The deepest, most reactionary part of the Egyptian state machine is asserting its power, says John Rees
The Egyptian state is using a level of deadly force that it has never yet dared to use at any point in the Egyptian revolution. The result has been horrific carnage around the country that has thrown into question the whole revolutionary process.
Hundreds are dead, hundreds more are injured and the killing is not over yet. A month long military curfew is now in place.
Make no mistake, General El Sisi and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) represent the deep core of the Egyptian ruling class and its state.
The Egyptian Army held exclusive political power from Gamal Abdul Nasser’s coup of 1952 until the January 2011 revolution. After the fall of President Mubarak it retained much of its power through the period of military backed replacement regimes, but was unable to effectively use it because the power of the street mobilisations and the revolutionary momentum paralysed the normal working of the state. The police and Central Security Forces practically dissolved the security headquarters were ransacked by revolutionaries.
Then SCAF’s chosen son, Ahmed Shafiq, lost the Presidential elections to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi just over a year ago. Morsi was President but, as we wrote at the time, he was never in power. Either Morsi would have to break the power of the army and the deep state by leading another phase of revolutionary mobilisation, or the army would regain its strength and abolish the unequal balance in its favour.
That is what we are seeing now: the bloody reimposition of what SCAF believes is its right to treat ordinary Egyptians as the Pharaohs treated them.
How has this happened?
El Baradei: SCAF’s useful idiot
Critical to the military takeover has been the reaction of the liberals and some of the left to the mobilisations against Morsi on June 30th and in early July, the last of which was a demonstration called by SCAF ‘against terrorism’.
There is no doubt that the Morsi government was unpopular. It failed to lead a second wave of mobilisation against the Egyptian ruling class. Instead it tried to placate the police and the armed forces. Morsi praised the police as supporters of the revolution, when every Egyptian knows they have been its deadliest enemies. Morsi appointed his own current jailer, General El Sisi, to replace the previous head of SCAF, General Tantawi. When the army killed protesters, Morsi excused their actions. The current Interior Minster presiding over the massacre of Muslim Brotherhood supporters is the same man that Morsi appointed to the same post. Most of all the Muslim Brotherhood’s free market economics prevented them from any significant action to alleviate the condition of Egypt’s workers and the poor.
It is this that alienated the mass of the revolutionary movement and wide sections of Egyptian society from the Morsi presidency and left it vulnerable to mass protests against it. As Antoine St Just said during the French Revolution, ‘those who half make a revolution dig their own graves’.
But to half make a revolution is not the same as to fully make a counter-revolution. And this is what SCAF are now embarked on. They have been massively assisted by a section of the Egyptian political class who thought that they could use the post-June 30 political situation to advance their own interests.
Mohamed El Baradei is the totemic figure in this. He could not gather enough support to run in the Presidential elections himself but he remained a poster-boy for the secular Egyptian middle class.
He and Amr Moussa, an old guard Mubarak Foreign Minister, and Nasserite leftist Hamdeen Sabahey formed a National Salvation Front to challenge the Brotherhood government. This popular front between discontented Mubarak apparatchiks and the liberal end of the revolution was always fraught with the danger that it would only defeat the Brotherhood by leading to a restoration of the old state machine to full power.
El Baradei became SCAF’s deputy prime minster. On the left Kamal Abu Eita, the leader of the independent trade union federation, became Minister of Labour. This was a disaster, as Fatma Ramadan, an executive member of the union said when she led a minority on the executive against accepting the appointment.
El Baradei believed he could use SCAF’s seizure of power to pave the way for his own clique to become a ‘normal’ secular, western, democratic administration. In social and political content this regime would have been no different to the Muslim Brotherhood government: it would have neo-liberal in its economic policy and would not have challenged the deep state to which, after all, it owed its existence.
But all that El Baradei did, as we warned he would, was provide a civilian facade for the military as they prepared to make a full blown coup a reality. El Baradei paved the way for the crackdown and now, in an admission of his own utterly futile position, he has resigned in protest at the massacre.
The moral of this sad catalogue of failure is that until the revolution creates its own democratic organs of popular power it will constantly exert itself in huge revolutionary bursts of energy which then result in inadequate or reactionary administrations who are only incapable ruining the revolution.
SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood are not equal
Some on the left in Egypt and elsewhere are now tempted to argue that the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF are equally reactionary forces. In current circumstances this is dangerous for three reasons.
Firstly, it is not true. SCAF has tanks, armoured cars, armoured bulldozers, CS gas, automatic weapons, body armour and prisons. In fact it has the best that $1.3 billion of annual military aid from the United States can buy. The Muslim Brotherhood has, if some reports are true, a few hand guns and rifles. The death toll on either side reflects this: hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood protesters are dead but a bare handful of police have been killed.
As well as having a monopoly of state power, SCAF own between 15 and 40 percent, depending on calculations about direct and indirect ownership, of the Egyptian economy. Even those members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are businessmen, and most Muslim Brotherhood supporters are not, simply are not part of the core of the Egyptian capitalist class in this way.
SCAF are the deep core of the tyrannical Egyptian state and have been so for 60 years. After decades of opposition to the Mubarak regime, the Muslim Brotherhood held the elected Presidency for a year.
There is no equivalence here.
Secondly, although no one can imagine that the Muslim Brotherhood leaders can return to power, it is the height of stupidity to talk as if SCAF and the Brotherhood are equal threats in the current circumstances. The massacre of Morsi supporters is in fact part of a deliberate poplicy of divide and rule. After the Brotherhood, the wider revolutionary forces will be the next target.
Indeed the revolutionaries need to pull the Muslim Brotherhood supporters back into joint action with them in order to defeat SCAF. If this does not happen, if the division between secular forces and Brotherhood supporters is allowed to continue, there will be more sectarian violence. This in turn will be used by SCAF to justify more repression.
Thirdly, it is SCAF that has the power to end the Egyptian revolution. It is SCAF that is mowing down protesters in the street. It is SCAF which is the main enemy of the Egyptian people.
It is now a race against time to see if the forces of the Egyptian revolution can be mobilised to halt the SCAF offensive before the SCAF use their victory over the Brotherhood to turn on its main enemy: the workers, unions and protesters of Tahrir who have sustained the revolution for two and half years.
When this present crisis broke we wrote that the revolution was in danger. That danger is now clear and present. Its only name is SCAF.
John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher) and ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German). He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.