The revolution and the counterrevolution
Protesters rally against Morsi's IMF deals and the detention of political prisoners (Gigi Ibrahim)
June 27, 2013
June 30 may be remembered as another turning point for the Egyptian Revolution. Opponents of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood will take to the streets on the one-year anniversary of Morsi's first day in office to call on him to resign.
The June 30 mobilizations are the culmination of the "Tamarod" (Rebellion) petition campaign. Organizers say they have gathered more than 15 million signatures in support of a call for Morsi to resign--more than the number of votes Morsi received in the presidential election last year. Both sides expect that the June 30 demonstrations will be as big as any since the 2011 revolution that overthrew dictator Hosni Mubarak. Many activists fear that Morsi and the Brotherhood will try to provoke violence.
Sameh Naguib, a leading member of the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt, wrote this article analyzing the political situation in Egypt in the wake of the Tamarod campaign, as the lead contribution for Socialist Notes, the re-launched political journal of the RS.
The Crisis of Brotherhood Rule
The Muslim Brotherhood came to power in a historical circumstance whose meaning it did not understand. For the Brotherhood imagined that the democracy of the ballot box was the goal for which the revolution had been undertaken. They did not understand the fundamental social and democratic content of this huge historical revolution.
Their compass was not oriented toward the revolutionary masses, but toward those with vested interests: Egypt's businessmen, the U.S. administration, the Gulf monarchies. They had been able to convince these groups that they were able to protect the same interests served by Mubarak's regime, while simultaneously satisfying the Egyptian people with a combination of false promises and empty religious slogans.
Consequently, they sought to empty the revolution of its content to guarantee the interests of those terrified by the revolution. But they quickly discovered that people who had revolted by the millions, removing the man at the pinnacle of power, would not accept this cooptation. Their false promises did nothing but increase popular anger and awareness of the Brotherhood's opportunism and hostility toward the revolution.
Two choices had laid before the Brotherhood, both of them bitter. The first was to arrive at some deal with the remnants of the old regime and the quasi-oppositionists among the liberals. The other was a close alliance with the Salafi groups, including those with residual roots in the Said [Upper Egypt] and among the slums of the cities.
From the beginning, the Brotherhood had already made big strides toward the first option, with unparalleled concessions to the military and security institutions, which were the heart of the former regime. But these institutions accepted the bargains on the basis of a faulty assessment of the Brotherhood's capability to coopt the people and drain revolutionary anger by manipulating the elections.
However, when they discovered the Brotherhood's incompetence, the rapid transformation of the national consciousness against the Brotherhood, the rapid collapse of the economy through a series of calamitous errors by the Brotherhood leadership, they began to rethink their bargain. This became apparent in the oscillations, contradictions and tension in the statements of the army leadership.
Thus, the alliance of the old regime remnants with the liberal organizations opposing the Brotherhood. The state of siege that the Brotherhood faces on a daily basis, has led to efforts at rapprochement with the Salafi groups and the use of escalating sectarian language, whether towards the Copts or the Shia, or in declaring all those who oppose them kafirs [apostates to Islam].
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The Economic Crisis
Since the rise of Mohamed Morsi and the Brotherhood to power, they have implemented the same economic program as Gamal Mubarak and the policy committee prior to the revolution. It is a neoliberal program centered around market liberalization and an increasing assimilation into the global capitalist economy. These are the same policies that played a pivotal role in igniting the Egyptian revolution.
For these policies are not only violent attacks on the interests and the standard of living of the poor, to the advantage of the Muslim Brotherhood, feloul billionaires and military leaders. They represent the same demands from global financial institutions and the Gulf monarchies that Egypt accept implementation of policies further impoverishing the poor and enriching the wealthy.
It appears that Morsi, Shatir and the Brotherhood are oblivious to three facts that no rational person could fail to notice.
The first is that the revolution in the country has arisen from the hopes and expectations of millions of poor, workers and farmers for true social justice, to redistribute the wealth from big business to the people, and not the reverse.
The second fact is that the capitalist world has been suffering from the violence of its crises since the 1930s because of the same brutal capitalist policies, which are the idol that the Brotherhood leadership serves as if it were a Koranic text.
The third fact is that global capitalism, whether from the Gulf or from the West, will not invest in a morass like the Egyptian economy. It will not venture into a country whose very existence is still being shaken by the revolution, a revolution that is rocking the entire world, as we have seen recently in Turkey and Greece.
Global capitalism, under the leadership of American imperialism and its allies in the Gulf states, wants its revenge on the Egyptian people because of their great revolution, which has inspired and continues to inspire the poor of the world. It is this revolution that has established the 21st century as the century of the gravediggers of despotism and capitalist plundering. Their agents in this revenge are the Muslim Brotherhood and its failed representative Mohamed Morsi.
The series of conciliations, including the release of old regime figureheads from prison, stretches throughout the disaster of the Brotherhood administration. On the one hand, they have implemented the terms of the hostile Saudi-Qatari axis, which has played a prominent role in supporting the counterrevolution in Egypt by increasing debts. On the other hand, they need the assistance of the old regime's big men to cope with the crisis.
These policies have led the Egyptian economy to enter the most violent of its crises in decades. The budget deficit has reached 14 percent of gross domestic product, and the overall debt burden is 80 percent of the GDP. The Central Bank's foreign exchange reserves have collapsed from $32 billion to $13 billion. And nearly half of this remaining reserve consists of gold bullion not quickly liquidated.
The collapse of the Egyptian pound continues against the dollar, having decreased its value by 12 percent in the first half of this year. All of this has led to the rapid flight of both foreign and local capital, and the inability of the state to fulfill its national commitments. It has led to severe shortages in basic commodities, which are imported, of course, in foreign currencies--among them, vital goods such as various types of fuel and wheat. This constitutes a serious danger not only to workers, but to the capitalist class and its state.
These barbarous attacks on the living standards of the poor, which have begun in earnest, have ignited an unprecedented labor and protest movement that proposes confiscation of the wealth of the businessmen; nationalization of the big corporations, both foreign and domestic; the refusal to pay the interest and principal on foreign loans. These cannot but lead to the overthrow of not only Morsi and his Brotherhood, but the entirety of the capitalist state.
It is hard to imagine the degree to which the Egyptian state and the Brotherhood are isolated from reality. For amid all these crushing crises, the share of the military in the state budget has risen for the year 2013-14 to reach 31 billion Egyptian pounds--3.4 billion pounds more than the budget the year before. This is above and beyond American military aid, which is $1.4 billion, or almost 15 billion Egyptian pounds.
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The Labor Movement
Despite a months-long decline in political activity before the earthquake caused by the Tamarod (Rebellion) campaign and the preparations for June 30 demonstrations, the labor movement has continued to strike, occupy and demonstrate at rates that were the highest globally during the period from March to May, and still remain so. The current activity has given the labor movement new motivation of the greatest importance and possibility.
The labor movement has faced a number of challenges and paid a great price in its many battles, which have been of a defensive rather than offensive character. The first of these challenges was the violent capitalist attack on the movement, using the sticks of the thugs to break up occupations, using the weapon of closing the factories to apply pressure on workers on the one hand, while the depth of the economic crisis provided further pressure.
The second challenge has been the conflicts among the unions. Despite the unprecedented victory of establishing more than 1,000 independent workers unions, there have been broad disparities in the leadership and militancy of these unions. A rapid shift toward union bureaucratization, leaning toward conservatism, slow and gradual work, opposition to politicization, and the division of the movement into two competing federations has compounded the challenge.
This all comes in addition to the diligent work of the Brotherhood to revive the old trade union organization under joint control with the old regime remnants, in an attempt to besiege or assimilate the independent unions.
It is this that has given the coming popular political movement an exceptional opportunity for a qualitative shift in the labor movement.
All of this dictates our task: the forming of coordinating committees for labor action along sectoral, industry and geographical lines; the linking of partial demands and total demands; and the linking of economic demands with political demands. This is the urgent task for revolutionaries in the coming period.
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The Institution of the Military
The issue of the institution of the military and its relationship with the catastrophe of Muslim Brotherhood rule has resurfaced as the most pressing issue on the Egyptian political scene during the past months.
Among the increasing demands of liberal commentators and leaders, sometimes implied, other times hidden, is the necessity of military intervention to get rid of Brotherhood rule. This means nothing other than a demand for a military coup. There has been a flood of statements and articles regarding the independence, neutrality and patriotism of the institution of the military.
This flood has not ceased since the Sinai crisis, with the kidnapping of soldiers, the miracle of their release without military intervention, the lack of negotiations with the kidnappers and of course without their capture. It has continued up through the political theater surrounding the Ethiopian dam, with discourse on the necessity of a military solution, and finally through the surprise decision of the first constitutional court on the necessity of permitting the officers and soldiers of the armed forces to cast their votes in the elections. This was a decision opposed by both the Brotherhood and the liberals together, for this threatens not only to politicize the army, but to divide it.
Despite the assertions of the army leadership that it will not undertake any coup and its eternal assurances of neutrality and patriotism, it is still the hope of many liberal forces that the army will intervene to rescue the country from the nightmare of the Brotherhood, to exchange them for the ranks of the military. How the liberals love that military, which even until the past year was crushing the necks of Egyptian people and driving the counterrevolution. The military is still the impregnable wall standing in the way of the development of the Egyptian revolution and the achievement of its goals.
There are a number of facts that we must recall when regarding this comic scenario. First, the institution of the military is not a neutral institution, but the steel heart of the Egyptian capitalist state, the state of Mubarak and his remnants, the state of the big businessmen and behind them American imperialism. Second, the army is the mirror of society and will not be divided from this society, for its leadership is a fundamental part of the Egyptian ruling class in both its secular and Islamic wings.
As for the soldiers and officers in its ranks, they are farmers, workers and poor people. It is not in the interests of the leadership and army generals that the Egyptian revolution should be victorious, not only because that would mean, by necessity, judgments passed on their crimes against the Egyptian revolution. Also, and more importantly, their interests and power require them to be part of the counterrevolution. As for the rank and file, they have a direct interest in the implementation of the goals of the Egyptian revolution--for social justice, freedom and dignity--whether within the army or outside it.
Thirdly, the myth of the military protecting the people and the nation has no basis in truth. The connection of that institution with the American army, American interests and American weapons is what holds the allegiance of the leadership of this institution. There is no portion of this loyalty for the Egyptian people. This also means regionally the protection of Zionist and American national interests, and not the safety and security of the Egyptian people.
Additionally, we must remember that the military participates with the Muslim Brotherhood in ruling Egypt. For this was the bargain between them--a safe exit, a national security council, a secret budget without any democratic oversight and the continuation of military control over its economic empire, which comprises a significant portion of the Egyptian economy. Up to the present moment, this bargain remains in force.
The crisis for the military leadership is that the Muslim Brotherhood is not capable of executing its part in this bargain, which is the liquidation of the Egyptian revolution and the pacification of the populace. Sharing in this crisis is the American administration and some of the Gulf states.
The entry of army tanks and armored personnel carriers into Sinai is not for the goal of preventing terrorism or confronting the Zionist enemy, but for confronting the people of Sinai. They have revolted just like other oppressed and downtrodden Egyptians against the historic injustice of Cairo's rulers and the theft of their most basic rights of citizenship.
The differences that have arisen between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military are related to the failure of the Brotherhood to resolve the economic crisis and contain or crush the Egyptian revolution. They are related to the fear of the military leadership that the revolutionary tide will arrive among the ranks of its soldiers and officers.
This is what will finally happen if the Egyptian revolution is capable of perservering against the counterrevolution, which is composed of an alliance of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, the military and the old regime remnants. The figureheads of the old regime have mostly been released from prison, honored and glorified, despite the fact that their hands are stained with the blood of our martyrs.
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The Front for the Salvation of the Muslim Brotherhood
Since the liberal opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood formed the National Salvation Front, the weakness of this opposition has quickly become apparent. It has assisted, first of all, in transforming the conflict into an identity issue between secular currents represented by the Front and Islamic currents represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies among the Salafis. This has, of course, strengthened the position of the Muslim Brotherhood. Then the liberals gave another gift to the Brotherhood by allying themselves with remnants of the Mubarak regime, and with their unceasing demands for military intervention.
This is all in addition to the exceptional fragmentation and opportunism among the Front's leadership, some of which have gone to meet Brotherhood leaders, while others criticized, only to then meet with the same Brotherhood leaders in secret. This is simply the most recent of the farces in which the Egyptian bourgeois opposition and its hangers-on among the nationalists and leftists have specialized.
This vacillation of the liberals and the old regime remnants in opposing the Brotherhood comes from the fact that they, like the Muslim Brotherhood, don't want a deepening or continuation of the revolution. They only want a battle around division of power, not around the nature of power. They are ready, especially by means of the media, to mobilize the populace to oppose the Brotherhood, but they fear that this mobilization will lead to a new revolution which will overthrow both them and the Brotherhood at the same time. For this reason, they will continue to use the masses as leverage in negotiations with the Brotherhood or to motivate the army to intervene. But their fear of losing control to the broader movement remains their most important obsession.
Above and beyond this, they do not put forward any alternative economic scenario to the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the same capitalism, the same market policies, the same strategies of begging from the West and the Gulf and serving in their interests.
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Tamarod (Rebellion), June 30 and the Revolutionary Alternative
The Tamarod (Rebellion) campaign has emerged after a period of retreat in the revolutionary movement to ignite the fuse of that movement on a national level heretofore unseen. The genius of the name and the simplicity of the campaign quickly transformed it into a national movement in which millions have participated with their signatures.
Even more importantly, hundreds of thousands have participated in the process of gathering signatures. For a large percentage of these, it was their first time participating in the revolutionary process, which has increased the breadth and depth of the radicalization among the Egyptian masses. This is reflected in the tremendous preparations for the marches of June 30 and the establishment of coordinating committees in every governorate to prepare for that pivotal day. These comprise the beginning of a new battle among the battles of the Egyptian revolution.
As has been the case in all previous crises and revolutionary battles, the situation is complicated. All of the forces hostile to the Brotherhood participate in the Rebellion campaign and will participate in June 30. But these forces have different goals for this movement.
There are the remnants of the old regime, which have regained a large part of their confidence and cohesiveness as a result of the ludicrous release of the majority of their figureheads from jail with handfuls of dollars. They are more confident also because the liberal bourgeois opposition has given them new cover--to appear as if they were a legitimate branch of the secular democratic opposition against Brotherhood rule. Their goal within the movement is the complete return of the old regime, even if that means a new set of figureheads, and the complete victory of the counterrevolution as well as bloody retribution against the revolution and all who participated in it.
There is also the liberal bourgeois opposition as represented in the non-feloul parties of the Salvation Front, who naturally do not want the completion of the revolution, especially in relation to the goal of social justice. They only want to limit the influence of the Brotherhood and the Salafis and to share with them in ruling the country and in formulating its future. As for the popular movement, according to them it is only a way to apply pressure to negotiate and conclude bargains in the end.
As for the revolutionaries, the goal of their participation in the Rebellion campaign and in the battles that will begin on June 30 is to reclaim the revolution from the Islamists thieves.
This is not because they are Islamists, but because they have betrayed the revolution, rescued Mubarak's state and implemented the same oppressive capitalist policies, including complete subservience to American imperial interests and the big businessmen from the Mubarak period at the expense of the interests of the revolutionary Egyptian people and the blood of the martyrs. They have preserved the influence of the police and army generals and the state apparatus with the same degree of corruption and cronyism that they have always exemplified. Their goal remains limited: to dominate the apparatus and institutions of the state, with their leaders participating in holding power with the remnants of the previous regime at the pinnacles of these institutions and apparatuses, while their corrupt and repressive character is preserved.
Salvation from Brotherhood rule isn't, according to the revolutionaries, a goal in and of itself, but the removal of an obstacle on the way to completing the Egyptian revolution. It will not be completed without retribution for the martyrs and the injured of the Egyptian revolution via revolutionary courts passing judgment on the army and police officers, Mubarak's businessmen and their thugs, and via the destruction of the repressive, exploitative and predatory state which still stands.
Mohamed Morsi and his group still protect it to this day alongside their predecessors. The revolution will not be completed until the repressive state is replaced with a democratic nation that directly expresses the will of the masses of Egyptian workers, farmers and poor, a nation that achieves the goals of the revolution--freedom, dignity, social justice.
It is apparent, then, that what appears to be unity among these various parties on the goal of removing Mohamed Morsi conceals deep differences in goals and interests. It is not in the interests of the revolutionaries to blur or hide or postpone pointing out these differences, but rather to discriminate from the first moment between the enemies of the revolution and those who wish to complete it. This not only means complete independence within the movement from those opportunists and traitors, but also working to expose them and their true intentions to the people.
Some people imagine that a position like this will lead to weakness in the battle against Morsi and the crumbling of the forces against him. The opposite is true, for any leniency toward the feloul or the bourgeois opposition strengthens Morsi and does not weaken him. For among a section of the population, the Muslim Brotherhood is able to depict the battle as if it were a battle between the Brotherhood and the old regime remnants.
Therefore precision, clarity and independence regarding the old regime remnants and the traitors is a condition for victory over Morsi and the Brotherhood. As for opportunism and alliances between the old regime remnants and the bourgeois opposition, this will lead to nothing other than a loss of credibility for those who commit this crime and will strengthen the ability of the Brotherhood to remain in power.
The Rebellion campaign and the demonstrations and occupations of June 30 could evolve into the beginnings of the second Egyptian revolution. But it is incumbent upon us to learn from the lessons of the previous revolutionary waves.
Firstly, we need an independent political platform to gather all of the revolutionary forces and movements in a form independent from the old regime and the liberals in the National Salvation Front, as a clear political alternative to this miserable coalition.
Secondly, the labor movement and the popular movements must be at the heart of this new political front, for they have a direct interest not only in overthrowing Morsi, but in completing the revolution to its very end. This means that an alternative revolutionary front must transcend the secular-religious rivalry between the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Salvation Front. It must distinguish itself on the basis of its social alignment with the workers and the poor and their interests.
Third, retribution against those among the old regime, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood who have killed our martyrs must remain at the forefront of our priorities and our demands. For we cannot complete a revolution in the shadow of the release of the murderers of the counterrevolution, honored and glorified while the blood of our martyrs still stains their hands.
Fourth, it is necessary that we put forth a clearly defined program presented as an alternative at the level of the economy, society, politics and culture. For without winning the people to a clear convincing revolutionary alternative, when the question of program is raised by the Brotherhood and the Salafis on the one hand, and the old regime remnants and liberals on the other hand, we will not be capable of defeating the counterrevolution and completing our arduous revolutionary path.
Translation by Jess Martin