Egypt: Military rulers “agree to form a national salvation government”

“Many layers of Egyptian society are protesting”

  • Defend the revolution: Clear out Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces
  • No compromise with the remnants of the old regime
  • No trust in a ‘national salvation’ regime based on the interests of the ruling class, military tops and imperialism

Reuters news agency reported this afternoon that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in Egypt has agreed to “form a national salvation government and will stage presidential elections before July”. The leader of the Wasat Party (a ‘moderate Islamic party) is quoted as saying presidential elections will now be held before July 2012, brought forward from the military’s previous timetable of late 2012 or 2013.

The military regime has been forced to make a partial retreat in the face of mass struggle. This is entirely as a result of the courageous mass protests of youth and workers. But as the CWI has warned from the beginning of the revolutionary movement in Egypt, the masses cannot put any trust in a ‘national unity’ or ‘salvation’ government. This is a trap for working people and youth! It will be made up of elements from the army and various bourgeois parties, possibly including the Muslim Brotherhood, and pro-capitalist politicians. It will primarily act in the vested interests of big business, including the army’s huge wealth.

Scenes today in Tahrir square

The reported concessions by the military regime follow mass protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and elsewhere, demanding the military – the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) – relinquishes power. The last four days have seen the biggest challenge to military rule since the overthrow of Mubarak. Scores of people have been killed and hundreds injured in three days of protests. Two people died today in the port city of Ismailia after state forces clashed with some thousands of protesters. Late last night, tens of thousands occupied Tahrir Square after the puppet cabinet of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf announced its offer to resign.

Parliamentary elections were due to start on 28 November and to be staggered over the next three months. Protesters are angry over a draft document setting out principles for a new constitution, under which the military and its budget could be exempted from civilian oversight. The military also intended to delay the presidential election until late 2012 or early 2013.

Under growing pressure from the streets, the SACF leadership held talks with some opposition political leaders today, including the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The MB’s ‘Freedom and Equality Party’ is expected to do well in elections and refused to take part in today’s protests.

Youth resist state forces

The angry youth on the streets, however, are resisting riot police, troops, rubber bullets, tear gas and ‘birdshot’ and demand the removal of Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi – who heads the SCAF regime and was defence minister for 20 years under Hosni Mubarak – and that the military cleared out. Under military rule, torture and jailings continued unabated.

Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi

The Brotherhood called for the elections to go ahead. They are partly leaning on those sections of the population who are concerned that the protests are bringing chaos to much of Cairo and the city to a standstill, hitting the economy and their livelihoods. They also fear that the protests could actually have lead to the indefinite postponing of elections and democratic rights.

The regime will hope that its reported agreement to form a ‘national salvation government’ and to stage presidential elections before next July will be enough to dissipate the mass street protests. It is unclear which way things will now develop, particularly in the absence of a mass revolutionary socialist opposition. Up to now, during this latest phase of the revolution, the working class has not yet decisively entered the arena of struggle, using its methods of struggle, such as mass strikes and the general strike, which played a crucial role in ousting Mubarak.

But the SCAF’s partial retreat could also encourage the revolutionary youth and workers to push for the removal of the entire regime. According to the AP news agency, the “reported deal was immediately rejected by protesters in Tahrir Square. ‘We are not leaving, he leaves,’ they chanted, referring to Tantawi”.

The regime will hope that its concessions will be enough, at this stage, to see mass protests fall back. The bourgeois opposition, frightened by the developing revolutionary mood in society going beyond their narrow aims, will also want to see the protesters return home, so that they and the generals can start ‘governing’ in the best interests of Egyptian capitalism.

Protests today in Egypt

Build an independent movement that fights for a workers’ government

To win the aims of the revolution – for genuine, lasting democratic rights and real social and economic change – the working class and youth can have no faith in a ‘national salvation’ government of opposition bourgeois politicians and military chiefs but need to build an independent movement that fights for a government of the representatives of workers, small farmers and the poor.

In putting forward a programme to develop the mass struggle, the revolutionary opposition needs to take into account the wider concerns in society mentioned above. There is a danger that the regime and pro-bourgeois opposition forces will be able to rest on broader, more conservative sections of society, potentially isolating Tahrir Square and other protests. Therefore, as well as proposing the demands already outlined on, the CWI supports the building of an independent mass workers’ movement and for the urgent formation of democratic committees in all workplaces, communities and amongst the military rank and file to not only co-ordinate mass resistance to the regime but also to maintain order and supplies, and to act as the basis for a government of workers’ and poor. A workers’ government would crush the remnants of the dictatorship, defend democratic rights and start to meet the economic and social needs of the mass of Egyptians.

– spoke to Amr, on Monday night, a student activist at the German University in Cairo (GUC), about the situation on the ground and the views of students and workers:

“Our GUC struggle continues [for students’ recognition] but now the main focus is to finish what’s happening in Tahrir Square. Twelve of our fellow GUC students have been injured, so far. There are many students in the Square and protests are taking place at colleges all around Egypt. The students and youth want to teach the police another lesson for their brutal actions against protesters.

“Many layers of Egyptian society are protesting. The clash between the people and the regime is also about the people and capitalism. People are now starting to feel that the ‘parliamentary elections are no real choice and that what is happening in Egypt now is another revolution but this time actually it is against the whole regime and the big capitalists.

Tahrir square today

“Very clearly the SCAF has to leave office right now. There have been many martyrs over the past 3 days. The police and army are clearly seen carrying out brutal repression. The youth are heroically fighting back with stones. The protesters are getting organised again, to defend themselves against repression. The police and soldiers were captured on cameras killing people and it is very obvious that they are the ones who started the violence.

“An activist who was injured on the 28th January, losing sight in his right eye, also lost sight of his left eye, just two days ago, after he was hit by a rubber bullet.

“On Tuesday 22 November, there will be marches from everywhere in Cairo to Tahrir Square – it is being called ‘saving the revolution day’. Socialists and student activists are calling for a new general strike. We are appealing to the staff at our university for industrial action.

“It is possible that under huge pressure, the SCAF regime will try to put together a ’national unity’ or ’national salvation’ government – a coalition of pro-capitalist forces and with remnants of the old regime – and go for presidential elections. But if this was to happen, I think that young people and workers will come to see that such a regime will represent much of the old regime’s interests and capitalism, and mass opposition will grow.

Tahrir square last night

“The Left is growing, especially after the big strike wave in September – the highest wave since 1919, excluding the last two days of the Mubarak regime. The Left will need to develop, towards a mass alternative for workers, maintaining its independence – in organisation and socialist programme – to show a way out for the working masses and youth.”

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November 2011