[Marxism] Why Egypt’s Revolution is So Different

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Feb 5 10:15:03 MST 2013

Counterpunch February 05, 2013
Who Will Fill the Political Void?
Why Egypt’s Revolution is So Different


Entering the third year of the revolt in Egypt, no amount of repression 
seems able to contain the swelling pressure exploding throughout the 
country the last several weeks. In fact, protests against the Muslim 
Brotherhood government of President Mohammed Morsi seem to be gaining 

The truth is, the revolution in Egypt is deeper and more profound than 
any of the other valiant examples of the Arab Spring.

“We are not always coming together in protests,” 28-year old unemployed 
accountant, Saber, told me as he arrived for a demonstration in Tahrir 
Square last week. “Most workers have families which they must feed, so 
they go to work. Other youth, like myself, have nothing to lose. Our 
future is past.”

As Saber explains, political sympathy among the population cannot always 
be measured in the size of the recurring protests. But for sure, the 
rebellion remains alive.

When Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship fell on Feb. 11, 2011, the decayed 
state structures collapsed along with him. Social and political 
institutions running Mubarak’s regime were in complete shatters. His 
regime was exposed as a very thin layer of corrupt officials and family 

His political party was outlawed, his parliament dissolved, his cabinet 
disbanded, local municipal councils in disarray and his secret police 
dispersed. Significantly, Mubarak’s national labor federation, already 
thoroughly discredited, had its national leadership temporarily 
dismissed as well.

All these steps occurred under pressure of the mass revolt.

This sweeping disintegration was unique to Egypt and it had 
revolutionary consequences because the political and social void was 
filled by an energized people raising demands unrestrained by residual 
conservative institutions and parties.

The authentic voice of the Egyptian people was heard without filters and 
this form of direct action politics put unprecedented pressure on 
authorities to enact meaningful reforms.

The 500,000-strong army was the only Mubarak institution left standing. 
It was also quite unscathed because it had historically avoided 
conflicts with the population, leaving that abhorrent chore to the 
despised Ministry of Interior security force.

It was left to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), 
therefore, to fill the empty political space. There was no credible 
alternative representing the old order.

But, as it turned out, the prestige enjoyed by the army did not last out 
the year. Protests against military violence and arbitrary military 
trials grew increasingly larger until the Muslim Brotherhood government 
finally took over in 2012.

Now this government, after only six months in power, faces the same 
stiff resistance to its rule as did the military.

Direct Action Prevails over Parliamentary Debates

Yet, the struggle continues at a high level in Egypt because, as I 
argue, the unfiltered voice of the people is being heard through the 
organization of street protests.

By contrast, in Tunisia, a massive trade union confederation helped lead 
the revolt. It became a huge factor in initially stabilizing and giving 
credibility to the new post-revolutionary regime and Parliament. 
Currently, however, this government is undergoing severe criticism for 
failing to lead the country out of economic stagnation and for including 
many remnants from the regime of ousted dictator Ben Ali.

Nonetheless, despite its current problems, there was definitely a period 
of stabilization and broad acceptance of the initial transition in 
Tunisia that simply never emerged in Egypt.

In fact, the new Egyptian Parliamentary elections in 2011 were 
immediately met with controversial charges of Muslim Brotherhood 
manipulation. The reputation of the newly elected parliament was further 
eroded after legislators failed to enact even one meaningful reform.

Even an increase in the minimum wage was enacted in 2011 by a court, not 
by parliament. And there are credible charges that the government has 
since actually obstructed its implementation.

As a result, millions have no confidence in the governing institutions 
reconstructed since Mubarak.

Unsolved Economic Tasks of the Revolution

Democratic and justice concerns of Egyptians are compounded by growing 
concerns for the third demand of the Jan. 25, 2011 revolt – bread!

The economy has actually worsened since Mubarak fell. The Egyptian pound 
suffered seven percent inflation since December, tourism is down some 20 
percent, petrol subsidies have been reduced and President Morsi very 
cautiously floated in December possible sales tax hikes, food and 
commodity subsidy reductions and cuts in the number of state employees 
as a result of International Monetary Fund loan stipulations.

Furthermore, according to Stanford University historian Prof. Joel 
Beinin, “the Muslim Brothers embrace the same neoliberal policies 
favored by the Mubarak regime and, if anything, envision an even more 
expansive program of privatization of public assets.”

When I cited World Bank statistics claiming 40 percent of Egyptians live 
on two dollars a day, Mohammed, a thirty-two old Cairo physical 
therapist with two children, immediately interrupted me to say that it 
is “below two dollars a day now! Doctors working in a hospital like me, 
we must work three jobs with four or five extra shifts and even then I 
have to postpone paying all my bills to the last minute.”

His friend, Mahmoud, is also a doctor and agreed. “It is worse now. The 
rich are still rich but the poor are more poor. And, when John Kerry 
came to Egypt, he met with Morsi and other top leaders. He did not meet 
with poor people like us. The U.S. likes to support those in charge.”

Asked if people are getting tired from all the protests, Mohammed matter 
of factly responded that “we will not get tired because nothing has 

Saber, the unemployed accountant, explained further: “We chose Morsi. We 
thought his religion would make him more compassionate and he would 
listen to us. But now after six months, it is worse. So we come back to 
Tahrir to make another revolution.” And he very consciously added in 
response to my questions about the government, the military and the 
parliament that “we must do this ourselves.”

Thus, the voices heard in Tahrir and in protests throughout the country 
demanding genuine democracy, real social justice and significant 
economic improvements hold more credibility among the majority of 
Egyptians than any of the institutions of power and it is this reality 
that keeps the rebellion growing.

But history also teaches us the hard lesson that state institutions 
representing old elite powers, no matter how unresponsive, can recover 
by disguising their goals and by making compromises with sections of 
their opposition whose economic interests are not so very different from 
their own.

Of course, this would mean once again that the majority of Egyptians 
would be left out in the cold.

As an alternative, a new Egypt can arise when the youth, unemployed, 
women and working class, sharing similar economic objectives, unite 
nationally in a new, mass political force that combines electoral and 
direct action mobilizations challenging the power of the elite to 
finally establish a democratic, just and economically prosperous society 
benefiting the majority.

The future of this great country will be determined by which social 
force, the bottom or the top, actually succeeds in filling the political 
void that so far has made Egypt’s revolution so unique and so powerful.

Carl Finamore is Machinist Lodge 1781 delegate to the San Francisco 
Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He just returned from his third visit to Egypt. 
He can be reached at local1781 at yahoo.com

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