Egypt: towards a second revolution
Sameh Naguib, a leading member of the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt, wrote this article, published in English in Socialist Worker US, analyzing the political situation in Egypt and the road ahead. The article was written before Morsi’s constitutional declaration as well as Israel’s latest assault on Gaza but the analysis I believe has only been confirmed by these events.
THE GREAT revolutions of modern history take a number of years, ebbing and flowing, attaining partial victories as well as partial defeats.
Revolutions usually begin with a temporary and apparent unity among all those who oppose the old regime. However, with the beginning of the fall of that regime, opposition forces quickly become divided according to the interests which they express, their conceptions of revolution and the limits of their goals, between the completion of the revolution and its halting, between the political demands and social demands of the revolution.
The way forward is further complicated by the entry of new and varied classes and groups. The more that the revolution begins to infringe upon the vital interests of those classes and segments that formed the heart of the old regime, the more these classes begin to organize their ranks in an effort to produce a counterrevolution to return the former regime, even if it is in a new form with new faces, with a few superficial concessions.
A distinction should be made here between the two types of revolution. For there are limited political revolutions that oust the former head of state but keep not only the former social and economic organization but the same institutions of the previous state as they were but with new leaders.
It’s obvious that there is a close relationship between the institutions of the state and the social classes whose interests it serves and protects with laws, constitutions, parliaments and armed forces. For the state is not and never will be an adverse force expressing the interests of “the people,” but a class force expressing and protecting that tiny portion of the people who possess the wealth and hence the actual power. For the army does not protect the people or the nation, but protects the domestic and foreign interests of the largest of the businessmen and companies, both local and international. The security apparatus does not operate in the service of the people, but in the service of private property and those who hold it. Its fundamental role is the oppression and subjugation of all who transgress against this.
As for the judiciary and the naive conception regarding its independence as an institution, there is not a rational being in Egypt who can defend it after the string of farces that acquitted not only the murdering officers, but even the gang behind the Battle of the Camel. And so also the administrative apparatus of the state, same corruption, same interests, same state.
Even if we hypothesized for the sake of argument that the parliament is different from these other institutions because it is the only one among them which had its members elected with a degree of democracy, even if we hypothesized that all of those elected were the result of the free choice of the citizens and not the result of millions of Egyptian pounds and religious mobilization, they shrink in terror before the holders of the true wealth and power. And the events of the last three months confirm all of this.
The revolution enabled the Muslim Brothers to come to power, to exchange themselves for the heads of the old regime, but the MB do not want the completion of the revolution, and they do not want alter the substance of the old regime and its state. They do not want, of course, to infringe upon the interests of Egypt’s millionaires, the true holders of the wealth and power. In Egypt today, there are 490 millionaires (in American dollars) who have increased their wealth since the revolution–while also in Egypt 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, increasing in number and in poverty since the revolution.
Morsi and the Muslim Brothers have returned the police to the Egyptian street, not for traffic control or security for the neighborhoods in service of the people, but to break up the sit-ins and the strikes, to arrest those who lead them and to bring back torture and killing to terrorize the masses.
And Morsi has begun his mandate not by visiting Tunisia–spark of the Arab revolutions–but with a visit to Saudi Arabia, kingdom of darkness, protector of dictators, and principal center of the counterrevolution in our region.
Morsi has begun his Renaissance program not by announcing state projects to increase wages or solve any one of the root problems facing the majority of the people, but by agreeing to loans from the International Monetary Fund, which has historically played the role since the 1990s in the era of Hosni Mubarak in forcing through policies of impoverishment, marginalization and starvation for the majority.
Even Gaza, which continues to enrich the MB with the torment of the siege from which suffer her people, has been betrayed by Morsi, who ordered the destruction of all of the tunnels that the heroic people [of Gaza] relied upon for the foodstuffs and necessities for their daily lives, without providing any alternative, which would be opening the Rafah crossing completely to the movement of people and goods.
As for the Camp David accords, the essence of the Mubarak regime’s foreign policy and the basis of complete subordination to the interests of the United States, Morsi did not hesitate a day before announcing his complete commitment to it.
And when the youth of the revolution descended to their square, Tahrir Square, the square of the martyrs, to remind Morsi and the MB of the martyrs and of their lying promises and their betrayals of the goals of the revolution, Morsi and the Brotherhood leadership expressed not only their hostility to the revolution and the revolutionaries by using the same thuggish methods of the former regime, but also a considerable degree of confusion and political stupidity, as evidenced in the theatrics of the dismissal of the attorney general, that criminal toward which the Brotherhood had not aimed a word since the revolution.
The constitution and its labyrinth
Besides the fact that the council that is drafting the constitution is not a body elected by the people directly for this purpose, it’s a farcical precedent in the history of constitution writing after or during revolutions.
For the real charade is the fact that the constitution that is crystallizing today at the hands of these unelected elites is completely unrelated to the Egyptian Revolution and its demands. It does not differ in essence from the constitution of the Sadat/Mubarak government with regard to its hostility to the poor and the deliberate neglect of the interests and rights of the people. It is sufficiently ambiguous in its clauses around civil liberties that the state can continue with the same brutal policies, in addition to the clauses that the Islamists have insisted upon, rendering ideas of equality between Muslims and non-Muslims, between men and women, on the freedom of religion and opinion merely hot air slogans.
And despite the noisy disagreements between the liberals and the Islamists regarding religion in the constitution, we find that the two sides are in near complete harmony regarding the sections protecting capital and the capitalists at the expense of Egypt’s poor.
In any case, the constitution, as with religious texts, does not relate to reality except as it is mediated by a maze of legal interpretations and jurisprudence. For as long as the commentators are an integral part of the ruling class and its state, the constitution will remain only a piece of paper to justify the policies of the new-old regime.
This does not mean that the struggle against this constitution antagonistic to the revolution and the exposure of its contents is not important, but only that this struggle will not be completed in the halls of jurisprudence and legality, but in the squares and the factories and the poor neighborhoods. We must inform the masses of the enmity of the current elites toward their interests and their revolution. We must inform them of the necessity to shift the balance of power in favor of the masses in order to become capable of overthrowing not only the constitution but also the elites who produced it.
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The Brotherhood and the Salafis and how to confront them
We have long viewed the Brotherhood and the Islamists in general as a popular conservative reformist force which has attained its popularity as a force which was sometimes in opposition to and sometimes in truce with the old regime. They have gained their popularity in part as a result of the failure of the left to build a mass revolutionary alternative, but also by attaching some of its factions to the old regime and its security apparatus.
Our analysis points to the contradictions within and between the different Islamist currents, between its bourgeois leadership and its petty bourgeois base, and between its broader circles of support among the working class and in the poor neighborhoods. These contradictions have always existed within their ambiguous religious slogans. Their continued existence, despite repeated conciliation with power, has meant that they were viewed by sectors of the population as the only serious opposition to the regime in the absence of alternatives.
Due to this, it was natural that a wide section of the populace would elect them after the outbreak of the revolution. This is always what happens in the first stages of revolutions. The consciousness of the masses does not suddenly jump to complete revolutionary consciousness.
In the French Revolution, for example, the majority of the elected National Assembly came from the constitutional monarchists who had wanted the monarchy to remain alongside some minor reforms. The revolutionaries at that stage were in the minority, and the revolutionary left represented by the Jacobins was not able to gain the majority, execute the king, and begin the true war against the aristocracy until three years after the outbreak of the revolution.
And in the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks and Lenin did not immediately come to power. The representatives of the reformist opposition arrived to power without implementing a single goal of the revolution until the Bolsheviks attained the majority in the councils of the workers, peasants and soldiers, and overthrew the remnants of the old regime in the great October revolution.
So then, the arrival of the MB and the Salafis to power is not the ultimate end but a transitional stage requiring patient and powerful struggle to attain the majority for our revolutionary project and for the necessity of the second Egyptian Revolution.
A key factor in this process is to win wide sections of the Islamist audience, and to exploit the class contradictions which have assisted the policies of their leadership from the outbreak of the revolution and which today are beginning to explode.
However, this process also necessitates that we do not neglect any podium or space in which we do not compete with the Brotherhood and the Salafis in order to win the hearts and minds of the masses, who still hold illusions about the Islamists, or at least do not yet see us as a serious alternative.
And this means that we participate in every electoral battle, whether parliamentary or local, not in the belief that parliament is the field for true change, but in order not to leave any arena unused in exposing not only the Brotherhood and the Salafis, but also the remnants of the old regime and the liberals, and to patiently explain to the masses our revolutionary project and win them to our ranks.
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The working class and the social/sociological nature of the Egyptian Revolution
Broad sections of the Egyptian working class participated in the revolution from its first days, in the beginning through individual participation in demonstrations, battles and occupations of the squares. But they played the critical role in ousting Mubarak with tremendous waves of mass strike actions that convinced the leaders of his army and his American allies of the necessity of his departure to save the regime.
And from that moment, we have witnessed wave after wave of labor strikes increasing in depth and breadth and consciousness. For with every partial victory for the revolution at the political level, and with every retreat of the remnants of the regime, the working class has increased in confidence in its ability to take the offensive for the sake of their economic and social goals. Every large strike wave gives a tremendous boost to the political and democratic demands.
We must always remember that the Egyptian Revolution did not begin in January 2011, but it had a significant prelude in that wave of workers’ strikes and mass demonstrations that broke out in Mahalla in 2006. Then it spread like wildfire through all parts of the country, and perhaps the uprising in Mahalla in 2008 was the true rehearsal for the revolution. And that wave had come after previous waves of political demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinian Intifada, against the Iraq war and finally the democratic movement against tyranny and the succession [of Gamal Mubarak to the presidency].
These preludes confirm that the Egyptian Revolution was not only a political revolution desiring the overthrow of the head of state and his replacement with some other elite, but that it was and continues to be both a political and social revolution, aspiring to deeper transformations. They confirm the danger of only a few democratic reforms and the exchange of one ruling elite for another, Mubarak for Morsi for example.
We must look at the current wave of strikes and occupations, which is the largest since the first months of the revolution (more than a thousand strikes in the past two months). This strike wave differs from preceding ones because it comes in the wake of the first democratic presidential election in Egypt’s history. And this is an important indication of the level of political and social consciousness in the Egyptian workers’ movement, for the populist promises in Morsi’s speeches do not deceive the workers’ vanguard, which has quickly discovered the class basis of his policies and of his billionaire prime minister Khairat al-Shater, who is no less hostile against the workers and their demands for Gamal Mubarak and Ahmed Ezz.
But despite the force, breadth and depth of the current waves of workers’ struggle, the road is long for this movement to become the spearhead of the second Egyptian Revolution. First, the movement remains scattered and fragmented among the different factories and sectors and geographical regions.
Secondly, despite its weight, the movement represents but a small minority of the Egyptian working class, for the majority of Egyptian workers are employed in workshops and shops and in what is called the informal sector, dispersed in the different poor neighborhoods and slums in the cities of Egypt. These workers face double the exploitation, as well as intense difficulties in the struggle for their demands and the struggle to link up with the heart of the workers movement blazing in the large factories, companies and facilities where it is concentrated.
The third difficulty is that, despite the tireless work in solidarity with the workers’ movement, the efforts to connect its various elements and to establish independent trade unions continues to be confined to the limits of the trade unions, which divide the struggle for economic demands from the revolutionary political demands and struggles. For without the growth of a powerful minority adopting the revolutionary project at the political and social level, the bourgeois forces will be able to co-opt the movement, creating a labor bureaucracy to appease and act as a brake on the movement and force it from its course.
The Egyptian economy faces a complex crisis; the largest businessmen are cutting back on their investments and many of the factories have been closed. The simultaneous stagnation of the world economy and the lack of political and social continuity in Egypt have negatively affected the tourist sector and export industries with the exception of oil and natural gas.
Morsi’s plan to combat this crisis is a combination of austerity and a deepening of the neoliberal policies espoused by the deposed former president. This means that the confrontations that began during the past two months will increase sharply from both ends–successive waves of occupations and strikes from the working class and an escalating use of repression and the police to suppress them.
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Regarding coalitions, fronts, parties and the coming political battles
The successive efforts by various political powers and the emergence of a number of coalitions, fronts and new parties in preparation for the upcoming parliamentary elections requires a great deal of reflection in order to understand the political arena in Egypt today, and our place in this complicated diagram.
Perhaps the most dangerous thing that has occurred is that the majority of these coalitions have been built on the foundation of the secular-Islamist contradiction and not around the continuation of the revolution or a social program shared by the different parties.
We find a coalition of old regime remnants with some of the liberals led by Amr Moussa and Ayman Nour, under the name of the Egyptian Nation (Ummah) Coalition, later the Conference/Congress Party. And there’s the Popular Current, with Hamdeen Sabbahi who founded it on the basis of his campaign for the presidential elections. There is the Constitution Party (ElBaradei and George Ishaq among others) and the Strong Egypt Party (Abd el Moneim Abou el Futouh) and the two other parties which have not yet decided which of the coalitions will include them. And there are on the left the Revolutionary Democratic Alliance, which includes a number of left parties in addition to the Tagammu’ party.
And these are all confronting the ruling Freedom and Justice Party with its allies among the Salafi groups. And of course, all of these parties and alliances are in a state of fluidity both at the level of policy and the movement from one alliance to another.
What are the principles which guide our intervention and engagement with this complicated, changeable and varied diagram?
Firstly, we cannot under any circumstances isolate ourselves from the political and electoral battles to come, for this will limit us from the opportunity to propagandize and set forth our general political demands, and leave to our enemies and competitors the monopoly of this political arena.
Secondly, we must remember that our entry into any front or alliance is ruled by the strategy of the united front. Any temporary shared work must be around limited programmatic points without relinquishing our independent opinion and without compromising the right to strongly criticize the groups we work with, within the limits of course of not destroying the shared work itself.
Thirdly, we must remember that there is a return in the upcoming elections to the remnants of the old regime, or those who represent them under the elastic title of “secular forces,” in alliance with sections of the right liberals. Therefore, there is the battle against the ruling party and its allies on the right and a battle from the left. We must never share portfolio with those who wish to take advantage of the old regime remnants on the pretext of strengthening the civil secular wing and the necessity of gathering all the secular groups from the farthest left to the farthest right.
For our battle is the battle to continue the revolution and to prepare for the second Egyptian Revolution. Those who fight these goals are not just the Brotherhood and the majority of the Salafis, but also the old regime remnants who remain at the heart of the Egyptian state, and most of the liberal forces who defend the same capitalist state, but in a fashion less religious.
Fourthly and finally, it is upon us to formulate the minimum acceptable limit for a program of electoral demands, without our minimum limit being repulsive to any other political group. We must have some flexibility and confidence to permit ourselves a presence in the field and to protect us from isolation and withdrawal.
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Return to state and revolution
We offered the idea in the beginning of these pages that the change brought by the Egyptian Revolution up until now has been a change in political power without infringing upon the foundation of the Egyptian state in its military, security, judiciary and governmental institutions. The symbols of the former era have changed, but the institutions themselves have remained untouched. And the flip side of the coin is the remainder of the ruling class–the big billionaires of Egypt–with all of their wealth stolen from the blood of the people. It is not in the interests of the Brotherhood, along with all the right, centrist and reformist forces, to encroach upon this system, not the ruling class nor the state which protects it.
But we cannot dismantle the state and begin to build a workers’ and farmers’ state without winning the majority of the toiling masses over to our revolutionary project. Their consciousness is still influenced by right, centrist, and reformist forces. And the revolutionary forces–and intended here are all who wish to complete the Egyptian Revolution–are limited in their influence. Changing this situation requires tireless work and patience on three levels.
The first level is a lasting fusion with the battles and demonstrations around specific demands, not just for the sake of solidarity and unity but in order to win the leaders of the workers and farmers and militants in the poor neighborhoods and oppressed sectors of society in keeping with our long-term revolutionary vision.
The second level is the organizational level. For the revolutionary organizational legacy is one of the most important weapons in the coming stage. The building of organization and the transformation into a broad mass movement with a well-established base is no small task. There are always standing in our path efforts to sabotage and disable, and the speed of growth which is necessary in a moment such as this will admit a wide variety of supporters unfamiliar with our revolutionary tradition. It is this which requires the greatest possible amount of efforts toward inclusion, education, and practical training, combined with strict harshness toward every subversive and mole.
And the third level is the level of ideology and propaganda, for we must wage uncompromising war against right-wing ideas whether they be liberal or Islamist, and to publicize Marxist thought as widely as possible. For capitalism, both global and Egyptian, is in a state of collapse and the Egyptian working class is in a constant state of near uprising. These historical conditions do not recur often, so either we progress toward the second Egyptian Revolution or our fate will be the victory of the counterrevolution.
Translation by Jess Martin