Egypt at deadly crossroads

September 7, 2013

From the new September-October 2013 issue of News & Letters:


Egypt at deadly crossroads

“The revolution was not launched in the name of an Islamic State, or a military state. Our revolution was launched in the name of freedom and social dignity and social justice….”
Mona Eltahawy

The horrific events taking place in Egypt today show the dead end of all alternatives to revolution. The military, led by Deputy Prime Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has been all too happy to retake power and impose capitalist “stability” once again. They have declared a State of Emergency and month-long curfew.

Slaughtering over 1,000 and injuring many more, the military fired automatic weapons into mostly unarmed crowds, aiming for the head and chest, and positioned deadly snipers throughout cities. The confrontations between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood have become a series of massacres.

No place is safe from the army, the police, and vigilante bands. They have attacked mosques, hospitals and morgues. The number imprisoned is unknown. Leftists and reporters have been taken as well as members of the Brotherhood.


The outcry in Egypt would be greater but the Brotherhood, hated by most of the public, has emphasized its own reactionary nature through sectarian attacks on Coptic churches, and promotion of self-destructive acts by its followers. Both sides represent different faces of counter-revolution, but at this point only one is well armed.

In contrast, the mass demonstrations that forced the removal of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3 were a call to deepen the revolution. Millions took to the streets in opposition to Morsi’s rule in demonstrations larger than those that ousted former dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Morsi was narrowly elected in 2012, by a minority of eligible voters, against the unpopular Ahmed Shafik, the last Prime Minister of the hated Mubarak regime. Despite some people’s hopes or illusions, Morsi ruled as the narrow religious sectarian that he is, with anti-woman and anti-labor laws high on his agenda. Nothing was done to address the capitalist crisis at the root of Egypt’s massive unrest. The youth of the Tamarod (Rebellion) movement gathered 22 million signatures in a petition calling for Morsi’s removal–more than all the votes that were cast in his election.

Significantly, the women textile workers of Muhalla al-Kubra joined the massive June 30 anti-Morsi demonstrations. Their strikes of 2006-11 inspired many youth who occupied Tahrir Square in the momentous days of Mubarak’s downfall; strikes that continued during the rule of the military council and the Muslim Brotherhood. The religious fantasies of the Brotherhood never had anything to say to their class, never began to grasp its everyday life and struggles. Strikes spread throughout the economy under Morsi’s rule.

Following Morsi’s overthrow, new strikes have broken out at a number of textile plants: Nasr and Stia Spinning and Weaving companies in Muhalla, Damietta Spinning in Damietta, Misr Spinning and Bayda Dyers in Kafr al-Dawwar. These often overlooked struggles are the living roots of Egypt’s future.

The youth who split from the Brotherhood in support of the Jan. 25 Revolution, which the Brotherhood did not support, were a concrete example of how revolutions change social relations, and why their success is determined by these changes.


The violence of the military and the Brotherhood are designed to prevent these changes. As against the new social relations made imaginable by the Arab Spring, these counter-revolutionary forces aim to stop history in its tracks.

The defeat of Egypt’s Brotherhood theocrats brought hope to similar struggles in Tunisia (where Leftist politicians have been assassinated, and where a new Tamarod youth movement has arisen), Turkey, Iran, and within the ranks of Syrian revolutionaries. The mass chant, “You lied to us in the name of religion!” resonates deeply. The Egyptian generals are acting to usurp this world-historic, international movement.

The generals, now casting themselves in the role of Gamal Abdel Nasser and Egyptian nationalism, are playing to the sentiment felt by many in the opposition that “The army and the people are one hand.” This could not be farther from the truth. The generals view “democracy” as a grab bag of political tendencies to be appropriated for use when needed, to be cast aside when they become dead weight as Morsi did. The “technocrats” they placed in positions of authority have no illusions about this. More important, the masses should have no illusions, even if some Tamarod “leaders” who have attacked the independent revolutionaries of the Third Square (neither army nor Brotherhood) movement are propagating them.


The army-anointed road to new elections and a new constitution, now lit up by tracer bullets and flash grenades, is designed to channel the masses’ revolutionary impulses into a direction safe for capitalism and the military’s power.

Neither religion, nor the military, nor any party can substitute for the self-organization of masses in motion. Only they can not only overthrow the old but deepen the revolution to social revolution that establishes the foundation for a new classless, non-sexist, non-sectarian, truly human society. Until that becomes the banner of the masses, new “representatives”–whether the Brotherhood, the army, or a secular, civilian, liberal leader–will arise to short-circuit the revolutionary process.

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