Egypt: Critical masses

The Egyptian revolution recalled former President Mohamed Morsi on July 4 after the Tamaroud (rebel) movement collected 22 million signatures supporting this demand. They mobilized millions of Egyptians onto the streets in what was perhaps the largest protest demonstration in world history. The masses are enraged at poverty and insecurity and the military could not have been used to defend Morsi as the majority of soldiers support the revolution. So, General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the commander of Egypt?s armed forces and Morsi?s defense minister, abandoned him ? gaining breathing space in which to attempt to reform the system of political power and protect the socio-economic system as a whole.

The generals have appointed Adly Mahmud Mansour, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, as interim president until new elections are held. On the street, millions celebrated this coup as an act of revolutionary justice ? the realization of popular consciousness. They were unwilling to be constricted by the formal rules of democracy, which they feel are designed to ensure that corrupt elites and hated politicians remain in power. The revolution of 2011 overthrew Hosni Mubarak and called a semi-democracy into being. The second revolution claimed its right to sweep away this form of democracy and create another. What is a percentage of votes compared to 17 million people on the streets demanding change?

The revolution refused to respect laws designed to ensnare the people?s will in legalistic formalities. As Solon the Great once said, ?Laws are like spiders? webs: if some light or powerless thing falls into them, it is caught, but a bigger one can break through and get away.?

The most powerful force in Egyptian society is the popular will of the urban masses. They could ignore constitutional niceties when they took to the streets to drive out Morsi. The movement has great revolutionary energy but it is split between diverse political forces. Egypt?s population is 43 percent urban. Forty percent of Egyptians live on less than US$2 a day and 27 million are employed, but official unemployment stands at 13 percent, rising to 25 percent amongst the under 30s. The backbone of the revolutionary movement is the discontented working class youth whose demands for social improvement inevitably raise socialist demands.

Egypt?s second most powerful societal force is the military. They executed the people?s will by ousting Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from power. This act was jubilantly celebrated on the streets and in the squares ? at last the army stood on the side of the people ? or so it appeared.

The Egyptian military is an economic empire developed over decades with the support of the United States. Its purpose is to defend the interests of business elites, and specifically its own military-business complex, which controls more than 15 percent of the economy (some estimate that this figure is much larger).

When the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took over from Mubarak, they played cat and mouse with Morsi and the Brotherhood, to lick them into shape, in order to protect their military-economic interests. The military is deeply embedded in the system of crony capitalist power relations which held Mubarak in power for so long. It is closely linked to the public sector bureaucracy and state patronage, and clashed with the policies of Mubarak and Morsi whenever those policies encroached on its military-economic turf.

The core foundation of any modern state lies in its monopoly over the means and instruments of force ? the army and the police ? which defend the dominant property relations. The military arrested Morsi and other leaders of the Brotherhood and are repressing protests by their supporters. This will almost certainly result in the defeat of the Brotherhood as their support in wider society has collapsed; and jihadist terrorism from a section of their supporters and other Islamic fanatics is the likely consequence. This will be bolstered by the sense that they were illegitimately removed from power.

From the standpoint of the military leadership, its intervention is designed to prevent this collapse of the Brotherhood?s political legitimacy from becoming a revolution against state authority itself. This would leave Egyptian capitalism exposed, unprotected and naked, making it the next target for the wrath of the masses, angry at poverty and grotesque inequality. Capitalist exploitation is tolerated in times of passivity, when the poor are isolated and atomised; but it becomes intolerable with the revolutionary awakening of collective consciousness.

Western media is abuzz with cries of military coup, foul play and the madness of crowds. The popular British historian Simon Schama scribed a condemnation of the hopes of man for the Financial Times. Revolutions, he says, always end badly. Alas! If only the world adopted the English system of a constitutional monarchy and succumbed to what he calls the ?mystique? and ?romance? of its ?tribal, totemic spectacles,? then all would be at peace! Schama mocks revolutionary dreamers as fools, seduced by a spirit which defies the laws of history. They were always crushed. They are always crushed. They will always be crushed! For mankind is bad and utopias are delusions!

Despite constituting only a small minority only weeks ago, revolutionary socialists can rapidly gain an ascendant voice in Egyptian society. To do this, they must articulate the demands of the workers and the poor in ways which coalesce in organs of popular power. They could assume the authority to resolve burning problems faced by the masses and requisition the resources required to meet the needs, objectives and priorities of the people. The armed forces should be subordinate to popular organs of democratic control and administration; if their present declared role as servant of revolutionary democracy ? rather than its enemy ? is to become a reality. The military-business empire should be transformed into public property and be used to meet the pressing food, housing, health care, work and education needs of the masses.

Workers? increasing unrest preceded the movement against Mubarak in 2011. Now the strength of such workers? struggles has grown to affect whole branches of the economy. The discontent of the working class is developing into the primary terrain of social conflict ? a new sense of a fundamental clash of class interests in society is emerging. The working class is the societal force capable of reorganizing the world.

The slave ancestors of Egypt?s contemporary revolutionaries carved awe-inspiring monuments out of rock and stone with their hands. These magnificent works were produced by design from above ? material incarnations of an eternal afterlife for the pharaohs and their system of slavery. Now the future of Egypt is being written by the revolutionary action of the masses. That which appeared fixed is dissolving and the world is being made anew. If the revolution takes over ownership and control of the economy and society, it can plan how to combine the hands and brains of the Egyptian people to create magnificent new monuments of the people?s will. These will stand down the ages as the foundations of prosperity and enjoyment for present and future generations.

Heiko Khoo
 The text has been originally published
 on where the author is
 a regular contributor.

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