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Egypt: elections open road to counter-revolution

By Marcus Halaby

The principal demand of the February 2011 protests that marked the beginning of Egypt’s revolution was for President Hosni Mubarak’s immediate resignation

To many, it therefore looks like a defeat for popular aspirations, that one of the two candidates for the second round is Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq. Only about two fifths of the electorate voted in the first round, in which Shafiq, with a quarter of the vote, came a very close second to the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi.

After almost a year and a half, this “democratic” revolution has not yet seen any notable democratic reforms for the masses, beyond the rights of association and free assembly (and crucially, of organisation in the workplace) that they established for themselves on the streets.

There was no candidate who could make a serious claim to represent the revolution itself. Hamdeen Sabahi of the left-nationalist Karama (“dignity”) party, who came third with 21 per cent, picked up the votes of many who were alarmed at the prospect of a Brotherhood president supported by a Brotherhood-dominated parliament. But Karama, like the Brotherhood, was late to join the anti-Mubarak protests.

The ruling junta vetted the choice of candidates even before the vote. The Brotherhood’s first choice candidate, Khairat al-Shater, was disqualified on trumped-up charges, as was the veteran bourgeois liberal candidate Ayman Nour. The Salafist candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail was also barred on the basis that his mother was a naturalised US citizen, while Mubarak’s vice president Omar Suleiman was only barred following mass protests against such an obvious representative of the old order.

Nor did the rigging stop with weeding out undesirable candidates. After the first round of voting, allegations surfaced that interior ministry officials “gave” 900,000 votes to Shafiq.

The recent mass demonstrations in Tahrir, Alexandria and other cities indicates that the lack of enthusiasm of the voters does not at all translate into apathy about the fate of the revolution. But the question of political power – and all the social, economic and democratic questions that flow from this – will not be decided by who wins the presidential elections. That must still be decided between the masses and the SCAF..

For the masses to achieve their democratic and social aspirations for radical change, they need to give the de facto power they have already won on the streets a permanent and organised expression. Popular, delegate-based assemblies can lay the basis for a source of authority that can challenge SCAF’s control of the “democratic process”. Similarly, organisations of self-defence against state repressions are needed to secure the rights to organise and protests, and in particular the gains of women and youth.

Above all, the socialist left need to form themselves into a party capable of arguing for these forms of popular power, and of standing against the stream of a stage-managed democratisation in which the Islamists tried to steal the revolution from those who made it.

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