Abstaining would be a disaster

June 4, 2012

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.

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