Gassing the revolution: The US origins of Tahrir’s tears

The liberal use of US-manufactured tear gas on protesters in recent days has raised questions about its public health effects – and who is actually ordering its use

Ahmed Feteha, Michael Gunn, Ahram Online, Thursday 24 Nov 2011
Tear gas

A protester displays gas canisters as tears stream down his face on Saturday, 19 November (Photo: Mosa’ab Elshamy)

Egyptian security forces are digging deeper into their budget with each volley of increasingly fatal US-made tear gas they launch at demonstrators.

The human cost of the violent crackdown in central Cairo is increasingly clear — among the 39 fatalities reported to date, several are said to have died of asphyxiation caused by tear gas.

But the financial background to the use of crowd control weapons raises questions about the extent of Washington’s financial assistance to Egypt’s military and how this might filter down to the ministry of interior.

The USA is the biggest arms supplier to Egypt, providing an average of US$1.3 billion in military and law equipment every year since 2000.

Records from the US Department of State show the US supplied $1.7 million of “toxicological agents” — “including tear gases and riot control agents” — to Egypt in 2010.

This was the largest dispatch of such agents in at least 10 years.

In 2009, the US supplied 33,000 units of ‘tear gas and riot control agents’ worth $460,000. It did not supply in 2007 nor 2008, but gave 17,000 units worth $240,000 in 2006, documents show.

Continues >>

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