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International Socialism, January 1978


Notes of the Month

Middle East: Peace for Profits


From International Socialism (1st series), No. 104, January 1978, pp. 3–4.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to Sally Kincaid.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


How fast can Sadat run? That is the question in the minds of many – not least Sadat himself. The Egyptian economy remains in chaos and the pressures which led to the mass workers’ demonstrations last January are building up again. These pressures have driven Sadat to try and cut through the tangle of obstacles to a ‘settlement’ in the Middle East. It is the threat of internal revolt that has sent him scuttling to meet Begin in Jerusalem.

The major world powers, in particular the US, continue to hold back the aid they have promised. They hope to force a destitute Egypt into an humiliating settlement. The Carter Administration knows that Egypt cannot fight Israel. The US has supplied the latest weapons to Israel. The Russians refuse to do even routine maintenance work on aircraft engines until Egypt pays off some of its billions of debts to the USSR. Sadat would be only too pleased to get himself off the hook by ditching the Palestinians.

Inside Egypt a power struggle has been going on in high places. The remnants of the Nasserite bureaucracy – devoted to nationalisation and state planning – have been slugging it out with the local versions of Sir Keith Joseph, led by the Deputy Premier Abdul Kaissuni.

Kaissuni and his henchmen stand for sharp reductions in consumption. In particular they want a cut in the food subsidies twice as big as the one which led to the rioting last January.

Early in October there was a crisis in the Cabinet. The ministers for Agriculture and Fisheries, Industrial Cooperatives, Sudanese Affairs, Manpower and Vocational Training, and Information – all Kaissuni men – reportedly resigned. This led to a major reshuffle in late October from which Kaissuni emerged with almost dictatorial powers in the economic field, heading a ministry which controls economics, finance, planning and trade.

Kaissuni has support outside the Cabinet, too. The extreme right are becoming more active and their new party, the Wafd, appears to have very similar ideas to Kaissuni, at least on the economy. They call for the ‘total liquidation of the public sector’; for the complete opening of the country to Western exploitation and a vigorous anti-Communist campaign. Like all ‘pre-1953 parties’ the Wafd has no legal right to existence, but it is a measure of its support in ruling circles that it can function without harassment.

The main base of the surviving Nasserite bureaucracy is in the Army. Sadat is trying to head off a revival of Nasser-style Arab nationalism by sacking some high ranking officers and promoting middle-rankers to try to keep their support. At the same time, there has been a wage-cut of almost 50 per cent for ordinary soldiers, so a wedge has been driven between them and any nationalist officers aspiring to emulate Nasser.

But the balancing and plotting does nothing to solve Egypt’s real problems. The burden of foreign debts is crushing. In 1978 Egypt will have to try to find five billion dollars in repayments alone. They have no hope of doing so. The expected total of aid is about one third of this and much of it comes from assorted oil sheikhs. These people will not let their money go to pay off debts to Russia. Sadat has been forced to announced a ten-year suspension of debts repayments to the USSR, adding that: ‘We are not refusing to pay, but the other side should understand our circumstances.’ The Russians, apparently, do not understand, hence their refusal to service military equipment. As a consequence, the massive Egyptian war machine is grinding to a halt.

What money Sadat can get goes to pay off some of its debts to Western banks. The attitude of these banks is simple: they think that, after nearly five years in the American camp, Egypt would be a great place to invest, if only there was a peace settlement.


So Sadat cannot play the last card of an Arab regime threatened from within: war with Israel to stir up patriotic fervour. He has not the means to fight. All he can do is to play Carter’s game. But at the same i time, he needs quicker progress than the years of endless talks, so he has tried to force the pace. By going to Jerusalem, he has put the ball in the US court. He has done all he can. Now either Carter must force the Israelis to make the sort of concessions which would permit a run-down of Egypt’s military machine, which at present eats up about half of the Gross National Product each year. Or he must step in and bail out his Arab friends now.

The logic of this move is a unilateral peace with Israel. In this reversal of the policy of thirty years Sadat has the backing, or at least the silent approval, of most of the states with the money: the Saudis and the Gulf States, plus Tunisia, Morocco and the Sudan. More indirectly, Jordan and Iraq are ready for a compromise.

Despite public denials from all sides, the moves towards a separate peace have been obvious to the other Arab states. To counter this, the Libyans held a summit meeting in Tripoli. This was attended by Syria, Iraq, Algeria, South Yemen, Libya, the PLO and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). It was a meeting of the ‘rejectionists’.

This meeting saw the rehabilitation of Syria despite the fact that it continues to crush the Palestinians in the Lebanon. A ‘Confrontation’ alliance was formed from which only Iraq was absent.

The ‘confrontation’ alliance does not commit anybody to fight Israel. It does not reject the idea of a peaceful settlement or even the setting up of a West Bank Palestinian Bantustan. What it has done is tie the forces of the old rejection front into the schemes of the Arab states.

Such a front will not and cannot play a leading role in the struggle of the Palestinians to return to their homelands. Instead it liquidates the organised sections of the resistance into the hands of Syria, Libya and Algeria. All of these states are far busier smashing their own workers and peasants than in fighting alongside the Palestinians. Their foreign commitments are icing on the cake. The recent visit of US Secretary of State Vance to Syria indicates just how committed Syria is to its new-found rejectionism.

For Sadat, it is likely that Israel will refuse any serious concessions and his plan will fall flat. The only solution will then be a savage attack on the living standards of the Egyptian workers and peasants. The probability is that there will be renewed confrontations on the streets of the cities.

For those Palestinians who wish to continue the fight there is now a choice. The role of the PFLP in the Tripoli conference shows that, rhetoric aside, it will dance to the tune of the Arab states. The idea that ‘rejectionism’ can be based on alliance with this or that state now looks very thin indeed.

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