Workers Vanguard No. 1005
6 July 2012
Military Rulers Give Presidency to Muslim Brotherhood
Revolutionary Socialists in Bed with Islamic Reaction
In the early weeks of 2011, the world watched extraordinary scenes of millions of Egyptians, from virtually all social classes, protesting throughout the country, braving police assaults and bullets. Mobilized under the slogan, “The people demand the fall of the regime,” they succeeded in driving out the hated dictator, Hosni Mubarak, but the result was the military taking power in its own name. As the last year and a half progressed, the euphoria over the “Egyptian Revolution” increasingly gave way to the cold reality of bloody military rule, greater economic hardship and the ascendance of Islamist reactionaries: the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more right-wing Salafists.
In mid June, Egyptians were faced with an election that posed a “choice” between presidential candidates embodying the two most powerful and best-organized forces in the country: Ahmed Shafiq, a former Air Force commander and Mubarak’s last prime minister, who stood as the military’s representative, and Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. While many liberals and supposed leftists complained that this election was a blow to the “democracy” established by the “Egyptian Revolution,” the outcome flowed from the politics of national unity against Mubarak that drove the protests, in which the working class never emerged as a factor in its own right but was subordinated to bourgeois political forces.
On June 24, Morsi was declared the winner. Facing threats of corruption charges, Shafiq and most of his family left the country. Essentially, the military allowed the Brotherhood to take the presidency as a front for the continuing rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Anticipating a Brotherhood victory, the SCAF moved on the eve of the elections to further tighten its bloody grip on society. It dissolved the Islamist-dominated and essentially powerless parliament elected six months ago, following a court ruling pointing to electoral “irregularities.” Military police were granted the power to arrest civilians, including striking workers. While a subsequent court ruling overturned that and other measures, the reality is that the military was trying to formalize what already exists: more than 10,000 civilians have faced military tribunals since February 2011.
Bourgeois pundits and “socialist” leftists in Egypt and abroad freely throw around the term “revolution” to describe last year’s uprising, with groups like the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists (RS) calling to defeat the “counterrevolution” by embracing the reactionary Brotherhood. Throughout the streets of Cairo, billboards and banners put up by various political forces, including the military, sing the praises of the “January 25 Revolution.” Graffiti hails the “martyrs of the revolution,” the nearly 1,000 people killed during the uprising and the many more slaughtered by the military since.
But the truth must be told: this was no revolution. Thousands upon thousands courageously took to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and smaller cities, driven by grinding poverty and the intense desire to throw off dictatorial rule and the many-sided oppression endemic to Egyptian capitalism. But all they were offered by the political forces leading the upheaval was another form of capitalist class dictatorship. While workers have engaged in strikes and factory sit-ins over the last decade, reaching a climax in 2011, the working class has not entered the political fray under its own banner, fighting for its own class interests.
In the first round of the presidential elections, much of the working-class vote went to Hamdeen Sabahi, who finished third with nearly 21 percent of the vote. Sabahi garnered much support by harkening back to left-nationalist leader Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser and his program of nationalizations, which his regime combined with brutal repression. While this vote expressed a desire on the part of many working people to reject both the military and the Islamists, it equally illustrated the political subordination of the proletariat to its capitalist class enemy. The deep reservoir of nationalist consciousness—seen in last year’s protests in the ubiquitous presence of the Egyptian flag and the refrain that the military was “at one with the people”—has long served Egypt’s rulers by obscuring the class divide between the tiny layer of filthy rich capitalists at the top and the brutally exploited workers and peasants at the bottom.
Egypt is the most populous Arab country. It has one of the largest, most combative and potentially most powerful working classes in the region. Despite the military’s hold on power, Egypt remains a deeply unstable society. After weeks of endless campaigning and pressure to vote, more than half the electorate did not bother to participate in the SCAF’s electoral charade. The material conditions of life for the overwhelming majority of the population have actually worsened as food prices and unemployment rise sharply. The hated police, including the Central Security Forces, remain untouched and will soon be redeployed onto the streets to enforce “law and order.” Both the military and the Brotherhood have made clear their intent to restore “stability,” including by clamping down on strikes.
The situation cries out for building an internationalist workers party. As we wrote after Mubarak’s fall (“Egypt: Military Takeover Props Up Capitalist Rule,” WV No. 974, 18 February 2011):
“Elementary democratic rights such as legal equality for women and the complete separation of religion and state; agrarian revolution to give land to the peasants; ending joblessness and grinding poverty: the basic aspirations of the masses cannot be met without the overthrow of the bonapartist capitalist order. The indispensable instrument for the working class to take the lead is a proletarian revolutionary party, which can be built only through relentless struggle against all bourgeois forces, from the military to the Brotherhood and the liberals who falsely claim to support the struggles of the masses. Such a party must act, in the words of Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin, as a ‘tribune of the people,’ fighting against the oppression of women, peasants, Coptic Christians, homosexuals and ethnic minorities.”
Bowing Before the Brotherhood
Those groups claiming the mantle of socialism in Egypt stand as an obstacle to the struggle for working-class power, by dissolving the distinct class interests of the proletariat into the need for the unity of “the people” in order to “continue the revolution.” Chief among those groups is the Revolutionary Socialists, a tendency associated with the late Tony Cliff and with ties to both the American International Socialist Organization (ISO) and the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Particularly since last year’s uprising, the RS has emerged as the most influential “far left” group in Egypt, with its statements and articles translated and read by leftist organizations around the world.
The RS caused some anguish among its own members when it formally endorsed the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Morsi in the second round of the presidential elections. The basis for this capitulation to the deadly enemies of women, workers and religious minorities was laid at the RS’s founding in the 1990s, when it opposed other leftists’ hostility to political Islam. The RS claims that the Brotherhood, because of its mass base, has “contradictions” that socialists can exploit (see “Pandering to Reactionary Muslim Brotherhood,” WV No. 974, 18 February 2011). On May 28, the RS issued a statement calling for “a national front that stands against the candidate of the counterrevolution,” Shafiq.
This was followed by a June 4 statement titled, “To Comrades,” which acknowledges that the May 28 declaration “provoked a negative response among a number of RS members.” Nonetheless, the RS continued to defend supporting the Brotherhood on the basis of defeating the “counterrevolution.” Yet on June 4 the RS issued a different statement (reprinted in the 8 June issue of its paper, The Socialist) calling to boycott the elections if the “Political Exclusion Law”—passed by parliament earlier this year barring senior officials of the Mubarak regime from running for office—was not implemented. Since the main candidate associated with Mubarak was Shafiq, this line was just a backhanded form of support to the Brotherhood. (The law was not implemented.)
In its statement “To Comrades,” the RS described the Brotherhood as “an organization filled with class contradictions concealed behind vague religious slogans.” No! This is a religiously based bourgeois organization. And nothing about its religious program is “vague.” The stifling stench of Brotherhood influence has long pervaded Egypt. There is no law compelling women to wear the headscarf, yet the overwhelming majority do so out of social pressure imposed by the Muslim Brotherhood and the more hardline Salafists. Egypt’s Coptic Christians are justly terrified about the Brotherhood victory. And women face an even darker period ahead. To get a taste of what the Islamists have in store, one can look at two bills put forward in the now-dissolved parliament. One, introduced by a Salafist, sought to re-legalize the horrendous practice of female genital mutilation, which is rampant regardless. Another sought to lower the age of marriage for girls to 14.
The RS tried to justify its egregious endorsement of the Brotherhood by the line that the “feloul”—i.e., “remnants” of the Mubarak regime—must be defeated at all costs. But while the RS today blusters on about the dangers of the military rulers, when the army was deployed on the streets of Cairo shortly before Mubarak’s resignation the RS joined in the nationalist celebration. Amid prevalent illusions in the military, they complained in a 1 February 2011 statement, “This army is no longer the people’s army.” The army of the capitalist regimes of Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak was never “the people’s army.” The RS even promoted illusions in the police, rejoicing in a 13 February 2011 statement that “the wave of social revolution is widening every day as new sections join the protests, such as policemen, mukhabarin [intelligence agents] and police officers”!
As Marxists, we reject the RS’s reformist framework, which posits that the only two “choices” are to capitulate to either the “secular,” military-backed forces, such as Shafiq, or to Islamists like the Brotherhood. In fact, these are alternative ways of propping up capitalist rule. In contrast to the RS’s endorsement of the Brotherhood, our comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece gave critical support to the Communist Party (KKE) in the recent Greek elections (see front-page article). To put it simply, the KKE, a working-class party, despite its Stalinist class collaborationism drew a crude class line against the imperialist European Union in these elections and claims to hate capitalism. The reactionary Brotherhood, as even the Cliffites admit, loves capitalism!
The Incoherence of Incoherence
What RS members actually did on election day one can only divine. However, the RS’s cothinkers in the British SWP fully supported its call for voting for Morsi. Anne Alexander wrote in a 16 June Socialist Worker article, “Voting for Mursi and against Shafiq is an important step in building a revolutionary movement beyond the elections.” For a view of how supporting Islamist forces might pan out, one might look at Tunisia, the birthplace of the “Arab Spring” and historically the most secular society in North Africa. Under the “moderate” Islamist Ennahda government, the Salafists have been burning down offices of the UGTT trade-union federation and carrying out a reign of terror against women on the campuses. In Egypt, the Salafists already have been on a rampage, burning down casinos, bars, liquor stores and suspected brothels and exerting intense pressure on women to don the head-to-toe niqab (veil).
The American Cliffites of the ISO found the RS line calling for a vote to Morsi “surprising,” adding that its May 28 statement “raises many troubling questions.” But their differences are purely tactical. In “Egypt’s Election Dead End,” the ISO’s Alan Maass complains that the Brotherhood “vacillated during the 2011 rebellion” and “has again and again proved unwilling to defend the revolution” (socialistworker.org, 31 May). While Maass adds that the Brotherhood is an “enthusiastic supporter of free market policies” and “is conservative, on the whole, on many social issues,” the ISO’s class-collaborationist “alternative” was to tail the bourgeois Nasserist politician Sabahi.
The ever so mild criticisms by Maass drew howls from the RS’s Mostafa Ali and others, as seen in posts on the ISO’s Web site. In a June 3 post, Ali chastised Maass for “one-sidedly” using “the Brotherhood’s commitment to capitalism as a barometer for making decisions on whether to vote for them or not.” Ali assured readers that since the first round of the elections, “we can now count on millions to pressure the Muslim Brotherhood at every step of the way.” The next day, ISOer Bill Crane declared in responding to Maass: “The leaders of the Brotherhood, despite their reactionary policies, have a direct interest in preserving gains of the revolution such as political democracy and an end to state repression.”
This line echoes that of opportunist left organizations in Iran and internationally to push support for Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power in the 1978-79 “Islamic revolution,” which ended the bloody reign of the U.S.-backed Shah. Pointing to the social power of the Iranian proletariat, we raised the call: Down with the Shah! No to the Mullahs! Workers to power! For their part, the ISO and SWP were among the biggest cheerleaders for the Islamic reactionaries, with the ISO headlining one article: “The Form—Religious, The Spirit—Revolution” (Socialist Worker, January 1979). When the Islamists came to power, they carried out murderous repression against women, homosexuals, religious, ethnic and national minorities, as well as slaughtering the leftists who had promoted them as an “anti-imperialist” force.
The RS’s support to the Egyptian Brotherhood can be similarly suicidal. Late last year, Islamists launched a vicious campaign against the RS, which was seized on by state security forces and propagated in much of the bourgeois media. The Muslim Brotherhood’s newspaper ran a front-page article baiting the RS as violent, while the Salafist Al-Nour Party accused the organization of “anarchy” and of being funded by the CIA—an open call for imprisonment and worse. Yet the RS continues its peculiar fascination with the Islamists, and not just the Brotherhood. In a blog post about his group’s recent participation in Salafist-organized protests, RS leader Hossam el-Hamalawy glowingly described how the RS is “reaching out to and earning the respect of the most revolutionary wing of the Salafist movement.”
A June 5 “open letter” to the RS by the reformist International Marxist Tendency (IMT) of Alan Woods worries that endorsing the Brotherhood will “damage the reputation and influence of the Revolutionary Socialists among the workers and broader masses.” Like the ISO, the IMT promoted the Nasserist candidate Sabahi, who, according to a 1 June article by Woods, “shows the enormous potential for the future victory of the Left in Egypt.” Support to such bourgeois forces is second nature to the IMT, which includes sections that have for years been part of capitalist parties like the Pakistan People’s Party.
Support to Arab nationalism has led to the bloody defeat of the workers movement throughout the Near East, not least in Egypt, where Nasser came to power with the support of the Stalinists only to later brutally suppress them. In Egypt and throughout the Near East, it was the utter bankruptcy of bourgeois nationalism and the Stalinist policy of subordination to such forces that led to the growth of political Islam, which feeds off the misery and poverty of the masses.
In its material justifying the vote to Morsi, the RS essentially presents the Brotherhood as an organization in constant conflict with Egypt’s rulers. Under Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Mubarak, the Islamists were at times repressed, tolerated and even fostered. In the early 1970s, Sadat unleashed the Brotherhood, with knives in hand, to crush the Communists on the campuses. Mubarak, for his part, found it useful to tolerate the Brotherhood in order to present his regime as the only thing standing in the way of Islamic rule.
At bottom, there are two alternatives for Egypt’s toiling masses: either impoverishment and intense social oppression, under one form or another of bourgeois rule, or working-class rule and the extension of socialist revolution throughout North Africa and the Near East and to the imperialist centers. As Leon Trotsky explained in developing his theory of permanent revolution, in countries of belated capitalist development, the bourgeoisie is too weak, backward and dependent on imperialism to achieve the modernization and all-round development of those societies. As we wrote in “Egypt: Military and Islamists Target Women, Copts, Workers” (WV No. 994, 20 January):
“The liberation of the Egyptian masses requires the overthrow not simply of the military but of the capitalists, landlords, Islamic clergy and imperialists who profit from the grinding oppression of the populace. The power to do this lies in the hands of the working class, whose consciousness must be transformed from that of a class in itself, fighting to improve its status within the framework of capitalism, to a class for itself, realizing its historic potential to lead all the oppressed in a revolutionary struggle against the capitalist system.”
The capitalist economic crisis that has ravaged the lives and livelihoods of working people from North Africa to Europe, North America and Japan only further underscores the necessity for a perspective that is at once revolutionary, proletarian and internationalist. To realize this perspective, the crucially necessary factor is proletarian leadership. The task is to build revolutionary workers parties based on political independence from all bourgeois forces and committed to the fight for a world socialist order.