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The Internationalist
July 2013

No to Islamist Rightists and Coup-Potting Liberals!

Egypt: Down with Military Rule –
Fight for Workers Revolution!

Egyptian workers march in Cairo on May Day 2013 against Morsi’s anti-worker policies. (Photo: Gigi Ibrahim/Flickr).

JULY 9 – On July 3, after three days of millions-strong mass demonstrations against the Islamist government of President Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian armed forces seized power. As crowds in Cairo cheered the removal of the ruler who was intent on consolidating the power of the Muslim Brotherhood, the military staged a choreographed spectacular with a huge display of fireworks. Secular bourgeois liberals and leftist youth spoke of a new wave of the “revolution” that began with the toppling of former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, or of a “second revolution.” Liberal leaders maneuvered for a spot at the top. Some denied there had been a coup, others called it a people’s coup, saying the army acted to carry out the will of the masses. General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi declared that the armed forces “will remain away from politics” and spoke of national unity. But this was just sucker-bait, a lure for the gullible.

The Egyptian army is not championing the interests of “the people,” it is defending the army. More specifically, it is protecting the officer corps which has enriched itself from its privileged position in the state. Sisi, the swaggering head of the armed forces who had been appointed defense minister by Morsi, quickly made it clear who was in charge by ordering the arrest of 300 leaders of the Brotherhood (Ikhwan). When Brotherhood supporters marched on the Republican Guard officers’ club where Morsi is being held, soldiers fired into the crowd, killing five and injuring 100. But as the Islamists’ rallies continued, on July 8 military sharpshooters on rooftops carried out a massacre, raining bullets on protesters encamped at a mosque during early morning prayers, leaving at least 51 dead and more than 400 wounded. Anyone who thought “democracy” was dawning on the Nile was quickly disabused of this notion, or should be by now.

The civilian forces who collaborated with the military takeover were soon revealed as puppets, to be used or discarded as convenient. Sitting behind Gen. Sisi as he announced army rule were bourgeois liberal Mohamed ElBaradei, the former United Nations atomic energy chief and presidential hopeful, and Younis Makhyoun of the al Nour party, the more extreme Islamist (Salafist) rival of the Brotherhood. ElBaradei, who lobbied Washington to get U.S. support for ousting Morsi, was first touted as prime minister, then as vice president and then dropped. Makhyoun and al Nour were deeply discredited among their base when the army massacred Islamist protesters. Some leftist would-be revolutionaries acted as auxiliaries, going along with the army’s seizure of power (while claiming to be independent) and calling to continue anti-Morsi demonstrations as the high command was consolidating its hold.

All the talk of a victorious revolution in Egypt, both in 2011 and today, is a cover for the fact that the military officialdom has been the core of the state apparatus for more than half a century, was so under Morsi and his Islamist government, and still is. The security apparatus controls the courts, key ministries and important industrial enterprises. Moreover, one-third of the annual budget of the Egyptian armed forces comes from the $1.5 billion annual military aid from the United States. So even if President Obama and the U.S. ambassador at first supposedly tried to discourage the overthrow of Morsi, then after the fact reportedly tried to get the Brotherhood to accept it, managing to anger both secular and Islamist political forces, U.S. imperialism still has control where it counts. Sisi & Co. are no nationalist rebels, and a U.S.-funded, Pentagon-trained and CIA-vetted military is not about to act as an instrument of the people’s will.

That the Morsi government was an enemy of Egypt’s poor and working people there is no doubt. After decades in opposition (and sometimes in jail) under Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Mubarak, all of them military officers, the Brotherhood in power spent its efforts on inserting Ikhwan loyalists in the government apparatus, ramming through an Islamist constitution enshrining sharia law, and prosecuting dissidents for blasphemy. Meanwhile, the president issued a decree last November granting himself dictatorial powers. Morsi used the military and police forces to repress any discontent, notably during the protests against his notorious decree. And workers saw no improvement in their poverty wages while the government continued the “free-market” privatization policies dictated by the imperialist financial agencies. On top of this, economic crises were mounting with shortages of food and other basics as well as blackouts.

The Brotherhood has retained its hard core of disciplined supporters, about a quarter of the electorate, making it by far the largest political force in Egypt. But by early 2013 the regime had lost the support of broader layers who voted for its Peace and Justice Party in 2011 parliamentary elections and then gave Morsi a narrow majority for president a year ago thinking they would be an improvement over Mubarak. The discontent was then galvanized by a group of youth who adopted the name Tamarod (Rebel) and circulated a petition calling for Morsi’s ouster. The petition reportedly was signed by 22 million people, eclipsing the numbers who voted for him in June 2012. When the organizers called an anti-Morsi mobilization for June 30, the anniversary of his election, it was by far the largest in Egypt’s history, far larger than those against Mubarak in early 2011, and this time included industrial towns and heavily rural provinces in addition to the capital, Cairo.

The stage was set to overthrow the Ikhwan regime. But who would bring it down? The masses of secular liberals, youth, women, and even some Salafist Islamists in Tahrir Square? They certainly represented large numbers, but lacked a common political program or organization to accomplish anything. Ostensibly socialist groups remain small, and the “progressive” secular bourgeois parties are purely electoral. The liberals, with ElBaradei in the forefront, were well aware of this and focused their efforts on getting the military to move. Thus it is entirely false to say, as some leftists claim, that the mass mobilizations were “hijacked” or “betrayed” by the army high command. Even as the liberals spouted rhetoric about rectifying the “revolution,” it was their intention all along that the generals take power. It’s no surprise, then, that the moment Morsi was gone all the feloul or rotten remnants of the old regime were back.

Tanks patrolling in Cairo, July 3, as army takes power. This is not what a revolution looks like. (Photo: © Adham  Khorshed / Demotix)

Although there has not yet been a revolution in Egypt – not even a political revolution limited to changing the state apparatus while leaving the capitalist economic structure intact – many of the conditions for a far-reaching social revolution are ripe, if not overripe. What’s missing in Egypt today is a revolutionary leadership to prepare the masses for a struggle for power, organize it and then establish a new state power based on class organizations of the workers. What is necessary, and has been over the last two years, is unrelenting propaganda and agitation against all wings of the bourgeoisie, both Islamist and secular, and their military guard dogs with the perspective of fighting for a workers and peasants government that would begin the tasks of socialist revolution. Sugary phrases about “inclusive democracy” and even a “democratic revolution” are a hoax, for so long as capitalism holds sway, the Egyptian population is condemned to dire poverty.

Neither the Islamists, the secular liberals nor the military have “betrayed the revolution,” for they are defending their class interests. The betrayal was by leftists who in building the Tamarod movement and organizing the protests made a political bloc with the coup-plotting liberals. The largest ostensibly revolutionary organization in Egypt today is the Revolutionary Socialists (RS), linked to the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in Britain and the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the U.S. RS spokesman Sameh Naguib has written several articles recently glowingly recounting Egypt’s “second revolution,” a “new wave of revolution,” and “four days that shook the world” (see Socialist Worker [U.K.], 5 July). He waxes poetic about the “legendary” day of June 30, when an estimated 17 million demonstrated against the Brotherhood regime, “an unprecedented occurrence in history” which “surpasses in significance any participation by old regime remnants or the apparent support of the army and police.”

Even if, accordng to Naguib, “the liberal bourgeois elite wanted to use this mass impetus to overthrow the rule of the Islamic elite” to “reach power with the endorsement and support of the military institution”; even if “the masses were temporarily affected by the slogans of that elite, just as they were affected before by the slogans and promises of the Islamist elite,” never mind because “there is a special logic to popular revolutions.” And what is that “special logic”? It is evidently that “the masses have proven anew that their revolutionary energy is endless, that their revolution is truly a permanent revolution” and will lead to “the third Egyptian revolution inevitably to come.”

This starry-eyed objectivism is a parody of Leon Trotsky’s perspective of permanent revolution. The co-leader together with Lenin of the Russian October 1917 Revolution and founder of the Fourth International stressed that even to achieve basic democratic demands required a communist vanguard leading the struggle for workers revolution and its extension to the imperialist centers.

The RS leader assures us that the masses will “pass anew through the illusion that ‘the army and the people are one hand’ in the weeks and months to come.” But already in February 2011, this treacherous slogan influenced hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square. The fact that it appears again now – despite the 17 months of brutal direct rule by the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces before Morsi took office which were filled with mass arrests, vicious police attacks, trials by closed-door military tribunals, etc. – shows the opposite: that such illusions keep reappearing until genuine socialist revolutionaries dispel them by waging a sharp struggle to mobilize workers power to oppose military rule. The RS’ policy, in contrast, is to whisper “no trust” in the generals while calling for a “constituent assembly”  (which Islamists could well dominate) and protesting in bloc with bourgeois forces who call for the military’s intervention.

Twenty-two million signed a petition, 17 million demonstrated, millions voted – but vast numbers alone do not make a revolution, which is a question of power. The military has its power in tanks and guns, the capitalists in their ownership of the productive apparatus backed up by their state apparatus. The workers’ power lies in the fact that the machinery of exploitation cannot function unless the toilers make the wheels of industry turn, and the machinery of repression collapses when the soldier conscripts turn their weapons and their ire on their bourgeois officers instead of against the masses. But that will not happen spontaneously.

“The Egyptian masses have managed to overthrow two presidents in thirty months,” writes Naguib. Granted, but the Argentine masses overthrew five presidents in two weeks in 2001, yet that didn’t put an end to the dictatorship of capital, or even of the international financial institutions. The idea of an inexorable drive to “inevitable” revolution is contrary to history and Marxism. A rotting regime can sometimes collapse of its own accord or with a push “from below,” but to turn that into a genuine revolution of the working masses against their capitalist exploiters requires leadership and consciousness of the most advanced sectors.

The Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists and their advisors in the British SWP and U.S. ISO do not present such a leadership. When the RS talks of a “united revolutionary political alternative” they don’t mean a Leninist party of the proletarian vanguard, they mean the activists and various currents in “the movement” getting together despite fundamental class differences. This is the policy of tailism, and these followers of the late anti-Trotskyist renegade Tony Cliff have developed it into a science, of sorts. So when the masses in Tahrir Square greeted the military in February 2011, the RS tailed along. Then last June when the Peace and Justice Party had the wind in its sails, the RS called for a vote to Morsi in the second round of the presidential elections.1 And now that the masses have had their fill of the Ikhwan and many would prefer the army, the RS tails after them again, hoping that nobody remembers its policy of a year ago. The result is not two, three, many revolutions but defeat after defeat.

RS spokesmen insist that the current struggle is not one of secularism versus Islamism. It’s certainly true that the mass opposition to Morsi reflected broad social discontent with the capitalist policies of the Muslim Brotherhood in office. But this argument is partly to justify the RS’ policy in recent years of seeking to make political blocs with the Islamists. In fact, those who would impose an Islamic caliphate and enact sharia law are mortal enemies of socialism. Marxists fight for absolute separation of church and state and oppose all religion-based states, from Zionist Israel to the Islamic Republic of Iran or the Christian states of Pétain’s France or Franco’s Spain. But Trotskyists also reject political alliances with bourgeois secular liberals such as ElBaradei, and of course with the military officer corps, all of whom would slaughter communists and workers with alacrity if necessary to protect capitalist class rule.

The fight for socialist revolution begins with a struggle for working-class independence from the bourgeoisie. The different varieties of pseudo-socialists on the other hand, as the Egyptian RS has shown, are constantly looking for class collaboration with a section of the bourgeois rulers. Now that Morsi has been ousted, leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood have called for an “uprising,” keeping up agitation in the towns while mobilizing in their rural strongholds. As the generals were taking over, a Leninist-Trotskyist nucleus seeking to build a revolutionary workers party would have joined demonstrations against military rule with its own class slogans. But as a war of attrition has set in between Islamists and military-allied liberals, Bolsheviks would oppose both gangs of capitalist exploiters.

Some Western strategists are wringing their hands, worried that the ouster of Morsi and the Brotherhood will undercut the “moderate” Islamists with whom they sought to ally, notably in Syria. Already jihadist forces are active in the Sinai. But the imperialists are perfectly prepared to ally with extreme Islamists, as they did with the Afghan mujahedin against the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul, who were also hailed by the anti-Soviet Cliffites who labeled the USSR “state capitalist.” Revolutionary Trotskyists, in contrast, defended the bureaucratically degenerated Stalinist-ruled Soviet Union against imperialism and counterrevolution, and proclaimed “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” Today when opportunist leftists hail a mythical “Syrian Revolution” while Islamist forces fighting the Assad regime are begging for Western arms, we say: “U.S./NATO Get Your Bloody Claws Off Syria!”

It is possible that an “Algerian scenario” could develop in Egypt. When the Algerian army canceled the 1992 elections out of fear of an Islamist victory, years of brutal civil war ensued, with tens of thousands dead. In that case, both the army and the Islamists terrorized the population, taking particular aim at communists, workers, ethnic minorities and women who refused to wear the Islamic veil. Many fled into exile, as Coptic Christians are already doing today in Egypt. But it is also possible that the Egyptian workers will find their class voice and finally sweep away all branches of the capitalist rulers and their military. For that to happen it is vital to begin building a Bolshevik proletarian vanguard fighting for workers to power, in this cradle of civilization and throughout the world. ■