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Proletarian issue 56 (October 2013)
Egypt: The overthrow of political Islam was the work of the masses themselves
With the exposure of the Muslim Brotherhood as a false friend of the people, all eyes are now on the army to see whether it – or any part of it – can be of use in the people’s continuing quest for freedom.
The revolutionary overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is a major achievement for the progressive forces in Egypt and offers the possibility of clearing the ground for the country’s renewed progress along the national-democratic path – a path blazed by Nasser in 1952 but subsequently abandoned by the collaborationist treachery of first Sadat and then Mubarak.

The security forces’ continued crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood leaders – who openly preach violence, glorifying the murderous terrorist outrages against the Egyptian army committed by their kindred spirits in the northern Sinai, and who themselves incubated violence in their two Cairo camps (before the security forces stirred themselves to close down these nests of terror) – is denounced as ‘heavy-handed’ by the West. But whatever may be thought about the subtlety of the means adopted, the end – the restoration of public safety – was an urgent necessity with which the masses insistently tasked their army.

The picture of Morsi as a ‘peaceful democrat’ robbed of his mandate does not hold up to the most cursory scrutiny, as Salah Adli of the Egyptian Communist Party has demonstrated:

“It was Morsi who overthrew legitimacy when he issued his dictatorial constitutional declaration in November 2011. It was Morsi who devastated human rights when his terrorist supporters besieged the constitutional court, when his militia tortured protesters in front of al-Ittihadyah palace, as shown by investigations carried out by the public prosecutor’s office, and when his men killed demonstrators in front of the headquarters of the Freedom and Justice Party (the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood) in accordance with explicit orders from the leader of the group and his deputy – as the killers confessed before the public prosecutor.”(Interview with Comrade Salah Adli, General Secretary of the Egyptian Communist Party in Nameh Mardom, the central organ of the central committee of the Tudeh [Communist] Party of Iran, 6 July 2013)

Even the Economist, whilst going along with the fiction about peaceful MB camps brutally purged by a trigger-happy military, felt obliged to let fall the occasional hint about the true face of political Islam:

In the village of Kerdasa near Cairo they lined up four policemen and executed them in a hail of machine-gun bullets. At the camps, eyewitness accounts and video footage suggest that small groups of islamist gunmen returned the security forces’ fire vigorously. Egypt’s interior minister says 43 policemen were killed in the course of the day, 18 of them in Nasr City.

The police and army were not the only targets of islamist anger. Mobs vented their rage against their christian compatriots, who had understandably backed the coup. In the southern city of Minya and elsewhere they set fire to some 18 churches; a jesuit cultural centre and a franciscan school were torched; shops and homes of christians were attacked.” (‘A bloody confrontation on the streets of Cairo is a damaging development, and could be a precursor of worse to come’, 17 August 2013)

With the interior minister narrowly escaping with his life after a suicide bomber in Nasr City attacked his motorcade, and multiple attacks on Egyptian security personnel and Egyptian pipelines in Sinai from al-Qaeda militants (including the slaughter of 25 off-duty policemen who were dragged off minibuses and shot in cold blood, their hands tied behind their backs), the BBC’s dogged narrative of ‘plucky Morsi democrats versus army tyrants’ looked ever more threadbare.

The extremely partial reporting of events in the western media, presenting the Muslim Brotherhood as peace-loving democrats robbed of their electoral mandate and cruelly persecuted by the army, makes it clear just how severely imperialism feels let down at the failure of the MB to hold the comprador fort in Cairo and bolster subversion against Syria. And this new onward lurch for the Egyptian revolution could not have come at a worse time for Washington.

The ‘Arab spring’ – then and now

The Egyptian political landscape into which the people invited the army to march this summer was very different from the lie of the land in the immediate aftermath of Mubarak’s overthrow at the beginning of 2011.

The overthrow of Mubarak was fuelled by the economic misery of the people, with 44 percent living on $2 a day or less. Moreover, 25 percent of young men and 60 percent of young women were unable to find work – and this in a country where 60 percent of the population are under 25 years old.

With the Egyptian dollar dropping like a stone, food prices rocketed, sparking bread riots. When the Egyptian masses moved forward to topple the US stooge Hosni Mubarak, this raised a question mark over the whole future direction of the Middle East. Coming swiftly on the heels of Ben Ali’s ouster in Tunisia, the revolt in Egypt was a massive blow against the comprador structures which anglo-american imperialism had so painstakingly crafted over many years.

Despite the fact that the removal of Mubarak left intact much of the power apparatus that underpinned him, it was rightly hailed by communists as the first wave of a social revolt whose future development promised much, given the necessary leadership.

It had long been obvious to the US that the Mubarak leadership was running out of shelf-life and a changing of the guard could not forever be avoided, so the canny decision was taken to withdraw support from an unsustainable stooge and make welcoming noises for the ‘Arab spring’, striving to co-opt what could not be suppressed and content to see the restraining influence of the military keeping the revolt within bounds.

Yet as 2011 unfolded and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) moved forward under Field Marshal Tantawi to act essentially as the guardian of the unreconstructed Mubarak state, the masses rapidly learned to distrust those who pretended that the ‘revolution’ had performed all its essential tasks and now should return to business as usual. It was increasingly obvious that the same dire economic crisis and the same subservient tutelage to the West that had driven the masses to kick out Mubarak in the first place had not gone away.

One step back: Morsi elected by default

The protests ebbed and flowed but never ceased, as the Egyptian people struggled to find their way forward. By the time election day came around, whilst the masses were getting clearer on what they did not want (a return to the Mubarak era), there was little clarity as yet on what was wanted and needed to transform the revolt into a genuine revolution.

Confronted with an invidious choice between Ahmed Shafik (a former air force general and the last prime minister appointed by Hosni Mubarak) and the as-yet untested Muslim Brotherhood, the electors by a thin margin favoured Mohammed Morsi, letting the MB blag their way into power almost by default.

The popular jubilation that greeted the election outcome was far less an expression of any mass confidence in political Islam than of a fervent wish to be rid of the corruption, poverty and repression associated with the rule of Mubarak. Yet for all that the Brothers like to portray themselves as the legitimate children of the ‘revolution’, they in fact played little or no part in the popular uprising that culminated in the overthrow of Mubarak, only arriving late on the scene to scoop up the fruits of success.

Once ensconced in office, the MB spent the next 12 months demonstrating to society at large their gross incompetence, most clearly visible in the hollowness of their promises to fix the economy.

The country’s foreign reserves continued to slump catastrophically, foreign debt went from $34bn to $45bn, domestic debt rose by 365bn Egyptian pounds, unemployment climbed to 32 percent, the proportion of those living below the poverty line spiked to over half the population – and then Morsi took the decision to end food subsidies, one of the few progressive aspects of state policy to have survived from Nasser’s time.

In response, the total number of social protests (strikes, occupations, pickets, demos etc) over Morsi’s period of tenure reached 7,400 (a figure cited by Salah Adli in the interview referenced earlier). Through thick and thin, the MB continued the supine relationship with the IMF that they had inherited from Mubarak.

The treachery of their covert plans to steer secular Egypt into a theocracy, culminating in the outrageous proposal to put Egypt’s armed forces at the disposal of the imperialist subversion of the Syrian nation, proved to be the last straw for the army and the masses alike, who had no stomach at all to see the Egyptian army transformed into an auxiliary of the rent-a-jihad terrorists trying to plunge their neighbour into bloody chaos. The Egyptian army was doubtless strengthened in its resolve by the admirable example being set by the Syrian army’s steadfast resistance against imperialist subversion.

At present, everything that happens in the Middle East hinges crucially on what happens in Syria. It is worthy of note that Morsi’s expulsion from power in July came hot on the heels of the relief of the Syrian city of Qusayr in June.

Two steps forward: overthrow of Morsi

The Egyptian Communist Party has estimated that “More than 27 million demonstrators came out at the same time in all the governorates of Egypt, representing various classes and strata of the Egyptian society, in the face of protests that did not exceed 200,000 demonstrators from the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies in one small square in Cairo.”(Salah Adli interview, op cit)

The unprecedented scale of the popular upheaval that despatched Morsi from power was a startling measure of just how much political education the masses had passed through seeing the thoroughgoing exposure of political Islam. Far from finding fault with the severity of the ensuing crackdown on the MB, many took the army to task for having hung back from the fray for so long.

Contrary to some conspiracy theorists, the summary removal of Morsi after a bare year in office was a distinct achievement of the masses alone. The army walked in through a door that had first been kicked open by a mass protest backed by the vast majority of Egyptians. And whilst the provisional assumption of power by the army on one level could be said to mark the relative ideological immaturity of a social revolt lacking a united and clear leadership of its own at the helm, it needs to be understood that Tamarod (or ‘rebellion’), the social movement that mushroomed, garnering 22 million signatures in just weeks, asserted an agenda that was not simply dictated by SCAF.

Most worryingly for Washington and Tel Aviv, Tamarod came out against the cowardly agreements signed at Camp David by the imperialist stooge and traitor Anwar Sadat in 1978, the foundation stone upon which was then built Egypt’s long and shameful subservience to imperialism in general and zionism in particular.

The army: tool of reaction or one hand with the people?

There is no disputing that the Egyptian army has in many cases revealed itself to be a tool of reaction, not least in its long term collaboration with Israel.

Yet if the political landscape into which the army marched in July 2013 had radically altered over the previous 18 months, so arguably has the army itself. Where once the public squares of Egypt were full of people demanding the ouster of Field Marshal Tantawi, they are currently full of people no less vigorously supporting General Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, with some enthusiasts hailing him as the new Nasser.

Time magazine’s website reported that whilst the Arab League sell-outs were meeting in Cairo to discuss their latest moves against Syria, a demo was happening just down the street with a very different message.

Two demonstrators held a large plastic banner picturing former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser alongside the red, white and black flag of the Syrian government run by embattled President Bashar Assad. Some spoke of their support for Syrian government forces against a US attack. Others chanted to a drumbeat, ‘Syria and Egypt are one hand!’

The report went on to note that “with the US edging closer to an attack on Syria, nationalist rhetoric inside Egypt reached an even higher pitch. Hamdeen Sabahi, the leader of the [Nasserite] Popular Current who came in third in last year’s presidential election, told a television interviewer, ‘If Egypt is going to be attacked, it will come from the north, from Syria. An attack on Syria is an attack on Egypt’ ...

Mahmoud Badr, the spokesman for the Tamarod (Rebellion) campaign, released a statement calling on Egypt to close the Suez Canal to warships involved in a potential strike on Syria, saying he ‘supported the Syrian Arab army in the face of the upcoming US military strike against Syria’. Anyone who supported foreign intervention, he said, is a ‘traitor’. The group’s Facebook page is emblazoned with an image of an American flag in flames.” (‘What Syria means for Egypt: pro-Assad mood marks return of Arab nationalism’ by Jared Malsin, 3 September 2013)

Whether or not the adulation for Sisi will prove to have been deserved must for now remain an open question. Suffice it to say that those who claim that the army is simply turning the clock back to Mubarak, applauded the while by a gullible mob who cannot see that the ‘revolution’ is being stolen from under their noses, are seriously underestimating the ability of the masses to learn lessons and make their own history.

The army is neither monolithic nor hermetically sealed from the masses. The vast majority of its soldiers are drawn from the poorest sections of society, and cannot be expected to be immune from the turbulence shaking all Egypt.

Nor can we assume that the high command is itself uniformly reactionary. Whilst some may indeed dream of turning the clock back to Mubarak, others may well dream of turning the clock back a little further, to 1952, when patriotic forces amongst the young officers led the revolution that sealed the fate of Britain’s favoured hereditary dictator, King Farouk, and set Egypt on her secular republican path – an inspiration throughout the Arab world and Africa and a thorn in the side of the West and Israel.

For the Egyptian masses to revisit this proud chapter in the nation’s history, and to do so with the benefit of the political lessons learned over the past year and a half, at the very juncture when Syria’s momentous struggle to defend herself against imperialist subversion is reaching crunch point, could have incalculably profound consequences for the whole of the Middle East and beyond.

An article on Egypt in the most recent edition of Lalkar commented thus:

Beginning with the late 1950s and early 1960s, imperialism aligned with the nationalists to crush the communist and working-class movement, before going on to defeat the nationalists. Once that had been done, all resistance to imperialism and its stooges retreated into the only safe place available, namely, the mosque. Islamism became for a while the banner of revolt against imperialism and its agents. Islamism, in turn, having very little to offer, is exposing itself as a hollow, worthless and an essentially pro-imperialist, ideology – only wrapped up in obscurantist claptrap.

This is proven by the recent events in Egypt where, after assuming office, the MB took less than a year to expose itself and, by extension, the ideological baggage of islamism. Thus the wheel has come full circle. The only way forward is through the proletarian ideology of Marxism Leninism, which fights against imperialist domination and its puppets alike and offers real solutions to economic problems.

Having spent so many years suppressing, distorting and co-opting every available avenue of revolt against oppression, imperialism is now obliged to witness the systematic exposure of every sham leadership by the revolutionary activity of the Egyptian masses themselves.

First to unravel was the comprador leadership of Mubarak, following in Sadat’s footsteps by combining a pretended adherence to nationalism with an actual subordination of national interests to the dictates of imperialism. Next up came political Islam, combining populist demagogy on the hustings with subservience to the IMF in the real world. Now coming under intense scrutiny is the contradictory role played in Egyptian society by the army itself.

For example, the corrupt nature of the army’s ownership of vast slabs of the country’s economy is well known, commandeering the production of chemicals, fertilisers and arms as well as a myriad other enterprises. Little regarded in this context, however, is the degree to which this arrangement functions as a kind of distorted quasi-state ownership, with the penetration of the national economy by multinational capital in some measure restricted by the role played by national institutions.

In the hands of a national-democratic leadership, this circumstance could prove to be of assistance in reclaiming the economy from neo-colonial control.

Again, those who discount any conceivable progressive role for the military by a clinching reference to the yearly $1.3bn stipend paid to it by Uncle Sam should ponder the situation for a moment from the point of view of Uncle Sam himself.

Is the massive investment in the Egyptian armed forces cast-iron proof that Egypt’s foreign policy is bought and paid for? Or does the continued subsidy actually represent an increasingly panic-stricken effort to preserve Egypt’s role as agent of US hegemony at a time when said hegemony is looking ever more under threat?

The suspended delivery of some jet fighters and postponement of some joint military exercises are doubtless intended as a warning to the army not to deviate too far from the US agenda. Yet Obama must fear the consequences of pushing Egypt too far and forcing the army to look for alternative willing sponsors.

It will not have escaped the army’s notice that Russia in particular has given full backing to the Syrian army in its patriotic struggle against imperialist-backed proxy subversion. Might it not look favourably on a request for similar support from Cairo? It would not be the first time in history that the Egyptian military had enjoyed Russian patronage.

Hail the struggle of the revolutionary masses of Egypt!
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