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Make the revolution permanent

James Clark

December 14, 2012

Obama was right to be worried about Egypt, but now he probably wishes he was wrong. Just as Israel’s bombing of Gaza threatened to spark wider protests across the region, the US stepped in and imposed a ceasefire—without any of Israel’s usual conditions. It was meant to quiet the anger that was growing in Egypt and other Arab states, in response to Israel’s most recent attack on the Palestinians.

But in the days that followed the ceasefire, for which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heaped praise on Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, it all began to unravel. Feeling wind in his sails, Morsi miscalculated the mood on the street, and made a power grab to consolidate his control of the Egyptian state. On November 22, the day after the ceasefire, Morsi issued a presidential decree, making himself immune from judicial oversight.

Protests have continued since then, fueled by Morsi’s attempt to drive through the draft constitution in a hastily organized referendum on December 15. Most of the mainstream media in the West have characterized the protests as a struggle between secularism and Islamism, but the division is much more about politics than religion. There is widespread anger at the Muslim Brotherhood for the role it has played during and since the revolution in 2011, elbowing its way to power at the expense of all other opposition groups. Because the Brotherhood had been the de-facto opposition to Mubarak for years, it was the most prepared force to take advantage of elections and steamroller its opponents. But despite these advantages, it hasn’t achieved the total success it had hoped.

Power grab

Morsi’s power grab should be seen in this context: an attempt to entrench the Brotherhood in the post-Mubarak state. The proposed constitution retains and expands the unchecked power of the Egyptian military, exempting the army from any parliamentary oversight and guaranteeing all its budget demands. It also cements neoliberal economic policy, despite the rapidly growing demands that formerly privatized state industries and enterprises be re-nationalized and their wealth re-distributed.

Almost two years after the fall of Mubarak, ordinary Egyptians still support the revolution, but have grown restless at the slow pace of change, and want real political, economic and social reform, not just a changing of the guard at the top.


The mass protests that have swept the country, including the reoccupation of Tahrir Square in central Cairo, mark the beginning of a new stage of the revolution, and one that could have dramatic consequences for both Egypt and the entire region. So far, the missing ingredient has been workplace-based strikes by Egyptian workers on a mass scale, and as a tool to respond to Morsi’s repression. There are promising signs that Egyptian workers may soon play a bigger role—sporadic strikes across the country, and the presence of workers and independent unions on the street protests—but it depends on whether workers’ action can be coordinated.

Already the protests have had an effect: on December 8, Morsi rescinded his decree, in a major concession to the movement, but insisted the referendum would proceed. The reversal was meant to divide the opposition, and demobilize its forces. But it seems to have had the opposite effect: a major demonstration followed on December 11, with more surely to follow, even if the referendum proceeds.

The key question for the Egyptian Revolution is whether it can become permanent—a continuing mobilization that attracts more and more forces, particularly the Egyptian working class, and that expands the scope of the struggle from basic political demands to the project of building a new and just society.

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