Outraged Egyptians took to the streets in January 2011 and toppled their military dictator of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak. Ever since, they have been in the streets and the face of Egypt’s successive rulers.
First, they challenged the powerful and wealthy military elite who discredited themselves early on by resuming repression and business as usual. Now they are taking on President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). These characters turned tepid popular support into active hatred by dishing up more repression and austerity, and adding the sour flavor of reactionary Islamism.
The mainstream Western press portrays Egypt’s masses as exhausted and divided by religious beliefs, and their revolution sputtering, without having achieved the goals of food, shelter, water, jobs, and democracy for the majority.
In truth, Egypt’s revolution is far from over. When Morsi tried to decree unto himself absolute power last November, mass protest erupted. And “The Muslim Brotherhood has hijacked the revolution!” is still a familiar cry in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the presidential palace, and throughout the country.
The struggle is growing and maturing, because while the faces at the top change, life remains intolerable for those at the bottom — and the false promises of shifting regimes are being thoroughly exposed.
Sham elections. By June 2012, the Egyptian people had slogged through three national elections since the insurrection. Electoral statistics over this period reveal that voters are rapidly concluding that elections do not equal democracy after all.
Following the insurrection, 80 percent of Egyptians enthusiastically cast ballots in a March 2011 referendum, said to be Egypt’s first election in 5,000 years. Only 52 percent voted in the Dec. 2011-Jan. 2012 parliamentary election. And by summer, less than 20 percent of registered voters inked their fingers in the final run-off for president. The election was rigged to give voters only two “choices” — between the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi and the military’s Shafiq, former prime minister under the toppled Mubarak.
A December 2012 referendum on the MB’s fast-tracked constitution is the latest sham performance. Fatma Ramadan, a strike committee leader from the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, said, “This constitution is biased in favour of the rich against the poor. It is in favour of the powerful against the powerless and the rulers against the ruled.”
Broadly opposed, this recycled constitution was written by and for the military and political Islamists. As the opposition notes, it enshrines sharia Islamic law, notorious for violating the rights of women and minorities.
The constitution seemingly won by 64 percent — but only a third of the eligible population voted! Though most Egyptians come from a Muslim background, they want a secular state, not a military theocracy.
Ruling class cohorts. The tumult over the last 24 months has brilliantly exposed the collaboration between Egyptian business and military elites, rightwing and fascist religious fundamentalists, and Western imperialism. Indeed, the aid and investment pouring into Egypt and Tunisia from leading Western powers is a good measure of how desperate counter-revolutionary forces are to halt the Arab Spring.
Egypt’s 6-month-old MB regime could never have emerged without approval and money from the United States. Both the military and MB regime follow the dictates of the U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund. In return for big money loans to dictators and presidents, the IMF demands the withdrawal of critical social and public services to pay back the loans. Neo-liberalism they call it.
Both the military and MB have brutally suppressed labor strikes, killed and wounded hundreds of protesters, and arrested and tortured many more. Women dissidents are especially targeted for thug attacks in public and sexual torture in jail.
Despite this, some voters, even some leftists, still cling to the illusion that Morsi’s election represents a “lesser evil” to military control.
Simultaneously, the U.S. media and politicos gloss over the longstanding role of the U.S. in the Middle East, backing far-right Islamists as a means to destabilize leftist governments. In just one example, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles maneuvered with the Muslim Brotherhood after Egypt’s victory in the Suez war of 1956 in hopes of disrupting then-President Nasser’s Arab nationalist victory.
The revolution from below. Despite military and political repression, the movement is far from defeated. In November, Morsi was forced to rescind his decree giving himself unchecked powers.
Independent unions are exploding throughout the country in direct defiance to the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation. Three million workers are in 800 independent trade unions today — up from four independent unions before the 2011 uprising. They have organized into the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions and the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress. They include unions for fishermen, artisans, farmers, policemen, domestic workers, street vendors, garbage collectors, teachers, textile, hospital, and media workers, the unemployed, and more.
In October 2012 there were more than 1,000 strikes. In November, metro workers brought Cairo to a standstill. Meanwhile, students still protest and strike regularly at Tahrir Square and on campuses, notably at American University of Cairo, Nile University and Cairo University.
The future holds…? Egyptians know that they need to go beyond replacing one section of the ruling class with another.
The status of women is a barometer of this revolutionary process. Their leadership has been instrumental from the beginning. And now, as the military and MB try to drag them from the front lines of the resistance, female demonstrators and their male supporters are fiercely defending their right to fight for justice in public. Feminism is thus an essential weapon of the masses against counter-revolutionary forces.
Real forward movement for Egypt’s revolution also requires building a socialist revolutionary party. The ruling class has money and military might on its side. To counteract these advantages will take the working-class consciousness, premeditation and planning that only a party can provide.
Out of the militant independent union and student movements will come the political radicals so vital to building such a party.
Monica Hill can be emailed at FSnews@socialism.com.