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Getting Egypt's second revolution

Sameh Naguib

November 30, 2012


Great revolutions in the modern era take years to ebb and flow. They usually begin with temporary and superficial unity between all the opponents of the old regime. But as soon as that regime falls, these forces become divided according to the interests they represent. New and diverse forces enter the stage and the elements at the heart of the old regime begin to organise their ranks for counter-revolution.

There’s a close relationship between the institutions of the state and the social classes whose interests it serves. The state has never expressed the interests of “the people”. Rather, it protects and expresses the interests of that small part of the people who control wealth and therefore real power.
The army does not protect the people, but rather the interests of big businessmen and corporations. Exchanging this general for that general will change nothing about the institution itself. The police and security agencies are not in the service of the people but in the service of private property. Their fundamental role is to repress all those who dare to challenge its owners.
It is the same story with the administrative machinery—it represents the same corruption, the same interests, the same state. Parliament is the only institution whose members are elected with a degree of democracy. But it still lacks power in the face of the real owners of the country.
The Egyptian Revolution allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to come to power and to change the heads of the old regime. But the Brotherhood does not want to complete the revolution. It does not want to touch the heart of the old regime or its state.
The Brotherhood returned the police to the Egyptian streets, not to direct traffic, but to break up strikes and sit-ins, arrest their leaders and to bring back torture, killing and terror. Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi began his rule not by visiting Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab revolutions, but by visiting Saudi Arabia, the repressive monarchy which is the centre of counter-revolution in our region. And he began his economic “renaissance project” not by announcing state intervention to improve wages but by agreeing a loan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF has since the 1990s imposed policies that impoverish, marginalise and starve the majority of Egyptians.
The Brotherhood continually laments the torment and siege of Gaza. But Mursi ordered the destruction of all the tunnels that its heroic people depend upon to bring in food and the necessities of daily life. He did not offer to completely open the Rafah crossing. The Camp David accord with the US was the cornerstone of former dictator Mubarak’s foreign policy, and the basis of his subservience to US interests. Mursi did not waste a single day before declaring his complete acceptance of it. There is a committee drafting a new constitution. It is not directly elected by the people and sets a farcical precedent in the history of how constitutions are written during or after revolutions.
But the struggle to expose its failings will not take place in legal chambers but in the fields, factories and poor neighbourhoods.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists are conservative populists who opposed and appeased the old regime. There are deep contradictions within and between the various Islamist currents—between their bourgeois leadership, their petty bourgeois rank and file, and their large constituencies in the working class and the poor neighbourhoods. These contradictions were always contained by ambiguous religious slogans. Despite the Islamists’ repeated accommodation to the regime, in the absence of an alternative, sections of the masses looked towards them as the only serious opposition.
It was natural that a large section of the masses would elect Islamists after the revolution. The masses do not leap to an integrated revolutionary consciousness all of a sudden. But the election of the Brotherhood and the more hard-line Salafists is not the end of the story. It is a transitional phase.
The Russian Revolution did not bring Lenin and the Bolsheviks to power, but rather representatives of the reformist opposition. They did not achieve any of the goals of the revolution until the Bolsheviks won a majority in the councils of workers, peasants and soldiers and overthrew the remnants of the old regime in the Great October Revolution.
It requires an intense and patient struggle to win the majority to our revolutionary project and to the necessity of a second Egyptian revolution.
We need to win wide sections of the Islamists’ audience and exploit the contradictions in their class base. This process is assisted by the policies of their leaders. So we will participate in all the electoral battles, but not because we believe that is where real change happens. We will do it because we must use every space we can to expose not only the Brotherhood and the Salafists, but also the remnants of the old regime and the liberals.
In the beginning of the revolution there were large numbers of individual workers on the demonstrations, clashes and sit-ins in the squares. But then the organised working class played a decisive role in the removal of Mubarak through a series of strikes. Since then we have seen wave after wave of workers’ strikes increasing in depth, breadth and consciousness.
We must always remember that the Egyptian revolution did not begin in January 2011. It had important antecedents in the workers’ strikes that began in Mahalla in 2006 and then spread through the country like wildfire. This came after a previous wave of political demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinian intifada and against the war on Iraq. This revolution was, and continues to be, a political and social revolution, aspiring to deeper and more serious changes than mere democratic reforms. The current wave of strikes and sit-ins is the biggest since the first months of the revolution. There have been around 1,000 strikes during the past two months.
But nevertheless there remains a long road to travel before this can become the spearhead of the second Egyptian revolution. The strike wave is still sporadic and fragmented between different industries, sectors and geographical areas. It still represents only a minority of the Egyptian working class. Despite attempts to link its different parts and create independent unions, it remains confined within the limits of syndicalism. This separates the demands of “bread and butter” economic struggles from revolutionary political demands.
But Mursi’s plan to use austerity and neoliberal policies to combat Egypt’s economic crisis means these confrontations will intensify. Successive waves of workers’ strikes and sit-ins will continue, as will escalating repression by the police. The successive transformations of the different revolutionary forces make for a complex political landscape.
One dangerous development is that many alliances are built on the basis of the divide between secular and Islamist forces, rather than on the continuation of the revolution or the social programme of the different parties. So we find an alliance between the remnants of the old regime and some of the liberals under the leadership of Amr Moussa and Ayman Nour under the name of the Alliance of the Egyptian Nation.
There is also the Popular Current which Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabahi founded on the basis of his presidential campaign, the Constitution Party of former UN figure Mohamed ElBaradei and many others that have not yet decided which of the alliances they will join.
On the left there is the Revolutionary Democratic Alliance which includes a number of forces including the Tagammu Party. Facing them we have the Brotherhood’s ruling Freedom and Justice Party and its allies in the Salafist forces. We cannot isolate ourselves from the political and electoral battles which are coming. They are an opportunity to raise concrete and general political demands.
Our entry into any front or alliance is governed by the strategy of the united front. We work together on a temporary basis around specific and limited goals, without compromising our independence. The coming elections will see the return of elements of the old regime or those who represent them, under the banner of “civil forces” and in alliance with right wing liberals. So there is a battle with the ruling party and its allies from the right and a battle from the left. We must never get mixed up with those who want to promote the old regime on the pretext of strengthening the secular camp, rallying all the secular forces from the far right to the far left.
The change wrought by the Egyptian revolution until now is a change in political power. The symbols of the old regime have changed, but the state and military institutions themselves have not been compromised. Egypt’s biggest billionaires still own the same wealth, looted from the blood of the people.
We will need to win the working masses to the revolutionary project of dismantling this state and building a workers’ and peasants’ state. Today many are still influenced by right wing, moderate and reformist forces. We must win workers’ and peasants’ leaders, the activists in the poor neighbourhoods and the oppressed sections of society to our long term revolutionary vision.
Our tradition of revolutionary organisation is one of our most important weapons. It’s vital that we grow quickly. But the entry of a wide variety of elements who are not familiar with this revolutionary tradition requires the greatest efforts to absorb, educate and offer practical training, combined with great toughness in relation to agents and saboteurs. We must launch a relentless ideological war against right-wing ideas, whether they are those of the liberals or the Islamists.
Capitalism across the globe and in Egypt is in a state of collapse, and the Egyptian working class is in a semi-permanent state of rebellion. Historic conjunctures like this don’t occur often. Either we must go forward to a second Egyptian revolution or our fate will be the victory of counter-revolution.
Sameh Naguib is a leading member of the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt. This article is shared from Socialist Worker (UK).

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