The Left and the second-round Presidential elections
Eighteen months after the revolutionary uprising of workers and youth that brought down the corrupt Mubarak dictatorship, Egypt holds its sixth round of elections on 16-17 June. In the past seven months there have been two rounds of voting for both lower and upper houses of parliament, followed by the first round of elections for a new president.
On 14 June the High Constitutional Court, which is stacked with Mubarak-era supporters, ruled that the parliamentary elections were unconstitutional and dissolved parliament. This “smoothest military coup” means the political Islamist-led parliament will be immediately dissolved. The Court also supported the right of Mubarak’s last prime minister to run for president. The Court’s ruling marks another stage in the increasing struggle for power between the old regime and the rising power of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is also another move by the Mubarak remnants against the working masses and revolutionary opposition. The Court’s decision could formally leave the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) running Egypt for a further six-eight months.
The final round of voting for president will still take place, with two candidates who each gained about a quarter of the votes in the first round – Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and Ahmed Shafiq, a minister in the old regime who was appointed as prime minister days before Mubarak was forced to resign. He held the post for three weeks before he too was forced to resign.
Despite the strong show of support for Hamdeen Sabbahi, the radical ‘Nasserist’ candidate whose vote was just 3% behind Mursi and 2% behind Shafiq in the first round, there is now no candidate for president to represent the hopes and interests of the working class and the poor.
SCAF’s counter-revolutionary candidate
Shafiq has the backing of SCAF who have ruled Egypt since Mubarak’s downfall. This is the same regime that ruled before the January 25th 2011 revolution, minus Mubarak, his sons and a few other henchmen. Shafiq stands for the continuation of rule by this big business regime, with SCAF retaining power behind the scenes.
Shafiq has made the need for security and ‘law and order’ his main campaign issue. But behind talk of the need to cut crime is the clear threat to clamp down on the rights to protest, to organise independent trade unions and to strike. After 18 months of revolutionary turmoil, Shafiq stands for counter-revolution to end the challenge to the ruling classes’ right to exploit the rest of society.
Shafiq’s votes in the first round came from those looking back, with some nostalgia, to the apparent stability of life under Mubarak. These included small businessmen and traders who lost money following the revolutionary upheavals and consequent fall in tourism, older people with links to Mubarak’s former ruling party and Coptic Christians fearful of becoming a persecuted minority under an Islamic regime. It is estimated that 40%-50% of Copts’ votes in the first round went to Shafiq and 30% to Sabbahi.
Muslim Brotherhood’s record
Mursi’s share of the vote was almost half what his FJP had won in the parliamentary elections earlier this year on a lower turnout, his total vote falling from 10 million to 5.8 million. He was the FJP’s second choice candidate, after the disqualification of multi-millionaire Khairat al-Shater.
In recent days, Mursi has tried to portray himself as the candidate to defend the revolution against the restoration of the old regime. That is not easy for him given the MB’s role before, during and since the revolution. For years, the MB leadership avoided direct confrontation with the Mubarak regime, despite frequent arrests and imprisonment of leading members. At first, they opposed the January 25th uprising. It was only after large numbers of MB youth ignored these ‘leaders’, joining other youth in Tahrir and other city squares, that the MB leadership was forced to change its tune and declare its support for the revolution.
After the downfall of Mubarak, the MB leaders co-operated with SCAF until November. Coming under massive pressure from below, they then supported a demonstration called for 18 November but continued to avoid outright confrontation with the generals. MB leaders have continued to swing between co-operation with SCAF and opposition, depending on whether they have felt under greater pressure from the generals or the masses.
The MB leaders opposed independent working class action and, in particular, strike action. Some revolutionary groups put out a call for a general strike and campaign of civil disobedience starting on 11 February 2012, the first anniversary of the downfall of Mubarak. These groups did not have sufficient roots in the working class to turn this into a real challenge to SCAF. Yet the Brotherhood leaders condemned the strike call. MB Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein went even further and urged people to double their work rate in order to "rebuild the country and not bring it down…These calls are extremely dangerous and threaten the nation and its future." By “nation”, he means the profits of big business. In March, striking bus drivers in Port Said were not supported by their Muslim Brotherhood MPs, who had been elected just two months earlier. Indeed, MB MPs have proposed outright bans on strikes.
The MB leaders represent the interests of a section of the capitalists’ class who were excluded from political power under Mubarak’s regime. They use right wing, political Islam to build a base of support among the most conservative layers in society. Since their election to parliament, MB MPs have been trying to remove women’s and children’s rights, for example removing a woman’s right to initiate divorce proceedings and proposing to lower the legal age of marriage to 12 years. They attack these rights on the grounds that they were introduced under the old regime when Mubarak signed up to international agreements.
Muslim Brotherhood attack socialists
Last December, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Gamal Tag-al-Din, made a serious official legal complaint against three prominent members of the Revolutionary Socialists (RS – the Egyptian section of the International Socialist Tendency). He accused the three of planning to burn down public buildings, as part of a plot to violently overthrow the state. This could have resulted in lengthy prison sentences and have acted as a pretext for repression of revolutionary groups. The fabricated charge was eventually withdrawn after widespread protests. An RS statement at the time correctly said that the Brotherhood was being used as a "tool of the state" in an assault on revolutionary activists.
After the parliamentary elections, in February, the Socialist Worker newspaper (Britain) reported: “[The] Brotherhood also faced open hostility for being seen as collaborators with the military. They just won the majority of seats in parliament, a sign of their roots and support. But although parliament only sat for the first time on Monday, they are already seen as letting people down. Today this was turned against the Brotherhood. ‘Raise your head up high you are only a chair,’ protesters shouted – meaning they had sold out on the revolution just to gain a seat in parliament.” (SW 24.2.12)
Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists’ mistake
Less than three months ago, the RS talked of their duty “to engage in the battle to expose the candidates representing the alliance between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood…” (SW 24.3.12)
Yet during the run-up to the final round of the presidential elections on 16/17 June, the RS have called for votes for Mursi to defeat Shafiq.
Of course, many of the exploited in society, for want of a class alternative, will vote for the MB as a “lesser evil”, in opposition to the Mubarak-era forces and the rule of the generals. Many millions more have indicated they will boycott the elections.
For socialists in this situation, the first duty is to maintain an independent class position. This entails telling workers and the oppressed the truth about the character of the MB, to explain why it cannot be a solution to their problems and what the MB in power would mean for the working class.
The 28th May RS statement talks of “the magnitude of the error in failure to discriminate between the reformism of the Muslim Brotherhood and the ‘fascism’ of Shafiq.” (2.6.12) Where is the evidence for this “reformism”? Speeches by Mursi during the campaign are pure electioneering. The RS should be warning Egyptian workers and youth that neither Mursi nor Shafiq can further their interests. To suggest that Mursi is more ‘progressive’ is to repeat the political line of the Popular Front followed by Communist Parties around the world under the direction of Stalin, always with disastrous consequences. It led to the defeat of the Chinese revolution in 1927, the Spanish revolution in the 1930s, Indonesian workers in 1965, the Iranian revolution in 1979 and many others.
Once the elections are over, Egypt’s economic crisis will take centre stage. Currency reserves are falling by about $600million a month, as the rich take their money out of the country and income from tourism remains low. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) have offered a loan on condition that there is ‘broad political support’, meaning that politicians of all governing parties sign up to their programme of tax rises and public spending cuts, especially on food and fuel subsidies.
Former MB candidate al-Shater said he was not opposed to a deal with the IMF in principle, but only to that part of the plan that stipulates to pay out part of the loan while the SCAF-backed transitional government remained in power. Capitalist economists warn that a failure to get a loan from the IMF will lead to a sharp rise in prices, as the Egyptian pound falls in value, with a sharp rise in interest rates and a banking crisis. Whether it is tax rises and spending cuts, or rising inflation and growing unemployment, the price for workers and the poor is the same – a massive attack on already desperately low living standards.
By giving even conditional support to Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the RS can end up being blamed when workers’ living standards and their newly-won democratic rights come under renewed attack from his government. This increases the danger that disillusioned Muslim Brotherhood supporters turn, not to the left, but to the more right-wing political Islam of the Salafist Nour party.
The RS has supported the formation of a ‘presidential council in which Mursi would work together with Sabbahi and the liberal Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, who came fourth in the first round. In other words, the Revolutionary Socialists advocate the formation of a coalition government dominated by pro-bourgeois, pro-market economy parties. It is one thing to advocate a temporary bloc of the Left with other political forces in a concrete struggle for basic democratic rights, as long as socialists can maintain their own separate political banner. It is quite another thing to call for the Left and socialists to enter a government dominated by political parties that represent wings of the capitalist class and which adhere to the dictates of the capitalist market.
While supporting Sabbahi’s programme – raising the minimum wage from LE700 to LE1200 per month, a maximum wage, unemployment benefit for youth, a minimum grant of LE500 to four million poor families and opposing austerity measures – socialists need to explain that the conservative, pro-market Muslim Brotherhood is not going to deliver on major reforms for working people. In fact, they have signalled they are willing to take part in counter-reforms that will attack the social and living conditions of workers and youth.
Socialists need to point out that to achieve even the limit reforms promised by Sabbahia and more social gains for working people, under a crisis-ridden economy will need more far-reaching measures to be taken, including nationalising all the big corporations and banks, under democratic workers’ control. This would prevent the rich removing their wealth from Egypt into foreign banks and enable the economy to be democratically planned in the interests of the vast majority of society. But the RS do not warn that neither Sabbahi nor Abul-Fotouh stand for these necessary measures and that Mursi would be completely hostile to such a programme.
Will the Brotherhood deliver on democratic and trade union rights?
Neither will the Brotherhood leaders deliver on the democratic and trade union rights that the RS demands of them and of a bourgeois-dominated ‘presidential coalition’– a “law of trade union freedoms” and a “civil constitution”. While coming under pressure from below to give more democratic and trade union freedoms, the MB in power will primarily act on behalf of the ruling class and will come under huge pressure to primarily safeguard the interests of the ruling class and the capitalist system. Under conditions of continuing economic, social and political crisis, democratic and workplace rights under any bourgeois regime in Egypt will severely limited and the ruling class will not hesitate to try to take them away when their rule is seriously threatened. The MB in power will inevitably come into conflict with the working class on democratic and social issues. As the revolution last year showed, to win democratic and social gains, the working class can only rely on its own collective power and methods of mass struggle, including general strikes, and by building a strong, independent political alternative to all pro-capitalist parties.
The RS went on to say: “We cannot fail here to call on the Muslim Brotherhood and all the political forces to put the interests of the revolution before party-political interest and to unite against Shafiq so that we do not deliver our revolution to its enemies as easy prey.” (SW 2.6.12)
Socialist revolution needed!
What sort of revolution is the RS asking “the MB and all the political forces” to support? The “January 25th 2011 revolution marked the entry of the masses onto the stage of history and led to the overthrow of Mubarak. But the rule of the capitalist class and their army generals continues. A second revolution is needed to change society – a socialist revolution in which the working class leads the poor, the small farmers, middle classes and youth to take power from the bankers, big business and SCAF. A mass movement with a socialist programme could win the ranks of the armed forces away from the generals.
While Mursi claims to be defending the revolution, a socialist revolution is definitely not what he means. Mursi and most of “the political forces” the RS refer to, support a transfer of power from Mubarak’s clan to themselves, but not to workers and the poor. The RS are making a serious mistake to suggest workers and youth have any common interest with these political forces.
The most important task facing revolutionary workers and youth in Egypt is to build the confidence of the working class in its own strength. Organising and building independent trade unions and a mass workers’ party that can unite workers, youth and the poor together to fight for their interests, are key tasks. Workers need to maintain the independence of their organisations, as many years of the Mubarak-supporting leadership of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation showed. They held back struggles and agreed deals with the bosses that kept workers in poverty.
When the elections have finished, depending on the outcome, there may be a feeling of demoralisation among some workers and youth – a feeling that the sacrifices and energy they have spent in the past 18 months have been in vain. But it is also possible that crude vote rigging by SCAF and the intervention of the pro-Mubarak Courts to bring about a ‘victory’ for Shafiq, can act as the “whip of counter-revolution”, provoking new mass protests and an upsurge in revolutionary struggles.
What is certain is that increasing attacks on living standards and attempts to withdraw newly-won democratic rights by whatever regime is in power will inevitably result in new waves of struggle, sooner or later. Blocked on the political front, class war will reopen on the industrial front, with more strikes and occupations. These will give opportunities to win supporters of the MB away from the right wing MB leadership, as occurred in Tahrir and other squares during the uprising against Mubarak.
There will be many opportunities to build workers’ organisations and for workers to learn the need for a second, socialist revolution. But this will only occur on the mass scale necessary to change society if Marxists boldly advance a programme that relates to the daily problems facing workers and the poor and linking this to the need for socialism. Part of this struggle entails workers fighting for real democratic and social change, including the convening of a genuine constituent assembly and for a workers’ government to fundamentally change society.
Complete independence of workers’ organisations from the interests of the bosses, whether these are military, Islamic or secular, is essential to be able to point the way forward. The ‘alliances’ that Egyptian workers and youth need are with each other, across religious and sectarian lines, as well as with other workers in the region and across the world, who face the same capitalist and imperialist oppressors.