Five days after ousting the reactionary government of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian military has gunned down more than 50 Morsi supporters outside a Republican Guard officers club in Cairo, where the Islamist leader is believed to be held. With this massacre, the military has sent a message: what they’re doing to Brotherhood supporters today they are prepared to do tomorrow to anyone standing in the way of order.
The July 3 coup took place after days of massive protests around the country demanding the resignation of Morsi, whose year in power was marked by the continuing collapse of the economy, mounting shortages of fuel and other necessities and heavy-handed attempts to reinforce Islamic legal and social strictures. News of the coup and Morsi’s arrest was cheered by hundreds of thousands who had gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Military helicopters and jet fighters flew overhead, driving home the generals’ message that they are the “defenders of the nation” and the ultimate arbiters of who will rule. In nightly clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi forces, scores died on both sides. Now, after today’s bloodbath, the Muslim Brotherhood has called to extend its protests into a national uprising.
As Marxists, we are just as adamantly opposed to the coup as we are to government by the Islamists. Many of the bourgeois-nationalist and liberal-reformist organizations that helped kick off the anti-Morsi protests whitewash the coup, which the military warned of well ahead of time, by claiming that the masses in the street are determining events. The opportunist Revolutionary Socialists, who a year ago called for a vote to Morsi, now chime in with talk of a “second revolution.” The masses that rose up two years ago against the hated bonapartist regime of Hosni Mubarak sought a fundamental change to their conditions of poverty, brutal oppression and absence of democratic rights. Mubarak was ousted. But what the working people and the oppressed got was not a revolution but a new political face on the same system of capitalist oppression—first under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), then the elected Morsi presidency and now back to direct military rule. As we wrote following the 2011 ouster of the Mubarak regime:
“We Marxists reject this bankrupt reformist framework, which posits that the only two ‘choices’ for the working class in Egypt are to capitulate either to the ‘secular,’ military-backed bourgeois nationalist regime or to political Islam. In fact, these are alternative ways of propping up capitalist class rule, the system that ensures vast wealth for its rulers and dire poverty for the urban and rural masses. We look instead to the revolutionary mobilization of Egypt’s proletariat, standing at the head of all the oppressed, in a fight for socialist revolution, which alone can address the fundamental problems facing the masses.”
—“Pandering to Reactionary Muslim Brotherhood” (WV No. 974, 18 February 2011)
The same armed forces that have been cheered in Tahrir Square rounded up thousands of protesters in 2011, subjecting many to electric shock and other brutal tortures. Tahrir Square’s “Street of the Eyes of Freedom” got its moniker after security forces, in a cruel and calculated attack, fired directly into the faces of protesters rallying against SCAF rule. During the Maspero massacre of 9 October 2011, armored military vehicles, in concert with the police and Islamists, mowed down dozens of Coptic Christians protesting the burning of homes and churches. Women protesters detained by the army were subjected to humiliating “virginity tests.” Now large numbers of women demonstrators are again being gang-raped and otherwise assaulted under the eyes of the security forces.
Not surprisingly, during the coup U.S. officials were on the phone constantly with their Egyptian counterparts. The Egyptian military is dependent on the $1.3 billion in aid that it receives annually from Washington. General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, the central figure in the coup (and Morsi’s Defense Minister), was trained at the U.S. Army War College and has close relations with American military tops. Washington also made clear to Morsi that his time was up. Using a common reference to the U.S., a Morsi aide texted to an associate shortly before the coup, “Mother just told us that we will stop playing in one hour.”
The military—the backbone of all of Egypt’s bourgeois regimes, along with the police—has stepped in to put a stop to social turmoil in order to halt the economic collapse, which has affected all but the wealthiest layers of Egyptian society. Government debt has increased by $10 billion in the last two years and the country’s foreign currency reserves are rapidly being exhausted. The vital tourist industry has all but collapsed since the initial protests in 2011. The value of the Egyptian pound has plummeted over the past year, while food prices have skyrocketed. Youth unemployment is almost 80 percent.
In the eyes of the capitalists, the only policy to address such a crisis is by taking it out of the hides of working people. While breaking strikes, Morsi’s government began to introduce vicious austerity measures against the poor to fulfill the conditions of an IMF loan. The working class can expect nothing less from the SCAF, which has a long, bloody record of repressing labor struggle and political dissent. To this end, the generals are turning once again to veterans of the Mubarak regime. Adli Mansour, a former crony of Mubarak, was named to replace Morsi. Other Mubarak appointees from the so-called “Deep State” have also stepped to the fore to resume governing.
A key task for revolutionary Marxists is combating the widespread nationalist ideology that is evident among the protesters waving Egyptian flags and embracing the army, and even police, as their allies. Anti-Morsi crowds chanted, “The people and the police are one hand” while battling Brotherhood supporters last week. Even the New York Times (6 July) called it “a curious sight since the police had been widely detested for killing protesters during the anti-Mubarak uprising.” Particularly among the petty bourgeoisie, there is a sentiment to get cops back on the street in the service of “law and order.”
Illusions in the army run particularly deep in Egypt, where officers led by Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew the British-backed monarchy in 1952. Nasser’s pretensions to “Arab socialism” notwithstanding, his regime tortured, killed and disappeared hundreds of opponents, including workers and Communists. He was also adept at co-opting Communists and others who pledged allegiance.
During the “Arab Spring” uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, we pointed to the working class, whose strikes played a major role in bringing down both despotic regimes, as the potential gravedigger of the bourgeois order. We underlined the urgent need for the proletariat to act as the defender of all the oppressed layers of society, including women, Copts and impoverished peasants. The working class continues to wage economic struggles, as in April when a national train drivers strike paralyzed Egypt’s train service for days. However, politically the proletariat remains subordinated to bourgeois forces.
There will be no end to the exploitation of working people, no emancipation of women or liberation of the peasant masses, short of a proletarian revolution that sweeps away the bourgeois state, expropriates the capitalists as a class and proceeds to establish a collectivized economy. There is no nationally limited road to the emancipation of the workers and the oppressed. The powerful Egyptian proletariat can be a leading force in the struggle for a socialist federation of the Near East, part of the fight for proletarian revolution internationally, crucially including the imperialist centers. To bring this perspective to the working class requires the construction of a Leninist vanguard party, which will be forged in political combat against the reformists, liberals and others who seek to subordinate the working class to the imperialists, nationalists and forces of Islamic reaction.