In many ways the election of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamad Morsi as President of Egypt, marks something of a symbolic change in Egyptian politics. He is certainly the first ‘elected’ and also the first ‘non-military’ president since the military coup of Gamel Nasser and the ‘Free Officer’ Corp in July 1952. However, due to that fifty year plus history of military entrenched power, now exercised by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAFA), he will also be the weakest in conventional political terms. This is because prior to the election announcement on Sunday (24/6/12), SCAFA had already removed any powers previous Military figureheads had wielded and they had also disbanded the Egyptian Parliament.
The political defeat of the only other candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, who had been part of the previous Mubarak regime, was by fairly narrow margins. The thirteen million or so votes for Mursi and the 12 million for Shafiq taken at face value, would seem to present a picture of a country split down the middle. However, the real situation is not revealed by considering only these few bare statistics. The situation in Egypt is far more complex and fluid that that. First of all nearly 1 million voters spoiled their ballot papers – possibly in protest at such a restricted choice. Second, millions boycotted the elections because they wanted neither a military nor an Islamic President and felt the whole process was a charade.
Third, some voted for the military, so as to keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of Presidential power. Others voted for the Muslim Brotherhood so as to keep the military from regaining Presidential power. If we also recognise that out of a population of 85 plus million, only some 26 million or so visited the polling stations, that leaves a lot of people (tens of millions) with an opinion, which did not find an expression in this round of elections. These citizens also have pressing needs. Also if we choose to recall, the initial impetuous of the Arab Spring Uprisings, was not for democratic elections, but for better living conditions and employment. Indeed, the precursor of the 2011 Egyptian events were the 2008 labour movement unrest, supported by the April the 6th activists.
The April the 6th activists also played a part in the 2011 uprising and bread, civil liberty and social justice are the concepts which best sum up the dominant motives of those who joined the uprisings in their thousands and then millions. These economic and social needs and requirements were at first directed at the existing military backed figure-head regimes. It was only when the regimes quickly proved to be an impenetrable barrier to obtaining these basic human rights, did the emphasis switch to getting rid of Ben Ali and Mubarak in Tunisia and Egypt. The election of Muhamad Mursi – even if he were your own preferred candidate – has not altered these underlying needs and demands. They have still to be either given up or achieved.
Some – but not all – among the working and oppressed may be content to continue to suffer a little longer whilst their own choice of candidate is in an elevated position – but not indefinitely. The class struggle will continue with very little substantive political change even though the small changes – in view of the past – seem proportionally large. What appears to be the biggest positive change is in the attitude of the ordinary citizens, who have lost their fear of the repressive actions of the Egyptian militarised state. And in view of the current global crisis of capital, the chances of them being bought off by economic concessions are slight.
From what can be ascertained it would seem that Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood wish to attract foreign funds to enable Egypt to implement an economic development plan. The hope being that sufficient economic activity can be stimulated to create increased levels of employment for workers and sufficient profits to satisfy the middle-class and professionals. In a boom period for capitalism, that aspiration might have had a slim chance, but capitalism is in a period of severe structural and fiscal crisis. Economic development on a capitalist basis now requires few workers on low wages competing against other capitalist enterprises, also using low wages along with advanced technologies to increase levels of production and thus lower unit costs.
The more powerful financial and political elite in the advanced economies of Europe, Asia and North America cannot even solve the sovereign debt problem which arises from the structural changes to 21st century capitalism. Neither do they seem to understand the socio-economic implications of the underlying fundamental changes introduced by capital’s mass production techniques. Using less labour and low-waged labour adds a further twist to the structural imbalance between the production of commodities and services and the required levels of taxation and consumption. This structural change in the capitalist mode of production is a factor operating in all countries in the global economic system and is therefore is an inescapable outcome in Egypt as well as the rest of North Africa and the middle east.
If the Muslim Brotherhood, or any other governing party, place themselves in the hands of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this will simply be a recipe for further levels of exploitation and poverty among the working poor and oppressed in Egypt. So given the almost universal lack of knowledge (in the east as well as the west) of how capitalism functions as a whole, it is likely that the Brotherhood and their supporters will sooner, rather than later, try this recipe. To do so they will require social stability and state guarantees to foreign private investors and such international parasitic entities such as the World Bank and the (IMF). However, any solution, such as this, which does not allow the active participation of the masses in their own ‘salvation’, will require the iron heel of the military to keep order while an experiment in introducing a neo-liberal capitalist democracy is attempted.
It would seem that the Muslim Brotherhood could be faced with a choice of being with the people to contain the military, or with the military to contain the people. Yet it is unlikely that the Egyptian military will be able to quickly co-opt the Muslim Brotherhood, into their fold, for the military are tied technically and financially to the USA, receiving as they do at least $1.3 billion per year in subsidies. Despite some collusion, their ideological position, which views the USA elite as the wicked and ungodly, should be sufficient barrier for this possibility to arise.
It is also unlikely that without a substantial break with the USA, that the Muslim Brotherhood, will be able to co-opt the military elite to their cause. Of course if either of these possibilities occurred there will be an end to the ‘old corruption’ but only to be replaced by a ‘new corruption’. There would also undoubtedly be further uprisings. There is however, another more positive possibility, providing the foresight and will is present.
If pressure for an initial alliance between elements opposed to military involvement and or control in Egypt, can be put on the Muslim Brotherhood leadership by their rank and file members, then the military elite could be quickly isolated. An alliance of the Muslim Brotherhood, secularists, Christians and the left, politically and on the street, could begin that process as well as providing and attractive alternative to the military rank and file. Such an alliance should use any leverage or direct possibilities to open the books and the secret archives of the previous and present state finances, including the nature and source of past and present government debts.
An alliance of this nature should abolish the secret police and have its archives publicised. The previous graft and illegal financial handouts should be publicly investigated and also widely publicised. Any sovereign debts should be examined, rejected and immediately cancelled. A grass-roots controlled programme of extensive non-profit making public works for housing and infrastructure should be initiated without delay. A social wedge should be driven between the military elite and the rank and file soldiers by a public enquiry addressing and supporting the justified grievances of the ordinary soldiers. It should be explained to them that during a developing global crisis their future situation and welfare would be best served if it were tied to the mass of the workers and oppressed, rather than being used as reactionary tools against the ordinary people.
It should be widely publicised that the economic, social and ecological problems caused by the capitalist mode of production cannot be solved by the capitalist system itself without threatening the present and future of all humanity. Only a post-capitalist economic and social system, in which production is determined by need and ecological sustainability rather than profit, makes rational sense. Only a post-capitalist system, where every citizen contributes to social production and takes from production a proportional rather than a disproportional amount, is sustainable. The facts and processes confirming this assertion should be popularised and made clear to all citizens of Egypt as they should elsewhere.
The mainstream media along with the reformist left are in no mood nor are they intellectually capable of doing this and so the task falls to the anti-capitalist left, particularly its revolutionary-humanist elements. This section of society should also advise and take part in the above noted anti-regime alliance and encourage the formation of local non-sectarian forms of self-organisation, self-determination and self defence. It is highly unlikely that there will be an immediate united revolutionary challenge to the existing system, but there will be battles and stages, through which masses of people in Egypt will be forced to traverse. It is during these stages that the understanding of what is needed will be developed and can be promoted among the masses. A non-sectarian anti-capitalist milieu can play a positive part in this development, a sectarian one, in contrast, can only play a negative and divisive one.
Roy Ratcliffe (June 2012.) [ See also ‘Military control in Egypt’ at Greater Manchester Anti-Capitalists blog.]