Egypt’s election: to vote or not to vote – The Debate

by Jun 28, 2012All Articles

In view of today’s announcement of a narrow victory for the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mursi (or Morsi), this debate is of vital importance. Interestingly, the opening contribution from Alan Maass (below) argues for an abstention between Mursi and the candidate of the old regime, Shafiq. Maass explicitly criticises the (British) SWP’s Egyption group, the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) for advocating a vote (albeit “critical”) for the Brotherhood.  Other contibutions, disagreeing with Maass, have followed, and he has written a further piece, replying to his critics, making for a lively and informative debate. Links to all the contributions can be found immediately below the main article. 
Egypt’s election dead end by Alan Maass
Alan Maass analyzes Egypt’s presidential vote–and the response of the left to a runoff that offers no choice for those who want to see the revolution’s goals advanced.
EGYPT’S PRESIDENTIAL election has produced a runoff between Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under Hosni Mubarak and an open representative of the old regime that was shaken to its roots by the mass rebellion that brought down Mubarak in February 2011.
The results are a grave disappointment to supporters of the January 25 revolution. Shafiq is the face of the Mubarak security apparatus that so many millions of Egyptians rose up against. During his brief time as prime minister, he is believed to have helped organize the bloody Battle of the Camel last year, when thousands of pro-Mubarak thugs attacked the mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square.
Shafiq’s main promise during the campaign was to bring security back to the streets within 24 hours of coming to power. That vow is universally and rightly understood to mean that he would unleash the military–which is already guilty of murderous crimes against protesters in the post-Mubarak period–to crush all dissent.
For this reason, some on the Egyptian left are supporting a vote for Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in the runoff election–as a lesser evil to Shafiq.
But the Brotherhood can’t be relied on to defend democracy if it wins the presidency. While harshly repressed under Mubarak, it vacillated during the 2011 rebellion against the dictatorship. Its members often played a leading role–for example, in defending Tahrir Square against Shafiq’s thugs–but the organization was very slow to participate at all in the demonstrations.
Moreover, since Mubarak’s fall, the Brotherhood has collaborated often with Egypt’s military rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)–crucially, in opposing ongoing demonstrations when the military escalated its attacks on democracy protests. Within months of Mubarak’s resignation, Egyptian activists were describing the Brotherhood as seeking to become the “political arm” of the military rulers.
The Brotherhood has had its own conflicts with the military, and the positions of its leaders aren’t always embraced by its supporters at the rank-and-file level. But at important points, the Brotherhood’s opposition to left forces has bolstered the position of the military.
BOTH MORSI and Shafiq were late in entering the campaign–Morsi was a replacement for another Muslim Brotherhood candidate who was disqualified from the election, and Shafiq himself was initially disqualified because of his connections to the Mubarak regime, but won an appeal to the election commission. The two candidates did poorly in polls until the final weeks before the vote.
But in the end, both of them blew past the frontrunner for most of the campaign, Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister under Mubarak and secretary-general of the Arab League until last year. Moussa was viewed by many as a candidate of the old regime, but with a more acceptable face, since he claimed to have differed with Mubarak. Moussa finished a dismal fifth–showing that supporters of the counter-revolution were strongly behind Shafiq instead.
The two other leading candidates, Hamdeen Sabahi and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, were associated with the continuation of the revolution, and together, they got nearly 40 percent of the vote, far more than Morsi and Shafiq got individually.
Sabahi was a long-time opponent of Mubarak, jailed 17 times for dissent against the regime. He took part in the mass protests of the January 25 revolution from the first day. As the candidate of the Nasserist Dignity Party, he finished with 20.7 percent of the vote, well ahead of what previous opinion polls predicted for him. According to the official returns, Sabahi won the vote in Egypt’s major cities of Cairo and Alexandria, and he did well in working-class areas.
Aboul Fotouh is also a longtime dissident. He is a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who was expelled after he announced he would run for president, in spite of the Brotherhood’s previous promise not to field a presidential candidate. He was viewed as the moderate Islamist candidate in the election, with liberal positions on social issues, and supportive of the ongoing democracy protests.
Sahabi may well have won enough votes to make the runoff. He finished less than 700,000 votes short of Shafiq, and there are charges of widespread fraud, including an allegation made by a police officer that Shafiq got 900,000 votes from soldiers illegally assigned ballots by the Interior Ministry. But Egypt’s election commission ratified the outcome of the first round of elections without hearing a single appeal–a further sign that the regime is backing Shafiq by any and all means.
The turnout for the election–the first presidential vote in the post-Mubarak period–was unexpectedly low, at just 46.4 percent of eligible voters, according to the final totals. This was short of the overall 54 percent turnout in parliamentary elections held over a six-week period from late November to mid-January.
Neither the turnout nor the top finishers in the first round of presidential voting reflects the spirit of last year’s January 25 revolution, which depended on a mass mobilization demanding freedom and an end to autocratic rule.
Instead, they show that the military and economic power structure which was shaken by Mubarak’s fall has regained initiative and confidence–and that the Muslim Brotherhood still commands the support of millions, despite its compromises with the old regime in return for a share of the power and profits in Egypt.
THE LEAD-UP to the second round of the voting, set for June 16-17, will be tumultuous.
Millions of Egyptians fully recognize that Shafiq is the candidate of the counterrevolution, with a clear goal of rolling back everything gained with the downfall of Mubarak. As Egyptian journalist and socialist Mostafa Ali noted in an interview before the vote, Shafiq’s rise reflected the increased confidence of Mubarak’s old ruling party and remnants of the old regime. “The forces of the counterrevolution believe the revolutionary moment has passed by,” Ali said, “and they’re organizing like mad in support of Shafiq.”
Shafiq was also bitterly opposed in the first round. On the day he cast his own ballot at a polling station on the outskirts of Cairo, he was confronted by an angry crowd who pelted him with stones and shoes. Among the demonstrators were relatives of protesters killed in the January 25 Revolution, who carried pictures of their martyred loved ones.
Hours after the election commission officially recognized Shafiq as one of the two candidates to advance to the runoff, protesters attacked the candidate’s campaign headquarters in Cairo, breaking into the building and setting fire to it. Other democracy activists gathered in Tahrir Square, as well as in Alexandria.
No one should underestimate the threat that Shafiq would represent if he came to power as president. Many Egyptians no doubt plan to vote for Morsi, as a defense of the revolution, despite their differences with him–because they detest the prospect of an apparatchik of the old regime winning back power.
But at the same time, others are furious that their only other choice in the runoff is Morsi. “I can’t support Shafiq, and I can’t support Morsi,” one protester at the demonstration at Shafiq’s headquarters told a reporter.
Sabahi, the left’s leading candidate in the first round, is calling for a boycott of the runoff and “for creating a revolutionary civil national bloc that works on achieving the January 25 revolution’s goals.” His Dignity Party announced in a statement: “The party rejects the notion of the Muslim Brotherhood dominating the country’s legislative bodies. And it also rejects the notion of handing power over to remnants of the old [Mubarak] regime.”
At the start of the week, eight liberal and leftist parties held a meeting to announce the formation of a “united front” of organizations that would refuse to support either candidate in the runoff. The meeting was attended by presidential candidates Amr Moussa and Khaled Ali, a human rights lawyer who was the most radical of the 11 people on the ballot in the first round.
Surprisingly, Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists (RS) issued a statement that implicitly supports a vote for Morsi in the second round of the election, while calling on the Muslim Brotherhood to meet a series of demands, including accepting Sabahi and Aboul Fotouh as co-vice presidents; choosing a prime minister from outside the Brotherhood’s ranks; dropping its own proposal for labor legislation in favor of a law that guarantees union freedoms; and agreeing to a constitution with guarantees of numerous rights and liberties.
The statement raises many troubling questions. For one thing, the RS has explicitly described the Muslim Brotherhood as having “an interest in sharing power and wealth with the old regime without making fundamental or radical changes to its social and economic policies, or disturbing its vested interests and international affiliations,” in the words of one of the group’s statements.
As for its demands on the Brotherhood, what if the Brotherhood–universally acknowledged as the largest political organization in the country–doesn’t meet them, as seems most likely? The RS has already effectively called for a vote for Morsi in order to defeat Shafiq.
TO BE sure, Shafiq is the candidate of the counter-revolution, and he has to be exposed as such and confronted with protests, just as people took to the streets earlier this week when his spot in the runoff was confirmed.
But it’s quite another thing for socialists to call for a lesser-evil vote for the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, an avowedly pro-capitalist organization committed to Islamist politics.
The Brotherhood doesn’t oppose the hated neoliberal economic policies of the old Mubarak regime and the current military rulers. Indeed, in some ways, it is an even more enthusiastic supporter of free market policies–its criticisms have been limited to the endemic corruption of the old order. The Brotherhood has even agreed to negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on the same conditions as the old regime.
When it comes to unions and strikes by Egyptian workers, the Brotherhood and the SCAF have spoken out as one against them. Workers provided the final push that shoved out Mubarak with a wave of strikes in February 2011, but the Brotherhood quickly called for the walkouts to end, in the name of saving the Egyptian economy–the identical line of the military rulers and Egypt’s capitalists.
Also, of course, the Muslim Brotherhood is committed to political Islamism and is conservative, on the whole, on many social issues. Morsi, for example, is viewed as a representative of the right wing of the Brotherhood. He has spoken in favor of barring women and non-Muslims from Egypt’s presidency. More radical Salafist groups are guilty of deadly terrorist attacks against Egypt’s main non-Muslim minority, Coptic Christians.
Shafiq and other representatives of the old regime have used anti-Islam scaremongering, in the presidential campaign and long before it, to win support against the Brotherhood. They, of course, have no interest at all in guaranteeing equal rights for Copts and women, or standing up for unions.
But while the Islamophobia of the military rulers should be challenged, no one should close their eyes to the Brotherhood’s actual politics. And just as more extreme Salafist organizations benefited from the Brotherhood’s win in parliamentary elections, a further extension of the Brotherhood’s political power would give them greater prominence.
Perhaps most important of all, the Brotherhood has again and again proved unwilling to defend the revolution when the military council lashed out at protesters demanding democratic rights and an end to repression. On the contrary, it has often denounced demonstrators facing the wrath of the regime as “counterrevolutionary”–providing a cover for the SCAF to escalate its violence against activists.
As the RS wrote in a statement issued January 25 of this year on the one-year anniversary of the start of the revolution, one image captured the relationship between the Brotherhood and the SCAF. It was:
the picture of Lt. Gen. Sami Anan [deputy chairman of the SCAF]–his hands stained with the blood of hundreds of martyrs and thousands of injured–in a historic embrace with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammad Mursi and Saad al-Qahtani, demonstrating that both sides’ fear of the third force (the masses who have an interest in deepening the revolution on a political and social level) is much greater than their differences over how to divide the political spoils between them.
Socialists have always challenged the logic of “lesser evilism”–not out of concern for dogmatic purity, but because of the very real danger that the lesser evil often paves the way for the greater evil. In this case, as in many others in the past, there is nothing to stop Morsi and the Brotherhood, after winning the runoff as the “lesser evil,” from reaching an accommodation with the “greater evil.”
The Brotherhood has a firm ruling majority in parliament, and potentially, control of the presidency. But how would Morsi assert control over the armed forces? It seems completely plausible that the Brotherhood would rely on a representative of the old apparatus–if not Shafiq, then someone very much like him.
Egypt’s presidential election has starkly revealed the threat to democracy, in the form of Ahmed Shafiq. But the movement won’t be defended by supporting a party that has embraced neoliberalism and authoritarian politics in its agreements with the military. The key will be independent working class organization that can respond to all threats, in whatever form.
May 31, 2012

Revolutionary Socialists’ statement on Egypt’s presidential elections
The Revolutionary Socialists Movement confirms its opposition on principle to the candidate of the Military Council, the dissolved National Democratic Party and the forces of the counter-revolution, Ahmad Shafiq.
Shafiq has managed to reach the second round of the presidential elections to face the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr Mohammed Morsi.
This is thanks to a massive mobilisation by the counter-revolutionary camp, which deployed the full, organised force of the resources at its command – the repressive apparatus of the state, the media and the business interests standing behind Shafiq.
His success reflects the smear campaigns, systematic repression and intimidation of the social and popular forces which peaked before the election and were expressed in the dregs of the old regime daring to run in the election.
This combined with the inability of the reformist and revolutionary forces to unite in a political front to prevent their candidacy. Finally it also reflects the failure of the candidates affiliated with the revolution to unite behind a single candidate clearly expressing the programme of the revolution as we recently warned.
On the other hand, the Revolutionary Socialists Movement welcomes the accomplishment of the millions of voters from the poor, the workers, the peasants, employees, the Copts, the unemployed and the youth of the revolution who backed Hamdeen Sabbahi.
He competed strongly for second place with Shafiq, scoring 21.2 percent of the total votes cast and coming third by a narrow margin. This reflects the great weight of support among the popular forces, the forces supporting the project of the revolution and the those aligned with the Left for a programme which addresses both social issues and the question of civil democracy – thus allowing for the construction of a front of the militant left which has a wide popularity in the Egyptian street.
We stress our full support for all moves aimed at the verification of instances of fraud which were carried out against Sabbahi and for efforts to apply the law of political exclusion to the criminal Ahmad Shafiq.
We are deeply convinced of the role of the masses as the most effective and influential force and guarantor in all the battles of democracy, which they won the right to participate in through their great revolutionary struggle.
They offered martyrs and injured from the beginning of the revolution until today. We are also convinced that the victory of Shafiq in the second round of the elections will be a great loss to the revolution and a powerful blow against its democratic and social gains.
Brutal
It would give a golden opportunity to the preparations of the counter-revolution for a more brutal and extensive revenge attack under the slogan of “restore security to the street within days”.
We therefore call on all the reformist and revolutionary forces and the remainder of the revolutionary candidates to form a national front which stands against the candidate of counter-revolution, and demands that the Muslim Brotherhood declares its commitment to the following:
  • Formation of a presidential coalition which includes Hamdeen Sabbahi and Abd-al-Moneim Abu-al-Fotouh as Vice-Presidents.
  • The selection of a Prime Minister from outside the ranks of the Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party and the formation of a government across the whole political spectrum in which the Copts are represented.
  • The approval of a law on trade union freedoms which clearly supports the pluralism and independence of the workers’ movement in contrast to the draft law proposed by the Brotherhood to the People’s Assembly.
  • The Brotherhood’s agreement with other political forces on a civil constitution which guarantees social justice, the right to free, quality healthcare and education, the right to strike, demonstrate and organise peaceful sit-ins, the public and private rights of all citizens, and the genuinely representation of women, the Copts, working people and the youth in the Constituent Assembly. We cannot fail here to call on the Muslim Brotherhood and all the political forces to put the interests of the revolution before party-political interest and to unite against Shafiq so that we do not deliver our revolution to its enemies as easy prey.
Our position does not, of course, mean that we are dropping our criticism of the social and economic programme of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and its “Renaissance Project” which is essentially biased towards the market economy and finance and business.
Nor do we weaken our criticism of the political performance of the leadership of the Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party and of the trust of these leaders in the Military Council and their attacks on the revolutionaries during the battles of Mohammed Mahmoud Street and the Cabinet Offices and others.
These attacks included accusing the Revolutionary Socialists and other revolutionary forces of treason and the presentation of a legal complaint against us to the Attorney General.
However, what concerns us in the first place is the interest of the revolution, and its future. We have to defend the right of the masses to make choices and test those choices as a condition of the development of their consciousness and the development of their position in relation to different political forces.
We are also aware of the magnitude of the error in failure to discriminate between the reformism of the Muslim Brotherhood and the “fascism” of Shafiq. The Brotherhood is supported by millions in the elections who aspire to the redistribution of the revolution and genuine democracy. It depends on the grassroots of the unions and professional associations and other social and democratic organisations, and on an audience among poor peasants, workers and the unemployed.
The military’s man Shafiq and the thugs of his campaign who are united in their desire to end the revolution and close the door on any democratic or economic struggle.
We pledge today to join in the widest possible struggle among the masses of our people against the candidate of the old regime. The election of Shafiq would cross a red line, as if Mubarak returned or he was found not guilty of his crimes. It would be exactly like rejecting the sacrifice of the martyrs and accepting the defeat of the revolution.
The conditions for the struggle, the battle for a decent life and the continuation of the political and social revolution will become extremely difficult with Shafiq installed in the presidential palace.
Turn the second round of the presidential elections into a blow against the old regime!
Fight to organise the popular forces against the slaveowners’ revolt!

A reply on Egypt’s elections by Mostafa Ali
Mostafa Ali, a socialist in Egypt and a journalist with Ahram Online, presents his views on SocialistWorker.org’s article on the first round of the presidential vote.
I AM writing this response to the SocialistWorker.org article on the Egyptian elections in a rush, as masses of people take to the streets in a major battle to save the beleaguered revolution after the acquittal of the top officers who gave the orders to kill the protesters in the January uprising, which is leading the way to the acquittal of Hosni Mubarak on appeal in the next few weeks.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters from all political backgrounds, including thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, have taken to the streets on Saturday everywhere to begin a fight to stop the counterrevolution from putting a final dagger into our revolution.
Meanwhile, the ruling military council has issued a stern and clear official warning on its Facebook page that it is ready to intervene immediately to stop the masses from attempting to force the representative of the counterrevolution, Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under Hosni Mubarak, to stand down in the second round of presidential voting set for June 16.
As I write, millions everywhere are chanting in squares across the country: “Shafiq, you piece of shit: The revolution will continue.”
The popular outrage reflects in an unambiguous way a growing conviction that the counterrevolution is only a few steps away–a few days away from finishing off the revolution by installing a candidate who declared publicly that he will immediately use the death penalty against protesters and strikers.
Unfortunately, SocialistWorker.org decided to weigh in on the battle of the elections in Egypt and warn readers against any support for the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, in the coming elections–without starting from the overall picture and the facts on the ground in Egypt at this moment.
TO BOLSTER its argument that revolutionaries are unwisely falling into a classic trap of supporting a lesser evil which brings you a greater evil, the SocialistWorker.org article used exaggerated and false reports circulated by a minority of anarchists and liberals in the cyberworld of a widespread boycott movement and a viable third alternative to taking part in the vote.
In fact, Hamdeen Sabahi, the candidate of the left who won nearly 5 million votes in the first round, did not call for a boycott of the runoffs. Sabahi said that while he believes that the Muslim Brotherhood are part of the revolution and that Shafiq is the candidate of the old regime, he personally will not vote for either candidate and leaves it up to his supporters to freely make up their mind.
In other words, based on taking a calculated decision to hold the stick from the middle–a decision which put his long-term presidential prospects over the immediate needs of the revolution at this critical time–Sabahi took an abstentionist position and provided no way forward for his supporters and all revolutionaries.
Ignoring Sabahi’s equivocal position, the vast majority of those who voted for him, in rejection of both the Brotherhood’s betrayals and the alternative of the counterrevolution, will vote in the elections–and will vote for Mohamed Morsi with no illusions to stop the onslaught of the counterrevolution.
The SocialistWorker.org article fell into a disastrous trap that it has always been the most cautious voice of warning leftists and progressives in the West against:
— First, the article mistakenly looked at the upcoming elections, which are taking place in a country whose revolution barely took its first steps towards winning basic liberal democratic reforms, and where the counterrevolution has gathered enough momentum to stop this process, from the prism of an election that takes place in a relatively stable liberal democracy, in which it is correct for the left to reject the logic of lesser evilism as a matter of survival.
— Second, the article incorrectly looked at the formal pro-capitalist programs and positions of the Muslim Brotherhood and one-sidedly used the Brotherhood’s commitment to capitalism as a barometer for making decisions on whether to vote for them or not. Based on this formalistic approach, the article equated their danger on the revolution if they won the presidency (a right-wing program) with that of a regime ready to slaughter the revolution (simply a more right-wing program!).
— Third, the article deviated from SocialistWorker.org’s longstanding and absolutely correct analysis that Marxists should approach reformist Islamist groups (which do have contradictory social bases and politics and are actually constantly waffling between pressure from workers from below and capitalists from above) differently from the state machinery which always defends the interests of the ruling class.
— Fourth, the article fell into a liberal mode of thought, as it asserted that the Muslim Brotherhood’s control of parliament in Egypt in the last few months means that the Brotherhood is actually an equal partner in the state machinery that is preparing for the onslaught. In fact, as SocialistWorker.org knows as well, the army and the police have always been the key upholders of the any capitalist state and ruling class.
In fact, the Egyptian ruling military council has pushed the inconsistent and waffling Brotherhood back to the streets by refusing after the parliamentary elections to accept them as junior partners in government.
AFTER MONTHS of debate on these issues in Egypt, revolutionaries and socialists have struggled to get the balance right in terms of the approach towards the Muslim Brotherhood. In all honesty, many of us face tremendous pressures from anarchists and ultraleftists who have been touting the line of describing the Muslim Brotherhood as a fascist organization.
Luckily, after some of us fell for months into the same trap your article fell in, we are on our way to get the balance right in terms of how to approach the Muslim Brotherhood in the days and–hopefully, if we can slow down the counterrevolution–in the months to come.
Moreover, we are encouraged that a great section of the left and millions of workers at this point have reached a sober assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood and all its inconsistencies. Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists, other revolutionary socialists and large swathes on the left have called for a vote for Morsi without any illusions to stop Shafiq–while simultaneously, the left is doing all we can to build our forces on the ground in case Shafiq wins, and to prepare for all sorts of betrayals by the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood if Morsi wins.
In fact, the results of the vote for the revolution in the first round were encouraging news and not upsetting news for the left and the revolution. The results provided us with a serious chance to try to alter the balance of forces against the revolution. For one, the massive vote for Sabbahi (20.7 percent)–38.2 percent for Sabahi and Aboul Fotouh together, and 64 percent including those who voted for Morsi to stop Shafiq–shows us that we can now count on millions to pressure the Muslim Brotherhood at every step of the way, something we could not do in the last few months.
Perhaps the blasphemous acquittals of the officers and the near-acquittal of Mubarak on Saturday was a blunder by an overconfident counterrevolution which worked to ignite our side. Perhaps the acquittals were actually a calculated provocation by the counterrevolution to bring final confrontations one day closer. We don’t know.
In either case, the massive turnout in Tahrir as I write to you, and the determination by the masses to remove Shafiq–by mass pressure on the streets or by a vote–shows that our decision to take part in all battles, including the electoral battle, and not to boycott it, as some anarchists did, on the basis of understanding the need to first and foremost defeat the candidate of the counterrevolution, is key. This is based on our assessment of the critical difference between a victory for Shafiq or a victory for Morsi–one signaling the official death and loss of the revolution and the onset of mass demoralization, and the other a significant victory in a hard defensive battle against counterrevolution.
The battle has given the pro-revolution side a chance to turn things around by building public pressure on the Muslim Brotherhood through building unity between larger forces, including sections of the Muslim Brotherhood’s membership, to build a united front against the counterrevolution.
In this sense, for revolutionaries in Egypt, the results of the first round of the elections and the majority vote for the revolution we saw gives us a momentum to fight to save the revolution and fight another day.
If we cannot build enough pressure to disqualify Shafiq on the basis of his criminal record in the next two weeks, something we hope to achieve, we will go to the polling places on June 16 to prepare for the bigger battles we hope to fight after.
Revolutionary greetings to SocialistWorker.org and all comrades who have supported the Egyptian and Arab revolution in a way that inspired us and strengthened our resolve to continue our fight here every step of the way.

Comment: Bill Crane
Abstaining would be a disaster Bill Crane comments on a discussion about the Egyptian presidential elections.

THANK YOU for Alan Maass’ insightful commentary on the presidential runoff in Egypt (“Egypt’s election dead end”). The revolution in Egypt seems to have reached perhaps its most important juncture since the uprising of January 25 last year, and it is more important than ever for those of us outside Egypt to understand and discuss the developments in that country.
What I would like to reply to is Alan’s disagreement with the strategy of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists (RS) who, in a recent statement, called for a vote for Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, against Mubarak’s former minister Ahmed Shafiq.

Alan writes that “in some ways [the Brotherhood] is an even more enthusiastic supporter of free market policies” than the old regime, as it supports negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and opposes the struggles of Egyptian workers which gave much weight to the revolution. Previously, the Brotherhood was allied with more extreme Salafi groups, which have benefited greatly in the current period by the Brotherhood’s own conservative message.

Any real socialist in Egypt will resist attempts by whatever group to impose Islamic law on the country, including, importantly, discrimination against women and Christians, and will fight tooth and nail if the Brotherhood in power tries to break strikes.

In a statement which Alan quotes favorably, the RS note that both the Brotherhood and the military’s “fear of the third force [the masses who have an interest in deepening the revolution on a political and social level] is much greater than their differences over how to divide the political spoils between them.”

I believe this statement to be perfectly correct. However, noting the comparably small differences between the Brotherhood and the military versus both groups and the revolutionary masses should not stop us from realizing that great differences indeed do exist between them.

IN THE first place, the Muslim Brotherhood is a deeply contradictory political formation. The conservatism of its leadership is in stark contrast to its mass base among the youth, workers, the urban poor and the middle class, who turned out in large numbers for the revolution despite their leaders standoffish attitude to the uprising against Mubarak. The Brotherhood has already suffered several left-wing splits, including the candidacy of Abdel Moneim Abdoul Fotouh, recognized as a revolutionary candidate for president.

The RS has worked with the Brotherhood youth on the basis of a united front against state repression, both before and since the revolution. Further united front work, which I believe can include a campaign of highly critical support for the Brotherhood candidate on the basis of advancing the revolution, may help to accelerate the growing split between the Brotherhood’s mass base and its leadership. This will depend, of course, on revolutionaries articulating firmly their critiques of Morsi and the Brotherhood, which I believe were set out in their statement on the elections.
The leaders of the Brotherhood, despite their reactionary policies, have a direct interest in preserving gains of the revolution such as political democracy and an end to state repression, which have allowed them to operate freely and assume their status as the largest political force in Egypt. This is what has led them into intense conflicts with the military–which, as the RS correctly point out, are contests to divide political spoils.

The leadership of the Brotherhood seeks uncontested political hegemony in Egypt, the same thing that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) seeks to preserve for itself. While their differences are negligible from the point of view of the Egyptian masses, the fact that they are in conflict with each other over power in the state hierarchy gives those same masses–most importantly, the revolutionary element in them–time and space to organize in order to advance the demands of the revolution against both.

In contrast, Shafiq is very much the man of SCAF and the counterrevolution. As a former minister of Mubarak, his victory would represent the immediate reconstitution of the old regime, with all the attending repercussions for the left and the working class. He has made this clear by his vow to end “disturbances” within 24 hours after taking office. As a former military man, he has the connections and will to make this a reality.

Alan writes that a vote for Morsi as a “lesser evil” is dangerous because “of the very real danger that the lesser evil often paves the way for the greater evil,” an argument that frequent readers of SocialistWorker.org will most likely be familiar with. I would argue however that the situation in Egypt, a country passing through a revolutionary process, is substantially different from the situation in which socialists normally apply this logic–a country such as the United States where we have the choice between two candidates of deeply entrenched political parties of capitalist and imperialist interests.

It makes a concrete difference in Egypt whether revolutionaries have the freedom to agitate, educate and organize tomorrow or are carted off to prison as they were under Mubarak. It makes a concrete difference whether workers can continue to organize independent unions and strike or will be crushed with army rifles.

Framing the choice between Morsi and Shafiq as lesser evil and greater evil, as we typically understand that choice, simply does not work. Egyptians have a choice between a state apparatus split between contending factions of the ruling class, or one that is united under the SCAF and bent on reversing all the hard-won gains of the revolution.

Alan writes at the end of his article, “the movement won’t be defended by supporting a party that has embraced neoliberalism and authoritarian politics in its agreements with the military. The key will be independent working class organization that can respond to all threats, in whatever form.” This is completely correct. But this election will have a decisive impact on independent working class organization. To abstain from it would be a disaster.
June 4, 2012

The debate about Egypt’s election by Alan Maass
Alan Maass comments on the discussion about the Egyptian presidential election.
MY ARTICLE about the first round of the Egyptian presidential election–in particular, a part of it that questioned the initial statement of Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists (RS) supporting a vote in the runoff election for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi in order to defeat Ahmed Shafiq, the candidate of the old regime–provoked discussion and disagreement among numerous readers.
One of them is my comrade and friend Mostafa Ali, a member of the RS and regular contributor to SocialistWorker.org in interviews and articles, whose response we published earlier this month.
SocialistWorker.org will continue to feature contributions to this debate–the issues involved are complicated, all the more so because of a rapidly changing situation, and deserve a lot of thought. We believe an open discussion on a critical question like this will be beneficial for socialists and radicals in whatever country they are active.
In that spirit, while looking forward to continued debate, I’d like to take up a few points, though not all–especially some issues where I feel there were misconceptions about my article, expressed by Mostafa and by Bill Crane in his contribution, as well as in comments circulating on Facebook and elsewhere.
One objection was that in raising questions about the logic of lesser evilism in supporting a vote for Morsi, I was drawing a comparison to mainstream politics in the U.S. and invoking the socialist position of refusing to support either Democrats or Republicans in American elections.
SW readers may be most familiar with the argument in that context, but the question of whether revolutionaries should vote for the “lesser evil” in order to stop the “greater evil” has emerged in many different settings historically, not just in “a relatively stable liberal democracy.”
For example, there is a rich discussion of the issue in Leon Trotsky’s writings on Europe in the 1930s–in countries where the democratic system wasn’t mature, and with fascism and militarism on the rise. I can’t do justice to that discussion here, but in barest form, the question centered on whether socialists should support conservative bourgeois candidates against open fascists in order to stop the counter-revolution. The problem was that the victorious conservatives often embraced the far right–that is, the lesser evil was a stepping-stone to the greater evil.
Much more could be said about whether or not the situation in Egypt is similar, but I at least wanted to note that I was referring to the question of lesser evilism and voting in this broader context.
ALSO AT issue is whether I exaggerated the extent of sentiment in Egypt for boycotting the second round of the presidential vote.
What I reported was that a number of left and liberal organizations had announced that they would not support a vote for Morsi against Shafiq. These groups include the Dignity Party, led by Hamdeen Sabahi, the leading presidential candidate associated with the revolution in the first round, who narrowly came in third to Shafiq–and who is protesting vote fraud that may have cost him a place in the runoff.
Both Sabahi and the socialist candidate Khaled Ali have said they will not endorse a vote for Morsi or Shafiq. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the fourth-place finisher and also considered a candidate of the revolution, held the same position until this past Sunday, when he endorsed a vote for Morsi in the runoff, while continuing to call on the Brotherhood to pledge it would “fulfill the outstanding demands of last year’s Tahrir Square uprising.”
Sabahi’s and Ali’s attitudes could change, but as of this writing, they, along with other left and liberal groups, are striving to present a united front that involves making demands and organizing activities to defend and advance the revolution, without necessarily supporting a vote for either candidate in the runoff.
For example, Sabahi, Ali and Aboul Fotouh have all focused on a call for Shafiq to be disqualified from the election on the basis of a law passed by parliament and signed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that excludes top officials from the former Mubarak government from seeking the presidency. Shafiq was Mubarak’s last prime minister–but the election commission set the law aside, allowing him to run. A ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court is expected this week.
According to reports of a June 4 meeting involving Sabahi, Ali, Aboul Fotouh and Morsi, everyone represented at the meeting, including the Brotherhood, agreed that the exclusion law must be applied against Shafiq. This demand was a centerpiece of a massive demonstration in Tahrir Square on June 5, involving Sabahi, Aboul Fotouh and Ali, along with the Brotherhood.
The June 5 mobilization was one of many eruptions of protest since the first round of elections on May 20-21. The most important spark for these demonstrations, of course, was the announcement of the acquittals in the trial of former dictator Hosni Mubarak, his sons and his chief henchmen. Huge numbers of people returned to the streets and to Tahrir Square, protesting not only the Mubarak verdict, but the threat of the counter-revolution.
Even before that, the outcome of the first round and the official announcement that the runoff vote would be between Shafiq and Morsi caused bitter outrage. Many of the protests were chiefly against Shafiq and the symbols of his campaign. The media quoted participants who plan to vote for Morsi, whether with enthusiasm or because they want to stop Shafiq.
But others said they rejected a choice limited to Shafiq and Morsi. At a demonstration in Tahrir Square on the night the runoff candidates were confirmed by the regime, chants of “No to the remnant! No to the Brotherhood! The constitution is in the square” rang out. One woman told a reporter from Canada’s Real News, “If it’s a remnant of the former regime or the Brotherhood: Impossible! Over my dead body! And I’ll say it now: I’ve been here for a year and a half, and I won’t leave the square until this country is cleaned out.”
Sabahi and Ali have been part of protests against Shafiq. But they are also making demands on the Muslim Brotherhood, without necessarily endorsing a vote for Morsi–for example, a call for the Brotherhood accept a presidential council involving non-Brotherhood leaders for at least a temporary period.
Whether you agree or not with Sabahi’s position on the exclusion law or a presidential council, it seems unfair for Mostafa to state that Sabahi has taken an “abstentionist position” that provides “no way forward for his supporters and all revolutionaries.” On the contrary, I think the examples above show that Sabahi and Ali, along with other left forces, are attempting to organize against the counter-revolution.
It wasn’t necessary to support Morsi to be a part of the inspiring demonstrations against attempts by an emboldened regime to roll back the achievements of last year’s revolt. That fits with the history of past struggles against tyranny–mass mobilizations in the streets, as well as in workplaces, on campuses and throughout society, have made the difference, more so than elections.
I think this general point–that the struggle to defeat the counter-revolution can’t be viewed only through the lens of the runoff election, with the question reduced to a vote for Morsi as the only way for the revolution to defeat the forces of the old regime–is in keeping with everything the RS in Egypt and SocialistWorker.org in the U.S. has stood for.
I ALSO think Bill Crane is wrong to suggest that my expressing doubts about endorsing a vote for the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate means I ignore the “concrete difference” of “whether revolutionaries have the freedom to agitate, educate and organize tomorrow or are carted off to prison as they were under Mubarak.” I hope Bill doesn’t believe that my article or any on SocialistWorker.org would conclude otherwise. The question is how to defend “the freedom to agitate, educate and organize.”
Clearly, there are substantial differences between Morsi and Shafiq. Shafiq is the candidate of the old regime who represents the counter-revolution. His claims to stand for democracy and freedom against the “threat” posed by the Brotherhood are a fraud.
The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, has vacillated, both during the uprising against Mubarak and in the year and a half since. Right now, Morsi and the Brotherhood are mobilizing against Shafiq and the regime. Their political future is at stake, and any supporter of the revolution should welcome united action against the forces of repression. But we shouldn’t forget that at equally critical points in the revolution, the Brotherhood has stood with the SCAF, against the demands and protests of those fighting for democracy.
As Bill points out, there is a gap between the Muslim Brotherhood leadership and its rank-and-file supporters–many of whom mobilized wholeheartedly against threats to the revolution. But in an election, Egyptians can’t vote for the millions of Brotherhood supporters. Their choice will be whether to cast a vote for Morsi or some other figure from the conservative leadership.
So account must be taken not only of the determination and courage of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in fighting for the revolution, but of the official positions of the Brotherhood–including the fact that it has allied itself, temporarily or not, with the military’s rule at the expense of the struggle for democracy, and the very actions of its own members.
The Brotherhood’s loss of popularity in recent months is clearly related to questions about its record. For example, after the first round of the election, a man in Alexandria explained why he thought the city voted overwhelmingly for Sabahi over Morsi: “The Brotherhood lost some credibility because of their policy on the constitution. All the drafters were from the Brotherhood. It’s like someone greedy to rule. They had shared some with us. But now they want to take it all to themselves. It can’t be this way.”
And today, there are doubts about whether the Brotherhood is standing by the demand that the exclusion law be used against Shafiq. This would guarantee that the candidate of the old regime would lose. But implementing the law would delay a vote that the Brotherhood hopes to win. For sure, it would likely pit Morsi against Sabahi, with his strong base of support in the cities.
Thus, as Morsi supporter Ahmed Kamal told a U.S. reporter during a smaller mobilization in Tahrir Square last Friday, “We want the elections to continue…We will not wait for the political isolation law. We will carry on with the elections, and Morsi is going to win.”
All this just scratches the surface of the discussion about the Muslim Brotherhood and the coming election. I look forward to further views.
And in the meanwhile, I, like every reader of SocialistWorker.org, stand in solidarity with the struggle in Egypt and the fight of the revolution against the counter-revolution–which has inspired all of us with the hope that tyranny can be confronted and defeated.
June 12, 2012

Interview: Mostafa Ali
The road to Morsi’s victory
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was named the official winner of the runoff election for the presidency against Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under dictator Hosni Mubarak and candidate of the old regime. Egypt’s election commission reported on Sunday that the margin was 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent, about the same as unofficial results reported a week before, after the two days of voting on June 16-17.
The announcement of the winner was delayed for days, while rumors swirled that Egypt’s military rulers, led by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), would try to declare Shafiq the victor–possibly as a pressure tactic to get Morsi and the Brotherhood to accept a military power grab carried out before and after the vote.
On June 14, the Supreme Constitutional Court, which is still filled with men appointed by Mubarak, not only confirmed Shafiq’s place in the runoff, but invalidated one-third of the elections for parliament held in December and January. The court ruled that its decision would mean dissolving parliament, where the Muslim Brotherhood predominated. The Interior Ministry also reintroduced large parts of the Mubarak-era emergency law, including giving the military the right to arrest civilians.
Then, even as vote-counting started on Sunday night, the SCAF released an “addendum” to the interim constitution declared last March, with the support of the Brotherhood. The new “annex” took away the president’s powers to control the military, handed legislative and budgetary authority to the SCAF until a new parliament is elected, and gave the military effective veto power over the writing of a new constitution.
The court decision prompted anger, but few protests before the runoff. But starting on Tuesday, June 19, masses of people returned to Tahrir Square and the streets of other cities, answering calls by the Brotherhood along with radical organizations at the heart of last year’s revolution to protest the military’s constitutional declaration and the threat that Shafiq might be declared president. The square remained filled until the Sunday announcement of the result, when throngs cheered Morsi’s victory and Shafiq’s defeat.
Now the question is whether the Brotherhood leadership–which at a number of points since Mubarak’s downfall has aligned itself with the SCAF against pro-democracy protesters–will continue to support mass mobilizations to challenge other aspects of the military’s power grab, such as dissolving parliament and stripping the presidency of its powers. Left-wing groups that all along stood up to the military have called for Morsi to take a number of actions in defense of democracy and real social change.
Mostafa Ali, a member of Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists and longtime contributor to SocialistWorker.org, gave his perspective on the battles leading up to and after the election in an interview with Alan Maass. The interview took place on Friday, June 22, as the biggest mobilization yet was taking place, but before the announcement of the result.
Thousands celebrated in Tahrir Square when Mohamed Morsi was declared the winner of presidential election (Jonathan Rashad)
THE EVENTS of the last few days and weeks have been so intense and volatile. Can you describe the background leading up and immediately after the first round of voting on May 23 and 24–when Morsi and Shafiq came in first and second, though there was a much larger collective vote for candidates associated with the revolution, like Hamdeen Sabahi?
A MONTH ago, before the first round of the elections, if you looked at the surface of things, the feeling you would get–from the mainstream media and also from the fact that those who supported the counter-revolution were absolutely confident and outspoken–was that the revolutionary momentum had been broken. Not only that, but that the majority of people in the country had either turned against the revolution or become so exhausted that they were willing to let things return to normal and accept the return of the Mubarak regime.
The outcome of the first round of the elections was quite a surprise, not only to the right, but to those who supported the revolution. The millions who supported the revolution believed they were really a small minority, and that they were going to the polls to make a last statement for history, but that the whole thing was over. It was a shock that the majority of the people voted in the first round for candidates who were, in one way or another, pro-revolution candidates.
That really was quite significant. Then, in the weeks between the first round and the second round, what became absolutely clear is that the mass support among people for the revolution was not finished, and that what actually happened in the last few months was a process of polarization in the country between those who supported the revolution and those who were amassing on the other side to finish it off.
There was a process of political regroupment of various social and political forces, in which many of the liberal groups and some left forces that nominally supported the revolution all along had finally broken and crossed to the other side, and decided under the guise of countering the rise of the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood to line up behind the military council and all the counter-revolutionary forces that supported the Shafiq candidacy.
So you had this extreme polarization, with a regroupment of forces and a hardening of positions. That was the period leading up to the beginning of the military council starting the process of a military coup. They felt that they had a good half of the country on their side. They had many liberal and even left forces behind them in what they wanted to look like a power struggle between the military and the forces of a civilian state on the one hand, and the Brotherhood on the other.
The situation reached a point where the balance of forces in general was in favor of the military council, but not yet in a decisive way. Sometimes in this situation, one side has to make a move in order to finalize the change in the balance of forces. It’s at that moment that the military counsel decided that the situation of impasse couldn’t continue forever, and that it must actually step in to drive the final dagger into the heart of the revolution.
So they started by preparing the ground legally for a military coup that would be enforced on the ground through the use of sheer physical force. There was the dismantling of the parliament, which was one of the very few advances of the revolution, and they gave themselves the right to apprehend and arrest civilians engaged in protests or strikes. And then they moved on to issue a new constitutional declaration that would actually formalize the SCAF as a force above everyone in society.
And in the midst of all that, they released the top security officers from the old regime–they were exonerated and the ground was prepared for the eventual exoneration of Mubarak himself, or at least to move him out of prison and to a military hospital, which they did in the last few days.
WHAT WAS the response of the different forces to the military’s power grab?
IN TERMS of the reaction, the Brotherhood on the one hand and sections of the revolutionary forces, on the other, which have hardened in their support of the revolution over the course of the last few months, understood that the laws the military passed were not simply repressive measures, like what they had done all along, but that they were qualitatively different.
This was preparing the ground for an outright military coup. This was not going to be a soft coup, but the beginning of a serious military offensive to finish off the revolution once and for all–that was the initial reaction.
On the other side, counter-revolutionary forces now lining up behind the campaign of Ahmed Shafiq and liberals backing the military council declared their support for the constitutional declaration. So the country was seriously divided as it became absolutely clear that a military coup was on the order of the day.
You could see it on the ground–in the last few days, the army has moved tanks around the country, installing armored vehicles around all the major institutions and establishments of the state, under the guise of protecting them from possible disturbances and riots in case Shafiq was declared president. The army was moving tanks in order not just to defend the establishment, but to be able to intervene to crush mass demonstrations in the case that they decided that Shafiq was going to be president–to use that as a pretext to declare full and complete martial law.
This was the situation about three or four days ago, right after the election–the feeling in the air was that the military coup was rolling, and it was only a matter of days before they could make the final move. The situation changed dramatically in the course of just a few days. The military seemed to have the upper hand and the momentum. They seemed intent on pushing Shafiq to become president, and they seemed ready for a major confrontation.
Then, all of a sudden, the balance of forces on the ground changed in a dramatic manner. The Brotherhood, for one, realized that the military council was serious about conducting a coup, and that they were using the power struggle between the SCAF and the Brotherhood as a cover for carrying this out. The Brotherhood also understood that this was a question of life or death–that if they didn’t take a strong stance against the military coup, they would be finished off in the not-too-distant future.
Sections of the left, such as the April 6 Youth Movement, the Revolutionary Socialists and other independent revolutionaries, also shared the same assessment and began to issue statements and mobilize for the demonstration against the military coup. So last Tuesday, June 19, two days after the election, thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, but also thousands of independent revolutionaries were in the square in Tahrir and organizing demonstrations around the country.
In the last two or three days, the depth of the anger against the steps that the SCAF has taken and the depth of the appreciation of the imminent danger of a military coup has pushed more and more people to Tahrir and to organize demonstrations around the country.
WHAT WERE the demonstrations like when the Brotherhood put its call together with left-wing groups?
IT’S QUITE significant that for the first time since the revolution, you have tens of thousands of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, not only back in Tahrir Square, perhaps for the very first time since February 11 when Mubarak fell, but this time on a significantly different basis, chanting alongside secular leftists and revolutionaries against the military council. The slogan is “Down, down with Military Rule.”
This is a very significant development. The leadership of the Brotherhood did an all-out mobilization, realizing that this was a life-or-death battle at the moment, and its supporters responded. This is despite the fact that the leadership is still ready to make a deal in the future with the SCAF if the military coup is defeated.
But you really have a sea of change in terms of consciousness. You see it in the square, where for the very first time, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafist groups–who have denounced revolutionaries like the Revolutionary Socialists and the April 6 movement over the course of the last year in the confrontations between these revolutionary groups and the SCAF–are actually leading chants. The chant yesterday and the day before, during the de facto sit-in in the square, was: “Liberal, secular, Islamist, revolutionary–all one hand against military rule.”
This is very important. Many of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters, who did not mobilize to defend revolutionaries in previous confrontations against the SCAF, such as in the battles in the fall on Mohamed Mahmoud Street and the Cabinet building sit-in, were appreciative of the role that the Revolutionary Socialists and April 6 Youth Movement have played in mobilizing against the military coup. The Brotherhood supporters are talking to these forces on the ground for the very first time since Mubarak fell on February 11.
So what you have is hundreds of thousands driven to take to the streets and people realizing that you need to build a united front at this moment of all political forces who support the revolution in order to stop the military coup.
That changed, I think, the balance of forces very quickly. It’s possible to argue that this has suddenly made the military coup, which seemed quite imminent, stumble, and has opened the possibility of forcing the SCAF to make a serious concession in terms of the presidential elections–in terms of respecting the unofficial count which shows the Brotherhood candidate winning the election. I’m not saying this for certain, but the mobilizations have probably made them think twice about whether to carry out a full-scale military coup, Latin America-style, with tanks in the streets facing masses of people or attempting to crush hundreds of thousands of protesters.
The further point is that many of the people in the square, including some of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, don’t want their leadership to reach a compromise with the SCAF at this point. This is really a decisive issue, and it’s a big discussion: Will the Muslim Brotherhood leadership once again compromise with the SCAF? Will they betray the mass mobilization in the square? Will they accept the terms of the deal that has been set by the SCAF? Will they be willing to live with the new constitutional declaration? Will they be willing to live with the dismissal of the parliament?
There’s obviously sections of the leadership of the Brotherhood who want to reach some sort of compromise with the SCAF. They’re clearly talking with the SCAF, but there are pressures from below on the Muslim Brotherhood leadership. And more importantly, there is the realization that they might reach a compromise, but it can’t be a compromise that will still leave the door wide open for the crushing of the Muslim Brotherhood in the near future. They realize that they have to score some sort of clear victory in this battle to stop the military coup if they want to save the future of the organization.
So it’s a very complicated situation, and the Muslim Brotherhood leadership is wavering as it always has done. At one moment, they say, “No compromise whatsoever, under any conditions, under any circumstances,” and then other leading members of the organization say, “No, we are willing to reach a compromise, we could renegotiate the status of the parliament.” They say that Morsi could take the oath of office, if he wins the presidency, not in Tahrir Square, but in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court, which actually is controlled by the SCAF.
So there is constant wavering and vacillation. You can sense it from different sections of the leadership of the Brotherhood. But at the end of the day, I think they have to draw a line in the sand in order to stop the coup at this point. And the mass outpouring of tens of thousands of people into the streets is giving them a strong negotiating tool. It provides them with leverage in the ongoing confrontation with the military council.
I think this mass mobilization makes it likely that the SCAF will allow the Muslim Brotherhood to win the presidency, as they’ve actually done at the polls. They have delayed the official announcement of the result of the elections to Sunday, instead of Thursday, to buy time and probably to put more pressure on the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood to exact more concessions.
Another point is that this mass mobilization against the military coup has given sections of workers, once again, the confidence to begin to go out on strike. We haven’t seen any significant strikes for two or thee months, really. There has been mass demoralization among big sections of workers in the last few months. But suddenly, as this political confrontation takes place on the ground against the military coup, sections of workers have gone out on strike once again–we’ve seen five big and significant strikes in the last 72 hours–and are gaining confidence. This is opening a new front of economic struggles against the SCAF.
We on the revolutionary left are arguing that we have to bridge this gap. We have to build a united front of all revolutionary forces against the coup, but we also have to overcome the division between the political struggle on the street for democracy and the economic struggles of the working class.
That would be absolutely significant and pivotal to the success of any political confrontation against the SCAF–first, to stopping the military coup, and second, to rebuilding a united revolutionary movement, where the Egyptian working class would be a significant part of a struggle that could combine both democratic political demands and economic demands in weeks to come.
LET ME ask you a question about the response of the Brotherhood after the military’s power grab was clearly underway–with the court decision that dissolved parliament, but before the runoff. The Brotherhood didn’t call for protests right away, did it?
THERE WERE two critical decisions that came out on Thursday. One basically gave military intelligence and the military police the right to arrest protesters, strikers, dissidents and anyone who poses a so-called threat to state security, and then hand them over to the civilian state security forces. This clearly meant they were preparing for the mass arrests of thousands of cadre of the Muslim Brotherhood–and, of course, sections of the leadership. The second one was the dissolving of parliament, which was the jewel in terms of the achievements of the Brotherhood, from its victory in parliamentary elections in December and January.
Now you would think that the Brotherhood would immediately call for mass protests. But they didn’t. Their first instinct is never to go to the masses or rely on the mobilization of their base, because they don’t know whether they will be able to keep full control over a movement from below. Their first instinct is always to try to figure out a way of negotiating with the military council and with the ruling class in general–some type of settlement.
The presidential elections were only two days away, and they didn’t want to rock the boat. They were confident that they would win the presidential elections 48 hours later, so they made a conscious decision to wait until they won the vote before they would take any step towards calling for protests.
This is important to recognize because this is going to happen at every step of the struggle. The Muslim Brotherhood leadership’s first instinct won’t be to mobilize an all-out confrontation with SCAF and the remnants of the old political order. It will be to wait and try to hope for a negotiated settlement–and only if you have to do you try to go to your base, to mobilize the masses. That’s only the last resort.
This has always been the mode of operation of a group like the Brotherhood, which, in my opinion, is a conservative reformist group, but with a mass base, big sections of which are within the working classes and the poorer sections of the middle class.
Even now, every day, they will continue to waver. But they also understand that they have a power base, and that they can rely on the mobilization of their base in order to reach a better deal at the negotiating table. If we keep that in mind, we’ll understand a lot of their back-and-forth gestures, both to the left and to the right–constantly alternating between appealing to the revolutionaries and to the people in the street on the one hand, and at the same time trying to use that to reach a compromise that would avoid an all-out confrontation with those above.
IF THE SCAF is forced to accept Morsi’s victory, what happens then? The military has already taken a lot of power away from the president, and it’s blocked the parliament from meeting since the court decision. What’s the dynamic in a situation where Morsi could gain the presidency, but in a situation where he has so little power against the SCAF?
THE FIRST thing is that if the SCAF backs down and allows Morsi to be president, that would mean they’re backing down from going through with the plan for a complete military coup. It will be seen as the bigger victory.
In the eyes of many people in the square and those who support the revolution, this won’t simply be that “we got our man to become president.” It will be, first and foremost, that we stopped the military coup. This is really the sense in the street. The question of the Morsi presidency is symbolic for many, many people. The key question really is that we have to stop the military coup.
That’s the first point. The second point, as I said before, is that the first instinct of the Muslim Brotherhood will be to figure out a way of sitting down and negotiating a settlement with the SCAF–on the question of parliament, the powers of the president and on who will write the new constitution. I think that would be the first thing Morsi would do if he’s allowed to assume the presidency.
At the same time, it will be a major boost of confidence for people who, as I said at the beginning, believed just a month ago that it’s all over and their vote would be a statement for history.
The Brotherhood will also go back to the street and use the power of mass mobilization when necessary to pressure the SCAF, but their first move will be to try to reach a settlement with the SCAF in order to avert the possibility of mass confrontations on the streets that would destabilize the system. This is always their biggest concern. They don’t want to destabilize the system. They said that before the final results are announced–that we’re ready to reach an agreement as long as long as we’re treated with respect at the negotiations table.
HOW HAS the runoff election and the mobilizations since the runoff affected people’s outlook on what happens next?
LET ME give you a flavor of the mood, and not only for the 52 percent of people who voted for Morsi. Don’t forget that there are a few million people who didn’t vote in the runoff election who would have voted against Shafiq, and who would have voted for Hamdeen Sabahi. One shouldn’t just look how close the election was.
Many people were genuinely, and for very good reason, disappointed with the Brotherhood and devastated by its betrayals over the past year. Not everyone who abstained from the vote equated the Brotherhood with Shafiq, or said that the Brotherhood are fascists and just as bad as the SCAF. A significant number of people didn’t vote because they felt genuinely betrayed by the Brotherhood. A lot of these people, and not only those who voted for Morsi, felt ecstatic after the unofficial results of the election came out, and after it became clear that if there is no rigging of the vote, Shafiq will be defeated.
So the mood is much better on that level. This gives people a lot of confidence in those around them. It shows them that there’s a deep reservoir of support for the revolution. This explains the confidence and the hope that even a close defeat of Shafiq is giving to people. This confidence has translated into the mass mobilizations that we’ve seen. You could not have had that without people realizing that Shafiq could be defeated, and that the military council could be defeated.
This is one thing that worked in our favor and made it possible to see the huge numbers of people coming back into the street–not just for one demonstration, but for a big mass mobilization that turned into a sit-in for days in Tahrir Square.
So the mood is more optimistic, with renewed hope that we can defeat the counter-revolution. It’s going to be a long war, but the most immediate battle right now is to try to figure out a way of stopping the immediate plans of the SCAF in terms of going through with a military coup.
Transcription by Courtney Smith and Karen Domínguez Burke
June 25, 2012
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