As a child I remember that each bright, hot morning in Alexandria my father would listen for the call of our neighborhood baker, run down the stairs and come back with the most amazing pit-oven baked pita bread. I also recall that he would always stop by the hilu (sweets) shop on the way back – that’s where glass bottles of Coca-Cola and Pepsi were cleaned, refilled and then returned to their owners. Over fūl and bread – the traditional breakfast of the Egyptian working class (cheap and filling) – he would drink a Coca-Cola. Soft drinks like Coke and Pepsi were (and are still) a staple in Egypt. Inexpensive, exceedingly sweet, non-alcoholic and perhaps the one thing more visible on the streets, television and daily life than Hosni Mubarak.
Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola have enormous bottling plants in Egypt, and they commit the same offenses there as elsewhere – water hoarding, environmental contamination, and extreme abuse of workers. But their products remain successful in the same countries – especially those, like Egypt, where the middle-class (the subject of the new “pro-revolution” adverts linked above) have largely been able to ignore Egypt’s widespread industrial and agricultural labor struggles. Even outside of the middle-class, Coke is cheap to buy and thus an affordable luxury – the bottling plants in Egypt join others that still allow glass bottles to be returned and refilled in order to keep prices – for production and consumers – low. Things are changing, it seems, with more mainstream attention being paid to labor issues by the national and international media. But while the revolution persists – for labor rights, for land rights, against the military regime and against neo-liberal interference – Coca-Cola and Pepsi join Vodafone by casually erasing their contribution to Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship and rewriting the narrative in their favor.
University of Arkansas Professor Ted Swedenburg has more at his blog, here.