[Marxism] Why Egypt’s Revolution is So Different
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
by CARL FINAMORE
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
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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