered a barometer for the price of other commodities. So soybean, wheat, and rice have also risen substantially. The U.S. is the world's largest producer of corn and its leading exporter, but exports have not followed the demand. The situation was aggravated by the huge fires in Russia this past summer and the gigantic Australian floods. You know the expression "we are feeding food to our cars." This is exactly what's happening and you can see the consequences at your local grocery store.

BUT WHEN THE PRICES of staples soar the poor nations are particularly hurt. In a country like Egypt in which 40 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day, when the price of flour doubles, a loaf of bread quickly becomes an unaffordable luxury. As always the poor bear the brunt. To add insult to serious injury ethanol is heavily subsidized at taxpayer expense. So, not only is corn-based ethanol creating an environmental catastrophe, it also causes rising food prices, hunger, food riots, revolts, and even a revolution here and there.

THE TOPPLING of autocratic and corrupt regimes is good news for the concerned populations, but any new order will not be able to improve the lives of the people without addressing the root causes of the predicaments; that is, the immense inequalities that exist among rich and poor nations and within the polity of each of them, and a worldwide socioeconomic system based on profits instead of human needs and natural preservation. In the absence of social and moral justice we can expect more revolts, more upheavals, more blood in the streets.

LET'S HOPE THAT MUBARAK will be eased out of power soon and a new dawn will rise for our Egyptian brothers and sisters, and all the downtrodden masses in the Arab world and beyond.

 . . . . .

C'est la vie...

And so it goes...


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published January 31, 2011