EGYPT ELECTIONS: Whither the Revolution?
EGYPT ELECTIONS: Whither the Revolution?
By Kola Ibrahim
The Egyptian revolution that started in January 2011 is reaching a crisis with the military rulers, declaring a constitutional cum political coup against working and poor masses. In an attempt to hold on to real power, the military junta, SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) in collaboration with other existing structures of the old regime â€“ the pro-Mubarak era judiciary â€“ is making frantic efforts at scuttling the gains of the revolution, eighteen months after. While the pro-Mubarak era High Constitutional Court has dissolved the Islamists-controlled lower parliament, the SCAF has decided to ratchet this up by declaring itself the legislative, major executive and the armed authority in the country despite the presence of the Constituent Assembly, and the election of the president.
In fact, the SCAF, comprising elements who ruled Egypt along with Mubarak for several years and have amassed huge wealth from this process, is pre-empting any attempt of the new president, in this case the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, to take power completely away from it. On the basis of the general hatred against all the vestiges of the old regime and quest for justice by the working and poor masses, coupled with the radicalization of the consciousness amongst this layer that had taken place since the January 2011 revolution, the military junta is fearful of losing political power.
Unfortunately, there is no genuine rallying point for the working masses that can galvanize the mass enthusiasm to challenge this latest onslaught on the country by the military junta. This is clearly reflected in the presidential election held on Sunday, 17th June, 2012, where the two candidates, who got not more than 25 percent in the first round, each claimed victory in the run-off, while there is huge abstention, with some areas recording as low as 15 percent turnout. These claims by the two pro-capitalist candidates created confusion for the working people in Egypt, and were used by the military junta to negotiate a hold on power in the run-up to announcing that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate was the winner.
Despite the attempt of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to present itself as the defender of the revolution and genuine opposition, its real character is increasingly becoming known to the mass of workers, youths and the oppressed. While there were ‘lesser evil’ votes for the MB’s candidate, Mohamed Mursi against the military junta candidate, Ahmed Shafik, an army general and former minister and later prime minister under Mubarak regime, this is more or less a vote to stop the military from ruling by proxy, and not a vote of confidence on the MB.
Indeed, the MB has been prevaricating on the revolution. It opposed the January 2011 revolution from the start, until the mass movements became so real that its own rank and file members, especially the youth wings, were massively involved in the revolution against the top echelon’s directive. When Mubarak was ousted, the MB became immediate advocate of stability, aiming opportunistically to gain political power by appearing as friendly as possible to the military junta. It held several meetings with the agents and governments of various imperialist nations, especially US. Indeed, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was quoted in Mid-2011 to have said that the US government had been having strategic discussion with the MB for over 5 to 6 years.
No maneuvers of the MB leadership in the past eighteen months of the revolution are unknown to increasing numbers of the mass of workers and youths. This however, does not portray the military junta candidate, Shafik in better light. The basis for the vote for him in rooted firstly in the absence of a clear-cut revolutionary, working class alternative political platform. Indeed, the candidacy of radical pro-Nasserite candidate, Hamdeen Sabbahi, who came behind Shafik by less than 2 percent of the votes, has showed the possibility of a revolutionary movement rising from the elections. Sabbahi had stood on the radical programme of the left wing of the Nasserite movement of increase in minimum wage from LE700 to LE1200, unemployment benefits for the youths, old age benefits for the elderly and the poor.
However, the lack of revolutionary platform to not only raise social democratic demands, but also concretely socialist programmes that will address social, economic and political issues, diverted millions to the warm hands of the two pro-capitalist candidates. Definitely, if there had been a revolutionary platform that combined these programmes with other far-reaching revolutionary programmes like mass investments in infrastructures to create jobs and reduce cost of living coupled with mass investment in the economy through expansion of relevant industries and sectors, the masses would have been provided with a real alternative.
These programmes however cannot be undertaken without nationalizing the mainstay of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working people, communities, etc. If these programmes were linked up with the other democratic demands that guarantee the social, cultural and religious rights of all Egyptians and end the rule of the generals, it would have been possible to unite all layers of the Egyptian working masses and youths together under a common political banner.
The votes of Sabbahi may reflect the possibility of revolutionary alternative, but it does not substitute for it. For instance, what political force and structure does he have to mobilize the masses for his programmes? Absence of this inspiring alternative that paved the way for disillusionment and divisions witnessed during the elections, which the military junta and the MB are trying to maneuver for their interest.
This is reflected in the pattern of the election. Most of those who voted for the MB’s party, Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) did so because it has existing structures, and they believe that it is the only big party capable of winning the elections against the junta candidate. This is aside the votes of its party members, many of whom may have grouse against the ruling echelon of the party, had no choice than to vote for the party. It would have been a different situation if there were a direct working class alternative platform, consciously built by and amongst the working masses and youths; in such situation, the ranks of the MB supporters and members would have been divided.
Added to this layer are the backward layers, who because the revolution not moving forward have dissolved into religious faith. On the other side are the Copts and minorities who feared the emergence of a MB government might lead to their persecution, voted Shafik. Of course, a good number of votes also went to the radical candidate, Sabbahi from this layer. A section of this layer too, comprising small business owners, backward sections of the working class, middles class, etc, who sought stable society, that can at least maintain previous living standards if cannot be improved in the eighteen months of revolution, also voted Shafik. More significant is the huge population that abstained from the election, reflecting the growing understanding that the parties, especially the MB, are no alternative for the working and poor people. All of this shows that huge potential support for working people’s political alternative.
The new assaults by the military junta may lead to further demoralization for now, which in the absence of a genuine revolutionary alternative, may lead to swelling of the ranks of ultra-reactionary religious tendencies like the Salafists’ party, Nour. However, there is very possibility of the revolutionary movement being woken up on a bigger scale by the latest onslaught, this is why the military were forced to retreat and allow the MB candidate, Mursi, to be declared the winner, but it could be reawakened if the military tops try to implement the new power they gave themselves.
Possibly, Mursi and MB will now strike agreement with the SCAF on how to continue the defence of the interests of the capitalist class of which elements in the ruling military junta are a sizable proportion. This explains why imperialist powers, especially US imperialism maintained its normal blank statement calling for caution before the result was finally declared. Of course, the caution implies “do whatever you like, but don’t let jeopardize our interest in any manner”. As far as imperialism is concerned, nothing is wrong with the coup if it can advance its interests. While the victory of MB may give a faÃ§ade of a new start, allowing imperialism to further its interests under the cover of new faces, the fear of growth of Islamist trends, even if unintended by the MB makes the choice of military rule â€“ either directly or through proxy, seducing for imperialism.
The coup by the military, while being an attempt of the military top echelon to hold on to their privileges, may also not be unconnected with the aim of imperialism to ensure that all situations are stabilized for the continuation of its policies in the middle east both politically (in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian issue) and economically (in terms of the role of Egypt’s economic importance). For instance, an MB government, with full executive power, may swing to religious nationalism and anti-Semitism or pro-Iran foreign policy to divert attention away from economic issues of gain concession from imperialism. Already, Mursi in his victory speech tried to speak with both sides of his mouth â€“ pledging allegiance to political Islam and committing himself to a civil society. Ultimately, the need to put down the never dying flame of revolution, in both Egypt and the middle east/north Africa is a major factor for imperialism. Therefore, the current squabble by various contending ruling tendencies to get power is ultimately tied to putting the revolution under lock for the continued protection of the interests of imperialism in the Middle East and capitalism in Egypt.
Economically, neither MB nor the military and its stooge can resolve the economic problems facing Egypt. Currently, it was reported by IMF that over $600 million is withdrawn from the Egyptian economy monthly by business class who fear for the future of the economy, while tourism, a major part of Egyptian economy has nosedived. This has led to rising unemployment in the country. The imperialist capitalist solution is for Egypt to take loans; of course with attendant austerity programmes against social services â€“ education, health, jobs, subsidies for fuel and food, etc. All this will put the working and poor people in more economic shackles.
The IMF maintained that the $1.3 billion loan would be given if there is consensus among political elites. Estimated 40 percent of the country’s population is officially poor. Indeed, none of the parties has rejected nor will reject the proposal, as the alternative will be to undertake state control of the economy through nationalization and massive investments in the infrastructures and social services â€“ programmes that none of the candidates or parties can defend. Indeed the initial candidate of the MB’s FJP is a millionaire businessman, who was disqualified subsequently; reflecting the pro-big business nature of the party. Also, Shafik was prominent in defence of Mubarak’s capitalist and pro-imperialist economic policies. As one of the activist said, there is no economic disagreement between the SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood; they stand for neo-liberal capitalism.
All of the above reflects the challenge before not only the working people of Egypt, but indeed the working people of the Middle East and Africa. Whatever directions the situation goes, the working masses and youths will be forced to take up capitalism and its agents in struggles and politics. The necessity for a genuine working people’s alternative with an international revolutionary orientation will become real in the near future not only in Egypt but also in the Middle East and Africa. The votes of Sabbahi show the potential mood for radicalization of politics in the coming period. The left forces in Egypt must realize this reality. The working and young people of Egypt must start the rebuilding of their unions and organizations as fighting platform of struggle and socialism. Alternative is the rise in ultra-right wing religious forces â€“ a throwback for the society.