David “Spengler” Goldman has been writing for some time about how poverty, hunger, and a collapsing state are at the core of Egypt’s crisis. Here’s part of his take on the coup:
Starvation is the unstated subject of yesterday’s military coup. For the past several months the bottom half of Egypt’s population has had little to eat except government-subsidized bread, and now the bread supply is threatened by a shortage of imported wheat. Despite $8 billion of aid from Qatar and smidgens from Libya, Turkey and others, Egypt is struggling to meet a financing gap of perhaps $20 billion a year, made worse by the collapse of its major cash earner, the tourist industry. Malnutrition is epidemic in the form of extreme protein deficiency in a country where 40% of the adult population is already “stunted” by poor diet, according to the World Food Program. It is not that hard to get 14 million people into the streets if there is nothing to eat at home.
Nearly half of Egyptians are illiterate. 70% of them live on the land yet the country imports half its food. Its only cash-earning industry, namely tourism, is in ruins. Sixty years of military dictatorship has left it with college graduates unfit for the world market and a few t-shirt factories turning Asian polyester into cut-rate exports. It cannot feed itself and it cannot earn enough to feed itself, as I have explained in a series of recent articles. Someone has to subsidize them or a lot of them will starve. Unlike Mexico, Egypt can’t ship its rural poor to industrial nations in the north.