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Middle East :: Egypt
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The stormy and bloody developments since the removal and arrest of President Morsi by the military mark a new, challenging and dangerous stage in the unfolding Egyptian revolution.
Despite the huge, unprecedented mass mobilisation against Morsi the absence of an independent, socialist based movement of the working class has opened the doors to the dangers of sectarianism, different varieties of counter-revolution and the possible ultimate defeat of the revolution.
Morsi's end came quickly against a background of a rapid mobilisation involving a movement of up to 17 million (about 20% of Egypt's population) in mass protests (see the Socialist issue 772).
The scale, power and speed of this movement were stunning. It was an illustration of something frequently seen in revolutions; after the initial period of euphoria and hope, there are often renewed mass movements of those disappointed with what appears to be the revolution's meagre results.
Increasingly Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government faced opposition from many sources. The failure of the revolution so far to deliver concrete economic and social improvements and the growing economic crisis fuelled increasing strikes and protests.
Morsi's November 2012 failed 'constitutional coup' attempt to give himself extra powers was for many a key event in building opposition to what was seen as a Muslim Brotherhood power grab. At the same time members of the old elite, including the military tops, who are estimated to control 8%-30% of economic output (Der Spiegel, 5 July), felt threatened by policies favouring pro-Muslim Brotherhood businessmen.
What was widely seen as the Muslim Brotherhood's attempt at domination also produced increasing opposition from more secular and Christian elements and also their Islamic religious rivals like the, Sunni fundamentalist, Nour party, which joined the protests at the end of June. This provided the foundation for the rapid response to the call by newly founded movement Tamarod (Rebel/Resistance) for a mass petition to demand Morsi's resignation.
In a way, we have seen two separate struggles against Morsi. On the one hand, there is a mass, popular movement and, on the other hand, the remnants of Mubarak's 'deep state', especially the military tops who have their own economic and political interests, who are trying to exploit the mass opposition for their own advantage.
These two elements illustrate both the potential and dangers facing the Egyptian revolution.
In the absence of the development of an independent workers' movement able to fight for a socialist alternative, the military tops, assisted by a selection of pro-capitalist politicians, have been able to seize advantage of the situation.
Clearly the generals both wanted to neuter or remove Morsi while, at the same time, feared that the situation could, from their class point of view, get "out of hand". There are reports of workers starting to go on strike on 3 July and that more planned to launch anti-Morsi strikes on 4 July; something that could have led to the working class taking the initiative through mass, even general, strike action. Clearly the generals moved to attempt to seize the initiative and prevent a popular uprising removing Morsi.
The military leaders have acted to defend both their own personal interests and those of a section of the Egyptian ruling class. At the same time, they enjoy the tacit support of the main imperialist powers and also the Israeli ruling class. There has only been very soft criticism by Obama, Hague and other imperialist leaders of the generals' coup.
This de facto military coup has allowed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood to pose as a defender of democracy. No doubt elements of the old Mubarak regime were involved in the movement against Morsi. But the huge size of the protests and their mass base stemmed from popular opposition to and disappointment with the Muslim Brotherhood's rule.
At the same time the size and determination of the pro-Morsi counter-protests are not simply religious based. Undoubtedly sections of those presently supporting Morsi are doing so because of their opposition to the military.
The developing clashes represent a real danger to the revolution, especially because it currently appears to be a battle led on the one side by the reactionary, conservative Muslim Brotherhood and other sectarian leaders and, on the other side, by the military tops.
In this situation it is absolutely essential that efforts are redoubled to build an independent workers' movement, not just trade unions, which can offer a real alternative and appeal to those workers and poor backing Morsi because of their own opposition to the military and the old elite. This is the only way the workers' movement can try to limit the ability of reactionary fundamentalist religious groupings presenting themselves as the main opponents to military rule.
The importance of this is shown in the continuing danger of sectarian divisions deepening between Sunni, Christian, Shia and more secular elements.
There can be no support by socialists for this coup. The growing working class movement needs to keep its independence from both the military and Morsi. The involvement of so-called 'liberal' or 'left' opposition forces, like the Tamarod grouping, with the military will backfire on them.
Unfortunately many on the Egyptian left are now backing the military. This may seem like 'practical politics' but they are politically disarming the working class. Last year some left groups called for a second round vote for Morsi and now they support the unreformed military removing him. Some of these same left groups, like the Revolutionary Socialists (RS, co-thinkers of the Socialist Workers Party) in their 6 July statement, make no direct criticism of the military take-over. So, in one year, the RS has swung from supporting Morsi against his military election rival, Shafiq, to supporting Shafiq's former colleagues removing Morsi.
Other groupings like Tamarod (to which the RS is affiliated) called for ElBaradei, an out and out pro-capitalist politician, to be prime minister and "condemned... the presidency's 'back-tracking'" when the salafist Al Nour party opposed ElBaradei. In a similar way, the RS do not consistently and concretely argue for a workers' and poor people's solution to Egypt's crisis. The RS does not link its call for the "reformation of revolutionary committees" with the question of who should form the government, other than the vague idea that "whoever is the next prime minister must be from the ranks of the January (2011) revolution".
Workers' leaders should have nothing to do with either military backed or pro-capitalist governments.
Already the military are showing how they want to run things. First they set up the power structures, dominated by pro-capitalist elements, and then, initially, said they would allow the people to vote sometime in the future after a committee revised the Constitution, while the Supreme Court would pass a draft law on parliamentary election and prepare for parliamentary and presidential polls.
Now, facing mass Muslim Brotherhood protests and retreating after the 8 July massacre, they have been forced to promise elections within months, but whether these take place is not at all certain.
Inevitably, in this crisis, a new government will come under pressure from the IMF and others to begin so-called 'economic reforms' which will probably include cuts to subsidies and other austerity measures. This will lay the basis for class struggles when the military and its government attempt to go onto the offensive, possibly using increasing authoritarian and brutal measures to try to impose their will.
This military takeover cannot in any way be described as a "progressive" one along the lines of the 1974 Portuguese revolution. But while that coup overthrew a decades-old dictatorship the failure to build an independent workers' movement capable of taking power itself meant that, after a period of time, the Portuguese ruling class and capitalism were able to re-assert their rule.
This is why it is so important that the popular movement, led by the working people and youth, organises itself to fight for its own demands and against the installation of a military backed regime.
Two and a half years ago, on the day when Mubarak resigned, the CWI circulated a leaflet in Cairo arguing for "No trust in the military chiefs! For a government of the representatives of workers, small farmers and the poor!" Its demands are still valid today.
Since then there has been a tremendous development of the Egyptian workers' movement in terms of trade unions, committees and the experience of action. This provides a basis for creating the kind of mass movement that is needed.
In February 2011 we wrote that the Egyptian revolution can be "a huge example to workers and the oppressed around the world that determined mass action can defeat governments and rulers no matter how strong they appear to be."
This is as true today. The renewed mass movement in Egypt can inspire those who see revolutions not resulting in real change, as in Tunisia, the descent into a largely sectarian civil war in Syria, and the continuing repression in Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc.
But while the recent days in Egypt have shown the potential power of mass action, they also show again the need for the workers' movement to have a clear socialist programme and plan of action to answer Egypt's economic, social and political crisis, otherwise other forces can try to divert, and ultimately defeat, the revolution.
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Article dated 10 July 2013
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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