John Rees looks at poll results in Greece, France and Egypt and the death of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince
Everything might have changed in three key elections in Greece, France and Egypt at the weekend. But, in the end, do the results just underline the fact that the real drivers of change lie outside electoral politics?
The Greek election was the poll where most was at stake. If the right-wing New Democracy had been beaten by Syriza it would have accelerated the crisis, not just in Greece but across Europe.
Even before Syriza were put to the test of government, even before the expected exit from the Euro, there would have been a sharpening of the domestic struggle in Greece itself. The confidence of the mass movement against austerity, whose child Syriza is, would have risen. The Greek ruling class, among whom there have already been mutterings of a military coup, would have been determined to resist any break with neo-liberal economic orthodoxy.
This prospect alone should have been enough to unite the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and the small far-left grouping Antarsya behind the main electoral challenge to austerity, the more so since this would not have required them to drop their often justified criticisms of Syriza’s economic programme or surrender their organisational independence.
The New Democracy victory, however, does not mean that the political right has gained all its objectives. ND still needs a coalition to govern. The centre-left party PASOK is currently claiming that it will not form a coalition unless Syriza joins it as well. This is unlikely to happen and so, even at the governmental level, stability is not going to be easily achieved.
In economic terms New Democracy will have to force through even greater austerity in the face of a Syriza opposition that has an almost equal electoral mandate.
But now that the elections are over the focus will return to the workplaces, the unions and the streets. This is what caused the earthquake in the electoral system in the first place. It is here that the next round of the battle will be fought.
Electoral politics is always the area most difficult for the left and the area that most divides the left. The return to direct struggle should allow the forces gathered in Antarsya and the KKE to unite with the forces in Syriza in the battle against the ND-led government.
The results in France - a sweeping victory for the Socialist Party - also point in the same direction. The scale of the victory for François Hollande means that he will be able to rule without the help of the Front De Gauche, who won ten seats.
Hollande’s moderate Keynesian programme helps to break up the neo-liberal ideological consensus in Europe, but even its limited measures are unlikely to survive uncompromised. In meetings with Germany’s Angela Merkel, Hollande has already seemed all too willing to accommodate to the ideological centre of European neo-liberalism.
The election of Hollande and the significant far-left campaign by the Front De Gauche have, however, ended the miserable rule of Nicolas Sarkozy, probably France’s most right wing President (with the possible exception of General De Gaulle). This mood can feed into a renewed round of direct confrontation with austerity measures if and when Hollande fails to deliver on his promises in opposition.
In France, as in Greece, the centre of gravity in the fight against austerity looks set to move from electoral politics to extra-parliamentary action, although the speed of this process may well be slower than in Greece.
In Egypt the demonstration of where real power lies could not be starker - or more dangerous.
In the days leading up to the second and final round of voting in the Presidential elections the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) mounted a counter-revolutionary offensive.
First, an election court ruled that last December’s parliamentary elections were invalid because they had excluded candidates associated with the Mubarak regime. SCAF immediately dissolved the parliament with its Muslim Brotherhood (MB) majority.
Then, even while the results of the Presidential election were still being counted, SCAF issued a decree seizing all budgetary powers, re-imposing the most draconian security laws of the Mubarak era, and reserving the right to veto any new constitution that emerges from the body which SCAF itself will appoint to draw up that constitution. Control of the military will not be given to any civilian power.
Even if Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, beats Ahmed Shafiq, the SCAF candidate and the last prime minister appointed by Mubarak, he will have little real power.
SCAF’s actions are a determined counter-revolutionary thrust aimed at the revolution in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular. This development underlines a number of critical points.
Firstly, it shows how deep the Muslim Brotherhood’s error was in compromising with the SCAF regime and siding with it against the revolution on many occasions since the fall of Mubarak. They imagined that this would allow them to be the main beneficiaries of the transition to democracy. What the last week’s events prove is that even the craven opposition of the MB was too much for SCAF to accept and they acted decisively to neuter even this level of resistance.
But it also shows that some on the left who saw the MB as identical to SCAF - and some who also called for a boycott of the election on this basis - were mistaken.
SCAF knew better than this and acted accordingly. If SCAF is successful in destroying the effective power of the Muslim Brotherhood, it will move on to attempt to destroy the whole revolution. The left should have had the equal and opposite strategy: unite to deal with SCAF and, strengthened by that success, then move on to confront the MB and hold them to account for their compromises with SCAF.
Now this strategy will have to be re-built from the ground up, outside the electoral process.
In Saudi Arabia, of course, no electoral considerations apply. Crown Prince Nayef has died ‘outside the kingdom’ as the Palace officials coyly report. Not to worry: the 78 year old next in line to the throne has a spring in his step as he seeks the nomination of the Allegiance Council, entirely made up of the sons and grandsons (but, of course, not the daughters) of the King.
President Obama and David Cameron expressed their regret at the Crown Prince’s passing. As well they might - he was a key architect of the ‘war on terror’, interior minister, and central to the strategy of making Saudi Arabia the centre of counter-revolution in the Middle East.
No doubt in Washington and Whitehall the Crown Prince will be sorely missed. In the streets and workplaces of the Arab world, less so. Here, and in Europe, now that the electoral moment has for the time being played its role, the struggle continues.
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.