A reply on Egypt’s elections

June 3, 2012

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.

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