The period of June 30 to July 3, 2013 in Egypt was one of tremendous mobilization and organization by the people who opposed the Muslim Brotherhood government. The mass mobilization by the ‘Tamarod’ (Rebellion), to galvanize over 22 million signatures calling for the removal of Morsi and then bringing out over 34 million people on the streets on June 30, represented a new example of political mobilization and organization. Yet, the military are the ones who have come to the fore in this stage of the revolution. Noted author, Esam Al-Amin has summed up the return of the military to power in his article, ‘In Egypt the Military is Supreme: How to Thwart Democracy?’ [ii]
The Egyptian military is not monolithic and there are considerable class differences in this force of close to one million (over 470,000 active personnel and 480,000 active reserve personnel.) This military has a considerable stake in the economy, controlling between 25 to 40 per cent of the GDP. When one considers the cooperation between the US military and the Egyptian military, epitomized by the $1.3 billion disbursement every year, then there is clarity on what the people of Egypt are up against. [iii] This is a military that employs conscripted labour and seeks to provide the conditions for the accumulation of wealth by the top one per cent in Egypt and to provide the conditions for the export of capital to the western capitalist states from Egypt. For decades, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) had developed an alliance with the military and the ruling political class, dating back to the 14-year presidency of former President Gamal Nasser. It was this alliance that provided the conditions for Mohammed Morsi to emerge as President out of a convoluted electoral process. However, it became very apparent after a few months that the MB could not contain the widespread opposition of the people to joblessness, extreme poverty, homelessness, destitution along with fuel shortages. Thus, the alliance between the MB and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) cracked. From this crack came the coup and now this third phase of the revolution. In this analysis, we draw from the lessons of the previous two phases of the revolution and seek to learn the positive lessons for a protracted struggle for the development of a truly revolutionary consciousness to set in motion a process of structural transformation. Not only is vigilance and clarity needed inside Egypt but outside. Those who want world peace must oppose the machinations of the imperial forces that are supporting the unconstitutional removal of an elected President. This has set a dangerous precedent and the African Union correctly condemned the coup.
THE FIRST PHASE OF THE REVOLUTION
The first two phases of the revolution have received massive commentary from inside and outside Egypt. Phase one consisted of the 18-day mobilization that culminated in the removal of the Hosni Mubarak regime on February 11, 2011. The outpouring of popular opposition and the forms of organization had been documented extensively. Writers such as Esam Al Amin, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Wael Eskandar, Ahdaf Soueif, Samir Amin, Nawal El Saadawi and numerous bloggers can be distinguished in their account of this phase.
Esam Al Amin, in a series of articles compiled in a book, has outlined why the struggles in Egypt merited to be recognized as a revolutionary struggle. In one particular article, ‘Conditions and Consequences: Anatomy of Egypt’s Revolution,’ Al Amin underscored the popular basis of the revolution and the social forces that had set this revolutionary consciousness in motion. He later elaborated on these themes in the book, ‘The Arab Awakening Unveiled: Understanding Transformations and Revolutions in the Middle East’. [iv]
THE SECOND PHASE: CONSOLIDATING THE REVOLUTION
The second stage of the Revolution began after February 11, 2011. It was the struggle to organize a new mode of politics to meet the needs of the people. In the first phase, despite the massive outpourings on the streets, it was when the workers downed tools all over Egypt that the regime finally fell. Yet, in the immediate aftermath of the removal of Hosni Mubarak, there was focus on the electoral forms of struggles. While the media focused on elections and constitutions, the workers took to massive strikes and reports by the Egyptian Centre for Social and Economic Rights (ECESR) in April 2013 detailed labour strikes that took place in Egypt in 2012. These struggles by the workers in Egypt involved railway workers, public transport workers, doctors and police officers. ‘According to the report, in 2012, Egypt witnessed 1,969 protests by workers – in the government, public and private sectors – marking a considerable increase compared to 2010, when only 530 protests were recorded. The 2012 protests listed in the report represented one of the highest levels of social struggle worldwide and include demonstrations, sit-ins, road blockages and strikes. For the first five months of 2013 the industrial activity by workers intensified with initial reporting that there were 5,544 strikes and other self-activity by workers in Egypt. These workers had broken the shackles of the trade union organization that had been imposed on Egyptian workers by the Egyptian Trade Union Federation; the industrial wing of Mr. Mubarak's now disbanded National Democratic Party (NDP). For three decades this NDP controlled trade union organization had restricted strike actions and trade union activities to defend the rights of workers and their communities. It was significant that on January 30, 2011, in the midst of the first phase of the revolution the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) was launched and immediately drew millions of new workers to its ranks.
Together with the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress (EDLC), EFITU has been fighting for a basic freedom, the freedom of association that should be the right of workers and the right to form their own organizations and associations. On November 25, 2012, President Morsi issued a decree on trade unions, Decree 97 of 2012, which had far reaching implications for the independent activity of workers. [v] According to one scholar who studied the implications of this decree, ‘The decree also authorized Minister of Manpower and Migration Khalid al-Azhari of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party to appoint replacements to vacant trade union offices if no second-place candidate exists. State security officials banned thousands of opposition trade unionists from running in 2006, so hundreds of candidates ran unopposed. Thus, as many as 150 Muslim Brothers could be appointed to posts in ETUF’s 24 national sector unions, while 14 of 24 executive board members will be sacked.’
As the Muslim Brotherhood moved to take control of all forms of independent organizations and local governments the mass of people, whether in the schools, media, arts or film began to see that the revolution to replace Mubarak had been replaced by an organization that simply wanted to step into the positions of the old Mubarak forces and hasten what commentators termed the ‘Brotherhoodization’ of Egypt and its unions. [vi] It was the response to this Brotherhoodization that ushered in the third phase of the revolution.
BROTHERHOOD AND NEO-LIBERALISM
The occurrence of these social struggles after Morsi’s presidential election in June 2012 highlights the reality that the core goals of the revolution were not being addressed. Amr Adly raised a fundamental question: ‘Perhaps the revolution has been aborted, leading to a transfer of power to a broad alliance consisting of the army, intelligence services, police, and a new political class dominated by the Brotherhood. This alliance is devoted to the same repressive policies of the old July regime—the denial of civil liberties, trade union rights, freedom of information and expression, the right to assemble, and the independence of civil society. Instead, this regime favours the rituals of procedural democracy where every few years citizens make a mass pilgrimage to the voting booth. Perhaps it is more accurate to call this an authoritarian electoral system rather than a democracy.’ [vii]
The Revolution was sparked by the massive oppression of the majority of the Egyptian people while the oligarchs managed their relationship with international finance capital mediated through the International Monetary Fund. No sooner had the people removed the repressive Mubarak regime than the MB announced that they were negotiating an austerity program in exchange for a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. As the people mobilized against the ‘Brotherhoodization of Egypt,’ this second phase revealed the clarity that religion alone cannot change the conditions of life. The reality was that the MB and its political leadership solely offered religion and Sharia law as an antidote to the grinding exploitation of the people. Millions had come out in the elections looking for alternatives to the austerity measures of the military and the MB, but the fundamentalists (even with their differences) only offered more religious statements and the politics of exclusion. In order to change from the neo-liberal policies of Mubarak, more was needed than elections. Yet, the liberal orientation of the organizers of the National Salvation Front and their allies at home and abroad was to focus on elections as the evidence of democratic participation when all over Egypt the anti-democratic control of social organizations had been underway. Esam Al Amin summed up this electoral stage in this way,
‘Over the next two years, the political process that followed Mubarak’s overthrow allowed for the will of the Egyptian people to be expressed numerous times through free and fair elections and referenda. The people in Egypt went to the polls at least six times: to vote for a referendum to chart the political way forward (March 2011), to vote for the lower and upper house of parliament (November 2011-January 2012), to elect a civilian president over two rounds (May-June 2012), and to ratify the new constitution (December 2012). Each time the electorate voted for the choice of the Islamist parties to the frustration of the secular and liberal opposition.’
These votes demonstrated to the people that the electoral game was rigged and soon the younger citizens began to learn of the historic alliance between the Brotherhood and the military. Wael Eskandar has most recently written a quite lucid recapitulation of the close cooperation of the ‘Brothers and Officers: A History of Pacts.’ [viii]
Younger readers may not be aware that whatever the origins of the MB, this organization had been propped up by western forces as an anti-communist front during the Cold War. With the support of the US intelligence services and the conservative Islamists in Saudi Arabia, this Muslim Brotherhood grew to be a major political force in North Africa and Arabia. Through periods of conflict and cooperation, the ruling elite and the Brotherhood mapped out a strategy to consume the energies of the youth in the direction of destructive intolerance and male chauvinism. [ix] Eskander outlined the constitutional initiatives undertaken by President Morsi and concluded that ‘the constitution, which was prepared by a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated constituent assembly, provides basis for military trials of civilians and sets the military’s budget and activities, including its revenue-generating economic enterprises, above the reach of conventional parliamentary oversight. In other words, the ‘new‘ political order in the country is one that seems to be governed by a partnership between the Muslim Brotherhood and long-standing bureaucratic centers of power entrenched inside the Egyptian state—a partnership that speaks to a long history of pacts between the Brothers and successive wielders of power in Egypt.’
From day one of the overthrow of Mubarak, the very organizations that toppled Mubarak determined to maintain their independent character and it was this character that unleashed the forms of organization to usher in the third phase of this ongoing revolution.
THE NEW ORGANIZATIONAL FORM FOR REVOLUTIONARY POLITICS AND REVOLUTIONARY CONSCIOUSNESS
The Egyptian revolutionary process after 2008 (date of the April 6 movement) had been initiated by a loose alliance of differing social forces. At the time of the first phase of the revolution, I had termed these forces as belonging to a revolution without self declared revolutionaries. Then I had noted that ‘The youths and women who have been organising day and night are the inheritors of organising traditions that had been undertaken by trade unionists, writers, journalists, farmers, artists, progressive intellectuals, women, religious forces and patriotic business-persons. The strength of these social forces is so remarkable that the ruling elements resorted to violence.’ However, the very looseness which was a source of strength was infiltrated by the differing social forces who wanted to oppose President Morsi without opposing neo-liberalism. Thus, in light of the opposition to the Brotherhoodization of the society, elements such as Mohamed El Baradei had joined the movement, crafted a National Salvation Front (NSF) and offered himself up as a leader of the popular revolt. Like the MB, El Baradei has no alternative to the austerity packages of the IMF and his appointment as vice president to the interim president, Adly Mansour, will sharpen the contradictions within the ‘Tamarod’ (Rebellion).
By the time of the anti-democratic decrees of President Morsi, the elements from the Mubarak regime (called the fulool) had calculated that the wave of rebellions and strikes would delegitimize the Morsi regime. These elements from the party of Mubarak, the National Democratic Party (NDP), therefore attached themselves to the growing rebellion hiding behind the youths, workers, students and women. Hence, the very loose organizational form that had been a source of strength in the first phase threatened to be a source of manipulation as the old bourgeois and liberal forces such as El Baradei joined in this rebellion. In this third stage there were differing social forces with contradictory agendas; the revolutionary youths, workers and women, elements from the Mubarak party (NDP), former security officers, liberals such as El Baradei, leaders of the Coptic Church, all united against the political rule of Morsi and the Brotherhood. With far more resources and organizational depth, the former officials of the Mubarak period plotted and waited. The integration of the El Baradei wing of the rebellion with western financial centers became evident from the interviews that were being given to the Anglo-American media.
Because the base of the rebellion had been in the independent actions of the poor and organized workers, the depth of the rebellion eclipsed the machinations of the fulool and the liberal elements. As the writer Adel Iskandar, summed up in his article titled ‘Tamarod: Egypt's Revolution Hones its Skills,’ the:
‘Tamarod stands to be one of the most successful ever, having garnered colossal engagement in a record time period. All this was done while inspiring a spontaneous eruption of popular dissent that promises to eclipse even the eighteen days in 2011. While this success deserves to be acknowledged, it should rightfully raise suspicions and concerns about what could be done with all this political capital and bring forth queries about whether Tamarod was facilitated, sponsored, or propped up by such authoritative institutions as the military or security services. As Egyptians descend into the streets in the hundreds of thousands if not millions to couple their petition signatures with corporeal representation, it remains too early to resolve these questions. For now, we can only stop and marvel at how agile, energetic, imaginative, and resilient Egypt’s revolutionary current has thus far proven to be.’ [x]
The organized and spontaneous activities of the Tamarod coalesced in a novel campaign to gather signatures to call for the removal of President Morsi. From April 2013, the forces of the rebellion organized a campaign to call for early Presidential elections by gathering 15 million signatures, a million more than Morsi had received during his presidential run. The Tamarod had called for a day of protest on June 30 for the people to show their collective opposition. The call was answered when millions, some say up to 34 million Egyptians, answered this call and took to the streets across Egypt to demand Mr. Morsi resign and allow fresh presidential elections to be held. The movement promised a campaign of civil disobedience if the president did not step down. Mr. Morsi rejected the calls, but on 1 July the military warned him to satisfy the public's demands or see the generals impose their own ‘road map’. We now know from the Western media that the US national security adviser to President Barack Obama gave the go ahead to the Egyptian military to proceed with the military coup after the millions of people came out on the streets on June 30. [xi] We also know that on June 8, 2013 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed that Egypt would receive $1.3 billion in military assistance. [xii]
The military had been planning all along to ‘stabilize’ the situation in Egypt and when faced with the millions in the streets, the head of the military issued an ultimatum to President Morsi giving him 48 hours to reach an agreement with the opposition. Mr. Morsi rejected the ultimatum and stated clearly that he was the legitimate leader of the country. Morsi stated categorically that any effort to remove him by force could plunge Egypt into chaos. Based on the long history of double-dealing by both the MB and the military, Morsi had been confident that with superior organization, the MB could prevail, but the internal and external forces of capital could not tolerate the leadership of Morsi that galvanized the popular opposition. By July 3, the defense minister and head of the armed forces, Gen Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, announced that the constitution had been suspended and that Chief Justice Adly Mansour would oversee an interim period with a technocratic government until presidential and parliamentary elections are held. The government of the United States refused to call this a coup playing around with words to disguise its alliance with the military and the fulool. At a news conference on Monday July 8, Jay Carney, the press secretary for President Barack Obama, stated that, ‘We have not made a determination about what to call or label the events in Egypt that led to the change in government there.’ He said, ‘We will take the time necessary as we review our legal obligations and as we consult with Congress when it comes to this issue of designating and labeling the events that took place.’ [xiii] Under Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act it is unequivocally stated that there can be no aid ‘to any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.’ However, the tripartite pact between Egypt, Israel, and the USA is so central to the military management of the international system by the USA that the political leaders in the USA cannot call the unconstitutional removal of a president a ‘coup.’
WHICH MILITARY ORCHESTRATED THE COUP?
The more perceptive sections of the people of Egypt understand clearly that maintaining the neo-liberal based external oriented economic system prevents processes of structural transformation to improve their economic conditions. Although this is now clear as the global capitalist crisis deepens, western capital considers Egypt too strategic for the people of Egypt to determine their own destiny. Western commentators (especially from the think tanks in Washington, D.C) will dwell on the fact that the US has provided over $60 billion over the past three decades and that every year the US delivers $1.3 to the military. However, as we stated from the outset, this military is not monolithic. The top officers of the military share the same social background as other capitalists in Egypt and the military benefited from the nationalizations that had taken place under Nasser. These senior officers are the ones who manage vast land holdings and businesses. It was over 40 years ago when in the book, ‘Egypt Military Society: the Army Regime, the Left, and Social Change Under Nasser’, we learned of the pivotal role of the military in Egyptian society. [xiv] These same officers dominate the boards of parastatals and have access to lucrative contracts after they retire from the military. Estimates vary as to the size of military-owned industries .The companies not only produce military hardware, but also products and services for the domestic consumer economy.
The senior officers ‘have access to a wide array of government posts after retirement, subsidized services and goods, the command of significant resources and opportunities within the civilian economy, and elevated social status. The officers’ republic additionally exercises exclusive control over the defense budget, U.S. military assistance, and military-owned businesses. Moreover, it is underpinned by a deep sense of institutional and personal entitlement. Rolling it back will be a delicate, protracted process that will take many years. It plays a social role, providing employment and a sense of national identity to many Egyptians.’
This officer corps has very little in common with the conscripted labour working in the state owned enterprises or the conscripted soldiers in the armed forces. Thanks to Wikileaks we know that US diplomats have been monitoring economic activities and the fact that they controlled ‘the network of commercial enterprises particularly active in the sectors of water, oil, cement, construction, hospitality, distribution of fuel and a large housing stock in the Nile delta and the Red Sea coast.’ As owners of large enterprises this military high command was taken aback by the wave of strikes and popular opposition to President Morsi. The contradictions that led to the break between the military and President Morsi are the same contradictions that will lead to a break in the military between the top officer corps and the rank and file. This phase of the revolution will require clarity from those who understand that the future of Egypt will depend on the conscious and organized action of the people of Egypt to avoid open warfare. The massacre of 51 protesters on July 8, 2013 opened new paths for crushing the popular outpourings under the guise of seeking stability. President Putin of Russia has stated that Egypt is headed towards civil war, but this is not an outcome which should be anticipated by those who want peace and social justice.
WAR AND REVOLUTION
The class warfare in Egypt that ushered in the peaceful revolution to overthrow the Mubarak regime is now threatened with violent confrontations. Nawal El Saadawi, the veteran feminist writer, has boldly stated that the people’s revolution in Egypt is neither a crisis nor a coup. [xv]
However, far more than bold statements are now required to strengthen the popular forces to withstand the repression of the military as they will seek to implement the austerity measures of the International Monetary Fund. The leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have now chipped in $8 billion to shore up the military coup. [xvi] But the crisis in Egypt is not one of an absence of resources; it is the absence of the organization of the resources for the 85 million Egyptians. There are powerful external forces that are arraigned against the people of Egypt and believe that the domestic needs of the society should be subordinated to external interests. The fuel crisis in Egypt is a prime example of the planners placing the needs of supplying gas to Israel over the interests of the poor. Additionally, the poor in Egypt have watched as the workers of Syria are caught between an oppressive Assad regime and an Islamist opposition that does not offer any real alternative to President Assad. These Egyptians have witnessed the recent history of Algeria where the Algerian military in alliance with the Western capitalist states waged a bloody war against the Islamists who had won the 1992 elections.
These experiences of Syria and Algeria weigh heavily on all popular forces as they ponder the paths of war and revolution. More than twenty years ago, the realist of International Relations theory in the USA, Stephen Walt, wrote an important book on ‘War and Revolution’. In this book Walt noted that, ‘revolutions are much more than critical events in the history of individual nations, they are usually watershed events in international politics. Revolutions cause sudden shifts in the balance of power, alter the pattern of international alignments, cast doubt on existing agreements and diplomatic norms, and provide inviting opportunities for other states to improve their positions. They also demonstrate that novel ways of organizing social and political life are possible and often sympathizers in other countries.
Sharif Abdel Kouddous, the young Egyptian journalist, noted that ‘the mass mobilization on June 30 eclipsed even the 2011 demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak; a few days later, on July 3, the army forced Morsi out of office, in what amounted to a military coup. His year-long tenure ended with a televised address by the head of SCAF.’ [xix] He concluded that, ‘If recent history is any indication, continued authoritarianism in Egypt will only be met with more mass mobilizations and revolutionary calls for change.’
Western imperial interests have made it crystal clear what kind of change they want in Egypt. The Wall Street Journal has called for a Pinochet to emerge from the officer corps while Tony Blair has called for the European financial elite to throw their weight behind the coup. The Wall Street Journal and Tony Blair are too far behind because they do not understand that whatever comes next, the Egyptian revolution has already deepened the disruption of the international system that had been established to maintain western interests in Africa and the middle East. The prolonged and protracted struggles for peace and social justice will call for responses inside and outside of Egypt. If and when outright war comes in this phase the progressive forces inside Egypt will have to have an answer on how to end the war.
In this third phase of the revolution, the progressive forces need to have a clear and concrete plan on how to counter the violence coming out of the Egyptian military because – from the lessons learned in Algeria and elsewhere – it’s the progressive voices that easily get silenced when agents of militarism use the excuse of violence and security to hijack the will of the people. Revolution is not an event but a process. The history of revolution and war should steel the women, progressive youth, and workers to be prepared for a protracted struggle.