The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) candidate, Mohammed Morsi, in the Egyptian Presidential elections signifies the beginning of a new phase in Egypt’s revolutionary process. The political landscape is dynamic, with new alliances and divides on the horizon. We can be certain that the simplistic interpretation of the international media will fail to explain the full implications.
Mursi’s victory has created two contradictory narratives of Egypt’s revolutionary process. This antagonism will be the motor of future struggles. One camp argues for the continuation of the revolution; the other for the stability and sovereignty of the new second republic. The narrative of the 'second Republic' will be imposed as an argument to kill the narrative of 'the revolution continues'. This will be no easy task for the Egyptian ruling elite: after witnessing the mass anti-SCAF radicalisation in Tahrir square, it’s unlikely the revolution will dissipate easily. This is especially so when the second republic confronts a duel political and economic crisis and the MB face further internal splits.
To understand how the 'revolution continues' narrative can win out we first need a detailed analysis of the changing dynamics in Egypt between the revolution and the counter-revolution that brought us to this conjuncture. This is what I will analyse in Part 1.
Revolution vs Counter Revolution
For many, the overwhelming feeling towards the new political dynamic in Egypt is that of alienation. Two interpretations of this alienation are prevalent. The first is that the revolutionary process is now confined to a battle between the MB and SCAF. This is an obvious reflection of the intense friction building up in the two months prior to the elections. The second is that there is now a battle between 'Secularists' and 'Islamists'. This attitude became influential due to the intense atmosphere during the final round of elections. Both interpretations are deceiving. They only reflect what lies on the surface of Egypt’s political life, and fail to see the class aspect in the context of revolution.
Even for Egyptians that did not suffer this alienation from the political process and who understood the role of the revolution, the two problems of analysis remain. One places too much confidence in the Brotherhood to lead the fight against the junta and the other serves the interests of ‘Orientalists’ and fibrils, completely discounting other Islamist currents that are revolutionary and who do not look up to the MB’s leadership. Both of these arguments accept the logic that the Egyptian revolutionary process has collapsed into a political showdown between SCAF and MB, or Islamists and Secularists.
This is a misunderstanding: the fundamental conflict in society is still between the forces of revolution and counter revolution. This process has torn through the many dense layers of Egyptian society, making it the primary contradiction that lies within it. All antagonisms that existed before the revolution depend on this conflict. All antagonisms that have arisen after are a product of it.
The revolutionary camp is characterised by it’s very sporadic and popular nature, consisting of diverse political and class forces, and is reliant on spontaneous mass mobilisation. The counter revolutionary camp consists of SCAF, remnants of the old regime, Filol, and the leadership of the brotherhood. The election period – especially the second round – was the Counter revolution’s offence against the revolution, lead and consciously planned by the Military Junta.
The new phase of this conflict must be carefully analysed. To grasp the complexity of the situation we must understand the nature of the counter-revolutionary offensive in the run-up to the presidential election which created outright conflict between the MB leadership and SCAF. By understanding this we can see how the two competing narratives of ‘The revolution continues’ v ‘the Second Republic’ will define conflict of the coming period.
The Counter revolution’s Offensive
An offensive orchestrated by the counter revolution against the revolution does not necessarily take the form of clashes between revolutionary youth and the army, or scenes similar to the ‘Day of Camel’ (pictured). This offensive has taken the for of a structural reorganisation of the Egyptian state. To understand it, we have to look at it in three parts: SCAF’s political coup; the return of elements of the old regime to the political scene; and the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Presidential elections. Each part has a major bearing on SCAF’s attempts to paralyse the revolution and uphold ‘the Second Republic’ narrative.
1. SCAF’s Political Coup
This first part of the offensive should be seen as a political military coup wearing a constitutional mask, creating the framework for the new ruling elite. This framework is one in which the Military Junta still obtains political and economic power over the new Egyptian state. It still defends the 'deep state', which is predicated on the Army’s massive influence over the economy. Additionally, this framework guarantees that Egyptian imperialist ties are secure within the new republic.
This political coup started with SCAF implementing martial law in order to physically defend their actions. The martial law, announced by the justice minister, granted all military ranks the power to arrest civilians without charge.
The beginning of this coup d’etat started four days prior to the elections. Parliament was essentially dissolved after a court ruling stated that elections to the lower house of parliament were invalid. This granted SCAF legislative power and reinforced their role in the drafting of a permanent constitution. This gave the Military Junta the authority to decide what powers the new president would have whilst giving them the authority to veto the constitution that was meant to be drafted by the parliament.
Secondly, Field Marshal Tantawi announced the re-establishment of a National Defence Council, putting the generals in charge of Egypt’s national security policy. They run the security forces and military and they decide key elements of foreign policy.
The May referendum, where people agreed on the constitution drafted by the army, is the ground that gave SCAF the space and confidence to make such brash manoeuvres.
2. The return of the remnants (Filol) of the old regime to the political scene
The return of the old regime was already evident in the verdict of Mubarak’s trial, and confirmed by the admittance of former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq to run in the presidential elections. The verdict proves that the old regime is still in control of the judicial system. Ahmed Shafiq’s candidacy is a sign of the confidence of members of the old Mubarak dynasty. The conditional appendix that was issued by SCAF last Friday states that it will have control over the parliamentary election law. This is another indication that the Filol had the green light to re-brand themselves and re-enter Egyptian political life through parliamentary elections. Shafiq’s vote boosted Filol’s legitimacy, and their confidence in their ability to regain political control. The remnants will act as SCAF’s political arm as they are entirely dependant on SCAF for their revival.
3. The Muslim brotherhood’s victory in the presidential elections
The Muslim Brotherhood are at the heart of the contradiction of the Egyptian revolutionary process. The MB act as the blurry line between the revolutionary and counter revolutionary camps. It is hard to brand the brotherhood today as a counter revolutionary force. The disorganised and sporadic nature of the revolutionary forces makes it easy for the MB’s leadership to betray the revolution without serious repercussions. The revolutions’ negligent political organisations make it unconscious of it’s role in shaping the historical process, making it easy for forces such as the MB to use and abuse and jump in and out of the revolutionary camp. Also, this chronic inadequacy of political organisation makes it harder for members of the MB to break from their leadership group, as there is nothing to break too, except youth groups and the spontaneous mass mobilisations against SCAF.
But we should be in no doubt about the MB leadership: they are anchored in the counter-revolutionary camp. This became explicit with the MB’s alliance with SCAF on the May referendum, a deal that served brotherhood interests. The acceptance of SCAF’s constitution meant that the parliamentary elections would come earlier and the transitional process would be accelerated. This provided an opportunity for MB to dominate parliament since it was the only organisation ready to participate.
This is just one example of MB betrayal of the revolution and is a reflection of the neoliberal leadership that took hold of the organisation in the early 80′s. But what differentiates the MB from other counter-revolutionary forces is that it uses the revolution in it’s own party interest. The MB is a massive political social force in Egyptian society. This can be proven by looking at Tahrir Square today: It is clear that a massive layer of the membership have conflicting class interests with the leadership, and who believe their organisation is strong enough to overthrow military rule.
Morsi’s electoral program, however, does not inspire the base of the party with any great confidence. Khayrat Shatter (who was supposed to run as a MB candidate) has stated that he does not want to brand the military’s recent manoeuvres as a coup, because the MB still believes in negotiating with them. They have proudly shown off their neo-liberal colours, saying that they are willing to take IMF loans to help reboot Egypt’s economy. This is a betrayal of the demand for social justice. All of this makes the MB leadership an acceptable partner in SCAF’s counter-revolutionary process, despite the existing tensions. This is especially the case when the MB’s mass base has the power to split the revolutionary camp, something SCAF are wholly incapable of doing alone.
It is clear that the counter revolution is not a homogeneous bloc that has any unified political direction. There will always be antagonisms between the forces in the counter-revolutionary camp, to the extent that they can at certain times appear to be the most visible conflict in Egyptian political life. But whilst these antagonisms exist, both share the same interest in halting the revolutionary process for different reasons. It is this collective interest that holds together the counter-revolution.
Taken collectively, the three part’s of this counter-revolutionary offensive resemble a re-alignment in the counter-revolutionary camp. All of this is embodied in the identity of the new second republic. The MB leadership and SCAF share the same interpretation of the Egyptian revolution. This considers the Egyptian revolution to be 16 days of peaceful revolt that toppled Mubarak. There is no doubt that this interpretation will form the main component of the new Egyptian nationalism of Egypt’s second republic. Martyrs of the 16 day revolt will become symbols of the republic. The images of Tahrir will be iconised. All in the interest of the new ruling elite achieving consent. However the Egyptian masses who will not easily be broken from a revolutionary consciousness. 'Stability' will be the main moto used as an excuse to clamp down on revolutionaries. The second republic is an institution in the hands of the counter-revolution, and it’s force will be used to destroy the narrative of ‘the revolution continues’.
However, friction between the brotherhood and SCAF will remain, continually destabilising the new equilibrium of the counter-revolutionary camp. And more problems are on the horizon: a massive economic crisis is about to hit Egypt and, combined with an increasingly unstable geopolitical context, Washington are already expressing serious concern. The Military Junta is conscious of this and can only respond by greatly increasing levels of repression on Egyptian society in general, and the pro-revolutionary forces in particular. As these factors combine, it may well be enough for Egypt’s Spring to be transformed into Summer.
From International Socialist Group site.
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