The counter-revolution is not yet triumphant, the revolution not yet defeated writes Alastair Stephens
Egypt faces a counter-revolution, an attempt not only to slow down, or divert the the revolutionary process, but to stop, and to reverse it, returning the country to the condition as before the overthrow of Mubrarak.
The release of Mubarak from prison is only the most galling sign of this. His former prison is to now be occupied by the last President, Mohamed Morsi, and the rest of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Following their take over the military have acted to turn the clock back. If there was any doubt over whether there was a coup, and Western governments have shamelessly equivocated over this, there surely can’t be now.
A coup by any name
The democratically elected president of the country was removed by the decision of the army. As Reuters reported:
'…Sisi called Mursi and asked him one last time if he would agree to a referendum on his continuation in office or to hand over to the speaker of parliament, the source said. The president demurred and the general told him he was no longer president. Mursi and his closest aide, national security adviser Essam El-Haddad, were effectively placed in detention at the compound and told they could not leave for their own safety.'
There was not even the slightest attempt to pretend there was any legal or constitutional mechanisms at work. The President of the country, elected by millions of people only the year previously, was removed by the army. He has been in prison ever since.
A stooge President, Adly Mansour, was then appointed. He had previously loyally done Mubarak’s bidding as a member of the Constitutional Court (and what is the purpose of such a body in a dictatorship?) since 1992.
Mansour now set about his work of rubber stamping the army’s decisions. One of his first acts was to disband the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, joining in legal oblivion the newly elected lower house which his court last year dissolved on the most spurious grounds.
All the national votes and all the national elected positions have now been annulled by the army. All the democratic institutions created by the revolution have been swept away.
The constitution, controversially passed last December, but at least voted on by the people, has been ripped up and replaced by arbitrary rule as full legislative power is placed in one man’s hands. The President however is just a puppet and it is the military who are pulling the strings.
The army may not have assumed legal power as SCAF did in January 2011, but that was a tactical retreat to prevent the total wreck of the state. SCAF was in power, but a democratic space had been opened up in society to organize from below in.
This seizure of power by the army may have be being fronted by civilians, but this coup is about closing that space down.
A constitutional façade for counter-revolution
the new President then appointed a government of lackeys, which shamefully supposed liberals and democrats, such s El Baradei and the head of Independent Trade Unions joined. It was with such a constitutional and democratic window display that the old military regime used to rule before the January Revolution. The liberals have been joined in government by the “feloul” (“remnants” of the Mubarak regime) who are now back in favour.
It is the old Mubarak apparatus that is now being rebuilt and the a return to those days is being attempted: counter revolution in the truest sense. A restoration of the old order.
They have worked quickly. The democratically elected institutions have been dissolved, the appointments of the Morsi administration rescinded and the feloul are returning in force. The president, the Prime Minister, the new Prosecutor General are all hangers-on of the of the past.
The governors of the provinces appointed by Mursi have all been sacked and replaced by ex-generals and policemen, just as they were under Mubrarak.
The security police are now making a come back as it is announced that they are resume some of their functions previously exercised under Mubarak. The notoriously brutal police are reported to be more bullish than they have been at any time since the revolution.
They also now have carte blanche as a national state of emergency, which the whole country was ruled under for decades prior to the revolution, and a night time curfew is imposed.
Censorship seems to be making a come back. The state media has returned to its old ways, being a shameless mouthpiece for the regime. During the coup the state channels were full of programs lauding the army ad General Sisi. Their have been no pictures of the stacks of bodies of people murdered by the army.
All this is to be given a constitutional facade as a new constitution is written. This time it won’t be by a democratically elected Constituent Assembly, but by a hand picked committee of stooges. It is not surprise to know that the model being looked at is the Turkish Constitution of 1982, one of world’s least democratic constitutions, imposed by the Generals after their bloody coup.
The restoration of 'order'
The genie of revolution is to be put back in the bottle and order is to be restored in society.
And order means absolute control and the repression of all social movements. Western style "bourgeois democracy" is not an option as far as the military and the deep state are concerned. For them all contestation of power must cease. And that is the purpose of the massacres.
Of course the repressive apparatus of the state never went away. Through the revolution arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, police brutality and out and out massacres did not disappear, but there was countervailing force, primarily the movement in the streets. This restricted the state, and at crucial points in the revolution, such as November 2011, imposed its will on the military, as it forced SCAF to relinquish power.
The generals are trying to destroy the power of the street by terrifying people off it. That is the purpose of the massacres. They are not accidents or situations that some how got out of control. The massacres of recent weeks have been particularly brutal, with hundreds of unarmed and defenseless men, women and children mown down, their murders deliberately and methodically carried out. The horror of those events can hardly be imagined.
Target number one: the Brotherhood
The main target of the repression thus far has been the Brotherhood. President Mursi is in jail. He has now been joined by most its leadership including the Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie. Even Mubarak never dared arrest the Brotherhood’s head.
That these prisoners are utterly at the mercy of the security services was demonstrated by the barbarous massacre of thirty-five Brotherhood prisoners this week.
The repression the Brotherhood face is probably the greatest since the early 1950s. The mass arrests of leaders means the organisation has effectively been decapitated. Thousands of others around the country have been detained. It’s party offices have already mostly already destroyed in the June violence, whilst the security forces stood by. Its media outlets have been closed. The organisation itself faces being banned.
Its leaders now all look set to be the centre-piece of a series of show-trials in which they will be charged with crimes ranging from incitement to murder, to cooperation with Hamas, to breaking out of prison during the Revolution. Conviction on the last charge would be the effective criminalizing of the revolution itself, and all its participants.
The language of vilification of the Brotherhood knows no depths. “Terrorist” seems to becoming its standard epithet in the media as they are blamed for numerous crimes which have nothing to do with them, from the killing of 25 soldiers in the Sinai last week to the assassination of President Anwar Sadat three decades ago. “Anti-national”, “anti-Egyptian”, “plotting with foreign powers”, “tools of the Americans”(or Iranians, or Israelis), no allegation seems too absurd now. One ordinary bystander was reported to have said that “The Muslim Brotherhood are not Egyptian, they are not even human at all,” when such beliefs are fostered and made commonplace, mass murder is often follows in its wake.
Some of the most egregious defense’s of the military repression have come from liberals and supposed revolutionaries. Mahmour Badr, of the Tamarod movement, saying that he "I did not see anything bad from the army” and repeating lies about the supposed violence of the Brotherhood. His response to American criticism of the massacres: "Don't lecture us on how to deal with the Brotherhood's terrorism."
The rhetoric against the Brotherhood and their millions of supporters them not only harps on their supposed “terrorist” or “fascist” nature, but also on their supposed backwardness, their rejection “modernity”, as they are derided as being “men with six beards and donkeys”. The language of the secular/religious dichotomy is really the denigration of class hatred for the poor and uneducated, the great unwashed, that should not be allowed any say in the fate of the nation, until they become, suitably modern and western.
Those of proving to be weak of stomach for the military’s campaign of murder against the Brotherhood are also coming in the line of fire as EL Baradei's resignation over the Rabaa bloodbath is condemned as "an escape from responsibility". He now even faces being sued for “breach of promise” for his resignation, in what could herald a campaign of legal harassment against even the liberal supporters of the coup who have qualms about its bloody methods.
The leadership of the Brotherhood wished to do deal with the military when it was in government, and in attempting this broke with the rest of the mass movements.
However it is quite clear that this was never an option for the military, as the ferocity of the speed and ferocity of the repression clearly proves. The military were just biding their time, waiting to reassert control.
The ultimate goal maybe the restoration of "order" and the status quo ante, but the proximate objective is to smash the Brotherhood.
If the popular movement in the revolutionary process had thrown up its own institutions of power, alternative structures of power like workers councils characteristic of so many revolutions, they would have been the first target of the coup. But these have not appeared, so it is the Brotherhood as the largest mass organization, and in governmental power rather than challenging it, that became main the target.
The obvious thing to do for the Egyptian ruling class was to a deal with the Brotherhood to impose a socially conservative and economically liberal regime. However despite its conservative ideology and populist cross ideology (or indeed because of it) the Brotherhood is by far the largest and most important mass organization in Egyptian society. It is not homogenous and can be pulled in different directions, as indeed it has been at important points in the revolutionary process.
The popular will can play no part in Egypt’s government.
It is this that makes the Brotherhood an unsuitable partner for the military. It is Egypt's place in the world system, and specifically in relationship imperialism, the US and Israel, which makes this impossible.
It is unsurprising to hear indications that it was primarily "national security" issues rather than the country's internal situation that finally decided the military to act.
Which brings us to the second reason for the repression against the Brotherhood. It is a way for the military to extricate itself from the General's Dilemma. Generally speaking the longer a military holds power after overthrowing a democratically elected government, the more unpopular it becomes: better to hold elections and hand back power to the politicians quickly. But what if the people again elect the "wrong" party, the party just ousted. This cycle has played itself out again and gain in Turkey, and Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and anywhere else that is coup-prone. Each coup creating the conditions for the next.
And it is why Egypt’s Generals are so closely looking at the Turkish coup of 1980. It has taken thirty years for that settlement to even start to unravel.
As can be seen from the composition of the current administration the military’s favoured partners in government are the feloul elements, which they themselves have rehabilitated, and the liberals parties such as the Wafd, Destour and the SDP, who were so decisively rejected by the voters in parliamentary elections, in 2011 and 2012 taking less than 20% of the vote. In the meantime they are ensuring that the Brothers can never again make any challenge for power at the ballot box.
Still all to play for
But the situation is highly unstable, and the generals far from secure. The have only just started on the path to the “restoration of order”. It is not as simple to reverse changes in mass consciousness as it is to spray the streets with lead. The mass movement of the streets may be in abeyance but the social struggles, and in particular those of the country’s workers, were at never before seen heights on the eve of the coup.
The counter-revolution is not yet triumphant, the revolution not yet defeated.
Alastair Stephens has been a socialist his whole adult life and has been active in Unison and the TGWU. He studied Russian at Portsmouth, Middle East Politics at SOAS and writes regularly for the Counterfire website.