The 30 June uprising witnessed the biggest demonstration in history and the start of a movement that has the potential to get rid of the whole of this rotten order
On 30 June 2012, an alleged revolutionary force ascended to power: Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)’s leading figure, had become Egypt’s first elected civilian president. It was just about time, people thought, to start fulfilling the promises of the revolution after 18 months of struggles and sacrifices.
But Morsi, and the MB behind him, were not revolutionaries. As the main opposition force under Mubarak they won the sympathy of wide sections of the population, only because they were the most visible contenders of the dictator. However, being “the most visible” never meant “the most radical”. All through the 25 years that preceded the revolution, the MB consistently showed signs of their charlatanic oppositionism, as they endlessly swung between begging reforms and preaching conservative morals, without having any clear vision for change or will to fight for it.
The MB’s ascendance to power marked a new chapter of the revolution’s history. From February 2011 to June 2012, the same Old State of Mubarak – the Armed Forces – ruled, first at the demand of the people, who had no other alternative, and then against their will. Now, the main opposition force ruled; but the irony was that this opposition had one thing in mind: to prove to the US, the Old State, and the bourgeoisie that it’s up to the task of ruling Egypt on behalf of the country’s “main stakeholders”.
The MB strove to reconcile with everything the revolution fought against: neoliberalism, the military, the police and the state bureaucracy. They had only one demand, or let’s say dream: to be accepted as one, modest, component of the ruling clique.
Full in hope and enthusiasm, the MB embarked on their task. But to their surprise, they found that the state and bourgeoisie stakeholders did not cooperate with them. First it was the judiciary, then the bureaucracy and the Old State tycoons, and finally came the liberal opposition.
During the 18-month rule of the military junta, counterrevolutionary elements, in their primitive and flagrant form, rallied around the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Counterrevolutionary elements completely identified with SCAF; they had no reservations and no half-heartedness. The ruling MB initially hoped it would smoothly replace SCAF, backed by its popular support and electoral legitimacy. But wide sections of the counterrevolutionary forces revolted against the MB, not necessarily because they had different goals, but simply as the new regime’s attempt to win the allegiance of the various state apparatuses was met by indignation from state officials who always thought the MB’s rightful place was behind the bars.
Part of the problem was pure bourgeoisie despisement of “those low-class people who think they can dictate their will on us”. But of course a bigger part of the problem was a kind of short-term conflict of interests between the old established bureaucratic and business elite and “those new comers who want to have a say and take a share”.
Neoliberal with a beard
Thus, “bourgeois Egypt” under Morsi was divided. Under the pretentions of identity politics, Egypt’s elite fell into two camps: on one side there was the growing “civil elite” which rebelled against the primordial Ikhwan; on the other there were the “pious elite” and its collaborators who thought that nothing will change if they accepted the rule of just another neoliberal, albeit with a beard.
But this was not all. Morsi’s ascendance to power did not end the horizontal divide of Egypt; the divide that started the whole story of the 25 January revolution. Indeed, Morsi’s rule deepened this divide. Throughout the 12 months of his rule, Egypt witnessed the worst economic crisis the country had experienced in decades. Layoffs, price hikes, and factory closures have degraded the living conditions of the poor to an unbearable extent. And the result was the biggest workers protest movement in Egypt’s history.
This is how we can portray the Egypt of 2013: a country torn between vertical and horizontal divisions. A country in the midst of a chronic state of un-governability fuelled by the recurrence of revolutionary upsurges on all fronts. And between identity politics and class politics, Egypt is searching for a way forward; to fall into an identity strife led by bourgeois warlords, or to move forward with its revolutionary mass struggle to topple the remnants of the Old State and the Old Opposition.
The biggest demonstration in history
The 30 June uprising – the uprising that witnessed the biggest demonstration in history – can only be understood in this context. The uprising was fuelled by two, contradictory, forces: the increasing class anger and the escalating elite in-fight. To fathom why more than 10 million people took to the streets in one day, you have to consider the acute pauperization process that was set into motion by Morsi’s ill-planned neoliberal strategy. But to fathom why most of these people have no problem with the return of the military junta to power, you have to consider the lack of any credible opposition to Morsi’s rule. Indeed, the masses are waging a class fight, yet they have no tools for organizational or political independence from the bourgeois oppositionists. The masses revert to the past, with all its shame, because the future has no political representation.
The movement that was unleashed on 30 June is yet in its first stage. But it carries one basic similarity with the previous stages of the revolution; the masses enter the scene as an amorphous entity, as a group of individuals packed in the streets and squares as if in sacks of potatoes, without any tools to represent their independent will. Hence the contradiction is laid bare: voiceless masses versus noisy elites!
The French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre once talked about what he termed “counter finality”: the fact that the end result of a historical process proves to be counter to the intentions of its initiators. Now Egypt is waiting for its own version of counter finality; either the masses who are revolting for bread and freedom will witness a finality that is counter to their intentions, or the civil elites who are fighting for their share of power will be surprised by a finality that runs counter to their bourgeois wishes. And, alas, there is a third finality: that the military junta intervenes, in one way or another, to abort the mass movement before it becomes possible for it to realize its potential of getting rid of the whole of this rotten order.
Tamer Wageeh is Director of the Economic and Social Justice Unit at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He lives in Cairo and can be contacted at [email protected]
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