This is an excerpt of Sameh Naguib’s interview with Tariq Ali on the show The World Today. For the full interview go here.
During the 18 days, when the police force fell, there were elected local committees all over the country, mainly for protection on the streets, and started playing a minimal but clear role—a primitive dual power. But very quickly the Muslim Brotherhood in particular started to say, “No, we want a Parliamentary route, we want democracy as we know it.
When you look at histories of coup d’etats, if you look at Chile as an example—even a clearly left wing leader and government. When it comes to power through a Parliamentary route and starts trying to face the deep state—the army, the judiciary and so on—it is extremely difficult. It requires enormous mass mobilization, and if you make concessions to the generals and the judiciary, you lose. And that’s what happened in Chile.
Now imagine an organization that is not of the left, that is not particularly radical in any sense, but comes to power because of a revolution—because of an unprecedented mass mobilization. Why do people chose the Muslim Brotherhood? It’s the only large, mass organization that is there and that seems to be in the opposition and seems to be less corrupt than the old, and the other organizations are too small. So they come to power and they are paralyzed. Because to face the deep state, to face the big businesses that run the country, they would have to mobilize the streets on a much wider scale They would have to keep Tahrir going, they would have to keep the strike waves going. And they are not that type of organization, they try to make a deal with those who have the real power rather than open the gates to a revolution.
It backfired sensationally. Because the real regime, the people who continued to be in power—the generals did not lose power, they made concessions. They let the Brotherhood in but they still controlled the economy, the still controlled the security apparatuses. The judiciary is still completely controlled by the military, we do not have an independent judiciary. Mursi kept making one concession after the other to these forces in the hope that they would share power with him. They didn’t, they were just waiting for the right moment to get rid of him and to get rid of the whole process which got them to power. Which means getting rid of everything which has happened since the 25th of January.
Betrayals and counter-revolution
It was a strange event. On the one hand you have real anger against Mursi and the Brotherhood for not achieving anything, not doing anything—same neoliberal policies, same relations with Israel, same relations with the US, same relations with the Gulf States. Nothing changed. So what was the point, where’s the revolution? And they didn’t push for serious trials of those responsible during the Mubarak era. So in the eyes of many people who had been involved in the revolution, they had betrayed the revolution, they had betrayed the hopes created by the revolution. So part of that movement was genuine against Mursi.
But you had on the other hand the old regime, the remnants of the old regime, starting to use this movement on the streets to get back to power. And here you get the second betrayal of the revolution, which is by the old left and the liberals, and the Nasserists.
Part of this has to do with the history of the positions the left has taken towards the Muslim Brotherhood and towards Islamism—they have this analysis that this is a fascist movement, and that therefore even a secular dictatorship is better than having a religious state. In 1965 the left dissolved their organizations to enter Nasser’s Arab socialist union, which was controlled 100 per cent by the army. So they have a history of doing that. But the tragedy is that in Nasser’s time you could understand the mistake—Nasser was anti-imperialist, Nasser carried out land reforms, Nasser nationalized the industries, the Suez Canal. There was this anti-imperialist side to Nasser, so you could understand that parts of the left would be confused by a phenomenon like Nasser.
But now it is a much worse situation because Sisi is offering nothing: he is not anti-imperialist, he is not anti-Israel—he is helping them crush Gaza, blowing up the tunnels the Palestinians use, helping secure Israel’s borders in every way he can—and he is 100 per cent neoliberal, and he is a close ally of Saudi Arabia. So for the left to ally itself with such fervor is a result of their fear of Islamism. This campaign of fear—that the Muslim Brotherhood is ISIS—not only affected sections of the left but also ordinary people. The urban middle class was mobilized on this idea that we do not want anarchy, we do not want chaos, we do not want to be like Syria or Iraq, the army is neutral and will carry out the will of “the people.” But there are different sections of people, different classes with different interests, different slogans and different agendas.
So what was very noticeable about the 30th of June was this contradictory nature: no attacks on the police, no slogans against the army, all the slogans just concentrated on Mursi—completely different from the earlier mobilizations which were against Mubarak’s state. The left’s argument was that we should have an alliance with the old regime against the Muslim Brotherhood, that it’s wrong to try to fight two enemies at the same time. And you get clear statements from leaders of the opposition to Mursi saying “Yes, the army should intervene,” total capitulation.
The repression is unprecedented in Egyptian modern history. This is a state apparatus that is taking revenge on a people that dared to say no to the regime, that dared to challenge the regime on the streets. So they are acting on a level of viciousness. It’s like comparing Pinochet with previous dictatorships.
The repression is not only on Islamists and trade unions and workers. It is also on all those forces that played a role on the 25th of January revolution—the youth movements, the 6th of April movement, the radical left that refused to capitulate to Sisi. There’s this new law that makes any demonstration illegal, with ridiculous sentences—you can get seven years for trying to organize a demonstration. There is widespread torture and widespread death because of torture in police stations. Yet Sisi is nearly celebrated in Europe—from the King of Spain to Tsipras of Syriza have met with Sisi, welcomed Sisi, held hands with Sisi—while saying nothing about repression in Egypt. The military assistance from the US is back. This is a serious problem, and it also has to do with Islamophobia.
I don’t think the current situation is sustainable for any length of time. First of all, we have all the strategic problems that led to revolution back in place as they were—the same neoliberalism only worse. This is unsustainable, the level of repression is unsustainable—during the coup 40,000 people have been placed in jail as political prisoners and over 3,000 killed.
Also you must put into consideration that hundreds of thousands of young Egyptians experienced an actual revolution—occupied streets and squares all over the country. This experience is not going to evaporate. It can be defeated but it will not be easy. It is present in their memory. They will not be able to repress this whole generation for any long length of time.
Also the regional situation is extremely unstable. Saudi Arabia itself, which they depend on 100 per cent, is extremely unstable. The Yemen war is going in a very bad direction, they can’t control Yemen. All this is bad for the Sisi regime. There’s no longterm prospect for stability, and therefore there’s no longterm prospect for foreign investment coming into the country, any actual economic development taking place. And without that, you will get explosions again on the streets. So we are in a counter-revolutionary moment in Egypt, but I don’t think it will continue for very long.
By allying themselves with the generals against the Islamists, with the brutality taking place, means that the Islamists will re-emerge as the only viable opposition in the eyes of ordinary people. So even the people who were lost to the Muslim Brotherhood because of their failures in power will come back to the Muslim Brotherhood. So the people who want a secular Egypt are actually helping Egypt become Islamic again by this suicidal tactic of allying themselves with the old regime.
But the possibility for an alternative is there, and this is not just optimism. What happened during the Egyptian revolution—the participation of workers, the size and scale of strikes, the creation of a whole new independent trade union movement, the participation of women—the largest even mass demonstrations by women against sexual harassment, against women’s oppression—the largest participation by the Coptic community—gave a real possibility for a left wing to be built.
The radical left was too small to affect the larger picture, but it grew dramatically during the revolution. Not enough, sadly, to change the end result of it, but it grew very rapidly. The Muslim Brotherhood cannot deal with the women’s question, cannot deal with the Coptic question, are as neoliberal as Sisi, therefore they do not pose a real alternative. So the possibilities for the radical left to emerge, in what will probably be a long struggle against this dictatorship, are there. And we saw the possibilities during 2011.