In the wake of their uprising in February 2011 against a military-backed dictatorship, many Egyptians expected democratic elections to advance their struggle for jobs, equal rights, and freedom. Between November and January, they elected 498 of the 508 members of a new Popular Assembly (PA).
The biggest vote getter was the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) rightwing Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Placing second was the Al-Nour Party, representing the far-right Salafist fundamentalists. These two parties together gained the majority of PA seats. Secular parties and alliances followed, including the Wafd Party, the Egyptian Bloc Alliance, and the Revolution Continues Alliance.
It’s no surprise that Islamists won the most seats. The 80-year-old Muslim Brotherhood, with a long tradition of community-based activism, is the biggest, richest, and best organized of the contending groups.
Working-class Egyptians had no independent political voice in the elections. The Communist Party of Egypt and the Workers Democratic Party boycotted the elections. Historically based in the working class, the former is ideologically Stalinist and the latter is associated with the International Socialist Tendency, which identifies itself as Trotskyist.
The new PA has the formal task of drafting a new constitution. Issues such as workers’ right to strike, women’s equality, and the separation of religion from the state will be vigorously debated.
The military rulers say they will yield to civilian rule once the constitution is written. But they also indicate they will retain a number of powers, including the appointment of government ministers.
Opposing forces of the revolution. Egyptians’ insurrection was a reaction to intolerable conditions and torture-laden repression. Unemployment is officially 11 percent, with youth unemployment at 25 percent. More than half the people live under the official poverty line.
The oppressed and exploited took to the streets in the millions last February. In just two weeks they forced the military to unload Mubarak. Many pr-testers believed the army was on their side. But they quickly learned that Egypt’s military is no friend to revolution. Mubarak was merely a sacrificial lamb.
Every victory this past year has been won through militant popular pressure. Clashes continue between revolutionary insurgents and the armed authorities, with protesters still being killed, arrested, and tortured. But they are not giving up.
On the other side is Egypt’s uniformed high command which has a close and personal interest in maintaining the capitalist system of social production for private wealth. The military owns 25 percent of the country’s businesses. It receives the majority of the $1.3 billion in annual aid from the United States.
The military controls labor through official state-run unions and has banned strikes. It terrorizes women activists with virginity checks. It has been a major ally of the U.S. and Israel against Palestinian independence.
To protect its own imperial interests, the United States has long leaned on the direct rule of the Egyptian military. But the Arab Spring has forced Washington to revise its strategy. The plan appears to be for the uniforms to take a back seat to civilians in the PA.
The new Assembly’s veneer of democracy, combined with imperialist arm-twisting, will create the illusion that PA decisions favoring big business and western imperialism actually express the will of the people.
The arm-twisting has already begun. In December, before the elections were completed, U.S. Senator John Kerry and U.S. ambassador Anne Patterson met with leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. To the delight of Washington and Tel Aviv, the MB announced it would respect current international treaties.
What’s more significant is that MB’s politics are unabashedly pro-capitalist and, therefore, highly appealing to Wall Street.
As leading MB figure, businessman Hassan Malek, stated: “[T]he principles guiding economic policies followed under Mubarak were sound, but corruption and nepotism marred their implementation.”
According to Al-Ahram, Egypt’s largest newspaper, “The FJP’s platform clearly supports private ownership, private business, and free market solutions.”
Al-Ahram reported that MB has condoned the military’s ban on strikes, that FJP stood against a recent teachers’ strike, and that “some reports indicate the Brotherhood also tried to stifle the medical doctors’ strike last spring.”
The FJP announced it would not support a woman presidential candidate, and that “women’s rights should be subject to the principles of Sharia.” Women are not permitted to vote in internal affairs of the MB. Neither group has women leaders.
Other election results. The even more conservative Al-Nour Party came in second. Al-Nour has also indicated that it would “respect” Egypt’s treaty with Israel.
The secular Wafd Party is a liberal organization that professes a belief in parliamentary democracy. It supports market solutions, though it also claims to support a national health program. Its leader, Al-Sayed Al-Badawi, is head of Sigma, a leading pharmaceutical firm.
The Egyptian Bloc includes parties that call themselves socialist, but support a market economy. The Egypt Freedom Party, for example, aims to achieve social justice through a market economy. The social democratic Al-Tagammu Party opposes the International Monetary Fund and the privatization of the Egyptian economy. But in signing on to the Egyptian Bloc’s pro-capitalist program, it has declared itself a supporter of lesser-evil secularism against greater-evil Islamism.
The Revolution Continues Alliance (RCA) suspended its campaigning in November to protest the continuing attacks against activists in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Its declared support for decent housing, increasing the minimum wage, and canceling the debts of small farmers appeals to the revolutionary aspirations of Egyptians. But it continues to collaborate with ruling-class proponents.
Unfinished revolution. Since capitalism cannot meet the needs of Egypt’s poor and working people, the revolution will not be advanced by the Popular Assembly as it is currently constituted. Struggles outside the electoral arena will be necessary, and are taking place daily. The leading militant forces are workers demanding decent jobs, women demanding social and economic equality, and jobless youth.
U.S. supporters of this historic revolution can help by pressing their own unions and friends to demand the U.S. government end its aid to Egypt’s military and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Steven Strauss can be contacted at email@example.com.