Niall Mulholland and David Johnson, edited article from The Socialist (weekly paper of the Socialist Party (CWI England and Wales)
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood stated the revolution is facing ‘a life and death moment’ after it claimed victory in presidential elections but now faces an attempt by the ruling military junta to impose a ‘constitutional coup’.
The official results of the second round presidential elections will not be known until Thursday 21 June. However, on a low turnout, unofficial tallies suggested that Mohammed Mursi, the presidential candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), won with 52% of the vote. It is likely that no matter who the election commission names as winner, his rival will claim it is a fraud, opening the way to further confrontation.
Just as polls closed the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) gave itself new sweeping powers in a ‘constitutional declaration’. This effectively binds the hands of the incoming president and increases military dictatorship in the post-Mubarak era.
It gives the generals powers to initiate legislation, control the budget, appoint a panel to draft a new constitution, postpone new parliamentary elections until the constitution is approved and strips the president of any authority over the army.
It also formalised the army’s ability to detain civilians and to bring troops onto the streets during “internal unrest”.
This follows a ruling by the High Constitutional Court on 14 June – stacked with Mubarak-era supporters – that decreed parliamentary elections held earlier this year were unconstitutional, leading to the dissolution of the Islamist-led parliament.
On Monday morning, 18 June, soldiers prevented MPs from entering parliament. The court also supported the right of Mubarak’s last prime minister to run for president.
The concerted moves by the High Court and generals mark a serious escalation in the struggle for power between the old regime and the rising power of the Muslim Brotherhood.
More importantly, it is another assault by the Mubarak-era forces against the working masses and revolutionary opposition.
Since the ‘25 January revolution’, last year, over 1,200 protesters have been murdered by the regime, 8,000 maimed and 16,000 court-martialled. Thousand are in military jails, with many of them on hunger strike.
In a leaflet distributed in Tahrir Square last year, published on the day of Murbarak’s forced resignation, CWI supporters warned: “However the battle is not over yet, dangers still remain. The unelected vice-president Suleiman, the Mubarak police state’s former head of intelligence, announced that the former president handed over power to the ‘High Council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country’. The new head of state, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, has been defence minister and the armed forces Commander-in Chief since 1991, nearly two-thirds of the time that Mubarak was in power. A BBC correspondent commented that ‘The army takeover looks very much like a military coup … because officially it should be the speaker of parliament who takes over, not the army leadership’.”
Reports that ousted president Hosni Mubarak was transferred from Torah prison hospital to a military hospital, late last night, where he is on a life support machine, will raise tensions in society. It will further infuriate many youth and workers who regard the revolution under attack. Although sentenced to a life prison sentence, Mubarak is given preferential treatment by the ruling military regime and security and military officials.
The two presidential candidates, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mursi and Ahmad Shafiq, a former minister in Mubarak’s regime, each gained only about 25% of the votes in the first round.
Despite the strong show of support for Hamdeen Sabbahi, the radical ‘Nasserist’ candidate whose vote was just 3% behind Mursi and 2% behind Shafiq in the first round, there was no candidate for president to represent the interests of the working class and the poor.
Shafiq was backed by Scaf which has ruled Egypt since Mubarak’s downfall. This is the same regime that ruled before the 25 January 2011 revolution, minus Mubarak, his sons and a few other henchmen. Shafiq stands for the continuation of rule by this pro-big business regime, with Scaf retaining power behind the scenes.
Shafiq made the need for security and ‘law and order’ his main campaign issue. He tried to exploit the “chaos” of recent months, which was due to the machinations of the ruling military, including their ‘divide and rule’ policies, but also because the revolution has no clear direction or socialist leadership.
But behind talk of the need to cut crime is the clear threat to clamp down on the rights to protest, to organise independent trade unions and to strike. After 18 months of revolutionary turmoil, Shafiq stood for counter-revolution to end the challenge to the ruling classes’ right to exploit the rest of society.
Mursi’s share of the vote was almost half what his FJP had won in the parliamentary elections earlier this year, falling from ten million to 5.8 million.
He tried to portray himself as the candidate to defend the revolution against the restoration of the old regime. That is not easy for him given the MB’s role before, during and since the revolution.
For years, the MB leadership avoided direct confrontation with the Mubarak regime, despite frequent arrests and imprisonment of its leading members.
At first, the MB opposed the 25 January uprising. It was only after large numbers of MB youth ignored these ‘leaders’, joining other youth in Tahrir and other city squares, that the MB leadership was forced to change its tune and declare its support for the revolution.
After the downfall of Mubarak, the MB leaders cooperated with Scaf until November. Coming under massive pressure from below, they then supported a demonstration called for 18 November but continued to avoid outright confrontation with the generals.
MB leaders have continued to swing between cooperation with Scaf and opposition, depending on whether they have felt under greater pressure from the generals or the masses. The MB leaders opposed independent working class action and, in particular, strike action.
They represent the interests of a section of the capitalist class who were excluded from political power under Mubarak’s regime. They use right-wing, political Islam to build a base of support among the most conservative layers in society. Since their election to parliament, MB MPs have been trying to remove women’s and children’s rights.
In the second round presidential elections, many of the exploited in society, for want of a class alternative, voted for the MB as a ‘lesser evil’, in opposition to the Mubarak-era forces and the rule of the generals. Others voted for Shafiq, not because they want to see the rule of the generals, but because they feared political Islamists imposing their will on society.
Most tellingly, however, were the millions who decided not to vote at all, in effect boycotting the election. Some areas reported voter turnout as low as 15%.
The Scaf is relying on repression and intimidation, as well as widespread exhaustion and a craving for stability among big parts of Egyptian society, in order to maintain their rule. The so-called months of “democratic transition”, under the control of Scaf and with imperialist backing, is clearly revealed to the Egyptian masses as a complete fraud.
Following the outcome of the presidential elections and the military’s coup there may be a feeling of demoralisation among some workers and youth.
It is also possible that the crude intervention of the pro-Mubarak Courts and Scaf’s new repressive legislation, can act as the ‘whip of counter-revolution’, provoking new mass protests and an upsurge in revolutionary struggles. Some 50,000 protesters, reportedly mostly Islamists, massed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, on 19 June, chanting slogans in support of Morsi and denouncing the Scaf entrenchment of its power. Other protests were reported in Alexandria, the port city.
Whatever the timing and course of new mass resistance, the MB cannot be relied upon to lead it in the interests of working people.
Although the Muslim Brotherhood called this week for mass protests across Egypt to demonstrate against sweeping new powers taken by the ruling military council, it remains to be seen how far the leadership is prepared to lead a real struggle.
While coming under pressure from below to fight for more democratic rights, the MB, in or out of power, will primarily act on behalf of the ruling class, or at least that faction they represent. As the MB has shown before, despite its rhetoric against military rule, it can end up making a rotten compromise with the generals.
Independent working class alternative
As the revolution last year showed, to win democratic and social gains, the working class can only rely on its own collective power and methods of mass struggle, including general strikes, and by building a strong, independent political alternative to all pro-capitalist parties.
A working class alternative can draw behind it those rank and file MB supporters who are opposed to the military and want to see real democracy and social justice.
If Mursi takes office in the current circumstances, he will be without any real powers. However, as the Guardian points out (19 June), it may be in the interests of Scaf to see “a weak civilian president who can be blamed when the economy deteriorates further”.
As well as the political and ‘constitutional crisis’, Egypt’s economic crisis takes centre stage. Currency reserves are falling by about $600 million a month, as the rich take their money out of the country and income from tourism remains low.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has offered a loan on condition that there is ‘broad political support’, meaning that politicians of all governing parties sign up to their programme of tax rises and public spending cuts, especially on food and fuel subsidies.
Whether it is tax rises and spending cuts, or rising inflation and growing unemployment, the price for workers and the poor is the same – a massive attack on already desperately low living standards.
A Mursi presidency, even if largely toothless, can end up being blamed when workers’ living standards and their newly-won democratic rights come under renewed attack. This will lead to disillusionment among Muslim Brotherhood supporters and splits among its base. But unless the Left offers a clear socialist alternative, the more right-wing political Islam of the Salafist Nour party can gain.
Even the limited reforms promised by the Nasserist candidate Sabbahi – including raising the minimum wage and unemployment benefit for youth and opposing austerity measures – will require a major struggle.
They must be part of more far-reaching measures, including nationalising all the big corporations and banks, under democratic workers’ control. This would enable the economy to be democratically planned in the interests of the vast majority of society.
The 25 January revolution marked the entry of the masses onto the stage of history and led to the overthrow of Mubarak. But the rule of the capitalist class and their army generals continues.
A second revolution is needed to change society – a socialist revolution in which the working class leads the poor, the small farmers, middle classes and youth to take power from the bankers, big business and Scaf. A mass movement with a socialist programme could win the ranks of the armed forces away from the generals.
The most important task facing revolutionary workers and youth in Egypt is to organise and build independent trade unions and a mass workers’ party that can unite workers, youth and the poor together to fight for their interests.
Increasing attacks on living standards and attempts to withdraw newly-won democratic rights by whatever regime is in power will inevitably result in new waves of struggle, sooner or later.
There will be many opportunities to build workers’ organisations and for workers to learn the need for a second, socialist revolution. Part of this struggle entails workers fighting for real, lasting democratic rights and social change, including the convening of a genuine constituent assembly and for a workers’ government to fundamentally change society.