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Egypt: 'The people still want end to regime' -- left assessments of the uprising and military takeover (updated July 10)

Demonstration at Tahrir Square in Cairo, June 30, 2013.

July 7, 2013 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Below are a number of assessments of the massive protests and military intervention that overthrew the government of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood on July 3, 2013. Check back for new additions.

For more on Egypt, click HERE.

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Egypt: 'The people still want end to regime'

By Tony Iltis

July 7, 2013 -- Green Left Weekly (Australia) -- The protests which began on June 30 ― and by July 3 had led to the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi ― were reportedly the largest in Egyptian history.

With claims between 10 and 20 million people took part, they were larger than the protests which led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011.

There are obvious similarities between the downfall of the two presidents. In both cases it was the military who, despite having previously been a pillar of the regime, executed the overthrow because protests were becoming too big and staunch to be easily repressed.

Likewise, when it became clear they were unable to stop the protests growing, both presidents were abandoned by their main external backer, the United States.

However, there are equally obvious differences. Mubarak was an entrenched dictator who, for three decades, had headed a totalitarian regime. Under Mubarak, Egypt was considered a bedrock of stability by the US.

Morsi, on the other hand, became Egypt’s first elected president just a year ago and his government was continually challenged both by popular protest and elements within the state loyal to the old regime.

Furthermore, while there were no popular mobilisations in support of Mubarak, since Morsi’s overthrow tens of thousands of people have been in the streets demanding his reinstatement ― despite violent repression by the military.

The death toll has continued to rise as the military attacks pro-Morsi protests, unknown gunmen attack anti-Morsi protesters and pro- and anti-Morsi protesters fight on the streets.

At the core of the pro-Morsi protests are Islamists: supporters of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood as well as Salafist groups such as al-Nour and al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya.

Anti-Morsi mobilisations continue to be considerably larger, bringing together a broad cross-section of Egyptian society ― mostly people without political affiliations but including political currents as diverse as pro-Western liberals, anti-Western liberals, hangovers from the Mubarak regime and the small Marxist forces.

The driving force behind the anti-Morsi protests was Tamarod (Rebellion), an unstructured grassroots campaign around a petition calling for Morsi to leave and new elections held. The petition was launched in April and by June 30 had obtained 22 million hard copy signatures.

Uprising

In the Western media, there has been some debate about whether the overthrow of Morsi was a democratic revolution or a military coup. Western governments have not been entirely unanimous in their response.

For the Western rulers, this issue is mainly technical. Under US law military aid must, at least temporarily, cease to any army that has carried out a coup and as the annual US$1.3 billion direct aid to the armed forces is the main leverage the US has in Egypt, US President Barack Obama is unlikely to call what happened a coup.

To the extent it is held by anyone, governmental power is now held by the repressive US-funded military that the Mubarak dictatorship was built around.

However, Morsi was brought down by a genuinely popular mass uprising. The size of the petition and the protests suggests that some people who voted for Morsi in June last year were calling for his overthrow one year on.

Most of the forces involved, including Tamerod, have expressed opposition to military rule. The army is claiming that it wants early elections and has installed Supreme Constitutional Court head Adly Mansour as interim ruler to give its administration a civilian face.

However, the roundups of Muslim Brotherhood members, closure of pro-Morsi media outlets and shooting of unarmed demonstrators suggest it has other intentions.

The overthrow of Morsi was the latest event in a democratic revolution that began in January 2011 but is a long way from over. The revolution was not only a response to the Mubarak’s regime violent repression of Egyptians, but its subservience to Western power.

One aspect of this is economic. Since Mubarak’s predecessor Anwar Sadat introduced the “open door” policy in the early 1970s, the Egyptian economy and living standards have been devastated by successive waves of International Monetary Fund or World Bank-dictated “reforms”.

In the years leading up to Mubarak’s overthrow this was accentuated by the 2007 global financial collapse and by global food shortages caused by global warming, the worldwide spread of biofuels and food speculation by multinational corporations.

Anger over food insecurity, unemployment, poverty and decaying infrastructure was intensified by the shameless corruption of Mubarak and his cronies.

But another aspect was that of national dignity. The military’s annual $1.3 billion subsidy was institutionalised after Sadat signed the Camp David Peace Accords with Israel and the US in 1978.

Egypt become the main Arab partner of the US, and its increasingly visible involvement in Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians, was a source of great national shame for Egyptians.

This became particularly intense after Israel initiated the starvation siege of the Gaza Strip in 2006. Gaza’s southern border is with Egypt not Israel so Egyptian collaboration is both essential to maintain the siege and difficult to hide.

When the revolution against Mubarak broke out, after a couple of weeks of expressing confidence in the dictator as he rapidly lost control, the US realised the regime in its current form was doomed and the US needed to salvage its assets.

Hence the US and the military’s 11th hour defection to the anti-Mubarak cause.

The Muslim Brotherhood also came to the revolution late. Although repressed by Sadat and Mubarak, it had been given more political space than other opposition groups.

Its members could be found both in Mubarak’s jails and in his rubber-stamp parliament. It was the only opposition group before 2011 with an organised base.

After the overthrow of Mubarak, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) led by Field Martial Mohamed Tantawi became the interim government.

The Tantawi regime’s initial popularity was quickly eroded by the presence of Mubarak-era politicians, its continued torture and disappearance of activists, its ham-fisted attempts to entrench its political role in a new constitution, its maintenance of the Camp David Accords and the continuing economic crisis.

Muslim Brotherhood

The attraction of the Muslim Brotherhood to those who wanted to preserve the status quo was that it is essentially a socially conservative and economically neoliberal party, but its history of being repressed and its use of anti-Western and anti-Israel rhetoric gave it a radical appearance.

Mamdouh Habashi, co-founder of the Egyptian Socialist Party, told Green Left weekly in April that the coming of “the Islamists to power was not by chance. It was a series of actions led and directed by the United States with its tools.

“These were the military council and the Muslim Brotherhood with their deals and in the backstage the big financiers like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and so on. These are the tools with which they play and create new facts and divert and divide and so on.”

A hurried electoral process and the administrative disqualification of candidates ensured that the final round of the presidential vote was between Morsi and Mubarak crony Ahmed Shafik.

“At the end of the day, when Egyptians had to vote for a new president they had no choice but between cholera and cancer,” Habishi said.

In April, Habishi said he was surprised at how quickly the masses had turned against the Morsi government. One aspect was the further deterioration of the economy and the continuation of neoliberalism.

Morsi’s attempts to introduce an autocratic new constitution on November 22 triggered a new wave of protest. That his power grab had come at the end of a week in which Israel had carpet-bombed Gaza and Egypt continued to collaborate fuelled the opposition.

The National Salvation Front was formed uniting almost all non-Islamist paties.

Habishi told GLW: “The Salvation Front that was founded after the decree of Morsi on November 22 bringing together almost all political forces … including Mohamed El Baredei … including even parts of the old regime … and including our party, other left parties and social democrats.

“They are not homogenous, but agree on one goal: to drop the power of the Islamists. After that we shall not have any Salvation Front because there is no other goal.”

He said the regime’s response was to increasingly rely on paid armed thugs as Mubarak had done. Activists were shot and it is widely believed that the epidemic of sexual harassment and assaults in the vicinity of protests was orchestrated by the regime.

The Tamarod movement has rejected Western media claims that Morsi’s overthrow was a coup. In a statement reported in the July 5 Ahram Online, it said: said: “The Egyptian people will not hesitate to protect their revolutionary legitimacy that has reflected the people’s will against the tyrants who do not want stability in Egypt …

“We affirm that there are clear attempts to smear our glorious revolution, attempts that seek to portray the people’s will as a military coup, which may lead to intervention by foreign forces in Egypt’s internal matters and which we won’t accept.”

Left-wing groups such as the Revolutionary Socialists and the Communist Party also welcomed the overthrow of Morsi as a step forward for the revolution. But they also warned of the threat posed by the armed forces and called on anti-Morsi protesters to stay in the streets as a counter to military control.

The wave of repression and violence post-Morsi's removal indicates the military, concerned with preserving its own power, has an agenda that is not the same as large numbers of those who opposed Morsi on the streets. The struggle to win the goals of the Egyptian revolution continues.

[Tony Itis is active in the Australian Socialist Alliance.]

From GLW issue 971

If they come for Muslim Brotherhood in the morning…

By Phil Hearse (Socialist Resistance, Britain)

July 6, 2013 -- Crisis and Revolt via Socialist Resistance -- A lot of comrades in Egypt and elsewhere are saying that the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi is a victory both for the revolution and the counter-revolution.

Of course the Muslim Brotherhood regime – a brutal, vicious, anti-working class government – could not have been brought down without the mass mobilisation of millions. The anti-Morsi mobilisation showed the Brotherhood is not the majority! But what counts is yes, how a regime is brought down, but also what is it replaced by. What does the new government represent in class terms and from the viewpoint of democracy?

In fact the army finished off the Muslim Brotherhood government to prevent the popular masses doing it themselves. That could have set off an uncontrollable dynamic.

Nobody should doubt the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in Egypt, far from being an ally of the people or the guarantor of their power, is the opposite. Since the overthrow of Mubarak the Scarf have intensified repression, military trials and torture against the left, liberals and the secular opposition. It is the guarantor of the power of capital and reaction – and of course the key link between the Egyptian ruling class and US imperialism.

For a period of over a year the army and the rest of the military have been prepared to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to be in government, especially as it had no intention of touching the prerogatives and power of capital. Now it is prepared to dump the Brotherhood and install a pro-capitalist government of ‘experts’ , including doubtless business people, the political right and religious figures.

Even if this is in a certain sense the fruit of the mass mobilisation, the left should avoid all temptation of schadenfreude at the fate of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership. Seeing them bundled into armoured cars by special forces in ski masks does not speak of the popular will but of the vicious repression of an authoritarian police regime. If they come for the Brotherhood in the morning, they will come for the leftists, liberals, trade unions, women’s organisations – any form of popular organisation and mobilisation – in the evening. Anyone in Egypt who extols the repressive role of the state apparatus is making the same mistake that was made in Algeria at the time of the brutally murderous repression of the Islamist FIS.

The Wall Street Journal said today in an editorial “Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.” Don’t you just love that bit about how General Pinochet “midwifed a transition to democracy” by installing a military dictatorship, killing 30,000 people and torturing thousands more! But that’s just what international capital want – not necessarily a massacre of course, but a firm hand, order and normality for business.

Illusions about the army are clearly widespread among the anti-Morsi forces, but of course not among the socialists and many people who calls themselves "revolutionaries". In Egypt, despite all the differences, you have the fundamentally same problem as in Brazil and Turkey. It’s all about what political forces exist and what leadership resources there are, to chart an alternative for the mass movement when it’s faced with repression or demobilisation. A force to articulate a series of clear demands/objectives that you can have mass unity around.

Actually in Turkey and Brazil the left/socialist forces are stronger than in Egypt (although in Egypt of course the revolutionary process has been much more prolonged and is deeper). But the Turkish and Brazilian left forces lack coherence, unity and mass support. In Brazil it’s even more complicated because the key government party (the Workers Party) is the the dessicated remnant of a previously mass, class-struggle based party. Historically we can see that huge mass movements and mobilisations in different parts of the world are occurring when the left and workers' movement has not recovered from the weakening effects of several decades of defeats. The process of rebuilding the left is long and difficult and will go through many stages of regroupment, refoundation and political clarification.

Bonapartist coup in Egypt!

By Sungur Savran

July 4, 2013 -- The Bullet (Socialist Project, Canada) -- The near equality in strength of the two camps contending for power in Egypt led the army to stage a Bonapartist coup. It is not only the recent episode of unprecedented crowds in the millions coming out on June 30 that has made the army move. This struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood government of now deposed President Mohamed Morsi, on the one hand, and the opposition, represented by the National Salvation Front, and more recently by the Tamerod (Rebel) movement, on the other, has been going on since last November. This is, in fact, the third wave of spectacular demonstrations by the opposition within a cycle of the Egyptian revolution that has been going on since November.

It was in November, in the wake of the so-called Constitutional Decree of Morsi, that the opposition started to challenge the legitimacy of the president. This first wave died down as a result of the electoral atmosphere created by the referendum on the constitution set for December 15. Then on the second anniversary of the revolution (the Egyptians mark the beginning of the revolution, January 25, as its date), there began another wave that lasted almost for a month.

The mammoth demonstrations of June 30 and since are thus the third wave. The singularity of the June 30 rallies lies in the fact that, at least in Cairo, the crowds were simply too large to be compared to anything that went on before: not only was Tahrir square, the iconic centre of the Egyptian revolution, much more densely packed than on any previous occasion according to the unanimous commentary of all seasoned observers, but Ittihadiye, the area around the presidential palace in Heliopolis, drew crowds that would, on their own, rank this incident in the annals of mass protest anywhere in the world! So this was a formidable movement that would scare any party in government and any ruling class!

Morsi’s last stand

And yet the Brotherhood and the other Islamist movements, with certain exceptions, showed no signs of giving in. On the one hand, they organised counter demonstrations and sit-ins that reached up to the hundreds of thousands. There were also clashes all around the country before, during and after the landmark date of June 30 that led to scores of casualties on both sides. On the other hand, Morsi himself stood his ground and declared squarely that he was not going to give in to the demands of the opposition. These demands, it may be recalled, amounted to Morsi’s resignation, the assumption of the presidency by the new head of the Constitutional Court, the formation of a technocratic transitional government which would put the crumbling economy of the country in order and early presidential elections. This, by the way, has turned out to be the so-called “road map” of the army as well.

The deadlock born from the confrontation of two nearly equal social and political forces was simply inextricable. It threatened civil war. It was into this void that the army stepped in and staged its coup. This was a classic case of Bonapartism.

To understand the ironies of history that this coup represents one has to recall the facts of recent history. It is, of course, commonplace knowledge that since the early 1950s the army has been the mainstay of the Egyptian regime. But after Nasser‘s death, the army ruled through the National Democratic Party and its strong men, first Anwar Sadat, then Hosni Mubarak. The new period of course opened with the eye-dazzling Egyptian revolution of January 25, 2011, which, in a matter of 18 short days, brought down the 30-year rule of Mubarak. This political revolution was a peculiar mixture of a popular revolution and a coup d’etat. It was really the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), led by Field Marshall Tantawi, the minister of defence under Mubarak for two decades, which held ultimate power in the background, promising nonetheless the construction of a more democratic, pluralist regime.

Ironically enough, in the first period following the ouster of Mubarak, the army cooperated with the Muslim Brotherhood, the only sizeable politically coherent force in the country, as against the camp of the revolution (the relationship of the Brotherhood with the revolution itself was very problematic: it came in very late and constantly oscillated). In the meanwhile, the major demand around which the revolutionary camp increasingly mobilised was captured in the slogan, “Yaskut yaskut, hukm el askar!” or “Down with the rule of the military!”

One and a half years later, Mohamed Morsi was elected as a result of a two-round presidential election, in the second round of which he faced a candidate of the ancien régime, Ahmad Shafik, an ex-premier under Mubarak and beat him by a very narrow margin. It is important to note this because it makes clear that many of the people now on the streets had, only a year ago, voted for Morsi as against the candidate of the previous era. And only a month after he was inaugurated, Morsi dismissed Field Marshall Tantawi and his chief of staff and thus brought to an end the domination of the political system by the SCAF. In what is another irony of history, he promoted Al-Sisi to head the military, making him his defence minister, as a safeguard against the intrusion of the army into political life. It was Al-Sisi who was to stage a coup against him on the anniversary of his inauguration!

Civil war averted and a revolution hijacked

Whatever the personal leaning of Al-Sisi (he was hailed at the time by the Western press as the representative of another generation of officers), the army has now avenged its humiliation at the hands of Morsi last year and has restored its prestige in the eyes of both ruling circles and the masses. Moreover, through its coup the army has averted, at least for the moment, an impending civil war between the two camps.

A civil war is always a grave danger for armies, not least because it may lead to a fatal division within its own ranks. But all this pales into insignificance when compared with the real import of the coup: this coup has pre-empted a possible revolution by the people! The power displayed by the masses on June 30, preceded as this was by six months of feverish activity, demonstrations, mass rallies, marches, challenges against curfews etc. would scare any ruling class anywhere around the world. With this step the army has skilfully prevented a possible victory of the people’s revolution and in the process received the support of a significant portion of the masses. This Bonapartist coup is then, in its innermost essence, a revolution hijacked!

A significant part of the responsibility for this falls on the leadership of the opposition. During the press conference in which Al-Sisi declared the assumption of power by the army, he was flanked, apart from his commanders, by the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar as the representative of the Muslim majority of the country and Coptic Pope Tawadros II as that of the Christian minority. But there was a third figure. That was Muhammad ElBaradei, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, a “liberal” cherished by the Western media, and the leader of an insignificant bourgeois political force of the country. In what capacity was he there?

As the spokesperson of the National Salvation Front, a motley collection of parties that brings together one of the richest tycoons of Egypt, Naguip Sawiris, and socialists of all stripes, but really centred around the towering figure of Hamdeen Sabahi, the left Nasserist candidate who garnered around 21 per cent of the popular vote in the first round of the presidential elections a year ago (only three percentage points less than that of Morsi!). Sabahi and his Egyptian Popular Current have formed this incoherent front and tied the hands of the left Nasserists and socialists by allying them with bourgeois politicians of all stripes with almost no militant force or electoral clout. With the presence of Al Baradei, its spokesperson, at the press conference that officially established the military coup, the revolutionary camp has thus turned over power to the military with its own hands!

This is an irony rarely equalled in history. It was these same masses of the people that for a year and a half after the fall of Mubarak fought, at the expense of their lives at times, this ferociously violent military institution, trying to put an end to its rule.

However, even two and a half years after it first rose on the stage of history, the Egyptian revolution is so strong and the people so filled with an aspiration not only for freedom but also for bread and jobs, so significant is the component of class struggle within the whole process, that it would be folly to think this is the end of revolution and stability has arrived in Egypt. Quite the contrary. Having got rid of the three-decade long rule of a tyrant and then of a president who was elected at the polls in reasonably free elections only a year ago and this within the space of two and a half years, the Egyptian working-class and the large masses of people are full of self-confidence and a belief in their own strength. The people believe, and rightly so, that it is they and not the army who brought Morsi down!

The audacity of this people will no wonder present us with even greater surprises in the near future. But the victory of the revolution requires the construction of a leadership that is capable of breaking with all forms of subservience to the Egyptian bourgeoisie and to imperialism.

[Sungur Savran is based in Istanbul and is one of the editors of the newspaper Gercek (Truth) and the theoretical journal Devrimci Marksizm (Revolutionary Marxism), both published in Turkish, and of the web site RedMed. The Bullet is a publication of the Socialist Project in Canada.]

Cuba's Juventud Rebelde: Egypt under military tutelage once again

By Jorge L. Rodríguez González, a CubaNews translation edited by Walter Lippmann

July 6, 2013 -- Juventud Rebelde -- The Egyptian armed forces will keep controlling the route of the nation. So far, this is the only clear thing in the uncertain and complex scenario of the North African nation. The strong man is not interim President Adli Mansour who, until the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi, acted as president of the Supreme Court. The strong man is General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, chief of the army.

As on other occasions, the military will play politics. It grabbed power for a year and a half after the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak, until elections were held. In those elections, it also had its candidate: Ahmed Shafiq, a retired military man who had been the last prime minister of the ousted Mubarak. Now, nothing indicates the story will be different. Behind Mansour, the military strings are in action, particularly those of Al-Sisi, whom most media present as the hero of the coup that changed the route of Egypt to become a caliphate and avoided bloodshed.

Apart from the mistakes that Morsi may have committed, one cannot ignore the fact that he was a democratically elected president, and that the ascent of the Islamists was always distrusted by the sectors that historically held the power, or were next to the power, including the military elite. The president could not rule comfortably to initiate at least a reform that could solve the problems he inherited from the former regime.

The followers of Mubarak, entrenched on the levers of power, took care of the boycott against the actions of the Islamist leader. In the year he ruled the nation, until the armed forces staged the coup d'état on July 3, Morsi was unable to make the Egyptian economy take off: tourism -- an important source of income for the nation -- is still in decline; unemployment affects more than 13% of the population; food prices increased by 10%. To all these, add the scarcity of fuel and the power outages in Cairo.

In the middle of this difficult economic situation, Morsi was unable to offer a social and economic program, neither to take distance from the policies of the international financial bodies. These include the International Monetary Fund which, in order to grant credits, demands reforms that represent cuts in the state budget and subsidies, dismissals, tax increases, a higher cost of living and more privatisation. This is what is happening in neighbouring Tunisia. However, many criticise Morsi for not being able to complete the agreement with the IMF. Besides, the government followed many of the old practices of the previous regime, despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood criticised these during its protests against Mubarak.

The Islamists, believing they held the highest power because they had the majority in the legislature, rushed in to conquer all possible spaces without taking into account the other colours in the political-ideological-confessional Egyptian rainbow. They should not have underestimated this, even more so when their victory in the May June 2012 elections was by a small margin.

Now, the armed forces that say they are on the side of the people -- whom they massacred during the revolts against Mubarak in January and February 2011 -- and on the side of the Mubarak followers, the right, the liberals, the secular and even the left, proclaim they will build a government of national unity in Egypt. So said Mansour, and at the same time, a wave of arrests and prohibitions to abandon the country was launched against Islamist leaders.

The followers of Morsi -- and some of his opponents -- who are unhappy with the coup d'état, promised to keep protesting until constitutional order is restored and, therefore, are victims of army repression. There are already thirty dead and hundreds wounded. The situation in Egypt is very far from the path to stability.

The Islamist forces will not remain idle after having conquered political power through elections; something that had been forbidden to them for 80 years during which they were illegal.

A campaign of harassment and persecution will be fatal for the democratic state the people demand. And the popular movement must remember that accepting the military as guardians of the transition process after the fall of Mubarak was a mistake. Far from safeguarding the defended aspirations, it usurped the executive power. And before that, it had tortured and murdered those that in the anti-Mubarak revolts called for a different Egypt.

Gilbert Achcar on the uprising

July 10, 2013 -- Gilbert Achcar grew up in Lebanon and is currently professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London. He is associated with the Fourth International. He was interviewed by the Real News Network on July 4 (above) and July 5 (below). You can find the transcripts HERE and HERE.

 

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