Egypt: revolution on the streets again
The political crisis in Egypt is a result of the uncompleted revolution, argues Stuart King
Over the last fortnight hundreds of thousands have demonstrated once again in Tahrir Square in and in front of the Presidential Palace chanting “leave” and “the regime must go”. But it is not Mubarak in the palace this time but Mohamed Morsi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Morsi was elected as President only last June.
The immediate cause of the crisis was the President’s attempts to prevent the Supreme Court from dissolving the constitutional assembly. Liberals and Christians had walked out of this unelected body in protest at what they saw was a dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood and lodged a number of legal challenges to it.
Morsi replied on November 22nd by issuing a decree making all his decisions immune from legal challenge. This was seen by many of the forces that made the revolution as a political coup, placing all power in the hands of the President. The lower house of parliament had already been dissolved and is awaiting re-election under the new constitution. Morsi quickly followed this up by rushing through the new constitution and declaring a referendum on it for December 15th.
These events caused an explosion of anger across Egypt with Muslim Brotherhood offices being burned down or occupied. On 5 December FJP militias attacked a protest encampment outside the Presidential palace. In the ensuing fighting nine people died and 700 were injured. This action brought the army onto the streets and tanks outside the Palace.
Morsi and the opposition
In the face of rising anger Morsi called for “a national dialogue”. He was forced to cancel his decree, but at the same time pushed ahead with the referendum in two stages – December 15th and 22nd. He also gave virtual martial law powers of arrest to the army from now until the referendum results are in.
The opposition to Morsi and the new constitution is being led by the National Salvation Front (NSF) a body coordinated by Mohamed ElBaradei the former director general of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. The NSF includes a broad range of opposition parties and leaders including Hamdeen Sabahi a leftist “Nasserist” politician who came third in the presidential elections in June. Controversially it also includes Amr Moussa a former minister in Mubarak’s government and secretary general of the Arab League.
While the Muslim Brotherhood has made much of this, Morsi’s government is also stuffed with old regime figures. For example Mubarak’s Cairo police chief, responsible for numerous arrests and torture of protestors, is currently Morsi’s interior minister.
The continuing presence of the old regime is symptomatic of a revolution that stopped half-way. Although successful in removing Mubarak and his cronies, the revolution left intact the police, top judges, the army high command and even the security services. As a result, elements of the old dictatorship are now maneuvering and jockeying to regain power – some within the FJP government, others within the opposition.
The problem is for the democratic and revolutionary opposition to steer a course that makes no compromises with the elements of the old regime but at the same time fights any attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood, and the extreme fundamentalist Salafist movement, to destroy the freedoms gained so far in the revolution.
This is not going to be easy. The June elections raised debates both in the Egyptian and international left over how socialists should relate to the rise of the Brotherhood, and where they stood in relation to the election. In Britain we have seen the biggest group on the far left, the SWP, calling for a vote for Morsi and encouraging their co-thinkers in Egypt, the Revolutionary Socialists, to do the same. Six months on the SWP have turned 180 degrees and are siding with the opposition on the streets.
An economic as well as a political crisis
Underlying the rage against the President is an ongoing economic crisis. Not only has Morsi done nothing to challenge the old Mubarak institutions in the state, he has done nothing to help the working class and rural poor.
As elsewhere in the region food prices are rocketing as a result of poor harvests and hedge fund speculation in commodities. Fuel and other staples continue to rise faster than salaries. Yet Morsi remains in hock to the IMF just as much as Mubarak was.
In the middle of the political crisis Morsi announced tax hikes on more than 50 commodities, including fuel, electricity, cement, cigarettes and alcohol. These were introduced in December in order to obtain yet another massive IMF loan. A wave of outrage and protest forced their postponement and as a result the IMF immediately deferred a £2.9bn loan adding further woes to the government.
Not surprisingly the newly organised trade unions have been opposed from the start to Morsi’s grabs for more power and their members have joined the demonstrations. The new constitution offers nothing to the workers, not even the right to form trade unions in law, but it does of course enshrine protection for private property.
The referendum and after
The NSF is correctly calling for a “No Vote” in the constitutional referendum. This will only be achieved if it is linked, not only to continued mass protests but to a set of policies that can offer real and radical change to the lives of ordinary Egyptians.
This means not only clearing out all the Mubarak elements in the state and security services but dismantling the massive and corrupt control of the economy by the army high command, which accounts for up to 30% of the economy.
It also means setting out to tackle the enormous inequality in Egyptian life. Fighting not just endemic corruption but taking over the major industries and agribusinesses of the billionaires and running them in the interests of the people; placing the workers, rural labourers and poor farmers in charge of agriculture, industry and the banks and overcoming the dire poverty in the country.
Such a campaign, and the building of a genuine mass workers’ party to lead it, could not only defeat a reactionary constitution. but also mobilise the vast majority of Egyptians as a force to complete the revolution and become a beacon for the rest of the Arab world.