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New phase of Egypt’s revolution

Masses say: No military rule

Published Nov 30, 2011 9:11 PM

Record numbers of Egyptian voters of all ages and classes, women and men, cast ballots for a new parliament Nov. 28 and 29. Some waited in line for hours to vote in the first election of its kind in 50 years.

Many hoped that this vote would usher in a new era of democratic politics and economic reform. Others felt that the election was being manipulated by the military and Egypt’s rich. But all knew that having this election at all was a victory won by the struggle in the streets some 10 months ago which brought down the Mubarak regime. And so people stepped forth to exercise this hard-won right to vote. It may be the only tangible gain of the revolution to date.

The elections are supposed to mark the beginning of civilian rule. But they come after Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announced it would yield little authority to the new parliament, and might claim permanent powers under a new constitution.

The elections follow nine days of angry protests by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians of all political persuasions in Cairo and other major cities. These protests targeted the military government for betraying the revolution and called for SCAF to immediately step down and be replaced by civilians.

The elections follow a separate deal struck between the Moslem Brotherhood and the military over the heads of the protesters. The deal legitimizes military rule until June 2012 and secures election dates favorable to the Brotherhood, considering its current lead in the polls.

Meanwhile, Washington is carefully trying to convince all sides that it favors them, so that no matter who wins in the elections or in the streets, Egypt will remain in the pro-imperialist camp. U.S. imperialism, which has no permanent allies, only permanent interests, is well aware that events in Egypt reverberate throughout the Middle East.

New chant: ‘The police & the army are one!’

The elections were preceded by nine days of the fiercest mass protests and street battles in the 10 months since President Hosni Mubarak was deposed. Demonstrators, enraged at the ruling military council for hijacking the revolution, fought back as they were attacked again and again by the hated security forces, which were as aggressive and humiliating as under Mubarak. This time the Egyptian army, formerly thought to be the guardian of the revolution, fought side by side with the police. Soldiers and police fired into the crowds.

As of Nov. 28, some 48 people have been killed and 3,100 wounded, most of them overwhelmed by the extensive use of U.S.-supplied extra-strong tear gas.

Ten months ago the demonstrators saw the army as their protector against the security police and jubilantly chanted, “The people and the army are one!” Now they angrily chant, “The police and the army are one.”

Most political organizations — secular, Islamist, left, youth and liberal — came out nationally in the hundreds of thousands starting Nov 18 to oppose an announcement by the military that it would retain decisive power over a civilian government.

This announcement was just the last straw. SCAF has never repealed the hated emergency laws. Some 12,000 protesters were quickly tried by the military and given harsh sentences, but SCAF repeatedly delays bringing to justice Mubarak regime leaders, including Mubarak himself.

SCAF changed the name of the security apparatus, but not the people who run it. Protesters note that only when they come out on the streets has the military government made any concessions.

Demonstrators’ rage at and disillusion with the military grew as joint military police forces repeatedly ambushed protesters, including the wounded in field hospitals and those in prayer. On Nov. 22, when SCAF head Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi promised the end of military rule by June and for elections to proceed as scheduled, he was booed in Tahrir Square and greeted with the same chant that had been aimed at Mubarak in February: “You leave, we’re staying!”

Almost all Egypt’s political groups except the Moslem Brotherhood joined the demonstrations and demanded the immediate ouster of the military council and its replacement with an interim civilian presidential council.

The Brotherhood, fearing that the volatile situation in the streets might lead to cancellation of the elections, pulled out of the demonstrations and struck a separate deal with the military over the heads of the demonstrators. It agreed to support the rule of the military until June. The military government in turn agreed to let the elections proceed as planned on Nov. 28, while moving up the presidential vote to June from 2013. This earlier timetable allows the Brotherhood to capitalize on its vast organizational lead.

This move, which significantly lessened the clout of the protests, lost the Brotherhood credibility at Tahrir Square. Many Brotherhood youth openly defied their leaders and joined the protests to help protect them from unrelenting police and military attacks.

Class character of the Egyptian military

Ten months ago, the Egyptian people put their faith in a military which they saw as their defender against the Mubarak regime and its hated police. While the military eased Mubarak out, and did not itself fire on protesters, hidden from the demonstrators was the class character of the Egyptian military as the major force which kept Mubarak and Egypt’s rulers in power for 30 years. SCAR head Tantawi was Mubarak’s defense minister for 20 years.

The demonstrators are now beginning to see that the military is the organized violence of Egypt’s elite.

Mamdouh Habashi, a founding member of the newly formed Egyptian Socialist Party, pointed out: “These generals are actually part of the ruling class, and own factories and large parcels of land.” (greenleft.org, Oct. 30) He explained that part of the $1.3 billion the Pentagon gives the military yearly goes directly to the generals without any oversight.

“Thanks to the United States,” Habashi continued, “we have quite a big part of the economy ruled by the army leadership. Their task now is not defending the country, but operating in the building industry, agriculture, tourism industry; they are involved in every sector. They have become a part of the ruling class. Their goal is keeping as much as possible of the old structures.”

There are other class forces in the military. Many low-ranking officers oppose the generals’ corruption and profiteering. Tens of thousands of working-class draftees, often the sole supporters of extended families, are wholly sympathetic to the demands of the people. But there are no signs to date of any split in the ranks of the military. And it is the generals who are giving the orders.

U.S. maneuvers to protect interests

Washington is trying to position itself so regardless of who wins in Egypt, it will be able to keep Egypt in the pro-imperialist camp. This is why on Nov. 25 President Barack Obama issued a call for the Egyptian military to quickly hand over power to a civilian elected government. The statement was made at 3 a.m. U.S. time to precede a major demonstration in Tahrir Square. Also publicized was U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s call to Tantawi urging “restraint.”

The corporate-owned media are not mentioning that the highest-ranking Egyp­tian officers were trained by the Pentagon and get many of their orders from there. The U.S. government considers the Egyptian military its lynchpin in securing and defending Wall Street’s interests in the Middle East. Egypt’s military rulers are often in daily contact with U.S. generals.

Washington cares nothing for the Egyptian people or for democratic rule. It wants Egypt to continue to uphold the Egyptian-Israel peace deal, which the U.S. views as central to its domination of the region as a whole. For this reason, while superficially wooing as many forces as it can, it remains somewhat leery of the Moslem Brotherhood. While regarded as a moderate group, the Brotherhood is a fraternal organization to Hamas in Gaza, and could be pushed by the revolution to open the Rafah border with Gaza and break the blockade.

The Brotherhood is expected to make major gains in the elections, though there are no guarantees. It has many resources, is highly organized, and provides social services, food and medicine to the poor in areas where the government does not.

Significance of the elections

Over 50 parties and thousands of individuals are running in the elections. The Nov. 28-29 voting for upper and lower houses of parliament is just the first round in a process that will not be completed until March. Protesters point out that this system presents much opportunity for manipulation by the remnants of Murbarak’s old ruling party which is also running for office. For example, ballots cast Nov. 28 and 29 are being counted in central locations and not in the polling places, and the results will not be announced for weeks.

“The elections are a battle, but not the most decisive one,” according to Habashi. “The new parliament will be comprised of those who have money — which is not the left, and especially not the left forces formed after the uprising. The forces with money are the Mubarakists, without Mubarak, who are still in power and adapting themselves to the new situation. They are the Egyptian capitalists, with or against the Mubarakists, and also the Islamists, with all of their shadow parties. The next parliament and government will not be able to solve any of the country’s problems.”

Regarding the struggle in the streets, Habashi explained, “The government created by the next elections will not be the only force with legitimacy. Our task is to create a new legitimacy, a parallel and revolutionary legitimacy.”

Egypt’s rulers, military or civilian, have made no significant changes that affect the lives of the Egyptian people. The middle-class and working-class youth, who have shown great bravery and steadfastness in the streets, continue to occupy Tahrir Square. Workers and the rural poor, 40 percent of whom lived on $2 a day before, now have even less in the disrupted economy. “This is a revolution of the hungry!” is a chant heard more and more.

The large election turnout shows that the people feel they have a right to participate in government and to have their basic needs met.

Under these circumstances, the struggle is bound to continue.