Perspectives of the revolutionary process in Egypt after Mubarak’s downfall

February 28, 2011

Mubarak’s revolutionary downfall

The February 11 downfall of the hated dictator Hosni Mubarak, who governed the country with an iron fist for 30 years, is without a doubt a victory for the workers, young people, the unemployed and the poor, who mobilized massively for 18 days in the main cities of the country and occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo.

Neither repression by the police and Mubarak’s fascist bands, who left hundreds of dead and tens of thousands of wounded, nor the empty promises of an opening-up and democratization, from the dictator, were enough to placate the people’s hatred and deactivate the protests driven by profound democratic and structural demands, among them, the downfall of the autocratic and pro-imperialist regime of Mubarak and his closest collaborators, like Omar Suleiman, the end of poverty, unemployment and the scandalous social inequality. Undoubtedly, the key element that ended up precipitating Mubarak’s downfall was the organized intervention of the Egyptian working class that, with its own methods of strikes, pickets and occupations, stamped another dynamic on the process. Beginning February 8, tens of thousands of working men and women from the public sector and from strategic industries and services, went on strike throughout the country for increased wages, against precarious employment, and for the right to organize democratic unions. Railroads, hospitals, telephone communications, the textile industry, banks and the administration of the Suez Canal, among others, were completely shut down. Against the skepticism encouraged for decades by ideologues and intellectuals in the service of capitalism, the Egyptian workers showed, in one day, the immense social power of the working class. In view of the certain perspective that the process made a leap with the consolidation of an alliance among the workers, the youth, the unemployed and the poor people of the cities and the countryside, the army that was maintained as the principal support of the regime, by assuming a supposed neutrality during the 18 days of protest, removed support from Mubarak and took control of the country with the aim of dismantling the revolutionary process and trying to reimpose “order†and “normality.â€

The government of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, headed by Hussein Tantawi, the third strongman in Mubarak’s dictatorship and Air Force General Ahmad Shafiq as Prime Minister, dissolved Mubarak’s knock-off parliament and suspended the Constitution, although it kept in force the state of emergency that has been in force for 30 years. Moreover, it named a council of jurists to reform some articles of Mubarak’s Constitution. In view of the threat of revolution and the weakness of the bourgeois oppositional variants, the local capitalist class, US imperialism and its allies, among them, the State of Israel, negotiated that it would be the army that leads an “orderly transition†to guarantee the essential continuity of the regime that protects their interests. Not by chance, one of the first measures of the military junta’s government was to reaffirm Egypt’s international commitments, that is, peace with the State of Israel and the collaboration of the army to keep the Palestinian people subjugated. One of the models that the Obama administration is discussing for post-Mubarak Egypt is Turkey, that is, a state with a strategic alliance with the United States, where the army will be the central pillar of the regime, in which even moderate Islamist parties — like the Muslim Brotherhood — committed to maintaining the interests of the state and imperialism, will participate. We revolutionary Marxists greet the big victory of the Egyptian masses, that managed to overthrow one of the most dependable allies of US imperialism in the region. But this is the beginning and not the end of the revolutionary process: the army, the institution in which real power resides, has remained intact, which allowed it to become the government and appear as the architect of the emergence of a new bourgeois regime, thereby expropriating the victory of the popular mobilization. Because of that, it is necessary to continue the struggle for the downfall of this government, against imperialism and for all the demands of the workers and people.

A new stage

Mubarak’s downfall, as a result of the workers’ and people’s mobilization and not from a reactionary coup d’état, opened a period in which the relation of forces is still undetermined, that is, a “transition†has been set in motion, but the regime that will emerge from the process cannot yet be defined. The army took power, and from there it will try to reestablish order, but with the contradiction that the support it has among the masses can vanish, if it finds itself forced to resort to open repression. This, in its turn, could radicalize the process and provoke a split in its ranks between the soldiers and non-commissioned officers, who showed a certain sympathy for the mobilizations, and the high command, that is part of the country’s ruling class, something that until now they have been able to avoid. On the other hand, the broad social and political bloc that led to the downfall of the dictatorship is showing its divisions and fault lines. The middle class mainly considers that it has already achieved its central objective with the downfall of Mubarak and is exerting pressure on the military junta to carry out the “transition†to a new regime with formal political freedoms. The bourgeois opposition, beginning with El Baradei and the Muslim Brotherhood, accepted that the military junta should remain in the government, for six months or for whatever time is necessary to set up a credible bourgeois variant to present in the presidential elections, and they began to negotiate their own participation in the new regime. This is not surprising. El Baradei is one of the alternatives that imperialism is manipulating to carry out the “democratic reaction,†and the Muslim Brotherhood, in addition to its profoundly reactionary religious ideology and to having coexisted with Mubarak’s regime in exchange for maintaining a semi-legal status, is an organization that defends the established economic order and has in its ranks members of the affluent local elite. But the most important thing is that the victory achieved encouraged the workers to continue and extend the strike wave to all sectors of the country’s economy, to obtain their own demands, that are not only economic, but include the expulsion of the administrators of state-owned factories appointed by Mubarak, which puts them in a confrontation with the government and the army. In one of the first government communiqués, the army explicitly called for ending the strikes, explaining that “the noble Egyptians see that these strikes, in this delicate moment, have negative effects, like damaging the security of the country, which causes disruption of all the institutions of the state.†The attempt of the military leadership to prohibit the right to strike and union meetings has collided with the open opposition of tens of thousands of workers, who consider, with good reason, that they won that democratic right with Mubarak’s downfall. A process of organizing unions independent of the official union federation, allied with Mubarak and the regime, has even begun. The dynamic that this tension between the working class and the representatives of the “transition†takes, could have a decisive influence on the future stages of the process, that is, if the trend to the general strike deepens, and that again propels groups of the masses into the struggle, or if the army, basing itself on its prestige, manages to prevent repression and wins significant groups for its plan of “transition.†Part of this plan is the request for an international economic bailout that the military junta made, and the empty promises of a “Marshall Plan†from Italy and other countries, also hit by the economic crisis.

The army and the opposition in the service of the bourgeoisie and imperialism

Since the 1952 Free Officers’ coup, that put an end to British colonialism and brought G. Nasser to power, the army has changed into the key institution of the regime and the state, in addition to accumulating a lot of economic power. According to some analysts, at least 10% of the national economy is controlled by the armed forces. A large part of these privileges were obtained through the privatizing programs of Mubarak and the IMF, that allowed the appropriation by the high command, of state-owned enterprises and lands taken from the peasants. The masses still have illusions that the army is on their side, which prevented a greater radicalization of the struggle and continues to be one of the main limits of the revolutionary process. These illusions can be explained by historical reasons — the bourgeois nationalist history of the army and its confrontation with Israel in the Yom Kippur War — and by the army’s refusal to repress, apart from exceptions, during the struggle against Mubarak. However, the Egyptian army was not only Mubarak’s main support, but also received 1.5 billion dollars per year from the United States, to guarantee regional stability, peace with the Zionist state, and the blockade of the Gaza Strip, among other things. This same army is the one that appointed the committee charged with writing the new Constitution and presenting it for consideration in a referendum, avoiding the possibility of a sovereign constituent assembly.

The experience with the military government that has as its task creating stable conditions for bourgeois control, for which it is indispensable to put an end to social agitation, can, sooner rather than later, end these illusions and leave the true role of the army and its profoundly reactionary and pro-imperialist character, exposed. The workers, the youth, and popular groups cannot entrust their fate to the bourgeois opposition to Mubarak. Despite its structural weakness after 30 years of dictatorship, it is playing the role of a civilian cover for military power, and it is proposing itself as a candidate for the replacement part in a possible bourgeois democratic regime. The same day as Mubarak’s downfall, Mohamed El Baradei stated that “We trust the army, and we call on all the people to give them an opportunity to implement what they promised,†whereas for the Muslim Brotherhood, “the main objective of the revolution has already been achieved.†The policy of a “democratic reaction,†encouraged by imperialism, in order to divert the process, is relatively late and weak, not only because of the crisis of the official opposition, but also because it is arriving when the workers’ and popular mobilization has already developed. However, if the revolutionary process does not make a new leap against its current enemies, the bourgeoisie and imperialism will take advantage of the months of “transition†to transform some figure of the “opposition†into a reliable candidate who can play the role of a diversion.

The profound driving forces of the Egyptian revolutionary process

The revolutionary process in Egypt, as the highest point of the wave that is crossing northern Africa and reaching other Arab countries, represented the profound aspirations of the masses: putting an end to poverty, hunger, unemployment, and social inequality, aggravated by the capitalist crisis, and overthrowing the dictatorial and pro-imperialist regimes that imposed privatizations and neo-liberal policies with an iron fist, with the collaboration of a supportive union bureaucracy and a powerful repressive apparatus. Egypt now has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the region, that reaches 24%, while the monthly wage of a worker is 75 dollars, and there are millions, more than 50% of the population, who live crowded together in the areas surrounding the big cities, by surviving on 2 dollars a day. Although these conditions took shape during decades of a neo-liberal offensive with its privatizations and austerity measures, in the last three years, with the increase in prices of the basic basket, what has become widespread for the impoverished urban masses is hunger. It was precisely in 2008 that the urban poor and workers of this country led one of the so-called “hunger revolts,†with emblematic workers’ actions like the so-called “bread strike.†Because Egypt is a country that imports food, with the rise in price of raw materials as a result of the international economic crisis, and of the limits of the policy of state subsidies, bread is almost unattainable for the greater part of the population, which views with hatred the fact that while he cannot guarantee basic needs, Hosni Mubarak has a personal fortune of between 40 and 70 billion dollars. The struggle against Mubarak has as a precedent the wave of workers’ strikes and popular protests, that has been developing unevenly since 2004, with defeats and some victories. The high point of this ascent was the strike by thousands of textile workers in the city of Al-Mahala, in April, 2008. That process included a workers’ and popular mobilization of almost half a million people, that ended up by harshly confronting the police and burning portraits of Mubarak. In solidarity with that workers’ struggle, the April 6 Coalition, that has played a role in leading the current mobilizations, was formed. This explains both the depth of the process underway and the role that the working class played as a fundamental social force in Mubarak’s downfall, and the bourgeois fear that the masses will not be satisfied with formal democratic changes and will make an attempt on the very bases of capitalism in decline.

No to the trap of the transitional arrangements

For a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly
For a workers’ and popular government

In the first phases of the revolutionary process the masses toppled the dictator Mubarak but they didn’t manage to break the army, which is the pillar of the bourgeois state. In spite of the blow, imperialism and the ruling class in Egypt are taking advantage of the weaknesses and illusions of the masses in order to win a social base among the most conservative sectors of the middle class in order to re-establish their dominance. The same army chiefs of staff who were in place during the dictatorship, who for decades carried out Mubarak’s orders and were the right-hand men of imperialism and the Zionist state of Israel, are those who are now leading the ‘transition’ towards a new bourgeois regime. In this task they are counting on the complicity of figures of the bourgeois ‘opposition’, the Muslim Brotherhood included. The Egyptian masses must not allow these reactionary forces to appropriate their triumph, which cost 300 dead and thousands of injured. The departure of the dictator is not enough. It is necessary to carry out a struggle to achieve full democratic freedom, including the freedom to organise in political parties and trade unions. The emergency laws must be immediately abolished, all political prisoners must be released and the special prisons in the desert where the Mubarak’s torturers acted on behalf of the CIA must be closed. Those responsible for crimes under the dictatorship, starting with the military junta which is in government at present, must be put on trial and punished, and the entire repressive apparatus must be dissolved. The oppression of women and discrimination against minorities must end.

No trust must be placed in the army. It is necessary to split the rank-and-file soldiers and junior officers from the military commanders, who have the same interests as the exploiters and who have been benefiting from the fact the army receives US$1.5bn per year from the USA. The lower ranks of the army must have the right to organise themselves against their commanders.

Facing the threat of repression and attempts to limit the right to strike, it is necessary for workers to organise pickets and other methods of popular self-defence in order to defend themselves against the security forces and right-wing thugs. The organised force of the working class will be a decisive element in dividing the army and winning the soldiers to the revolutionary side.

The working class showed its considerable strength during the days of strike action that sealed Mubarak’s fate, and is still in struggle. In alliance with the unemployed youth, the lower layers of the middle class and the rural and urban poor, the working class has the ability to present an alternative to the reestablishment of control by the ruling clique. It is necessary to work for a political general strike, one that links the demands for wage rises, action against poverty, and political and trade union freedom with the struggle to put an end to the last traces of the pro-imperialist and oppressive regime defended by Mubarak’s military heirs.

Some sectors of the working class have started to form trade unions and trade union federations independent of the pro-regime official trade union confederation. We support all attempts by the workers to achieve truly democratic organisations, either by kicking out bureaucrats servile to the regime or by forming new democratic unions which will fight for their own demands.

The military junta, the bourgeoisie and imperialism want at all costs to avoid a free and open discussion among the mass of the people on the future of the country. They are afraid that the conclusion of such a discussion would be that it was necessary to destroy the capitalist state. Their plan is to make limited reforms to the Constitution, which they then put to referendum, and eventually hold elections. But this is a miserable little concession designed to derail the process by granting some minimal electoral reforms. To avoid this trap, the only truly democratic solution is the struggle for a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly, composed of freely elected representative whose task would be to reorganise society from the bottom up, to debate and take decisions on the most important issues facing the country. Within this forum, revolutionaries would demand, among other things, a break with imperialism and the state of Israel, the expropriation of the big multinational companies and big landowners, the nationalisation of the main economic resources, the distribution of land to the poor peasants, better wages and living conditions for the urban poor, an end to unemployment and social inequality, and an end to the oppression of women.

There is no way that such an assembly would be called by the military junta, which is made up of representatives of the Mubarak regime, nor by a government of the same type. The junta is trying to exclude those who toppled Mubarak from any role in deciding the future shape of the country, and wants to hijack the victory of the masses in order to maintain the essential nature of the previous regime, that is, its subordination to US imperialism and Israel and its domination by big landowners and capitalists.

For that reason, a revolutionary constituent assembly has to be built out of struggle, in the course of which the workers’ and popular organisations capable of convening the assembly and forming a provisional government will be developed. The demands of the masses cannot be fully answered within the limits of the bourgeois state and the decadent semicolonial Egyptian capitalist system, which is based on the exploitation and oppression of the people and is subordinated to imperialist dictates. It is necessary to develop the revolutionary process that has opened up. Workers who are demanding the sacking of public-sector managers appointed by Mubarak should occupy those enterprises and implement workers’ control and management. It is imperative to broaden workers’ organisation not only by setting up new democratic unions but also by building factory committees that bring together all workers, and by creating delegate bodies representing factories, other workplaces, neighbourhoods and education institutions. As well as strengthening the unity in action of the workers and mobilised masses, such bodies could become the embryo of dual power that destroys the bourgeois state and establishes a workers’ and popular government based on organs of workers’ democracy, that expropriates the capitalist class, nationalises the main means of production and establishes the basis for the building of socialism. In order to carry out this perspective it is necessary for the Egyptian working class to build a revolutionary organisation that has as its strategy the defeat of the bourgeoisie and imperialism. This organisation should have as its perspective the rebuilding of the world party of socialist revolution, the Fourth International, and its national sections, to give leadership to the revolutionary processes that are developing in different countries.

With the downfall of Mubarak, the United States has lost a fundamental ally for maintaining its plan of regional control. Although the army has guaranteed the continuation of Egypt’s foreign policy, that is, respecting the peace agreements signed with the State of Israel and keeping its role in suffocating the Palestinian masses, a period of great instability and uncertainty has begun, that is also making the governments of the European imperialist powers, the reactionary Arab regimes, from the Saudi monarchy to the Palestinian National Authority, and the ultra-rightist Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, nervous. Hence the desperation of Obama & Co. to find a reactionary solution that would manage to divert the process. For breaking off now the strategic relationship with the United States and the State of Israel, and all the pacts and agreements that subject the country to the various imperialist powers!

The revolutionary process in Egypt is the first forceful response from the workers and masses of the people to the international capitalist crisis, and the most advanced point of a process that began with the uprising in Tunisia, which put an end to Ben Ali’s dictatorship and has spread like wildfire throughout northern Africa and other Arab countries. Millions have gone out to the streets of Jordan, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya, to confront their own dictatorships or corrupt, pro-imperialist regimes. The struggle of the Egyptian people is not only an example for all the oppressed peoples of the region and the whole world, but is an enormous impetus to the struggle to expel imperialism from the Middle East and end the oppression that the Zionist state exerts on the Palestinian people, beginning by putting an end to the outrageous blockade that the Egyptian army maintains over the Gaza Strip. The victory of a workers’ revolution in Egypt would be the first step of the socialist revolution in the Maghreb and in all the countries of the Arab and Muslim world, as well as being a great source of inspiration that could open a new stage in the international class struggle.

Fracción Trotskista por la Cuarta Internacional, February 18, 2011