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Egypt: Time to cast off illusions
8 July 2013. A World to Win News Service. By Samuel Albert. The military intervention is not “the revolution 2.0”, “the third wave of the Egyptian revolution” or even a “rest” or “back to zero” (a return to the kind of moment when President Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign), as so many people say. It is an attempt to resolve disputes within the ruling classes by force and turn a rebellious people into nothing but a pressure group for one gang of reactionaries against another.
Unlike during the January 2011 upsurge when the slogan “The people want the regime to fall” described reality, now the masses of people are sharply divided, aligned with either the armed forces or the Muslim Brotherhood. This situation is bad enough, but it holds the potential for even worse: a bloody disaster in which the people fight not for their real common interests but against those interests and each other, under the warring banners of political Islam and worship of Western-sponsored illusions.
It’s great that people in their millions have exposed and opposed the Muslim Brotherhood. Those who rail about the “legitimacy” of the reactionary Brotherhood government because it won the last electoral con game have no more moral leg to stand on than the generals who promise to legitimize their own form of reactionary rule through future polls. When Obama warns about the “rule of law” and certain American politicians condemn “coups”, this is a bitter joke because the U.S. has always done whatever it deems necessary to defend its imperial interests, including organizing countless military coups.
Euphoria and even intoxication has swept up millions of Egyptians, a sheer joy at the departure of the justly hated Mohamed Morsi. But it is terrible that in the name of defeating the Brotherhood, most of the forces that identity themselves as “revolutionary” have thrown themselves into the hands of the military and the avowed political representatives of the so-called “free market” and the domination of imperialist foreign capital – the root cause of the suffering, humiliation and tyranny the Egyptian people revolted against. This is the defining aspect of the situation.
Whatever the original intentions of the leaders of the Tamarod (Rebel) movement that gathered 24 million signatures on a petition to force Morsi’s resignation, they accepted the leadership of the electoral opposition, the National Salvation Front. They chose as their representatives Hamdeen Sabahi (the most prominent of Egypt’s “leftists”, a self-styled Nasserist who supports free market economics, foreign investment and Israel), and Mohammed ElBaradei, chief leader of those who call themselves the liberals, rightly portrayed as the representative of the “international community” (the atomic-armed jackals ruling in Washington, London, Paris, etc.). The two men were sent to negotiate Morsi’s ouster with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
“It was not the army that took over, it was the army that acted on behalf of the people,” ElBaradei declared after the coup. Unfortunately, this reversal of reality has become accepted as common wisdom by millions who have reason to know better.
In fact, this is merely mouthing the words of the generals themselves, who said in their proclamation, “The Egyptian military has been incapable of turning deaf ears or blind eyes to the movement and voices of the masses, who call for its national, not the political, role… to render public service and necessary protection of their revolutionary demands.”
This is the army that the U.S. has worked to make a pillar of American domination ever since Egypt became independent of Britain and which it has hand-fed for more than four decades. This is the army that made peace with Israel after repeated Israeli invasions, surrendered sovereignty of the Sinai to Tel Aviv, betrayed the Palestinians and used its might only for internal repression. This is General Mubarak’s army.
This is the army that only a few months after being forced to accept Mubarak’s downfall, sent tanks to clear Tahrir Square in April 2011, massacred dozens of Christians and others demonstrating at the Maspero building that October, dispatched military police snipers to shoot and blind protesters against military rule in the battle of Mohammad Mahmoud street in November of that year and vented their rage at women demonstrators.
Who can forget the sight of the “girl in the blue bra” being stripped and stomped by military police aiming their boots at her “female parts” exactly because her crime was being female in Tahrir (Liberation) Square – no matter that she was wearing a hijab and an abaya? Who can forget the massacre in the Port Said football stadium under the watchful eyes of the police and military rule in February 2012? Now the generals who held 12,000 civilians in military prisons are telling us that they have moved to “defend the people’s revolutionary demands”?! What about one of the main demands – that those responsible for these crimes be punished?
The civilian head of state they installed and blessed is Adly Mansour, a graduate of France’s top training school for imperialist administrators at home and in the neo-colonies, a leading judge under Mubarak, and appointed head of the High Constitution Court by Morsi himself. His Prime Minister is Hazen el-Beblawy, an economist who immediately announced that his government would follow IMF recommendations to cut government subsidies on things like fuel – a measure the Morsi regime initially agreed to but did not dare implement.
And now at the centre of power is the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, also appointed by Morsi. He is the general who defended the finger-raping of detained women demonstrators (delicately called “virginity tests”) as perfectly legitimate and necessary because these women had “spent the night with male demonstrators” in Tahrir Square and thus were “not like your daughters or mine” but deserving of punishment. This is the man and the institution who are going to defend not only the people’s “revolutionary demands” but even the most simple right to demonstrate without getting raped?! If forces within the state apparatus are not actively organizing the epidemic of rapes in Tahrir, as many people think, perhaps correctly, they are at least encouraging it. And their view of rape – that it is always the woman’s fault – is identical to the most rabid Islamist preachers.
Time to cast off illusions
If it were true that the army and its friends were the only alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood, then the future would be hopeless. Yet that is exactly how too many Egyptians see it.
Blinded by the “politics of the possible”, much of the people and most of those who claim to lead them have gone from pillar to post seeking a powerful force they can supposedly influence to the people’s benefit. After the people forced the armed forces to drop Mubarak, many joined with the Muslim Brotherhood to pressure the army to yield to a civilian government – in an election in which Morsi’s election was a foregone conclusion. It would be helpful right now if Egyptians and others around the world remembered the slogans certain people would like us to forget, like “Sometimes with the Brotherhood, never with the state,” calling for people to ally with and then vote for the Brotherhood… to “protect the revolution” against the army… which now is supposedly protecting “the revolution” against the Brotherhood!
The fact is that there has not been a revolution. The army, intelligence services, riot police, ordinary police, courts and bureaucracy built up by Mubarak have remained mainly intact without him. This power structure ultimately represents the economic relations in a country whose capitalist development has made it ever more deeply dependent on foreign capital and the imperialist-controlled international market. The state, the law and the “rule of law” is not neutral. They represent the interests of a ruling class that cannot break the country out of foreign domination and enforced backwardness.
The many millions who have taken to the streets against Morsi are right to consider Islamic rule unbearable and unacceptable. In Turkey, the AKP’s drive to increasingly Islamise the country showed that even “Islam lite” is unsustainable, because political Islam has its own logic. Morsi could not meet the demands for “Bread, freedom and social justice,” so how could he retain “legitimacy” except by force-feeding people with religion until they choked? But what will the liberals be able to offer but the same economic and social policies of the Mubarak era… and Morsi… and, to be blunt, the rules (and rule) of the IMF?
Many Egyptians consider Morsi’s downfall a blow to American domination. Much has been made of the good relations between the Brotherhood and “mother”, as the U.S. is known among Egyptian ruling circles. Much has also been made about the Barack Obama government’s alleged uneasiness about the armed forces takeover. Some people support the coup as a blow against “the U.S.-Morsi fascist dictatorship”.
But again, this is so one-sided as to be delusional. The Brotherhood was brought into government not to destroy the state structure but to save as much of it as possible. The U.S. would have preferred that the Mubarak regime last forever, but that option was gone, and the U.S. had to do the best it could with what it had. But the Brotherhood-armed forces alliance was inherently unstable, and the Islamists could not rest content with their subordinate position and tried to move their people into key posts. As the situation developed the rulers of the U.S. were presented with new necessities and possibilities. U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel was on the phone with Sisi several times a day during Morsi’s last week, and Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice called to tell the Egyptian president he was out. “Mother just told us that we will stop playing in one hour,” a Morsi associate texted.
The widespread idea that the rise of political Islam and especially the Muslim Brotherhood is basically a U.S. plot is wrong. Such non-dynamic views conceptualize religious fundamentalism as external to the societies in which it is flourishing, or basically a trick the capitalists have foisted on the inherently ignorant masses.
It is true that Islamism’s success historically owes a great deal to Gulf monarchists’ money, Israeli covert operations and backing from the U.S. and other Western powers aimed at countering both Soviet influence and genuine revolutionary movements in the past. Further, the imperialists are quite capable of making use of all kinds of reactionary and even rival forces when necessary. This needs to be pointed out and exposed in detail again and again.
But Islamism’s global reception has also been due to objective conditions created by the workings of imperialist domination, which is also not external to these countries. Rather, it has brought about deep-going and continuing economic, social and cultural transformations, driven by the global development of capitalism and the division of the world into advanced monopoly capitalist countries and those countries dependent on them and thus dominated by them.
This has led to the rise of new capitalist forces who, while seeking entry into the world imperialist system, appeal to the social relations, traditions and beliefs rooted in the past, and other backward features of society.
In addition to its association with one of Egypt’s richest financiers and leading businessmen, the Muslim Brotherhood’s strength is concentrated among (but certainly not confined to) the better-off classes, especially professionals. Many have worked in the Gulf states (often training as engineers, etc., for that purpose) and returned home with capital, religious training and an admiration for the Gulf states which seem to have been able to preserve their cultural identity, getting very rich and modern without becoming too Western. The relationship between Qatar and the Brotherhood is not just one of financial support; the Gulf state serves as an aspirational model.
Egypt’s rapid capitalist development has also led to a profound social and ideological dislocation among the lower masses, who are driven to the cities but not really allowed a place in modern society. Their sense of being the downtrodden and excluded in that society is all the stronger because they are on the outside looking in through shop windows, TV screens and computer monitors.
Among all these different classes there is a very strong rejection of Western hypocrisy – of which U.S. support for the coup in the name of “democracy” is yet another example – and the sense of humiliation at various levels (reflected in the demand for “Dignity”) for which Islam is supposedly the solution.
The rise of political Islam is a global phenomenon that expresses these contradictions embedded in the world imperialist system itself, and it has mainly been a problem for the U.S. This is particularly the case with its anti-Western jihadi variant, but once religion has been accepted as the source of political legitimacy and moral right, then the boundaries between different versions become porous and unpredictable – as we’ve seen in Saudi Arabia and now Egypt.
Many Egyptians see Brotherhood rule as an immediate threat to their way of life. They want access to global culture. The Web has a special importance for them because it connects them to the world. They very rightly want to be able to express themselves freely, live their own life style and not be stifled. They are right to consider religious rule unacceptable. But they need to understand that the ideology and political system promoted by the rulers of the imperialist countries represents a worldwide system of exploitation and oppression. Partly because of their relatively privileged position, they are prone to a belief in the “free market” that has in fact crushed the vast majority of people, and the corresponding belief in Western-style capitalist democracy and its system of elections which have never brought basic change to Egypt or anywhere else. They need to understand that appealing to Western governments to save them from the Islamists – for instance, with the slogan “The U.S. is funding terrorists in Egypt” (the Morsi regime) – is a big political mistake and morally unacceptable.
Some people cannot stand the idea of the armed forces’ intervention being called a coup because they think it can bring them freedom. But freedom for who, and for what? What is even being promised, except maybe more elections to “legitimize” the shameful subjugation of the country and its women and men?
What do the liberals have to offer the impoverished masses but contempt and repression? ElBaradei said, “If the army doesn’t intervene, there is a risk of a revolt of the poor which would be a disaster.” Doesn’t this mean that he intends for the poor to continue to suffer disaster and for that reason is afraid of them? And while the question of the oppression of women and enforcing or fighting to abolish patriarchy has become a central issue in Egypt (as in other Arab countries and the entire globe), there is unity among all the reactionary forces in continuing patriarchy. To its shame, almost the entire “left” is OK with that, blaming the backwardness of the people instead of their own backwardness.
Where are the common interests of the great majority in all of this? Where is the bread, freedom and social justice? Where is the revolution?
Two possible futures
The rivalry between competing ideologies and political representatives is part of what underlies the splits in Egypt’s ruling classes. But this process can’t be reduced to ElBaradei versus the Brotherhood, for example. There are Islamist forces on both sides, and the Egyptian army itself is highly Islamicized (General Sisi’s wife wears a niqab, a Gulf import that has no roots in Egyptian culture). And each tendency feeds on the other – the crimes of each drives people into the arms of the other.
Furthermore, the widely-held hope that the events in Egypt spell the decline of political Islam in the region is wishful thinking. Exactly because it is the U.S. and other imperialists who dominate and oppress the world, to the degree that people can see no alternative but to take sides between the Islamists and the pro-Western forces, today’s situation in Egypt could ultimately strengthen Islamists everywhere.
We have seen in Algeria how an armed forces coup against an Islamist party poised to win the 1991 elections led to more than a decade of civil war. The effect of those years still weighs on the Algerian people. The worst of it was that the army and the various armed Islamist groups not only fought each in their reactionary rivalry, but that they all wiped out whole villages, urban neighbourhoods and social strata (both sides particularly hated intellectuals) in a contest over who could spread the most terror. Is that an example of a pro-Western, secular army saving the people from Islamism, “providing public service” and “protecting” the people?
And then there is the Syria scenario, where what has become a civil war among reactionary forces has brought an even greater catastrophe. Even there, some people try to apply the “politics of the possible”, hoping to find allies – or protection – either among the regime forces or the Islamist-dominated opposition.
The favourable elements in Egypt today include the yearning and determination of millions not to live in the old way, and the fact that none of the the people’s enemies have been able to impose a reactionary and stifling “stability”. There are splits in the ruling class and basic questions of ideology and legitimacy are in the air.
But the masses of people will seek refuge under one or another reactionary wing of the ruling class until and unless a real alternative emerges. This requires a new leadership that can correctly identify friends from enemies. On that basis it can begin to unite and mobilize broad sections of the masses of different strata to defeat those enemies and seize and wield state power to transform the country and its people and ultimately the world. It requires the coming together of a group of people with that vision, a plan to make it real and a scientifically-based daring and determination to overcome obstacles and accomplish very difficult tasks. There is, in today’s world, the revolutionary communist theory that can be applied to make this possible. As hard as that may be, any other solution is an illusion.
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