Power and wealth to the people

January 25, 2012

One year ago on January 25, the Egyptian revolution began with protests against the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Eighteen days later, Mubarak was toppled, bringing an end to more than three decades in power.

Since then, the country has been ruled by a military council that retains supreme authority--supposedly until a recently elected parliament writes a new constitution. But many Egyptians feel frustrated that living conditions have not improved since Mubarak's fall. Plus, the generals have been emboldened to use increasing repression--and they now have collaborators among organizations that opposed Mubarak, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

On the one-year anniversary of the revolution, the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt issued a statement about the ongoing challenges facing Egypt's revolutionary movement.

IN AN article written before the recent parliamentary elections, we proposed that there are three forces vying with each other to decide the fate of the Egyptian revolution.

The first of these is the counter-revolution that wants to retain the old regime, with all its powers, beneath a layer of superficial changes. The ruling military council represents the counter-revolution, as do the remnants of the old regime within the institutions of the state. Behind them stand big business (the 1,000 richest families in Egypt), the U.S. government, the Zionist entity and the Saudi regime.

The second force is composed of the reformist political parties and movements that were opposed to the Mubarak regime and are rooted primarily in the middle class. At the head of these forces is the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party. They have 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.

Egyptians fill Tahrir Square July 8 in protest against the military's threats against protesters
Egyptians fill Tahrir Square July 8 in protest against the military's threats against protesters (Lorenz Khazaleh)

Finally, we have the forces for deepening and radicalizing the revolution at the level of political democracy and at a socio-economic level. These forces have an interest in the complete eradication of the old regime, at the head of which stands the military council, and the complete cleansing of the state institutions and the redistribution of power and wealth in Egypt to the vast majority of Egyptians: the workers, peasants and the poor.

What is the balance of power between these three forces after the parliamentary elections, as we enter the second year of the Egyptian revolution?

FIRSTLY, AS was expected, the reformist Islamist movement, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, won a sweeping victory in the parliamentary elections. A large section of the Egyptian masses cast their ballots in the elections because the revolution gave them the confidence that, for the first time in their lives, their votes would count and not be forged. With this comes illusions in parliamentary democracy and its ability to achieve the revolution's demands of social justice, freedom and dignity.

Secondly, the present balance of forces between the reformist Islamists and the counter-revolution is delicately and dangerously poised between, on the one hand, the desire of the Muslim Brotherhood to use its parliamentary gains to exercise real power at the expense of the vested interests of the old regime, and on the other hand, its desire to maintain stability through deals with the military council and the remnants of the old regime.

This is for two reasons: the first is the Brotherhood's fear of a coup by the military council that might annul the election results (repeating the experience of Algeria) or a full military coup to restore the old regime. The second is the fear that broad sections of the masses have broken out of the bonds of reformism and are threatening new revolutionary upsurges that might upset the delicate balance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military council, with all the dangers that this poses for the two sides.

It is noteworthy at this critical juncture that the Brotherhood is willing to offer massive concessions and guarantees to the military council in order to preserve their electoral gains, even if these are as yet only superficial. So the Brotherhood has accepted the continuation of the Ganzouri government and has given guarantees of an amnesty for senior army officers with no legal questions asked about the massacres of the past few months.

In fact, the guarantees offered by the Brotherhood's leadership and its victorious electoral party are not limited to the military council, but include promises to the class of big businessmen to encourage investment and continue with the neoliberal policies of the old regime, as well as guarantees to the Zionist entity and the American government to honor the Camp David Accord and continue the strategic partnership with the United States. The Brotherhood even agreed to negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on exactly the same humiliating conditions as the old regime.

Perhaps the image that best conveys this relationship is the picture of Lt. Gen. Sami Anan--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.

But why are they so afraid? Is it not time to celebrate the marriage of democracy to the peaceful transfer of power as has happened in Tunisia? Here we have to say that Egypt is not Tunisia. This is for a number of reasons, and principally because of the economic crisis. None of the successive governments that have held power since the fall of Mubarak have been able to offer anything tangible to the masses; instead, the situation has worsened by the day.

Foreign exchange reserves are fast draining away--down from $36 billion to $15 billion during the first year of the revolution. Inflation is rising in the absence of any mechanism to control rising prices. Unemployment is continually rising, and none of the successive governments has proposed increasing the budgets for housing, education, health or youth employment programs. Nor have they implemented a genuine wage increase or any improvement in public services for the majority of Egypt's struggling masses.

All of this is happening in the context of a severe crisis of global capitalism, which in turn has reduced the income for Egyptian capitalism from sources such as tourism, the Suez Canal and foreign investment. As a result of their ongoing commitment to neoliberalism, the incoming Islamist military governments will be austerity governments that offer nothing but more poverty, job cuts, unemployment and the disappearance of public services for the mass of Egypt's population.

They will possibly be even more brutal than those of the former regime. This means that the honeymoon between the masses and the reformist Islamist parties they elected in the hope of serving their own interests and bettering their standard of living will be short. It will rapidly expose the inability of parliament in general and of the Brotherhood in particular to solve the masses' problems and to offer a genuine alternative to the old regime and all its violence.

We have an elected parliament that has been stripped of its powers and left helpless. The dominant political forces in parliament are allied with the military council and the remnants of the old regime. Both internally and externally, they are adopting the same political and economic policies as the old regime.

The new parliament and the military council will only produce capitalist austerity governments hostile to the workers, the peasants and the poor. Like their predecessors, they will protect the interests of big business and the foreign companies, and above all, they will remain faithful servants of the old regime's masters in Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh.

THE NEXT phase of the Egyptian revolution, which will begin on January 25, 2012, will not only mark the beginning of the defeat of the counter-revolution and its violent attempts to resurrect the past that the Egyptian people have trampled under their feet, but also the beginning of a battle with reformist forces and parliamentary illusions.

It will be a fight to link the deepening of the democratic revolution (transcending a formal parliamentary regime with limited powers) with the project of redistributing wealth (through the overthrow of the military's economic monopoly and the 1,000 richest families in Egypt) and the building of a new regime that represents and serves the interests of Egypt's workers and peasants.

This does not mean, of course, that the revolutionary forces can afford to ignore, or not take a clear position on, issues such as the transfer of power from the hands of the military to civilians. However, the question remains--to whom is power being transferred, even if it is for a transitional period? Is it to a civilian presidential council, as some are suggesting? Or to the newly elected parliament as others have argued?

In fact, both of these perspectives are formalistic and shortsighted. The idea of a presidential council lacks any degree of democracy. Who will chose its members and by which mechanism? As for the second suggestion--transfer of power to the elected parliament--this appears to be more democratic, but loses its real meaning in light of the composition of the current parliament and the nature and interests of the dominant forces within it.

At this perilous moment, we will focus on demands that serve the interests of the Egyptian revolution. This will not be achieved with meaningless slogans about the phony transfer of power, but through a new wave of mass mobilization. These demands can be summarized as follows:

First, the resignation of the Ganzouri government, as it is a government of Mubarak's old gang.

Second, the trial of the military council headed by Field Marshal Tantawi on charges of killing, wounding and dishonoring thousands of revolutionaries in Egypt's public squares, as there can be no talk of democracy without putting the military council in the dock.

Third, the complete cleansing of the remnants of the old regime and the network of interests it represents from the institutions of the Egyptian state, starting with the military.

These demands are an inseparable part of exposing the reformists before the masses who voted for them in the elections. They also represent the gateway to the next wave of the Egyptian revolution under the slogan, "All power and wealth to the people."

The task of revolutionaries in this new wave will be to link the uprisings and sit-ins in the squares with the strikes and protests of workers and the poor.

It will be to link those who want to complete the democratic revolution and take it beyond a restricted and incapacitated parliamentary democracy to forms of direct, mass democracy in the popular and workers' and peasants' committees with those who want to achieve the demands of social justice through strikes and sit-ins in order to reclaim Egypt's wealth from the 1,000 richest families and the military establishment, and redistribute it for the benefit of the workers, peasants and the poor.

This statement is translated from the original version in Arabic.

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