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Egyptian army’s power grab

Published Jun 20, 2012 11:52 PM

Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, with the connivance of the top judiciary and within days of the presidential election, staged a virtual coup. They dissolved the elected Parliament, established rules akin to martial law and validated the presidential candidacy of a former Hosni Mubarak prime minister whom many Egyptians consider illegitimate.

The Egyptian military regime thus revealed itself to be the same corrupt gang of generals and spy chiefs who ruled Egypt under Mubarak. It has made a farce of the slogan of the Feb. 11, 2011, revolution: "The army and the people are one hand."

The SCAF has exposed itself as a body whose class interests are diametrically opposed and fundamentally antagonistic to those of the Egyptian workers, peasants and middle-class youth without jobs who had placed their faith in the army to shepherd a transition to a democratic Egypt.

This power grab upstaged the June 16-17 run-off presidential election and minimized its significance. The military are calling all the shots.

Most Egyptian media report that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammad Morsi, has won by a few percentage points. The military’s candidate, Gen. Ahmed Shafiq, disputed this victory. A final count won’t arrive until June 21.

The SCAF first moved to seize the reins of power after the mass revolution that ousted Mubarak on Feb. 11, 2011, promising democracy. The best organized force in the opposition was the Muslim Brotherhood, with a national organization entrenched in delivering social benefits to a section of the masses.

Leftist secular forces — from communists and socialists to youthful bloggers, Facebook enthusiasts and followers of bourgeois democratic politicians like Mohamed el-Baradei — were prominent in Tahrir Square. Many died for the revolution, but their organizations had not a chance to develop.

Regarding the relationship between U.S. imperialism and the Egyptian military, we should never forget that this military was trained and armed by the Pentagon. Its top officers got their marching orders at the Pentagon in January 2011 when the people began to fill Tahrir Square. Washington may prefer a democratic veneer to the Egyptian state, but in the end they and the SCAF depend on each other.

Among other things, the SCAF has pledged not only to maintain the 1979 peace treaty with Israel but to deepen it, at the expense of the Palestinian people. The SCAF is thoroughly an agent of imperialism, and its role as the owner of a large chunk of Egyptian industry and commerce only reinforces this relationship.

Lenin on ‘State and Revolution’

The SCAF has succeeded in providing a living case history that would fit perfectly in the pamphlet “State and Revolution” by Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin. In the book’s third chapter, on the 1871 Paris Commune, Lenin discusses a quote from Karl Marx that “the working class must break up, smash the ‘ready-made state machinery,’ and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it” if it really is going to be able to change society.

The Egyptian masses had made no demand to overturn class relations. The SCAF is showing that just to make a thoroughgoing democratic revolution in today’s Egypt, the masses must dismantle the state that represents the old regime — the secret police, the judiciary and the army — what Egyptians call “the deep state.” The military has used the courts, electoral commissions and of course guns and jails to deny Egyptians the most fundamental democratic and economic rights.

Further progress of the Egyptian revolution is linked to the same question raised by Lenin in his 1917 pamphlet about the role of the state.

The military in any society reflects its class structure and the antagonisms between the exploited and the exploiters. The Egyptian army is no longer the patriotic army of Gamal Abdul Nasser, which defended Egyptian and Arab sovereignty and was armed and trained by the Soviet Union.

After 40 years of Mubarak and Anwar al-Sadat before him, the current crop of generals look after their own interests as capitalists. Along with that, they serve the military and business interests of their imperialist masters in the U.S.

But there are also other class forces in the military. Many low-ranking officers oppose the generals’ corruption and profiteering. Tens of thousands of working-class draftees are often the sole supporters of extended families. They and even some of their junior officers may be wholly sympathetic to the demands of the people.

On April 8, 2011, a battalion of troops from Suez led by junior "free officers" showed that the army is no monolith. They came on stage before a million people in Tahrir Square "triggering a euphoria," said a report published in tlaxcala.org.

The SCAF realized that the possibility of a break in the chain of command could demonstrate to the masses that it was conceivable to break the back of the "bureaucratic-military machine" that Marx and Lenin discuss. Military police unleashed an attack that night, killing two of the officers and 19 civilians. The other "free officers" got heavy prison terms.

The struggle of the Egyptian workers has inspired the world. Their next step is the understanding that only by finding a way to smash the oppressive state can they move the revolution forward. Let all of us who struggle for social and economic justice take to heart this fundamental lesson of their struggle.