Thursday, April 28, 2005

Fondly remembering dinosaurs 

Nostalgia for the Soviet Union is not restricted just to Vladimir Putin and a large section of the Russian population but also pops up among Egyptian - you guessed it! - intellectuals (albeit on the occasion of Putin's historic visit in the land of pyramids):

"In the 1960s and 70s, Egypt hosted thousands of Russian troops and technicians and their families, but their most visible presence now is in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, where Russian tourists flock to the beaches on cheap flights.

"It saddens those who cherish the memory of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president who built the alliance with Moscow. 'The Soviet Union helped build Egypt as an economy and nation independent of the colonial powers,' said Ahmed Thabit, a Cairo University professor of politics.

" 'From the Soviet times, we have the High Dam, we have the factories of heavy industry,' said Thabit, a member of the Nasserite Party and of Egypt's new reform movement, Kifaya. 'All we see from the Americans is blue jeans, soft drinks and hamburgers'."
Actually, Professor Thabit, that's what you get from American businesses, because your own younger generation wants to consume all these things. From the American government Egypt gets some $2 billion "aid" a year (or $50 billion since 1975) - enough to build a good-sized dam or a factory a year. Maybe you should ask the Egyptian government what's happening to all that money (and let's hope that the good professor is not representative of the Egyptian opposition and "new reform movement".

If the Egyptians aren't getting much out of that $2 billion, and - looking at the amount of anti-American propaganda that spews out of official and semi-official sources in Egypt - the Americans aren't getting much out of that $2 billion, maybe it's time to stop equipping the Egyptian armed forces and spend the money on a serious and far-ranging economic reform and restructure package. Egypt has got enough dams and heavy industry - the twentieth century's pyramids - what it needs is a way to channel its people's energies into more productive avenues and a way to achieve meaningful integration with global economy.

Meanwhile, Putin's charm juggernaut through the Mid East continues with his
historic visit to Israel. The Soviets were of course the early supporters and sponsors of Israel but switched over to the Arab side in the 1960s (for all the supposedly deeply ingrained Polish anti-Semitism, I'm told of widespread joy in 1967 when "our" Jews kicked "their" Arabs' butts). Putin is desperately trying to make Russia relevant again on the international scene (another example, I guess, of Great Power Deprivation Syndrome), but the fact remains that at the moment the only thing that Russia has to offer is military technology, which it is rather indiscriminately selling to rogues and good guys alike, a sort of Weapons of Mass Distribution. As for diplomacy, for now few will take Russia seriously as a counter-balance to the United States in the region.


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