Workers Vanguard No. 1031
4 October 2013
With the Islamists Sometimes, With Bourgeois Rule Always
How Egyptian Cliffites Covered for Military Coup
In a televised statement on July 3 announcing that the Egyptian Armed Forces had seized power, General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi stated that the military had been “called by the Egyptian people” to suspend the constitution and remove Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from office. In the ensuing two months, supporters of Morsi’s reactionary Muslim Brotherhood who have demanded his reinstatement have been brutally suppressed by the military regime, with some 1,000 killed according to the New York Times (23 September). Both state forces and Islamist mobs have rampaged through Coptic Christian areas, expelling families and burning homes, churches and shops.
Military repression is also targeting trade unionists, leftist political activists and journalists. Haitham Mohamedain, a noted labor lawyer and spokesman for the Revolutionary Socialists (RS), the Egyptian affiliate of the late Tony Cliff’s International Socialist Tendency, was arrested on September 5. Although he has been released, he remains under investigation for “leading and joining a secret organization called the Revolutionary Socialists” and “attempting to change the form of government by terrorist means.” These Orwellian charges represent an attempt to criminalize any opposition to the military dictatorship. The workers movement internationally must demand: Hands off Haitham Mohamedain and the Revolutionary Socialists!
Since the January 2011 upheaval that forced the removal of the despised strongman Hosni Mubarak, events in Egypt have been glowingly depicted as a revolution by all varieties of self-described socialists, especially the RS. The July 3 coup demonstrated the obvious: there has been no revolution. The masses that rose up in January-February 2011 sought a fundamental change to their conditions of poverty, brutal oppression and absence of democratic rights. But the dominant political forces in the anti-Mubarak upsurge and in subsequent protests have represented different variants of capitalist rule, from Nasserite nationalists and bourgeois liberals to the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood.
From Mubarak’s last days in office through Morsi’s presidency and today’s military regime, the army, police and judiciary have remained intact (with a few changes at the top), enforcing capitalist dictates against workers and peasants and brutal repression against women and Copts. General Sisi himself was the director of military intelligence under Mubarak and head of the armed forces under Morsi. As Hugh Roberts explains in depth in “The Revolution That Wasn’t” (London Review of Books, 12 September), the army, the source of political power in Egypt since 1952, had been marginalized by Mubarak but not displaced. “The events of January and February 2011 that brought it back to centre stage were not a revolution.”
In an August 14 statement against military repression, the RS, which a year earlier had hailed Morsi’s election, denounced “liberals and leftists” who acted “to whitewash the military and the counter-revolution. These people have blood on their hands.” Indeed. And the reformist RS and its cothinkers in the U.S. International Socialist Organization (ISO) and the British Socialist Workers Party are prime examples. Shortly after the coup, RS spokesman Sameh Naguib wrote in the British Socialist Worker (5 July): “What has happened in Egypt is the height of democracy, a revolution of millions to directly topple the ruler. As for the military displacement of Mursi, this was nothing but a foregone conclusion, once the military institution saw that the masses had already settled the issue in the streets and squares of Egypt.”
Tamarod and the Military: One Hand
As the Wall Street Journal (19 July) reported in a corrected version of an earlier article, in the months before the coup, military leaders told senior aides to Amr Moussa, Hamdeen Sabahy and Mohammed ElBaradei, leaders of the bourgeois National Salvation Front (NSF), that the military would oust Morsi if they could put enough protesters in the streets. The vehicle for this move turned out to be an organization called Tamarod (Rebellion), which was launched in April to initiate a petition demanding new presidential elections. Tamarod claimed the petition obtained 22 million signatures—millions more than the number of votes Morsi received in the 2012 election—and thus gave a popular mandate for his removal. In addition to the NSF and Coptic billionaire Naguib Sawiris, who helped finance the campaign, supporters of Tamarod included former officials from Mubarak’s National Democratic Party...and the RS.
Bourgeois forces were propelled to embrace Tamarod by Morsi’s failure to quell social struggle and shore up the collapsing economy, as well as by competition for the spoils of office. While the RS vaguely warned of the involvement of remnants of the Mubarak regime and bourgeois liberals, it nevertheless enthused over the petition campaign and especially the mass demonstrations on June 30. In an article carried in the U.S. Socialist Worker (27 June), Sameh Naguib raved: “The Tamarod (Rebellion) campaign has emerged after a period of retreat in the revolutionary movement to ignite the fuse of that movement on a national level heretofore unseen.” He continued, “As for the revolutionaries, the goal of their participation in the Rebellion campaign and in the battles that will begin on June 30 is to reclaim the revolution” from the Islamists.
What soon became glaringly clear is that the protest movement, organized around the single demand for Morsi to leave office, served as the avenue for the military to reclaim direct power from the Islamists. Masses of people poured into the protests, galvanized by soaring inflation, unemployment, police repression, religious reaction and myriad other dire conditions that characterized life under Morsi’s government. (They were also spurred on by sudden mysterious shortages of food and fuel—commodities that the military plays a key role in distributing.) But from the outset, the Tamarod campaign was premised on replacing one set of capitalist oppressors with another. At Tahrir Square, military planes flew overhead, showering demonstrators with Egyptian flags and bottled water.
In the U.S., Socialist Action’s Jeff Mackler shamelessly claimed after the coup that “the revolutionaries who correctly supported, built, and participated in the June 30 mobilizations can hardly be held accountable for the results” (CounterPunch, 19 July). As if the protest organizers’ intentions weren’t clear! As Tamarod activist Mohamed Khamis told the London Observer (6 July), “The army did not take over power. They were merely a partner in the democratic change we were seeking.” For their part, the RS opportunists, week after week, delicately refrained from describing the early July events as a coup even as they condemned military repression.
Since the outbreak of mass protests in early 2011, we have stressed the crucial need for Egypt’s powerful working class to emerge as an independent political force at the head of all the downtrodden and oppressed—from women and Copts to urban slum dwellers and the rural poor. Waves of bitter, militant strikes by textile workers and others shook Egyptian society in the years leading up to Mubarak’s ouster, and have continued since then. But the proletariat remains politically atomized and under the sway of bourgeois nationalism and religious forces. As we wrote when Mubarak was toppled:
“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.”
—”Egypt: Military Takeover Props Up Capitalist Rule,” WV No. 974 (18 February 2011)
The entire political activity of the RS has been in opposition to this revolutionary perspective. Most of the reformist left internationally has preferred to tail various Nasserists and liberals, while the U.S. Workers World Party in the period following the July coup has praised the Muslim Brotherhood as “the germ of bourgeois democracy” (workersworld.org, 19 August). The RS and its British and American cothinkers have the dubious distinction of having supported all these class enemies of the workers and the poor.
Tony Cliff’s international tendency has a sordid history of support to Islamic reaction, from celebrating the Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power in Iran in 1979 to promoting the CIA-backed Afghan mujahedin’s holy war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. In 1994, the Cliffite journal International Socialism published an extensive article “The Prophet and the Proletariat” by Chris Harman that provided a “theoretical” rationale for tailing the Islamists, offering the watchword: “With the Islamists sometimes, with the state never.” Founded in this tradition in 1995, the RS courted the Muslim Brotherhood, investing these clerical reactionaries with “progressive” credentials. Notoriously, the RS formally endorsed Morsi in the second round of presidential elections last year.
The RS justified its grotesque support to Morsi by saying that his victory would be “a blow against the old regime” (Socialist Worker [Britain], 2 June 2012). It was workers and the oppressed who felt the blow. As the Morsi government cracked down on trade unionists, it also frontally attacked women and Copts by strengthening Islamic legal strictures, supplemented by the extra-legal terror of Islamist mobs. With inflation raging and unemployment shooting up, the government, backed by the annual infusion of $1.5 billion in U.S. aid, pounded the masses with IMF austerity measures. Attacking the working class was nothing new for the Islamists. Previous regimes had alternately repressed the Muslim Brothers and unleashed them to suppress trade unionists and leftists. Under Colonel Nasser’s nationalist rule, Muslim Brothers were given free rein to break strikes and slaughter Communists and others until 1954, when Nasser hanged six Brotherhood leaders and banned the organization.
Within months of Morsi’s election, strikes and large-scale protests were again shaking the country, prompting the RS to switch banners with not a single word of explanation. By November, the RS had concluded that the Brotherhood and the remnants of the old regime “are two sides of the same coin, which is tyranny and enmity towards the people” (Socialist Worker [Britain], 24 November 2012). Had the Cliffites suddenly discovered the class line? Hardly. After returning from Egypt, Ahmed Shawki, a longtime ISO leader, proclaimed that “the forces united in the National Salvation Front represent, in many inchoate ways, the emergence of the second stage of the Egyptian revolution” (Socialist Worker [U.S.], 12 December 2012). The Front—basically a lash-up of bourgeois opponents of the Morsi government—would soon be courting the military in the lead-up to the coup.
In its August 14 statement, the RS ludicrously claimed that it “did not defend the regime of Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood for a single day.” Such outright lies are the handmaiden of the deeper deception these opportunists practice by painting every change at the top of the bourgeois state as evidence of an ever-unfolding “revolution.” Banging on about the interests of the “Egyptian people,” the RS plays into the deeply held nationalist idea that Egyptians of all classes share a common interest. While rooted in a long history of foreign occupations, decades of British rule and the current ongoing domination by U.S. imperialism, this false perspective obscures the distinct class interests of the proletariat, especially its role as the potential leader of the oppressed masses against their common class enemy. To instill revolutionary consciousness in the working class requires forging a Leninist vanguard party in opposition to all bourgeois forces. The RS has shown time and again that it is an obstacle to this struggle.