Mohammed Mursi’s first anniversary as president of Egypt was marked by even bigger demonstrations than brought about the downfall of Hosni Mubarak in January 2011. According to military and interior ministry sources, enormous numbers, anywhere from 14 to 17 million people, protested on Sunday 30 June in cities and towns across the country.
Twenty two million signatures have been collected on a petition (which required ID verification) demanding that Mursi resign. That is more than a quarter of the population and many more than the 13.2 million who voted for him in the second round presidential elections in 2012!
Large crowds of protestors remained in the squares of Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere throughout the night. Another large march has been called for Tuesday 3 July. Muslim Brotherhood (MB) offices were attacked and protestors killed by shots fired from within the buildings.
These huge demonstrations are a new stage in the revolution. But, as we have seen over the last few years, in the absence of a strong socialist movement other forces can take advantage of the new movement.
There are many reasons for anger with Mursi’s MB-dominated government. Drivers queue for up to seven hours to buy petrol. Electricity cuts last more than ten hours a day in many areas. The Egyptian pound has fallen in value by 20%, pushing food prices up faster than official inflation, which is now 8.2% a year. Unemployment remains high while economic growth has slowed, with falling foreign investment and tourism. Hotel occupancy rates are barely 15% in Cairo and below 5% in Luxor, although Red Sea resorts are still busy.
Mubarak’s policies continue but protests grow
Business cronies of the Mubarak regime are now courted by Mursi’s government. Some businessmen facing prosecution for corruption and profiteering under Mubarak have been given reprieves. The Egyptian Business Development Association, founded by leading MB businessman Hassan Malek, brings together prominent capitalists to influence government policy in the same way that Mubarak’s son, Gamal, used to do.
Many people fear a new Muslim Brotherhood client state is being created and are angry at Mursi’s appointment of MB members to public posts, such as state governors, and to leading positions in the Egyptian Trade Union Federation. Journalists have been attacked while covering demonstrations and some well-known critics of the MB have lost jobs in state-run media. Comedians have been arrested for insulting the president. Even singers and musicians at Cairo Opera House went on strike in solidarity with the director, after she was sacked by the culture minister in May.
Protests have reached an “all-time high” according to the International Development Centre (IDC). In the last year of Hosni Mubarak’s regime there were an average 176 protests a month. The 2013 average has been 1,140 a month, with a total of 9,427 protests during the first year of Mursi’s presidency. Half of these have been workers’ protests, including 1013 strikes and 811 sit-ins. There have been 500 marches and 150 roadblocks.
Those who hoped the downfall of Mubarak would mark the opening of an era of democratic rights have been increasingly angered at repressive measures adopted by Mursi’s regime. While Mubarak-era businessmen are given light treatment by the regime, the Aviation Minister ordered the sacking of fifteen workers at Cairo Airport after they had taken part in a strike. Five dockers at Alexandria Port Containers Company were sentenced to three years in jail for leading a strike in October 2011. They have just had their sentences overturned on appeal.
On 26 June, Mursi promised new measures to deal with “thuggery” and “terrorism” including road-blocks – a thinly-veiled threat of further repression against workers taking action to defend their livelihoods and communities.
June 30th Demonstration
A new group, Tamarod (Rebel), was launched in April by former members of Kefaya - the group that organised protests for democratic rights under Mubarak. It set a target of collecting 15 million signatures to a petition calling on Mursi to resign. The petition focused on burning democratic, social and economic issues. It stated that there is no justice for those killed by security forces during the anti-Mubarak uprising, the “poor have ‘no place’ in society”, the economy has “collapsed” and the government is forced to “beg” from the IMF for loans and the Mursi regime is condemned for “following in the footsteps of the US”. Within a few weeks, the petition campaign claimed 6,000 volunteers and over 100,000 Facebook followers. Many existing opposition political movements have supported the campaign, including the April 6 Youth Movement, the liberal Constitution Party, Socialist Popular Alliance Party and the Strong Egypt Party, founded by former MB leading figure Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, who opposed Mursi in the presidential election.
Their aim is “to avoid the mistakes of the past period and to continue on the path of the January 25th Revolution,” according to co-founder of Tamarod, Mohamed Abdel Aziz. Organisers said “there will be no flags or banners except Egyptian flags in the demonstrations, as well as photos of Egypt’s martyrs, starting with the martyrs of the January 25 Revolution.”
Mass workers’ party needed
While there is an understandable mood for unity, an anti-party political mood reflects the disappointment many feel with the dozens of parties that sprung up after the overthrow of Mubarak. Most of these called for some form of capitalist democracy, while leaving the real rulers of Egypt in place – unelected big businessmen and generals. The enthusiasm of party leaders for well-paid elected office has not inspired confidence among workers and poor people.
Those on the Left who supported Mursi in June 2012 in opposition to the Mubarak regime presidential candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, such as the Revolutionary Socialists (RS), served to spread further confusion. The development of independent action and organisation by the working class and poor is key, they need their own mass party to fight for their interests and democratic rights.
Tamarod calls on Mursi to resign, to be replaced by an independent prime minister for six months who “will head a technocratic government whose main mission is to put together an urgent economic plan to save the Egyptian economy and to expand social justice policies.”
‘Saving the Egyptian (capitalist) economy’ will mean more attacks on workers and the poor with cuts in subsidies of basic foods and more privatisation to satisfy the International Monetary Fund – the opposite of January 2011 demands for bread, freedom and social justice.
Workers and the poor need a living minimum wage, a shorter working week without loss of pay, a massive house, school and hospital building programme and investment in public transport, which would create much-needed jobs. Socialist demands combined with a programme of democratic rights could gain massive support if put forward by a workers’ party built by the growing trade unions.
Without such a programme, the MB leaders can continue to lean on a conservative layer within the poor masses, especially in the countryside. Just as Erdogan in Turkey has been able to mobilise significant numbers in his support, there have been big demonstrations supporting Mursi, with about 100,000 in Cairo on 21st June, although there were fewer reported as demonstrating for him on Sunday 30 June. A socialist programme, appealing to the class interests of the poor and exposing the big business interests of some leading MB members, could split significant layers of Mursi’s support away.
General Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and Defence Minister, said on 23 June that the military could be called upon to intervene to prevent the country from “slipping down a dark tunnel of criminality, treason, sectarian strife, or collapse of state institutions.”
On Monday 1 July senior officers issued an ultimatum to Mursi and opposition political leaders - reach agreement with each other within 48 hours and halt the dangerous polarisation within Egypt.
What the army generals and entire ruling class fear most of all is the independent mass action of the working class and youth, which could threaten their key interests. In addition, elements linked to the old Mubarak regime are seeking to defend their interests, as is US imperialism. However the generals do not appear confident about conducting a direct military crackdown, at the moment, and instead present themselves as playing the role of ‘arbiters’, trying to forge a government of ‘national unity’.
A dangerously confused position of some Tamarod leaders suggests they would support the military to retake power. Mahmoud Badr, a spokesperson, welcomed the military leaders’ statement. “The army responding to the demands of the people crowns our movement,” he said. Crowds in Tahrir Square reportedly cheered when they heard the news, chanting, “The Army and the people are one hand.”
It seems possible that behind the scenes, the US government has switched emphasis from backing Mursi to backing the army as being the best means of stabilising the country and its capitalist economy. Ten government ministers resigned on 1 July, suggesting that Mursi may struggle to hang on much longer. Mursi, seeking to divert criticism away from the MB, blames “ex-associates” of the ousted Mubarak regime for plotting the collapse of his regime and on 2 July he rejected the army’s demands.
Most senior officers do not want to take direct responsibility for government, at this stage. They had preferred to let the MB take the flak as opposition to its rule rises. However, there are undoubtedly those in the military and security forces who yearn to retake the power they exercised during Mubarak’s long rule. The armed forces own key sections of the economy, with senior officers making fortunes from their control over them. They want economic and political stability as much as any other capitalist businessmen so they can continue to make money.
It is only eighteen months since the military government was shooting demonstrators in Cairo. Any government - Islamic or secular, civilian or military – that defends the continuation of capitalism will attack the interests of the vast majority of Egyptians.
The lack of a programme addressing workers’ day-to-day needs from Tamarod or any major party is allowing a dangerous vacuum into which the poison of sectarianism could explode. Coptic Christians have felt threatened by the MB’s programme of Islamisation and by attacks on churches.
Mursi and the MB have lined up with the reactionary Saudi Arabia and Gulf sheikhs supporting the Sunni opposition to Assad’s regime in Syria. There are three million Shia Muslims in Egypt. Extremist Salafi clerics have denounced Shias, with one Member of Parliament describing them as “more dangerous than naked women” and a threat to national security. In this sectarian atmosphere, a crowd of 3,000 attacked Shia homes in the village of Zawyat Abu Musulam on 23 June, dragging four men from their homes and killing them.
For a workers’ government and socialist democracy
Socialist and trade union activists can build movements that overcome sectarian divisions by building support for a programme of class solidarity against the common enemy of big business, whether imperialist or Egyptian. The mass struggles released by the revolution’s start in 2011 are still continuing. Many independent unions sprung up across the country in recent years. Mursi himself has drawn attention to 4,900 recorded strikes that took place over the last 12 months. A general strike can draw together oppressed sections of society and could gain support from many of the middle class. But a general strike must not be to overthrow one dictator and see him replaced by another, whether a general, businessman or capitalist politician.
Democratically elected strike committees and mass committees of action in every large workplace, local community and college could discuss and draw up a programme for real revolutionary change. They could link together at local and national level, laying the basis for a government of representatives of workers’ and the poor.
Appealing to workers across the region to take similar action against poverty, sectarianism and repression could build a movement for socialism throughout the Middle East and North Africa.