After the coup John Rees asks where now for the Egyptian revolution?
Of all the ways Morsi could fall this is the best and the worst. The best because it arose out of the huge revolutionary mobilisation of the June 30th demonstrations. The worst because the Egyptian army acted to stop a deepening of that mobilisation which could have threatened not just the Morsi government but the entire power structure of the capitalist class.
We cannot know tonight whether the army’s action will result in armed clashes which could alter the whole nature of the struggle in Egypt. That is one reason why it would have been better for the masses to end Morsi’s rule by their own means.
There can be no doubt the masses were right to mobilise against Morsi. His government fell because, in the words of St Just’s epigram from the French Revolution, ‘Those who make a revolution half way only dig their own graves’.
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) were too easily bought by the Egyptian ruling class, too easily pleased with office rather than real power, to ever be an adequate vehicle for a revolution of the social depth and radicalism of the Egyptian revolution.
The MB administration did too little to alleviate the plight of Egypt’s poor, too little to defend workers organising, too little to make the political system democratic.
Above all it tried to make a deal with the security apparatus of the old state. But as R. H. Tawney used to say ‘you can peel an onion leaf by leaf, but you can’t skin a tiger claw by claw’. Now the tiger of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has eaten the MB for breakfast.
SCAF has used the unprecedented out-pouring of discontent that was the June 30th demonstrations to step in and try to regain some of the ground that it lost in the original revolution and, to be fair, when its favoured son, Ahmed Shafique, was beaten in the Presidential run off a year ago by Morsi.
But this is not a straight forward coup. It was only possible on the back of mass mobilisation. As the Guardian’s Jack Shenker noted: the fact that mass street protest forced a political crisis is testament to the revolution’s strength. But the fact that it has led to an army coup is testament to the revolution's weakness.
In the original revolution SCAF removed Mubarak at the end of the 18 days because they feared the depth of the revolution would sweep them away as well if they did not act.
Today SCAF acted to prevent Morsi being overthrown by the people because this would have raised the spectre of a second revolution which would threaten the 'deep state', including the central role of the military. It was a pre-emptive coup. Not to pre-empt action by Morsi, who was little threat to SCAF. But to prevent radical action by the masses, who are a real threat to SCAF.
This paradox is even now in the minds of some in Tahrir Square cheering the army’s action. One observer reports that ‘The singing/celebrating stopped when [a] man stood up and screamed at people celebrating "how can you forget Maspero, Mohammed Mahmoud, Abaseya"’. That is, how can you forget SCAF’s repression of the movement when they last held power in a ‘transitional period’ before they were forced to relinquish it to a political process.
‘The masses’, wrote Trotsky, ‘come to consciousness through the method of successive approximations’. The Egyptian masses first thought that getting rid of Mubarak would be enough. It wasn’t and they mobilised to force the first SCAF transitional government to grant elections. This did not meet the fundamental needs of the revolution either. So they mobilised again to prevent SCAF’s candidate from stealing the election. Morsi won, but was inadequate to the needs of the revolutions. So the masses mobilised on an even deeper and broader scale than ever before, even though the MB now stood against them not with them.
The army’s action cannot be allowed to end this process. The army want an even more compliant regime that the MB provided. They want Mohamed El Baradei, the Christian Pope and the Islamic scholar that have acted as the SCAF frontmen to smooth the passage to new elections in 6 months’ time.
But those 6 months will not see a minimum wage, an end to endemic poverty, or new civil liberties. Battles will continue just as they did after Mubarak fell. And there are many other questions unanswered tonight: will the MB fight? Will SCAF honour it’s promises?
But one thing is clear. SCAF was only able to use the unprecedented revolutionary mobilisation to advance its own agenda because the revolution does not yet have a political and institutional leadership of its own. This is now an urgent priority. Without it the masses will provide the steam, but the engine will be driven by forces opposed to their interests.
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), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.