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Egypt after the military coup

The July 3 military coup in Egypt, launched by Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, seems to be faltering in the face of intransigent resistance by the mass following of the Muslim Brotherhood. Having failed to crush the resistance of pro-Morsi demonstrators, despite the massacre of 72 people at the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on July 27, figures from the government installed by the military are now plainly looking for a compromise.

The interim government and its military masters are also under heavy pressure from the Obama administration. The US Deputy Secretary of State, William Burns, accompanied by Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, has spent several days in Egypt in negotiations with both sides.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and its envoy, Bernardino Leon, also rushed to Cairo to try to mediate. As well as exerting pressure on liberals like the interim Vice President, Mohamed El Baradei, of the National Salvation Front, Ashton was even allowed to meet Morsi himself, still detained by the military.

Similarly, Burns and Leon, together with top diplomats from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, backers of the Brotherhood, met Khairat al-Shater who is being held in prison. Al-Shater is a millionaire capitalist, number two in the Brotherhood’s leadership, one of its main financiers and regarded as the most “pragmatic” of its leaders, that is, the most willing to do a deal.

The only problem for the US and EU plans for compromise is that the Brotherhood now has the wind of popular support in its sails once again. It sees little reason to trim them, believing it can hold out for the full re-instatement of Mohamed Morsi as President.

This has left interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi with little option but to repeat threats to dismantle the pro-Morsi protest camps, now Ramadan is over. However, if the military and the police attempt this, it will undoubtedly lead to further bloodshed. If army discipline holds, this could lead to the restoration of a total military dictatorship but if it weakens, then it could open the way to another surge forward for Brotherhood rule.

The Liberals and the more radical forces linked to them in the Tamerod (Rebel) front, which mobilised the demonstrations on 30 June, now find themselves in a cleft stick. If the military go for all out repression, they will be seen to have aided the restoration of the old regime – and its henchmen, the “feloul” as they are known. On the other hand, if the Americans do broker a compromise between the Army and the Brotherhood, they are likely to be the big losers. Such a deal would doubtless include concessions on social policy to the Islamists at the expense of the secular constituency. Equally, the “inclusiveness” that the US and the EU representatives talk about would simply mean the Liberals being taken hostage in a military-Islamist-feloul administration.

In either outcome, the Liberals could expect to see their mass support on the streets become deeply disillusioned and evaporate. Any future elections are likely to see them heavily punished for their opportunism in fostering a military coup.

There can be no doubt that, however huge the wave of popular indignation against Morsi became between May and late June, al-Sisi’s coup itself was a completely counterrevolutionary act; not as the Liberals, and even some leftists, claimed, a continuation of the revolution.

For one thing, it is now clear that, from the beginning, Tamerod had the backing of the elements of the old Mubarak regime – the feloul. The sheer speed and coordination, with which the military acted, showed beyond a shadow of doubt that this was no normal “revolutionary upsurge”. What revolutionary wave can count on the support of the army high command and the police? That is a different matter entirely from winning over the mutinous rank and file

This does not mean, as some Morsi apologists on the left claim, that it was all a conspiracy (with US and EU imperialist participation as well) to remove him from power. His regime was no anti-imperialist threat and its neoliberal policies were just what the sections of the bourgeoisie not tied to the military wanted. Morsi was loyally carrying out IMF plans for opening up the Egyptian economy.

His claim to represent a truly democratic regime, however, was entirely bogus, even leaving aside the electoral irregularities and the work of the fraudulent Constituent Assembly. His November 22, 2012, declaration protecting his presidential decrees against judicial review and investing his one third appointed Shura Council with legislative power was, in effect, a constitutional coup. The counterrevolutionary character of his regime was testified to by the growing number of beatings and killings by Brotherhood thugs of revolutionary youth, activists of the independent trade unions, striking workers and Copts in several cities and town across the country.

Morsi’s regime was plainly counterrevolutionary and its claims to electoral legitimacy had no validity in conditions of an ongoing revolution, as against the legitimacy of the mass mobilisations. The May-June mass movement against him was genuine, even if it was probably amplified by the support of the “deep state”, which would normally have opposed and repressed such a movement.

The military coup on 3 July, however, immediately swept away all the advantages of the mass wave of resistance to Morsi, giving the Brotherhood the benefit of apparent democratic legitimacy as against the army’s actions.

Encouraging or supporting a military coup, even at the height of the mass anti-Morsi mobilisations, was an opportunist, indeed adventurist, tactic by the radical democratic forces. Adventurist because it short-sightedly ignored the mass social base of the Brotherhood that patently still existed, even if it had been considerably diminished by the experience of Morsi in office. Opportunist because this disillusion with the Brotherhood was no excuse for fostering new illusions in the pro-popular or democratic credentials of the army high command, let alone ignoring the role of the feloul.

Any support for the machinations of these people will boomerang on all the genuinely popular forces that supported the coup. It was one thing to demonstrate for Morsi’s resignation: quite another to demonstrate for, and in support of, al-Sisi’s coup. It was the duty of revolutionaries to make clear from the first hour their total opposition to this coup and, indeed, to oppose it on the streets as far as was possible.

During these events, the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt, part of the International Socialist Tendency, headed by the British Socialist Workers Party, wavered and zigzagged. Initially, their tendency to tailism and spontaneism, doubtless learnt from the IST, led them to deny, or minimise the significance of, the military coup and to hail the events as actually another wave of the revolution.

This was made clear in their statement of 5 July, “What happened on June 30 was, without the slightest doubt, the historic beginning of a new wave of the Egyptian revolution, the largest since January 2011. The number of people who demonstrated on that legendary day is estimated to exceed 17 million citizens, something unprecedented in history. The significance of this surpasses any participation by old regime remnants, or the apparent support of the army and police.”

Referring to the military ousting of Morsi their statement continued, “But there is a special logic to popular revolutions that will not submit to the illusions or schemes of the liberals or feloul, even if sections of the masses were temporarily affected by the slogans and promises of that elite, just as they were affected before by the slogans and promises of the Islamist elite.”

They concluded, “What has happened in Egypt is the height of democracy, a revolution of millions of people to directly topple a ruler. As for the military displacement of Morsi, this was nothing but a foregone conclusion once the military institution saw that the masses had already settled the issue in the streets and squares of Egypt.”

As July progressed, however, it was the logic of a military coup that became clearer and clearer. It became clear that the progressive masses had been used and duped by the Liberals and the Army. The brutal repression against square occupations and attempted demonstrations by Morsi supporters revealed that this was exactly what its military and feloul supporters had intended all along. No wonder the “new wave of the Egyptian Revolution” faded away as this became clear to the masses.

Things certainly became clearer for the Revolutionary Socialists. Within weeks, they were correctly refusing any support to the military coup or the repression it was meting out. In their statement of July 25 they said,
“Whatever crimes the Brotherhood has committed against the people and against the Copts in defence of its power in the name of religion, we do not give army chief Al-Sisi our authority. We will not go into the streets on Friday offering a blank cheque to commit massacres.”

And they added, correctly, “Giving the old state a mandate for its repressive institutions to do what they want to their partners-in-crime of yesterday will only give them a free hand to repress all opposition thereafter. They will repress all protest movements, workers’ strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations.”

In the aftermath of July 27, their statement unequivocally condemned the massacre and also defended the right of the Brotherhood’s supporters to demonstrate. “We defend the right of the populace, all of the populace, to express their opinion by every means of peaceful expression, from demonstrations and sit-ins to strikes. This right was one that the January revolution won, thanks to the blood of our martyrs.

“We condemn this massacre, which claimed the lives of dozens of the poor from the provinces and the youth of the Brotherhood. …. The guns aimed at the breasts of the Brotherhood today will quickly be turned around to take aim at the breasts of the revolutionaries and those protesting against the regime among the workers and the poor, on the pretext of keeping the wheels of production turning.”

The Revolutionary Socialists have also supported the Third Square initiative, led by the Strong Egypt Party, headed by former Brotherhood leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and leftist groups, demonstrating in Sphinx Square, Cairo. However, reports suggest no mass response to this movement, which runs the danger of being crushed between the wheels of the military and the Liberals and the Brotherhood Islamists.

It is undoubtedly true that a new wave of revolution is needed in Egypt. The goals of the democratic revolution against Mubarak have not yet been achieved because the mass forces that made that revolution, the revolutionary youth and the activists of the independent trades unions, had no way of maintaining its momentum after Mubarak fell. As a result, leadership was taken first by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, then by the Brotherhood and now again by the Army, this time with help of the Liberals.

The task of revolutionaries now is to fight to bring together the organisations of the youth and the workers under a political leadership, a party, committed to an independent political programme. Most importantly, this must include the overthrow of the military regime and its interim government, opposition to the restoration of Morsi and the convocation of a sovereign Constituent Assembly on the basis of democratic elections overseen by the workers’ and popular organisations.

What has also become clear is that such a revolution will need more than the occupation of city squares to succeed. Such mass demonstrations can certainly play a part in building a revolutionary movement but much greater force can be mobilised by a general strike based on the democratic organisations of the workers and the peasants. The scale of the bloodshed already suffered underlines the need for the workers’ organisations to arm themselves and form a workers’ militia.

Such a struggle for democratic rights, spearheaded by the workers’ organisations, can draw in not only the revolutionary youth and students but also the masses of the urban poor and the peasantry and even sections of those who previously supported the Liberal movement. In the course of the struggle, however, it will be necessary to take measures that go beyond the democratic revolution. For example, food and energy distribution, essential transport and communications will have to be maintained by the workers themselves in the face of capitalist or state attempts to break the general strike.

To organise on this scale requires more than trades unions or ad hoc local volunteers. Every revolution has shown that delegate based workers’ and peasants’ councils alone have both the authority to take such decisions and the means to make sure they are implemented. These are the bodies that should supervise local security and oversee elections to the Constituent Assembly – and revolutionaries will argue that any new government should be responsible to them.

Such a workers’ and peasants’ government, created and legitimised by the revolutionary struggle for democracy, would also face tasks, and threats, that would require it to go beyond even the most radical democratic government, nationalising the banks and key industries, expropriating the wealth accumulated above all by the army high command and recognising workers’ control wherever it is established. This, in practice, is the strategy of the permanent revolution that can not only bring democracy to Egypt’s masses but open the way to the socialist transformation of the country and, indeed, the whole region.

By Dave Stockton / 09 August 2013

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