BY JEFF MACKLER
Egypt’s Supreme Electoral Committee hailed the two-day, Jan. 14-15, vote on the military’s proposed new constitution. They were not embarrassed to report that the vote was 98 percent in favor, with some 39 percent of the electorate participating. This was as compared to, they stressed, the 33 percent who participated in the 2011 vote that had approved the proposed constitution of the now deposed Muslim Brotherhood (MB) President Mohammed Morsi.
In Egypt today, numbers are important, as when the leader of the July 3, 2013, coup, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the expected candidate and winner in the upcoming presidential elections, insisted that some 17 million people had rallied in Cairo to demand Morsi’s resignation. The “people’s general” and Minister of Defense, Sisi, readily complied with the demand, repeatedly emphasizing that there were more people in the streets on June 30 calling for Morsi’s resignation than had voted to elect Morsi a year earlier.
The fact that Sisi’s numbers were inflated at least 17-fold mattered little to this self-declared democrat, who proceeded in the weeks following his coup to slaughter in Tahrir Square and in house-to-house searches, some 6000 members of Egypt’s largest political/religious grouping, the 10-million-member Muslim Brotherhood (MB). His objective was to justify his bloody coup to the world in mathematical terms while no one was allowed to confirm the precise number of his victims.
Having outlawed and demonized the Muslim Brotherhood—seizing its property, banning its meetings, and arresting virtually all its leaders—Sisi, to the tragic cheers of perhaps a majority of Egypt’s “democratic” and pro-capitalist “liberal left,” not to mention elements of the “anti-capitalist left,” extended the ban to all would-be oppositionists. Trade unionists, student youth, intellectuals, and small socialist currents who dared to issue the most mild of statements protesting Sisi’s decrees were similarly hounded, beaten, arrested, and jailed.
“The near unanimity of the vote,” said the Jan. 18 New York Times, “was plausible because the government thoroughly suppressed any opposition to the new charter [constitution]. A campaign of arrests and mass shootings has crippled the Brotherhood, the main opposition group, which was formally outlawed three weeks ago, and it had called for a boycott of the plebiscite. Almost no critics of the charter were able to express their views in the news media or on the streets. And several activists were arrested just for hanging signs urging a ‘no’ vote.”
Nevertheless, the U.S. Congress has proceeded with plans to grant Egypt’s military dictatorship its usual annual military aid package to the tune of $1.3 billion, but not before Secretary of State John Kerry issued yet another pronouncement encouraging the dictatorship, after first electing Sisi, to later include members of the MB. Sisi’s anticipated two-round election system is designed to allow him to first consolidate power by decree and then to organize elections with an essentially pre-determined result.
Kerry gently chided the bloody July 3 coup-makers when they arrested Morsi, “the elected president,” and urged that Sisi’s bloodbath be restrained a bit. Pressing the new dictators to open negotiations with the deposed president to find a formula wherein a hopefully compliant MB would exchange their prison cells for token posts in a U.S.-facilitated new regime was then a priority U.S. objective.
But this U.S. “diplomacy” failed to convince the MB leaders to negotiate any agreement unless and until they were released from prison. Sisi, meanwhile, had his ego inflated as he presented himself as a liberator to cheering crowds, who tragically and in significant numbers, accepted his carefully crafted appeal as if he were the reincarnation of Gamel Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s left nationalist leader of the 1954 anti-colonialist revolution upsurge. Sisi turned a deaf ear to Kerry and company, knowing full well that that the U.S. had no better ally in the region than Egypt’s military, whose reach extends to controlling an estimated 40 percent of the Egyptian economy.
In the twisted view of imperialism’s top policymakers today, the “mistakes of George Bush” in Iraq must not be repeated, wherein Bush’s invading army wiped Iraq’s political and economic slate clean by removing and banning all of Saddam Hussein’s Bath Party leaders from office and installing an essentially all-Shiite government. It would have been better to have included some of Hussein’s experienced Bath Party leaders and/or some Sunni militia chiefs, the new realpolitik presidential advisers reasoned, than to risk their becoming the core opposition to any U.S. puppet government.
Indeed, U.S.-funded Sunni militias have recently been employed to smash the latest Fallujah insurgency in Iraq.
This Machiavellian “strategy,” in several variants, has since become U.S. policy following its removal of Muammar Gadhafi in Libya and with regard to Afghanistan and Syria today. In Libya, the U.S. effort to give a piece of the action in that conquered and devastated nation to various militias, each seeking a share of the oil and territory, has resulted in near anarchy. A few months ago, some of these “democratically minded” militias stormed the hotel housing the new president, kidnapped him, and in essence held him for ransom—that is, for an agreement for a bit more control of Libya’s oil.
It was only when these “rebels” got the word that the United States was prepared to launch a few drones to convince these kidnappers to do the right thing that the president was released. In the aftermath, the U.S. announced that it was assembling and training a military force of 5000 troops to help maintain the “peace” and “order” in Libya’s disintegrating state, so that the right people would have more exclusive access to the oil booty.
In Syria, where the U.S. arms and funds, directly or indirectly (through its proxies in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey), practically all “rebel” forces, from the Free Syrian Army to al-Qaida-linked militias, the similar objective is “regime change” of a special type—remove the dictator but keep in place his well-established repressive capitalist state apparatus. The present shaky Geneva negotiations are aimed at a temporary transition government with or without Assad, to be followed by another without Assad and inclusive of more compliant capitalist elites agreeable to U.S. dictates.
Egypt in 2011 was a prime example of imperialist flexibility, where the 30-year U.S.-backed Mubarak dictatorship became an obstacle to maintaining U.S. interests in the region. Mubarak’s removal by his subordinates was privately given the nod by the Obama administration, and the Tahrir Square mass mobilizations were eventually praised as “revolutionary” by U.S. mouthpieces. Shifting U.S. political loyalties from one dictator to another has never been a problem and is often quite helpful to better serve imperial interests and disorient mass rebellions.
Following Mubarak’s removal, U.S. advisers bided their time while advising the re-packaged military regime on how best to set the stage down the line for yet another coup to remove Morsi and re-establish direct military control. Morsi’s one-year presidency, as expected, proved that his MB variant of capitalism was incapable of significantly changing the lives of Egypt’s oppressed masses. But his demise was also promoted by the military’s still intact “felool” (the deep-state apparatus left over from Mubarak’s regime), which employed subtle means to undermine the Egyptian economy, including denying Cairo access to basic food supplies, gasoline, and electricity. The aim was to blame Morsi for the endless food and gas lines that became the survival norm for millions.
The massive June 30 Cairo protests, today more accurately estimated to be one million people, demanding Morsi’s resignation and new elections, while initiated by the youthful Tamarrud (Rebellion) petition activists and democratic-minded supporters, undoubtedly were backed, promoted, and financed by Egypt’s bourgeois opposition—including billionaire financiers and the thinly-disguised populist-democratic-posturing old-guard military regime. Egypt’s “June 30 second revolution” in the streets was, three days later, with near-zero resistance, commandeered by Sisi’s military.
Soon afterwards, the slaughter of peaceful Muslim sit-in protesters began; and then, all others who dared to resist were punished with impunity.
The well-briefed U.S.-instructed officials, of course, decried the removal of the “democratically elected” Morsi, only to quickly give way to the new reality, in which the coup was declared to have given Egypt a “second chance” at democracy.
Sisi and his ilk have declared that the mid-January 98 percent approval of the new constitution, which was certainly not unexpected, lent unquestionable legitimacy to his July 3 ouster of Morsi. Ehab Badawy, a spokesman for the office of the interim president, hailed the vote as a triumph, “another defining moment in our road map to democracy.” But U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, being careful not to stamp the official U.S. imprimatur on the vote and still pressing for MB inclusion, remarked that “elections are not everything.”
Kerry added, perhaps with a crocodile smile, that “the brave Egyptians who stood vigil in Tahrir Square did not risk their lives in a revolution to see its historic potential squandered in the transition.” In difficult times, Kerry demonstrated that bourgeois politicians do well by adopting “revolutionary” rhetoric to suit their needs.
Kerry continued with this specious praise of the Egyptian people: “They’ve weathered ups and downs, disappointment and setbacks in the years that followed [the Tahrir Square mobilizations], and they’re still searching for the promise of that revolution. They still know that the path forward to an inclusive, tolerant, and civilian-led democracy will require Egypt’s political leaders to make difficult compromises and seek a broad consensus on many divisive issues.”
Kerry said further: “Democracy is more than any one referendum or election. It is about equal rights and protections under the law for all Egyptians, regardless of their gender, faith, ethnicity, or political affiliation.”
Egypt’s new constitution now forbids “religion, race, gender, or geography” from being the basis to form a political party—a provision aimed at affirming the present ban on the MB’s Freedom and Justice Party, among others. Like most constitutions in capitalist states, Egypt’s new “law of the land” guarantees freedom of religion and grants Coptic Christians the right, for the first time, to build churches without permission of the president. Women are recognized as equals in Egyptians society. Would it be that words were deeds!
The Sisi coup represented a major setback for the Egyptian people. It demonstrated once again a number of iron rules of any revolutionary process. First and foremost, the revolutionary mobilization and engagement of the masses in charting society’s future social configuration is a prerequisite to any fundamental change in the social order.
Second, is the massive participation in this unfolding process of a deeply-rooted revolutionary socialist party aimed at the abolition of capitalist rule in all its manifestations. The combination of these two elements, in every nation on earth, will in the future—whether it be months, years, or decades from today—is the only guarantee that the just anger and hatred of capitalist oppression everywhere will not be channeled into pitiful “reformist” alternatives, whether they be “enlightened dictators,” as in Egypt, or “lesser evil” Democrats in the United States.
Photo: Egyptian Defense Minister and coup leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.