The Egyptian revolution and the military coup

This article is adapted from a talk given by Joyce Chediac at Workers World Party meetings in New York and Boston on July 12 and 13.

Once again, the Egyptian masses have taken history’s center stage. In what some are calling the greatest outpouring of humanity in history, the people in Egypt took to the streets in the millions for five days, beginning June 30, in a show of no confidence in the Morsi government and to demand their right to food, shelter, justice, dignity and freedom from repression.

Millions of the protesters had signed a petition, organized by the youth group Tamarud (Rebellion), calling for economic empowerment, freedom and social justice, national independence and early presidential elections.

One very conscious 12-year-old, Ali Ahmed, told an El Wady reporter, “There are still no jobs. The police still jail people randomly. As for social justice, how can a news anchor get 30 million pounds a year while some people still pick food from the garbage? Politically speaking, where is the constitution that represents us? For instance, women are half of society, yet there are only seven ladies in the Constituent Assembly and six are Islamists.” (youtube.com, July 9)

Revolt belongs to the people, military takeover does not

This huge and inspiring revolt belongs to the people. But the military takeover that followed, deposing President Mohammed Morsi and taking control of the Egyptian government, does not belong to the people, even though it was cheered and hailed.

The generals were not responding to the popular will. Their move was an attempt to contain and undermine the mass movement. Under cover of popular anger, the generals seized on a chance to topple the government  dominated by Islamists, mainly the Muslim Brotherhood, and reinstate the same military-police-judicial-business elements who were in power during the reign of Hosni Mubarak.

The military was aided and abetted by many of the secular liberal, social democratic, religious and other leaders opposed to Morsi. In an unprincipled manner, they made a bloc with the military against the Brotherhood, which had been fairly elected to office.

This bloc was led by Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Prize-winning diplomat, chair of the Al-Dostour Party, and coordinator of the National Salvation Front, which the June 26 Al-Ahram, an Egyptian daily, calls “a loose coalition of liberal, leftist and nationalist parties.”

On July 3, claiming to act on behalf of the people, Gen. Abdul Fattah el-Sisi announced that President Morsi was deposed and the constitution suspended. He made the announcement flanked by Egypt’s top Christian and Muslim clerics and political leaders, including ElBaradei and Galal Morra, a prominent ultraconservative Salafi Islamist, all of whom endorsed the takeover.

Under a “roadmap” for a post-Morsi government devised by a meeting of civilian, political and religious leaders, the general said the constitution would be suspended and an interim government would be headed by Adli Mansour, chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, with ElBaradei as vice president.

Fascist suppression of Muslim Brotherhood

Within hours there was a fascist suppression of the Brotherhood. In tandem with the military’s ouster of Morsi, the judicial authorities replaced the attorney general he had appointed with Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, a prosecutor installed by Mubarak who spent years in office prosecuting Islamists.

Morsi was arrested and held incommunicado. Islamist broadcast outlets were closed.

Less than 24 hours after the military’s intervention, prosecutors from the old Mubarak regime began issuing warrants for some 600 Brotherhood leaders and ranks. Among those arrested were Mohamed Badie, the group’s supreme guide; his deputy Rashad Bayoumi; and the head of its political wing, Saad el-Katatni. Also on the wanted list was Khairat el Shater, the group’s powerful financier and strategist. Accusations were “incitement to kill demonstrators” and “opponents” of the president. The judiciary is also looking for grounds to prosecute Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders on charges from when they were broken out of prison during the 2011 revolution.

On July 8, the army fired directly on a Brotherhood sit-in in front of the Republican Guard headquarters that was demanding Morsi’s release. The troops killed 55 and wounded 400. On July 14, financial assets of Brotherhood leaders and supporters were frozen by the military government.

This is the same military that ran the government for a year before the 2012 election of Morsi. There were giant demonstrations demanding it step down after it failed to enact any meaningful reforms and killed and jailed more protesters than during the entire 29-year, emergency-decree rule of Mubarak.

Why the people opposed Morsi government

This does not mean that the huge anger of the masses against Morsi, his administration and the Brotherhood was not justified.

When electioneering, it promised a pluralistic government and equality for minorities, but didn’t deliver. It focused on consolidating power rather than representing all Egyptians. It did nothing to reverse the economic nosedive and did not listen to or respond to the people.

Many Muslims complained about the Brotherhood’s intrusion of religion into government and about being told it was “God’s will.” Others found the Brotherhood’s practices fundamentally undemocratic.

Morsi’s year in office was marked by deterioration in security and services, soaring unemployment, and an increase in poverty from 40 to more than 50 percent. He had no clear economic or political priorities and did not struggle against corruption and poverty, but instead put all his faith in an International Monetary Fund loan which was dangled in front of his nose but never delivered.

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood’s foreign policy was the same as Mubarak’s, favoring Israel at the expense of the Palestinians — the military even flooded the Gaza supply tunnels with sewage on Morsi’s watch — and siding with the U.S.-backed Syrian rebels against the Syrian government, while adopting an anti-Iran agenda.

The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party showed itself to be a bourgeois party with nothing to offer the people. No wonder the people were enraged and felt that the government they voted in had betrayed their 2011 revolution. The mass protests begun June 30 coalesced around a demand for early presidential elections, not an immediate military coup.

Brotherhood undermined by old state

Morsi and the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party only held the trappings of office. They never had control over the military, the security services, the judiciary or the state bureaucracy. Nor was Morsi able to dismantle the support network that Mubarak and his National Democratic Party put together over nearly 30 years in power.

The very state apparatus Morsi was said to head fought him. Even before he was elected, on June 13, 2012, two days before a presidential runoff election that Morsi won, Mubarak judicial appointees dissolved, on a technicality, the democratically elected Parliament in which 75 percent of the seats had been won by Islamists.

They so often blocked Morsi from making significant government changes that Zakaria Abdul-Aziz, a former judge known for standing against Mubarak for many years, said, “90 percent of Egypt’s judges are acting to overturn the gains of the revolution.” (Esam Al-Amin, Counterpunch, June 26)

Adding insult to injury, the judiciary declared innocent or overturned the convictions of all Mubarak regime senior officials, including Mubarak and his sons. Even low-level security personnel who had overwhelming evidence against them of torturing and killing protesters were let go. This further enraged the people against Morsi.

The military wrested a deal out of Morsi to keep supremacy over its own budget without any kind of oversight.

Pro-Mubarak police ‘join revolution’

Meanwhile, the police refused to direct traffic or keep neighborhoods safe. Artificial shortages were created of petrol and electricity.

A July 11 article in the New York Times, entitled “Improvements in Egypt suggest a campaign to undermine Morsi,” reported: “Mr. Farash, the trade ministry spokesman under Mr. Morsi, attributed the fuel shortages to black marketers linked to Mr. Mubarak, who diverted shipments of state-subsidized fuel to sell for a profit abroad. Corrupt officials torpedoed Mr. Morsi’s introduction of a smart card system to track fuel shipments by refusing to use the device, he said.”

In fact, the old state apparatus and Mubarak cronies joined the protests against Morsi. Cihan Tugal wrote in Counterpunch on July 10, “Some groups in Tahrir (April 6, Strong Egypt Party, Revolutionary Socialists) openly protested against the military, not just the Brotherhood. Ironically, the main mood among the protesters seemed to be pro-military. There were even groups that openly called for a military intervention. Among the protesters were not only pro-Mubarak civilians, but also thugs and Mubarak-era security personnel who came to the square in their uniforms.”

The July 4 New York Times reported that police announced they were “joining the people … evidence that Mr.Morsi was being undone at least partly by the remnants of the old government.”

“What do you call it when the police, state security, old members of [Mubarak’s] National Democratic Party, the media all rally to bring down a regime?” said Emad Shahin, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo. “Is that a revolution?”

Bourgeois liberal and social democratic parties

The bourgeois secular parties were also in on the undoing of the Brotherhood government. They entered unto an unprincipled coalition with the military and the old Mubarak party and establishment. They also appealed to and worked with the imperialists, who are no friends of the Egyptian people.

ElBaradei, whom the Times calls “Egypt’s most prominent liberal,” admitted in a July 4 phone interview with that paper that he “worked hard to convince Western power of … the necessity of forcibly ousting President Mohamed Morsi.”

On the day of the takeover, “He had spoken at length with Secretary of State John Kerry and Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign policy official. … Mr. ElBaradei also defended the widening arrests of Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood allies and the shutdown of Islamist television networks,” saying that  “the shuttered television outlets had incited violence.”

In his June 26 Counterpunch article, Esam Al-Amin detailed how the alliance among the seculars, the so-called liberals, the military and remnants of the Mubarak regime developed, and how the bourgeoisie took advantage of the weakness of the movement.

The so-called secular “opposition” forces were no longer in opposition to the Mubarak forces and the military but working with them. They refused to cooperate with the elected Morsi government.

According to Al-Amin, “In his year in office, Morsi called all the opposition leaders, especially within the National Salvation Front that includes most of the secular opposition, to as many as 10 separate meetings, with minimal success. As for the appointments, Morsi’s political advisor, Bakinam El-Sharqawi, stated recently that whenever the president asked the secular groups for candidates for the most senior positions in government, including ministers and governors, they refused to engage or send any nominees.”

The “fulool,” or bourgeois establishment and what remained of the Mubarak regime, were never overthrown. They still had the reins of the private media, many industries and key economic institutions.

Al-Amin explained that they regrouped around presidential candidate and former Mubarak regime member Ahmad Shafiq, who lost to Morsi by a small margin in the mid-2012 election. “By year’s end the fulool groups have become part and parcel of the secular opposition groups and a major factor of the instability that has overwhelmed the country.”

Old guard bourgeoisie ‘joins’ opposition

The fulool took advantage of divisions in the anti-Mubarak opposition and lack of a program, said Al-Amin, “to reinvent themselves and become major players on the side of the secular groups against the MB and the Islamists.”

They were embraced by the so-called liberals, observed Al-Amin. “Recently, ElBaradei welcomed all elements of Mubarak’s banned National Democratic Party to join his party and the opposition, while Sabbahi [the Nasserist secular candidate who ran for president] declared that the battle with the fulool now is secondary as the primary conflict today is with the MB and its Islamist allies.”

Al-Amin pointed out, “On the other hand, the fractious opposition seemed not only divided but also devoid of real alternatives. What united them was their utter hatred and enmity towards the Islamists in general and the MB in particular. Some leaders such as ElBaradei and Amir Mousa [former secretary general of the Arab League and former presidential candidate] called on foreign powers, including the U.S., to take sides in the internal struggle and condemn the Morsi government. Others such as Sabbahi and Shafiq openly called on the military to overthrow the elected president and take over.”

Tamarud: new youth movement coalesces

Al-Amin described the growth of the new youth movement: “After more than 25 failed attempts in less than six months to mobilize the public against the MB, the opposition proved to be weak, divided, and in disarray. … Meanwhile, a new group called Tamarud or Rebellion led by several revolutionary youth groups gained momentum when they declared at the end of April a new movement to depose Morsi.

“On April 28, Tamarud announced that they would collect 15 million signatures from registered voters demanding early presidential elections on June 30, the first anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration. Within weeks, most secular and youth groups as well as the fulool embraced this central message.

“At least 14 private satellite channels started a vast propaganda campaign and mobilization efforts promoting the day as a second revolution to cleanse the country from the MB rule. By mid-June Tamarud’s co-founder and spokesman Mahmoud Badr announced that the movement had collected more than 15 million signatures, which represented a million more people than those who voted for Morsi in the presidential elections.

“Not to be outmaneuvered, the Islamist groups decried the secular opposition and denounced their undemocratic tactics and unconstitutional calls to depose Morsi before the end of his term in 2016. … An ally of the MB initiated his own movement, Tajarrud or Impartiality, in order to counter Tamarud” by collecting 20 million signatures. “Between Tamarud and Tajarrud the Egyptian society has never been more polarized.”

Egypt polarized as never before

The Al-Amin article continued: “On one side, most of the secular forces, youth groups, Christians, and the fulool are mobilizing for the showdown or a second revolution to depose Morsi and dislodge the MB. On the other side, most Islamist groups are vowing to defend Morsi’s legitimacy and rule by all means.

“On June 21, in an impressive show of force, the Islamist groups mobilized more than a million of their supporters in a Cairo suburb.

“Meanwhile, Tamarud’s leaders announced that their plan on that day included protests by millions of people in the streets occupying major intersections, and surrounding the presidential palace demanding early presidential elections.”

Among the media documenting the fulool’s efforts to finance and help organize the Tamarud to unseat Morsi was the July 11 New York Times. It reported that Naguib Sawiris, one of Egypt’s richest men and “a titan of the old establishment”; Tahani El-Gebali, a former judge on the Supreme Constitutional Court who is close to the generals; and Shawki al-Sayed, a legal advisor to Mubarak’s last prime minister, were part of this effort.

Sawiris, said the Times, donated the nationwide offices and political structure of the party he built, the Free Egyptians, to Tamarud. He gave it publicity through his TV network and his major interest in Egypt’s largest private newspapers. He even organized a music video for the group which was then played on his network.

Gebali Sashe and “other legal experts helped Tamarud create its strategy to appeal directly to the military to oust Mr. Morsi and pass the interim presidency to Hezem el-Beblawi [later appointed prime minister], a former chief of the constitutional court” and a strong advocate of neoliberal economic measures.

Military coup set to go in June

Far from being a response to a call from the people who came into the streets on June 30, the coup was ready and set to go before that.

“The slow-motion coup in Egypt was well underway by [June 25] and the U.S. was already in deep consultation with the military leadership in Cairo regarding a political transition in Egypt,” wrote the July 12 Asia Times.

LeMonde on July 6 wrote that the Egyptian military had decided upon a coup on June 23, some six days before the protest began.

Counterpunch pointed out on July 10: “During the month of June, it had become increasingly clear that the military intended to use the rebellion as an opportunity to intervene (and some politicians, who had previously made fierce statements against military rule, now welcomed the possibility in roundabout ways).”

Army a powerful part of Egyptian bourgeoisie

Egypt has the largest standing army in the Arab world. Most of its 450,000 soldiers are conscripts and low-ranking officers with little opportunity for advancement. They are close to the people and are often the only source of financial support for extended families.

The military has ruled Egypt for six decades. Most Egyptians view the army with pride as a patriotic nationalist organization going back to the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser and when it fought Israel in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

However, for the past four decades the office corps has been armed and trained by the Pentagon — at a cost of $1.3 billion a year. The interest of the officers is diametrically opposed to the interests of the rank-and-file soldiers and the people as a whole.

In a July 4 Counterpunch article, “Egyptian Military: A State Within a State,” Barry Lando, a former producer for “60 Minutes,” wrote: “For years, Egypt’s top military ranks have enjoyed a pampered existence in sprawling developments such as Cairo’s Nasr City, where officers are housed in spacious, subsidized condominiums. They enjoy other amenities the average Egyptian can only dream of. …

“Many of Egypt’s brass are notoriously corrupt. Vast swathes of military land, for instance, were sold by the generals to finance some major urban developments near Cairo — with little if any accounting.

“The generals also preside over 16 enormous factories that turn out not just weapons, but an array of domestic products from dishwashers to heaters, clothing, doors, stationery, pharmaceutical products and microscopes. …

“The military also builds highways, housing developments, hotels, power lines, sewers, bridges, schools, telephone exchanges, often in murky arrangements with civilian companies.

“The military are also Egypt’s largest farmers, running a vast network of dairy farms, milk processing facilities, cattle feed lots, poultry farms, fish farms.”

The military are making “billions and billions and billions” of dollars, and their operations are off the nation’s books. There are no real published accountings, no oversight. Its economic affairs are kept totally secret and actually sealed off in the new constitution under “state security” protections.

The Egyptian military distrust and fear the Islamists and their mass base, which is quite large and can exert influence on the leadership. The Egyptian military have history to remind them. Lando wrote, “They certainly will never forget the lurid spectacle of Iranian generals being publicly executed in the aftermath of Khomeini’s revolution in Iran. Iran also demonstrated that a radical revolution also means a radically transformed military. (Egypt’s generals have a constant reminder of that lesson nearby: The Shah is buried in a Cairo mosque.)”

“They fear the masses even more,” he continues, because “real civilian rule could spell an end to the system of massive military corruption and patronage that has gone on for decades in Egypt, a system that has given the military unimpeded control over an estimated 40 percent of the Egyptian economy — ‘a state within a state.’”

U.S.  imperialism plays both sides, scrambles to contain mass struggle

At first Washington said it was “cautiously encouraged” by the timetable proposed for a new presidential election. The United States called on the Egyptian army to exercise “maximum restraint” while also condemning “explicit” Brotherhood calls to violence. Yet it will not suspend its annual $1.3 billion to the Egyptian military and will go ahead with the planned delivery of four F-16 jets.

After thousands of Egyptian supporters of the Brotherhood took to the streets to demand Morsi’s release and reinstatement, Washington also called for Morsi’s release from detention.

Washington may be comfortable with the generals it trained and is on a first-name basis with. But it has been working both sides — the military and the Brotherhood — in order to maintain influence and relevance. The unprecedented, huge demonstrations in this key Arab country have shaken everything up. There’s no real solution for the U.S. but to try to contain it.

This is why there are splits. The New York Times came out against the coup. The Washington Post, usually more hawkish than the Times, called for a cutoff of U.S. military aid to Cairo, as did John McCain, who heads the Senate Armed Services  Committee.

Overall U.S. goals: keep Egypt stable, part of pro-imperialist orbit

The U.S. wants to contain the struggle, stabilize Egypt in the imperialist orbit and have a calm border on Israel’s southern flank so that Tel Aviv can continue to attack Gaza, the West Bank and, most recently, Syria. The imperialists have no permanent allies, only permanent interests.

The Wall Street Journal — which can be the bold face of predatory capitalism and imperialism — not only favored the coup but said in a July 5 editorial: “Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took over power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.” They did not mention Pinochet’s 17-year reign of terror.

What Wall Street wants for Egypt is to continue and deepen the economic exploitation of Egypt’s workers and rural poor. The New York Times on July 9 pointed out that the new prime minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, is a former finance minister and founding member of the Social Democratic Party (founded after the 2011 revolution), who criticized both Mubarak and Morsi for “failing to move fast enough to open up the economy, reform Egypt’s bloated and unaffordable subsidy programs and provide for the poor.”

Beblawi, the Times continues, “is ideally suited to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund over a package of changes tied to a pending $4.8 billion loan.” These changes mean more austerity for the Egyptian people, whose services have already been cut to the bone.

The critical IMF loan, which was held back from Morsi’s government under U.S. pressure, is now suddenly being made available to the government of the generals.

At the same time, some of the most reactionary and antidemocratic regimes in the world, all U.S. clients, are coming to the generals’ assistance. Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait have pledged $12 billion in aid to the military government.

But things are far from stable in Egypt. Already the agreement between the secular forces and the military is unraveling. The umbrella National Salvation Front and some Tamarud leaders have already protested that powers claimed by the new military government have gone further than agreed and have been done without consulting them. The military’s response has been to warn them against disruption of what it calls a “difficult” transition.

Struggle is not over

What has happened in Egypt? Despite the huge outpouring of the people, the revolutionary forces have lost momentum to the right wing. But this is only a temporary development. The struggle is far from over, and the revolutionaries will recoup and recover.

And to be sure, any government that agrees to U.S. demands for reducing food and fuel subsidies as a precondition for IMF loans — as this one has signaled it is happy to do — will set off even more huge demonstrations by the Egyptian people, who have a strong sense of entitlement and are determined to see their demands met.

The Brotherhood continues to organize significantly large demonstrations calling for the reinstatement of the Morsi government. This polarization between Islamists and seculars fomented by the military-liberal alliance works against the interests of the Egyptian workers. Islamists are an integral part of Egyptian society, and may need to be included and reached out to.

Key to overcoming this divide is the development of a program that addresses the need of all workers and rural poor among the Muslim Brotherhood ranks and among the secular-minded and minorities, where all can fight shoulder to shoulder for economic, social and political justice. The rank-and-file members of both the army and the Muslim Brotherhood will be open to such a movement, allowing for a new direction for the country.

The Egyptian revolution needs its own leadership, its own program and its own organs of power that speak for the workers of all religions and persuasions and that safeguard their interests. This is the way to sweep away the pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist seculars, the pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist Islamists, and the pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist military. And ultimately smash the Egyptian military-industrial state.

The strength and depth of the Egyptian mass movement continues to inspire the world. We have every confidence that it will develop the independent leadership and independent organs of power that it needs.

Long live the Egyptian revolution!