Imperialists struggle to restore ‘stability’ in Egypt

After military’s fascist crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood

Aug. 5 — U.S. and European diplomats, along with emissaries from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have descended on Cairo to consult with Egyptian generals and Muslim Brotherhood leaders in an attempt to find a path to political and social stability after the brutal military coup d’état of July 3.

The Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces (SCAF) overthrew the elected government of Mohamed Morsi and the Freedom and Justice Party, arrested the leaders and carried out two massacres of Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators. More than 100 were killed, more than 400 were wounded and thousands were injured in the attacks.

Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders are being held in detention. The regime is threatening to charge them with murder. Arrest warrants are out for 600 Brotherhood leaders. (See the important series of articles by Joyce Chediac in Workers World, July 25, Aug. 1, and Aug. 8, which thoroughly document the unfolding of the coup.)

At present, thousands of Brotherhood and Morsi supporters are sitting-in to demand Morsi’s reinstatement and to denounce the coup. The defense minister and coup leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, threatened to attack the sit-in and pro-Morsi demonstrators.

Washington fears backlash

Washington and other imperialist capitals in Europe issued warnings about further violence, not because these most violent rulers have suddenly taken to pacifism but because they fear that the Egyptian military’s attempt to destroy the Brotherhood could backfire and stoke the flames of rebellion.

The secular liberals and social democrats have entered an opportunist alliance with the military, but Washington fears that a rebellion against severe repression will break it up. The U.S. would prefer to have a civilian façade and allow the military to rule from the background. But the Egyptian military will turn on the liberals and social democrats in a moment if they should pose any threat.

A reliable and stable Egypt, which guards the interests of imperialism, is the key to the U.S. ruling class’ policy of domination in the Middle East. And the real foundation of Washington and the Pentagon’s grip on Egypt is the Egyptian military.

The Pentagon generals and the Egyptian military consult with each other on a first-name basis when they discuss strategy or how to shape the annual $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid.

Many of the generals are educated and trained in the U.S. Coup leader General Sisi went to the U.S. War College in Carlyle, Pa., in 2006 and was highly regarded as a next-generation leader by the U.S. military. Egyptian Army Chief of Staff Sedki Sobhi went to Carlyle in 2004.

Every two years the Pentagon and the Egyptian military carry out joint military exercises called “Bright Star.”

While the U.S. ruling class and the Pentagon can temporarily maneuver with the Muslim Brotherhood leadership for practical reasons, the Brotherhood never was and never can be a reliable base for Washington in the long run, even when the Brotherhood leaders try to collaborate with imperialism, as Morsi did. The majority of the Brotherhood’s base is poor and oppressed masses prone to rebel against imperialism.

When Sisi threatened a violent crackdown on the Brotherhood sit-in, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns rushed to Cairo to quiet things down. Burns and European Union delegates, along with the Gulf state representatives, have visited Brotherhood leaders in detention to try to get them to reconcile themselves to the coup and move toward a rapprochement with the coalition created by the military. So far the Brotherhood has refused.

John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two senators close to the Pentagon, are now on their way to Cairo to negotiate with the Egyptian high command and the new military-appointed government leaders in an attempt to move on and construct the façade of a democratic regime that Washington can publicly embrace.

Collapse of progressive forces

On July 26 General Sisi delivered a vicious, demagogic call for a mass demonstration against “terrorism” and called upon the people to be ready to fight. This was a direct call for a mobilization against the Brotherhood with strong undertones of violence.

There have been numerous articles in the Egyptian press, television programs and speeches comparing the Brotherhood to the Nazis and Morsi to Adolf Hitler, with claims that the president would eventually transform the state into a totalitarian Islamic dictatorship.

A campaign orchestrated by the military high command equating the Brotherhood with fascism was joined by the liberals and the majority of left forces.

This represented a complete political collapse of the progressive movement in Egypt by many of the very forces that had struggled for the overthrow of the ousted former president, Hosni Mubarak. These forces succumbed to a frenzied atmosphere whipped up by the former Mubarak loyalists in the military, the courts, the police and the state bureaucracy.

This collapse was led by imperialist liberals such as Mohamed ElBaradei, a former imperialist arms control official, who is now vice president. The support for the coup was bolstered by mass organizations, among them Tamarrod, which initiated a mass petition calling for the ouster of Morsi and for new elections. This was the spark that the military and Mubarak forces seized upon to make themselves the heroes of a massive June 30 demonstration, which was a prelude to the coup.

To be sure there were grievances, many of them justified, that the secular and social democratic (left) forces had against Morsi and the Brotherhood. And Morsi did carry out many reactionary acts which should be condemned. But the idea of having the murderous, plundering torturers in the military — whose attack dogs in the Interior Ministry and the police had oppressed the people for decades — carry out the will of the people is misguided. It is a show of organizational and political weakness and, above all, a lack of ideological clarity about the imperialist-dominated society of Egypt.

Furthermore, to chime in with the anti-Brotherhood witch-hunt is self-defeating. In fact, the progressive forces passed up a golden opportunity to forge unity with the Islamic masses who were under attack.

Class appeal to Islamic masses and soldiers needed

It is a mistake to open up escalated attacks on the Brotherhood at the moment that it is under fascist assault by the military. The urgent need of the struggle is to build unity from below on a class basis.

To defend against the fascist attacks and appeal for unity based on a working class program — jobs, food, fuel, land, expropriation of the rich capitalists, etc. — is a way of overcoming the division, which only serves the Egyptian ruling class and the imperialists. It is also a way to weaken the hold that Morsi and the conservative religious forces within the Brotherhood have upon the masses.

In the same way, the progressive forces fell into the trap of lumping the entire military into one basket. In fact, the military in Egypt is a complete reflection of capitalist class society. The strategic goal of the progressive forces and the left should be to undermine the military machine by appealing to the soldiers.

The soldiers are poor. They are conscripts. The military high command, on the other hand, owns 40 percent of the Egyptian economy. It is corrupt and lives in the lap of luxury, while the soldiers struggle to make ends meet. And this rich high command calls upon poor, working-class and rural soldiers to attack poor, working-class and rural Muslims who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood. But the interests of the soldiers and Muslim masses are in harmony from a class point of view.

Now that the horror of the violent repression following the coup has become apparent, some groups are denouncing the coup, but putting an equal sign between the Brotherhood and the military. This is a false equality. The leadership of the Brotherhood, despite its desire to collaborate with imperialism on Israel, Gaza, Syria, etc., is not a pillar of the imperialist-capitalist establishment of Egypt and never will be. A victory by the predatory military regime over the Brotherhood is a victory for capitalism and imperialism. This should tell everyone which side to be on in the present conflict.

This may seem like an uphill battle, but in the long run there is no other way out of the crisis that besets Egypt. Strong political organization, ideological clarity and a working-class program are the real answer.

Egypt, Marx and the Paris Commune

And, of course, the analogy to Hitler is objectively erroneous. Hitler had the military, the police, the courts, the state bureaucracy and the biggest capitalists behind him before he carried out his takeover.

In Morsi’s case, the exact opposite is true. Morsi never had any real power. He was purely an officeholder surrounded by the old Mubarak military, state and corporate forces. He was sabotaged at every turn. Before he took office the lower house of parliament, with a majority of Brotherhood delegates, was dissolved by the Mubarak-appointed Supreme Court.

The Egyptian crisis points up the historical problem of trying to carry out a bourgeois democratic revolution in an oppressed country ruled by an authoritarian capitalist regime with a “deep state” and strong ties to imperialism.

Under these circumstances, the democratic revolution has strategic problems similar to those of the socialist revolution. The case of Morsi and the Muslim brotherhood demonstrates an axiom of Marxism, based upon Marx’s analysis of the Paris Commune of 1871, when the proletariat held power for more than 60 days.

The great step forward taken by the communards — the members and supporters of the Commune — was that they did not try to take over the old state of the French ruling class and attempt to make it work for the revolution. Instead they broke it up and constructed their own armed state. This lesson has held up over time.

The Morsi regime took office and found itself paralyzed by the old state. It did not have even a revolutionary or mildly progressive program, but merely tried to get a share of the prerogatives of the entrenched military, state and capitalist ruling-class forces. The military feared the Brotherhood because it was the best-organized force in Egyptian society after the military itself.

Instead of the Brotherhood being able to use the old state to advance its bourgeois interests, the Mubarak state paralyzed and then destroyed the democratically elected regime.

The entire imperialist-controlled capitalist system was stacked against the Brotherhood. It was not because Morsi was Islamic that the masses were suffering from poverty and unemployment. It was because of the bankrupt capitalist system, which is in a world economic crisis that the masses were and are still suffering from.

It was not because Morsi was Islamic that the International Monetary Fund demanded a reduction in subsidies and the U.S. bankers impeded any IMF loans to the economy. It was because of imperialism and its voracious appetite for super-profits.

The left and the progressive forces in Egypt urgently need a reorientation towards fighting for unity on a class basis, and towards reaching out to the Islamic proletariat and the masses in general, in order to move the revolution forward. The conditions that created the mass upsurge will not go away, and the Egyptian movement will surely get back on track and learn from this experience.

Fred Goldstein is author of the books “Low-Wage Capitalism” and “Capitalism at a Dead End,” which has been translated into Spanish as “El capitalismo en un callejón sin salida.”