Last week, media sources revealed that a shipment of tear gas on its way from South Korea to Bahrain was stopped after a campaign by human rights and humanitarian organisations and criticism from the Bahraini opposition. This shipment was valued at about $28 million, which Saudi Arabia is said to have donated.
Even before reading this news, I have often wondered, especially as I watch the Egyptian police use large quantities of tear gas on civilians on an almost daily basis, how much these tear gas bombs actually cost. Where did Egypt get this apparently infinite amount of tear gas (and the money to pay for it)? We, in the Arab world, are experts at prolonging dictatorship and oppression, but unfortunately, we haven't reached the level of producing the tools required for such dark arts. We have, therefore, become a burden on others, even in the one thing we are good at.
If we do the basic maths, we find that Bahrain bought $1.5 million worth of tear gas canisters in one shipment alone, and if Egypt operated at the same rate (which equates to four canisters per citizen), then Egypt would require millions of dollars' worth of tear gas. Keep in mind that Bahrain does not use tear gas as often as Egypt because the protests are not on a daily basis in Bahrain nor are the demonstrations of the same size.
Of course, this calculation does not include the cost of mobilising the police, army and security forces or the cost of their overtime payments. Nor can we forget the profits made by the mediators and officials, as dictatorships are cells of corruption, among other evil things. Nowadays, the police and army forces rarely leave the streets of Egypt's cities; who knows how much this is costing, as wars are expensive, especially when it's a government's war against its own people.
The coup and the turbulence it has caused also dealt a harsh blow to the tourism industry, one of the country's most important sources of income and the livelihood of millions. Of course, foreign investments have stopped and, more importantly, the state of turmoil and instability has disrupted the production process in most aspects of life, leading to the sacrifice of the economy for political purposes.
Not all of the losses resulting from the coup have been calculated, but estimates range between $500 million to $1 billion a month in the tourism sector alone. As for the other sectors, the losses are extreme. It is worth noting that the Egyptian economy was already in distress before last July's coup. Some estimated the losses in the Egyptian economy during the first year of the revolution at $30 billion, and although there was a slight improvement in the economy during Morsi's term in office, there was still a constant deficit during that period, forcing the state to borrow heavily locally and abroad.
There have been promises of compensation for those losses made by Arab parties, but no country on earth can cover the deficit of a deteriorating economy like Egypt's. The Gulf States promised to provide $12 billion after the coup, which was needed at the time to meet pressing obligations, and some reports have said that Al-Sisi asked for $2 billion before agreeing to run for president, but this request is merely a fantasy as the Gulf States have not kept the promises they made earlier.
The economy is not everything, even though it is the people's livelihood, and it is therefore revivable. We have witnessed the Syrians losing everything, but freedom is more expensive and precious than any other thing. However, the true challenge is when a person loses their sustenance and freedom together. When countries spend billions on tools of oppression, they are planning to eliminate the people. How can they spend the money needed desperately by the people on tear gas used to subject and bring the people to their knees? Where is this money coming from; isn't it from the work and sweat of the people? When foreign states lend money, even if it is only to cover the cost of tear gas, they will get their capital back plus interest of some kind. As such, the people pay the price three times: once while covering the cost of the bombs, once when they get hit by them and once when they pay the "interest".
A new law must be passed in Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and Iraq; a law to hold ex-officials accountable for the cost of their decisions taken in office. When the authoritarian regimes fall, and they will fall, the officials and their heirs must be prosecuted and held responsible for the cost of the criminal decisions they made during their rule. It isn't fair for the future generations to pay the debts and interest on tear gas, chains, prisons and other tools of repression, not to mention the bullets that killed their people. The officials must pay with their own money (which would mostly be looted in any case) for everything that they cost the people, and the businessmen who profited from and supported this injustice must also be included.
This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Quds Al Arabi on 17 January, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.