By Prof. JOSE MARIA SISON
Chairperson, International League of Peoples’ Struggle
Before the so-called Arab spring of 2011 seemingly swept into Egypt from Tunisia, Egyptian workers and their trade unions had manifested their grievances and demands against the worsening economic and social conditions in Egypt as a result of the bankruptcy and crisis of the world capitalist system and the Egyptian ruling system, under the US-dictated neoliberal economic policy.
The social and economic crisis was the underlying factor why the broad masses of the people in their millions joined the mass actions. They denounced the high rate of unemployment, the soaring prices of basic commodities, the corruption and repressiveness of the authoritarian Mubarak regime. They demanded democracy and better living conditions. The forces of the Left and liberal democracy, especially among the workers and the youth, stood out in the mass struggle. But the Muslim Brotherhood also participated in the mass actions and was in fact the biggest organized force against the Mubarak regime.
When the military bourgeoisie could no longer stop the huge mass actions which began on January 25, 2011, it followed the US instruction to sacrifice Mubarak and made him step down on February 12, 2011. Subsequently, the Muslim Brotherhood formed the Freedom and Justice Party and won all national votes since 2011, including the election of Mohamed Morsi as president in 2012. For a while, the US thought that it had enough handle on the Muslim Brotherhood directly and through certain Gulf states which had Wahabi affinity with the brotherhood and could offer financial help to the ailing Egyptian economy.
But the military bourgeoisie, built up for decades as the most powerful part of the ruling class by the US with huge military assistance since Camp David when Sadat shifted from Soviet to US support, became wary of the moves of the Muslim Brotherhood to apply the strict Sharia law, retool the army and police and maintain close relations with Hamas. It regained its composure from the turmoil of the Arab spring and maneuvered to forge an alliance with the forces of the Left and the liberal democracy on the ground of maintaining a secular democratic state.
The military bourgeoisie secured US permission for the ouster of Morsi and the formation of an interim presidency under military control. The defense minister General Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi orchestrated the coup d’etat on July 3, 2013 in the name of democracy and a secular state by using a temporary alliance with the forces of the pro-US liberal bourgeoisie. The US and its puppets disregarded the popular election of Morsi as president and considered as far more important the maintenance of servility of the Egyptian state to the US and Israel.
The Muslim Brotherhood opposed the military coup, invoked the democratic prerogative to rule by virtue of elections and launched massive demonstrations on a nationwide scale. The military reacted by massacring demonstrators, thus discrediting its claims to democracy. The liberal bourgeoisie was embarassed and its best known representative Mohamed El Baradei resigned from the interim government. The military bourgeoisie has used state terrorism to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood. Mubarak henchmen are prominently in the councils of state and military and are hell-bent on exculpating and releasing Mubarak from prison.
The elections have provided the Muslim Brotherhood the justification to rule Egypt as a matter of democratic right, to condemn the military bourgeoisie for the coup and the massacres and to carry out all forms of struggle, including the legal mass protests and armed struggle. The military bourgeoisie and the Muslim Brotherhood are now absorbed in a process of spiralling violence, similar to what happened in Algeria some decades ago when the Islamic party was prevented from taking power after winning the elections.
While the US favors the military bourgeoisie and calculates that Saudi Arabia and the emirates can provide support in this regard, the Muslim Brotherhood has its autonomy and is favored by the rise of the Salafi and other Islamic forces, including the Al Qaida, in nearby countries. For a long time to come, the US and other imperialist powers will face an increasingly unwieldy situation in Egypt and in North Africa. Uncle Sam is talking through his hat when he speaks of pivoting to East Asia on the presumption that he has lessened his problems elsewhere.
It is necessary for the International League of Peoples’ Struggle to understand the historical and current complexity of the character, changing alliances and antagonisms of major political forces in Eqypt (the military bourgeoisie, the Muslim Brotherhood and the advocates of the secular and democratic state) and how the US tries to get a handle on each of said forces and manipulate all of them in favor of the US-Israeli power tandem. But of course we must make allowance for the broad masses of the people and the still relatively small revolutionary forces of the Left to take advantage of the turbulent situation and strengthen themselves against US imperialism and all forms of reaction in the long run.
In 1952 the “Free Officers” organization overthrew the royal regime, adopted the republican system and liberated Egypt from British colonialism. It included those from the Muslim Brotherhood, Communists, bourgeois liberals and those who constituted the military ruling elite. They were bound by a sense of national unity against colonialism and the monarchy. In 1954, Gamal Abdel Nasser led the military elite to seize political power after the failed assassination attempt against him and the resignation of President Mohammed Naguib.
The military elite stood aloof and even tended to offend the Muslim Brotherhood and the Left and liberal bourgeois organizations. But consequent to Nasser’s anti-imperialist position and nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956, the Left organizations allied themselves with him, despite his pronounced aversion to communists. In 1965 the Muslim Brotherhood tried to overthrow the military clique and failed. Members of the brotherhood were imprisoned.
In 1968 big mass demonstrations of the youth broke out and demanded democracy and fierce struggle against Israel. Left organizations allied themselves with the Muslim Brotherhood. They continued to support mass protests in 1972 against the Sadat regime and called for the liberation of the areas seized and occupied by Israel in previous wars. In 1972 Sadat succeeded in forging an alliance with the religious organizations against the Left organizations.
In 1977, the Left organizations undertook massive protests because of soaring prices of basic commodities. In 1981, a section of the Muslim Brotherhood assassinated Sadat. Mubarak reacted by waging a campaign of suppression against the Muslim Brotherhood and certain religious groups considered as violent. In the 1980s and 1990s, he tried to mollify the major Islamic organizations by appointing them to government positions as well as the Left organizations by allowing them limited representation through parliamentary elections.
The military ruling elite has kept itself in power by presenting itself as a force that balances or plays off the Right and the Left and touting Egyptian national identity, Arab affinity and the Islamic cultural dimension short of departing from the secular character of the state. It put forward the so-called socialism of Nasser in the 1960s and moved on to barefaced capitalism from the 1970s, when Sadat and Mubarak moved away from close relations with the Soviet Union to those with the United States. Since then, the US has propped up and developed a military bourgeoisie with huge amounts of military assistance and foreign loans in exchange for friendly relations with Israel.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the largest and strongest of the Islamic formations. It presumes that Egypt is among the states of a vast Islamic caliphate. It is not known for a distinct economic program but preaches a mix of reactionary values and social solidarity. It has received Wahabi support and influence from the Gulf States, mainly from Saudi Arabia, for long periods of time. It is currently favored by the political rise and arming of Islamic parties and organizations that are obsessed with the establishment of Islamic states in West Asia and Africa.
The Egyptian communists were in tacit alliance with the Soviet revisionist party and with pro-Soviet parties in the Middle East. But they have been much weakened by the previous Nasserist and post-Nasserist anti-communist repressive measures, by the strong competing influence of the military elite and the Muslim Brotherhood on the population and by the discredit and disintegration of revisionist parties. However, they have influence among the trade unions and intellectual circles.
They have an effective alliance with the most progressive leaders of the bourgeois liberals. The unity is based on upholding democracy and republicanism against authoritarianism and repression and on the secular character of the state against religious bigotry and against any attempt to make a theocracy. Together the communists and the anti-imperialist bourgeois liberals have a strong influence on public opinion. However, certain leaders of bourgeois liberal parties are pro-US and provide to the US a handle on the secular democratic movement.
The military bourgeoisie has remained intact despite the overthrow of Mubarak by the so-called Arab spring. It has exercised control over the state through the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. It has continued to enjoy the support and trust of the US as the stabilizer of the Egyptian social and political order. With US support, it has been able to make an alliance with the bourgeois liberal organizations and use the slogan of democracy in making the coup d’etat against the duly-elected presidency of Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood.
The military coup has been exposed for what it is by the mass arrests of leaders and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, by the massacres of people protesting in support of the Morsi presidency and repressive measures which are likewise adverse to the broad masses of the people. The Muslim Brotherhood has formed a broad coalition to oppose the coup and the ruling junta by generating civil disobedience, mainly through mass actions.
The military, police and fascist gangs are violently attacking the protesters. Outside of the mass actions, anti-fascist groups have begun to engage in armed actions. For a long time to come, there will be a bloody conflict between the military bourgeoisie and the Muslim Brotherhood. The US will have a difficult time working out a pro-US solution between the conflicting forces.
At the same time, the real revolutionary communists and democrats can stand for the national and democratic rights and interests of the people, take advantage of the conflict between two reactionary forces and strengthen the anti-imperialist and democratic forces of the people. Even as it waves the flag of democracy and the secular state against the Muslim Brotherhood, the military bourgeiosie and its civilian collaborators will serve the interests of US imperialism and the local reactionaries.