In early February, a number of protesters were killed and over 1500 injured, as Egyptian police attacked demonstrations that had been called to express the mounting public anger over the deaths of at least 74 people at a soccer match in Port Said.
The mainstream media at first blamed the Feb. 1 soccer stadium fight on the fans of rival teams; later it was admitted that police had watched the action without intervening, and had not searched fans for concealed weapons—indicating that they knew in advance that something was up. Many activists believe that the brawl was set up by the Egyptian military to justify their announcement several days earlier that they would retain the current emergency law.
As protests escalate, a coalition that includes student groups and unions has called a nationwide strike for Feb. 11—the date that Mubarak was toppled one year ago.
On Jan. 25, hundreds of thousands marked the anniversary of Egypt’s uprising with rallies demanding the continuation of the revolution, starting with the immediate end of the military regime headed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Many participants said the crowds in Cairo and other cities were bigger than demonstrations of a year ago.
In contrast to the protesters’ demands, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) won the most seats in the newly-elected parliament, chose to mark the day with a “celebration” of the alleged progress made in the past year, drawing the wrath of most protesters.
In the days since Jan. 25, left organizations have continued to mobilize in Tahrir Square, especially at the new focal point, the state TV station Maspero. Journalists inside are challenging government domination of the station, which has meant that many Egyptians, especially in rural areas or small towns, have yet to see coverage of many of the regime’s atrocities. Another response to this lack of information has been the “Askar Kazboon” or “Military Liars” campaign, whereby activists tour the country with videos of the crimes committed by the regime’s army, police and hired thugs.
Workers are also coming to the Maspero building to bring forth their own grievances, reminding us once again of the truth of Rosa Luxemburg’s point in “The Mass Strike” about the mutual reinforcement of political and economic struggles in a period of upsurge. Following on the huge strike wave of last fall, workers continue to build new independent unions and to raise such demands as a minimum and maximum wage (the latter directed at corrupt, overpaid managers and executives) and the right to permanent status on the job.
Pro-capitalist Muslim Brotherhood
Revolutionaries in Egypt point to those struggles as evidence of the possibility to unite the fight in the squares and the workplace. This possibility is in fact an urgent requirement, given the openly pro-capitalist orientation of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood has given voluminous testimony, in interviews with the media and in meetings with potential investors and their governments’ representatives, to their faith in the “free market.” This even extends to pledging support for the previous regime’s Qualifying Industrial Zones agreements between Egypt, the U.S., and Israel, in which Egypt’s exports get access to the U.S. market as long as a certain percentage of a good’s value originates in Israel.
More evidence of the Brotherhood’s fealty to the idol of Mammon was laid out in Avi Asher-Schapiro’s Salon article, “The GOP Brotherhood of Egypt: Demonized in the U.S. as radical terrorists, Egypt’s Islamists are actually led by free-market businessmen.” He reported that “while Western alarmists often depict Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as a shadowy organization with terrorist ties, the Brotherhood’s ideology actually has more in common with America’s Republican Party than with al-Qaida.
“Few Americans know it but the Brotherhood is a free-market party led by wealthy businessmen whose economic agenda embraces privatization and foreign investment while spurning labor unions and the redistribution of wealth. … Like the Republicans in the U.S., the financial interests of the party’s leadership of businessmen and professionals diverge sharply from those of its poor, socially conservative followers.”
He then detailed the business interests and political beliefs of several Brotherhood millionaires. Asher-Schapiro reports on meetings between Brotherhood leaders and European investment bankers in which the former reassured investors “that the new government shares their goals.” And he quotes a Reuters interview with Hassan Malek, a textile mogul and Brotherhood financier, in which Malek said the Brothers “want to attract as much foreign investment as possible … and this needs a big role for the private sector.” Malek heads the group’s “Egyptian Business and Investment Association,” a coalition of leading Brotherhood businessmen working to promote private investment.
Malek even praised the economic policies of the Mubarak regime. “We can benefit from previous economic decisions. There have been correct ones in the past. … Rachid Mohamed Rachid [Mubarak’s minister of trade] understood very well how to attract foreign investment.”
“What Malek failed to mention,” said Asher-Schapiro, is that Rachid fled to Dubai after the ouster of Mubarak and has since been convicted in absentia of squandering public funds and embezzlement.” Furthermore, “Rachid worked to privatize Egyptian industries, reduce taxes and subsidies, and defang unions.
This economic model, adopted at the urging of the IMF and international financial institutions, delivered strong economic growth—nearly 6 percent a year from 2004 to 2009—but also generated inequality. The gains were concentrated in the hands of Egypt’s economic elite, while millions of working-class Egyptians saw their wages stagnate, as rising food prices pushed many to the brink.”
The Salon piece reminds readers of the Brotherhood’s hostility to trade unions. “The Brothers have been against wildcat strikes and all significant labor actions,” says Zeinab Abdul-Magd, an Egyptian academic and leftist activist. “The Brothers just don’t relate to workers.”
Asher-Schapiro ends his piece by citing the rising unemployment, debt and deficit, and diminishing currency reserves used by Western capital as supposed proof of the need for austerity—and, confronted with this crisis, the regime’s turnabout from its previous rejection of an offered IMF loan to its pleas to the IMF in January for the loans.
Meanwhile, Obama is doing his part to keep the regime on the neoliberal path, offering an “emergency plan,” which the independent Egyptian journal Al-Masry Al-Youm reported centers on doubling U.S. investments by encouraging Egypt’s rulers to offer “incentives” (read tax breaks for foreign capital).
The need for ongoing solidarity
The consensus between the Brotherhood, the military, and the Egyptian ruling class over the need for a continuation of pro-capital economic policies is the background to the Brotherhood’s support for SCAF’s timetable for relinquishing only some of its powers, and even those not until after it helps shape the writing of a new constitution and election rules for choosing a new president.
The Brotherhood knows that only a strong military and police can hope to maintain a level of repression sufficient to hold back the rising tide of worker militancy and mass mobilization on behalf of genuine freedom and social justice. On Jan. 25 and in the days since this has meant repeated confrontations in the streets and squares between the Brotherhood and the masses demanding that SCAF step down.
On Jan. 21 there were rallies in solidarity with the revolution in dozens of cities around the world. That date was chosen to send a message to the regime that their threats of violence against protesters on the anniversary had not gone unnoticed and that revolution supporters were ready to mobilize against future attacks. (The regime had been spreading rumors about “foreign agents” planning trouble on the Jan. 25, a clear indication of plans to attack activists. But on the 25th itself the crowds were far too massive for SCAF to take any action.)
On Jan. 22 and Jan. 25 the main Egypt support group in New York, the Ad Hoc Coalition to Defend the Egyptian Revolution, held standing-room-only teach-ins on the economic, social, and political roots of the revolution and its prospects. The coalition is collaborating with Occupy Wall Street working groups on campaigns against U.S. provision of military aid and tear gas and other weapons exports to the regime, as well as efforts to publicize cases of repression by the regime. For information on continued solidarity efforts: defendegyptianrevolution.org.
> The article above was written by Andrew Pollack, and first appeared in the February 2012 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.