August 17 — The current campaign of massacres and repression launched by the Egyptian military constitutes a new and bloody chapter in the decades-long war by the generals against the Muslim Brotherhood. But it is more than that.
The Egyptian military has used the campaign against the Brotherhood as a pretext to launch a thoroughgoing counterrevolution aimed at taking Egypt back to where it was before February 2011 and the great victory of the masses in their momentous 18-day uprising that toppled the Mubarak dictatorship.
By declaring a month-long state of emergency, appointing 19 generals as provincial governors, suspending every democratic right, and giving the police and the military carte blanche to kill on sight, the high command is trying to intimidate the entire population into submission. They want to go back to the days when Mubarak ruled under a state of emergency that lasted for 30 years.
This latest wave of violent repression is, of course, a blow aimed to destroy the Brotherhood first and foremost. But it is also a message from the rich, ruling-class generals aimed at terrorizing and intimidating all of progressive Egyptian society, especially the restless and increasingly combative working class.
The coup of July 3 laid the ground for this assault. The coup followed the massive demonstration on June 30 that called for the resignation of President Mohamed Morsi of the Freedom and Justice Party, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. A petition had been circulated that gathered millions of signatures calling for new elections. But the mass demonstration was co-opted by Defense Minister Abdel Fatah el-Sisi.
The demonstration was composed of both progressive secular forces and right-wing pro-Mubarak forces. Grievances against the Morsi presidency, both justified and unjustified, brought about confusion, causing many to swing behind the military. Instead of elections, however, they got a brutal military coup.
This coup was planned by the military long in advance, with the aim of regaining its iron grip on all facets of Egyptian politics. It is revenge for them having to surrender Mubarak for trial under the pressure of the united masses. It is revenge for having to make concessions to the bourgeois democratic process.
The Brotherhood won the first democratic election in Egyptian history. It was the germ of bourgeois democracy forced upon the “deep state” of the generals, the courts and the Mubarak apparatus. The Brotherhood, after decades of being outlawed, defeated the candidate of the military, Ahmed Shafik. The generals were on the verge of cancelling the results of the election and taking over right then. But they thought better of it.
It was the first time the military had lost control of the electoral process, after decades of single-candidate “referendums” and rigged elections in which Mubarak was always “chosen” by an overwhelming majority.
Thus the coup of July 3, the state of emergency and the massacres.
Bloody events of Aug. 14
At 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 14, the Egyptian military opened up a new and bloody chapter in that country’s history by carrying out a massacre of thousands of unarmed civilians who had just finished their prayers at the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Tens of thousands of people from the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters had been camped out for 42 days, protesting the July 3 seizure of power by the Egyptian military. The military regime suspended the constitution, ordered the arrest of elected President Mohamed Morsi and hundreds of Brotherhood leaders, and proceeded to appoint a new government filled with supporters of the Mubarak dictatorship.
Army tanks, armored vehicles, bulldozers, army special forces units, police and thugs dressed in civilian clothes descended upon the two encampments of protesters on either side of Cairo University. The military placed snipers on roofs and used helicopter gunships.
There was no attempt to avoid or reduce casualties. There were no announcements over loud speakers. There were no water cannons. Only lethal force was used.
The attackers opened fire without warning with live ammunition, shooting to kill, bulldozing the encampments in a six-hour campaign at Nahda Square and a 12-hour campaign to gain control of Rabaa Al-Adawiyya mosque. People were shot who took refuge in buildings. Others were shot at point-blank range in the head or chest. Some were shot while attempting to escape on bridges. The police told people they would be granted safe passage if they left, but when they did, they were brutally beaten and arrested. (Esam Al-Amin, Counterpunch, Aug. 16.)
When the military finally gained control of the two sites, they burned down field hospitals, media centers, tents and other installations erected during the encampments.
The official death toll for the day was over 600, but eyewitnesses from around the country put the toll in the thousands, with thousands more wounded, injured and arrested. Since the initial massacres on Aug. 14, hundreds more have been killed and wounded around the country in military, police and vigilante attacks.
Without a shred of evidence, the military accused the Brotherhood of being “terrorists,” of being enemies of Egypt and of stockpiling arms to carry out violence. The official media carried on a vile campaign of slander in preparation for this attack.
U.S. supplies the weapons
It is essential to emphasize that every tank, every armored personnel carrier, every helicopter and every bullet was supplied to the Egyptian military by the Pentagon. Every death is ultimately the responsibility of Washington, which has enabled the military to rule in Cairo for over three decades.
It is the $1.3 billion a year in military supplies that has kept this corrupt military grouping in power. The money is in return for guarding the interests of the oil companies and the U.S. Navy in the Suez Canal. It is for honoring the 1979 peace treaty with Israel and the Egyptian pledge to safeguard the U.S.-backed Zionist state.
U.S. aid to Egypt also serves to safeguard the bourgeois-feudal oil monarchies in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states. The Egyptian military is the bedrock of U.S. imperialist power in the region.
Washington claims that it has no power to influence the Egyptian military in the present crisis. Nothing could be further from the truth. The $1.3 billion in aid constitutes massive leverage.
Furthermore, by agreement, U.S. military aid is actually a grant, which the Egyptian military must use to “purchase” U.S. weapons. The Pentagon and the Treasury simply hand the funds over to the military industry. Thus Washington has total control over the military supply line, weapons, ammunition, spare parts, etc. Washington could choke off all of this overnight if they really wanted to do so.
However, Washington’s dilemma from the beginning of the coup has been that the U.S. long-term interests in the region conflict with the immediate domestic counterrevolutionary aims of the Egyptian military.
To be sure, the U.S. ruling class would be glad to be rid of the Brotherhood, even though Morsi collaborated with Washington to keep the treaty with Israel; backed the counterrevolution in Syria; refused to open up passage to Gaza; and even continued to destroy tunnels to Gaza, among other things. However, because of its ideology and its mass base among the poor, the Brotherhood was an unreliable prop for the U.S. in Egypt.
But when the July 3 coup took place, Washington feared that the generals would undermine their own rule and social and political stability in the country by moving to squash the democratically elected government. Once the coup succeeded and negotiations for a compromise to reverse it failed, however, Washington accepted it.
Secretary of State John Kerry tried to sanitize the military takeover as a step “to restore democracy.” The U.S. wanted to move on to construct a democratic façade that would include the Brotherhood at a token level, along with social democrats and liberals such as the pro-imperialist pawn Mohamed ElBaradei, while leaving the military and the old state firmly in place.
But the generals had more pressing, immediate goals: to fully restore their absolute authority and to gain a decisive victory in their decades-long conflict with the Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood has an 80-year history, a militantly anti-secular religious ideology, a following among broad sections of the poor and oppressed, and strong discipline, and it is the most organized force in Egyptian society outside the military. Thus, the Brotherhood, even with its conservative ideology and reactionary, patriarchal social outlook, has long been regarded as a dangerous threat by the secular generals who have defended the Zionists in Israel and faithfully served Western imperialism since 1979.
The same anti-secular ideology drove the Brotherhood, in the earlier anti-imperialist period beginning in 1952, to try to overthrow the most progressive bourgeois nationalist government in Egyptian history — that of Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Free Officers, who ousted the British-backed feudal monarchy of King Farouk. That failed.
Washington fears losing its investment
This coup, followed by the massacres, has put Washington in a difficult position politically and diplomatically; it now has a major ally that is openly murdering Muslims while defending Israel. Furthermore, Washington fears that the lawless, all-out offensive against the unarmed masses will provoke further resistance from the Brotherhood, expose the true character of the murderous military, and discredit and weaken the very ally which the Pentagon has spent tens of billions to create.
To be sure, the U.S. ruling class has nothing against massacres so long as they serve imperialist interests. The CIA engineered one of the greatest massacres in history in Indonesia in 1965-66 in which up to a million communists and progressives were murdered. The CIA plotted with Augusto Pinochet and the Chilean generals in 1973 to overthrow the social-democratic government of Salvador Allende in a coup that resulted in a fascist dictatorship and thousands of “disappeared.”
However, the Egyptian generals know how important their collaboration is to the U.S. oil companies, the Pentagon and the White House. They know that the delay of the delivery of F-16 jets and calling off the “Bright Star” joint military exercises with the U.S. are just atmospheric gestures with no substantial meaning. They are going forward with the counterrevolution confident that Washington needs them and will never cut them off permanently.
Washington’s immediate concern is instability in Egypt and the region. The Egyptian generals’ immediate goals are to exterminate the Brotherhood and to fully restore the old regime. And to do so the generals have defied Washington.
The Egyptian high command is not just a servant of a ruling class. They are an armed and significant portion of the Egyptian ruling class itself. They own 40 percent of the economy and live in secluded luxury with total control over the secret military budget. They feel threatened by the Brotherhood. They feel threatened by any move toward genuine bourgeois democracy. And it is clear that they are willing to wade through rivers of blood to protect their predatory capitalist interests.
The massacres and the full-blown turn toward military/police rule in Egypt should awaken the progressive, anti-imperialist and democratic masses everywhere to separate themselves from the demagogy of the Egyptian military and overcome all divisions to build a united front against military rule; for full democratic rights, including the economic rights of the workers and the farmers; and the end to U.S. aid to the Egyptian military.
Goldstein is the author of Low-Wage Capitalism and Capitalism at a Dead End, which has been translated into Spanish as El Capitalismo en un Callejón Sin Salida.