EGYPT: INSURRECTION or INTERREGNUM?

Bourgeois hypocrisy.

The champions of bourgeois democracy everywhere have been quick to denounce the toppling of President Morsi in Egypt as a blow against democracy. This cannot be surprising. Manipulation and control of the party political, electoral process is something they have long perfected. This form of electoral democracy renders the masses passive and leaves the political representatives open to direct and indirect influence. Their fear of mass street participation to determine what happens in society is therefore palpable. Accordingly they have invariably described the events of 2-3 July 2013 in Egypt, as an unconstitutional ‘coup d’ etat‘. The Muslim Brotherhood have also claimed this is so and the action as unconstitutional. It is a familiar cry of every ruling elite who are overthrown by mass uprisings or insurrections. Indeed, Mubarak made exactly the same criticism before his ouster.

These various condemnations by heads of state, are also a most hypocritical form of denunciation. The bourgeois governments of all European and North American states regularly do unconstitutional things; spying of innocent citizens, pepper spraying demonstrators, arrest and incarceration of innocents, deaths in custody, torture, invasions of foreign countries, falsifying expenses – forcing down diplomatic planes!; even a much abbreviated list could fill this entire page. Be this as it may, superficial talk of coup’s and unconstitutional actions does not get us any clearer to understand the complex situation currently taking place in Egypt.

Very few mainstream commentators have bothered to study the way pre-revolutionary situations develop and pass through various developmental stages, including reversals, mood swings and political detours. But given the depth and breadth of the world economic crisis – initiated by neo-liberal capitalism – ‘normal’ politics has outlived its ability to control either the economic, the social or political spheres of life. For this reason there is growing discontent and unrest throughout the world. And given the elitist and corrupt nature of politics, this popular unrest has nowhere else to go to express itself but on the street.

The street.

It should now be absolutely clear that the ‘street’ has been ‘the’ determining factor in Egyptian politics since the uprising of 2010. It was not the Military and it was not the Brotherhood but the popular masses who eventually turned up in Tahir Square. It was therefore the emergence of mass participation in a concerted uprising which led to the overthrow of Mubarak. It is a further instance of mass assembly and participation in the recent second uprising on June 30th in which people campaigned and assembled to call for Morsi to resign. Instead of accepting the previous months of criticism and modifying the brotherhood stance, Morsi and his colleagues decided to carry on regardless and  to hide behind their so-called democratic election.

What they and the bourgeois elsewhere, have failed to adequately grasp is that the mass movement in Egypt – as it is everywhere – is not entirely powered by political disagreement or constitutional discourse. Despite the corruption and incompetence of the political class, ordinary people are more interested in their future welfare than simply waiting for politics to ‘clean’ itself up. The turn out of such huge numbers is driven by the deteriorating socio-economic condition of the mass of working class humanity. To those removed from the direct experiences of blue and white-collar humanity and the poor, the protests may appear to be just a question of disappointment with Muslim Brotherhood politics and a search for an alternative, but of course it is much more than this.

Historically, when masses of people have suffered hardship and oppression for long enough they frequently explode and go beyond any constitution, particularly when the constitution stands in their way. Indeed, that is how all potential revolutions commence. In periods of systemic crisis, the broad (but uneven) process is as follows. First, popular mass uprisings; second, unifying demands are created; third, military support sides with the insurgents; fourth, the masses become armed; fifth a dual seat of power is established; sixth the oppressors are overthrown, their state dismantled; seventh, a new and developing socio-economic system is released or created.

And in the 21st century, uprisings and precursors of revolutions are occurring on practically every continent. A few obvious questions make the reasons clear! Is it not the case that everywhere the capitalist mode of production is dominant, the class divide between the wealthy beneficiaries and the working poor has increased astronomically? Is it not the case that vast numbers of blue and white-collar workers are being pushed toward and some held below the level of relative poverty? Is it not the case that the poor and working people in country after country are stirring?

The common underlying problem.

Since before 2010 workers had become so desperate in Egypt that they regularly took to the streets calling for jobs, food and an end to regime oppression. This developing unrest led to the mass demonstrations that eventually persuaded the military to assist in bringing down Mubarak. Elected with the task of improving economic and social conditions, the new government of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, were clearly not pursuing policies to make Egypt more equal or fairer.

Nor was he or his ministers beginning to tackle the major social and economic problems facing the population. Indeed, they were preparing to get the Egyptian people into further debt by negotiating IMF loans and accepting the conditions attached to these loans. Also the Brotherhood were appointing religious representatives to regional political posts, irrespective of their ability or suitability.

It may not yet be obvious to some that the future for Egypt – as for humanity in general – does not lie in more capitalism and IMF domination along with restrictions to the rights of women and young people. The future for Egypt as with the rest of humanity does not lie in large-scale unemployment, long hours and low pay for those who manage to obtain a job and Shariah law.

During these current and coming struggles, more and more people will become aware that it is not just a question of appropriate politics and suitable figureheads but a question of who owns and controls the main means of production. Only social control of the means of production can solve the question of large-scale unemployment, equitable economic distribution, tolerance and ecological sustainability.

An insurrection-urged coup?

As yet the situation in Egypt is fluid and complex but the latest events are clearly best described initially as a mass insurrection or further uprising against the elected political regime, which then urged a military-led coup. The insurrectionists were aware that the elections returning the Brotherhood, were both premature and flawed, as was the formation of the new constitution. A coup, on the other hand, is normally conducted by a tiny group who on their own initiative topples a clique at the head of a government. In fact that is exactly what occurred when the ‘Association of Free Officers’ led by Gamel Abdel Nasser toppled a previous British supported regime. That was in the nature of a definitive coup d etat. This latest event, although sharing some characteristics, is not entirely of that type.

Let us be clear about the process which took place. Fuelled by continued unemployment and poverty along with little action except unfulfilled promises and restrictions from their government, discontent reached another high. After weeks of activist campaigning with petitions and street demonstrations the masses – for various reasons – turned out once again in huge numbers to protest and insist that Morsi resign. Once again Morsi and the Brotherhood ignored this mass protest and later requests by the military establishment. Instead, they fell back on their dubiously formed constitutional rights. So an apparent impasse was reached.

The anti-Morsi forces with patience worn out and still with illusions in a bourgeois democratic process, had to accept what was going on or look to the military to solve the problem of throwing out the government and instituting new elections. Yet, the request to the military to oust Morsi and the Brotherhood, has all the makings of a double-edged sword. Pre-emptive arrests and closing organisations down are as draconian as anything the previous Mubarak regime sanctioned and can in due time be turned elsewhere. From now on if the anti-Morsi activists do not do all they can to attract the ordinary soldiers firmly to their side and make overtures to the Muslim rank and file, this repeated relying on the US influenced military elite is a policy they may eventually come to regret.

The three prime movers in Egypt.

It needs to be recognised that there are at least three prime movers or active forces for change in the post – Mubarak Egyptian situation. The first is the loose coalition of left-secular and working class anti-establishment forces. What motivates these activists and their supporters, from before 2010 and on, are food, employment and freedom from military and religious oppression. The second force is the military establishment and the previous regime supporters. What motivates these is to retain or regain their present or previous positions and status.

The third is the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters. What motivates them in addition to their bourgeois form of economic development is a return to Shariah law and religious conservatism. The rest of the Egyptian people are either neutral or allied with one or other of these strong social forces within Egyptian society. At the current state of the developing situation none of these three sectors – on their own – can obtain a settlement satisfactory to their needs and none are ready or able to compromise.

The Muslim Brotherhood could clearly not take the rest of the countries population with them in order to govern. Indeed, by their sectarian actions in government they helped to divide the working class as well as others. The military, tainted as it is from collusion with the Mubarak era governance and with many strings attached to the USA, are not able at this stage to assume a form of popular governance. Another factor of utmost impoertance is that neither of these two conservative (pro-neo/liberal) forces can solve the economic and financial problems facing Egypt. The left secular forces, although numerous are themselves not yet organised or unified around a platform of economic and social demands capable of taking a majority of the population with them. For this reason the current divisions and unrest will continue.

The evening of the 5th July saw the pro-Morsi forces march through Cairo and later fought pitched battles with those anti-Morsi activists assembled in Tahir square. In other words, sadly, large numbers of religiously motivated working people and large numbers of secular motivated working people were trying to beat each other into submission or ignominious retreat. This clash if continued represents a set-back for a class-based movement and does not bode well for solving the crisis in favour of the working masses and poor. Indeed, the pitched battles took on the character of a small-scale, self-destructive civil war.

The future.

It is in the senior military leaders and the remnant of the previous regime interests to allow the pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi to fight themselves to a standstill. This way once both sides are so exhausted and discredited it may become possible for the military to take power once again and push forward an acceptable puppet leader. Alternatively they may side with the anti-Morsi forces until the Muslim Brotherhood and their working class supporters are totally defeated and then later deal with the left secularists and liberals when they have become fully isolated. Either outcome would suit the military elite and neo-liberal west.

For this reason the left and secularists among the anti-Morsi forces should not automatically treat all Muslim Brotherhood workers as Islamist extremists. Indeed to do so will drive many into the arms of extremists. Instead, of unilateral condemnation, a clear platform of economic and social demands for the employment and security of the poor, white and blue-collar workers, men and women should be created and support for it championed among all sections of the workers, Muslim, Christian, secular, liberal and rank and file soldier. The workers of Egypt are the only sector that can fully champion the rights of all the poor and oppressed of their country.

Such a platform should be counter-posed to the purely political/constitutional and religious sectarian arrangements and arguments of the political and military elites of all persuasions. The situation of hunger, exploitation, unemployment and oppression is not going to be improved by the current focus on politics, nor by an Islamic, military or bourgeois government. In Egypt as elsewhere, a crucial question still remains: Are the mass uprisings to become part of an ongoing insurrection, leading to a real revolution, or merely part of a vicious  interregnum in a process leading to the establishment of yet another form of bourgeois government? Alternatively are the masses to be divided and drawn into what could become destructive episodes of yet another internicine civil-war? Time will tell.

[See ‘Egypt: Workers and Soldiers’. ]

Roy Ratcliffe (July 2013.)

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