Egypt: The Regime Demands the Fall of the People
Cross-posted from New Left Project.
To describe the actions of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in Egypt during the second round of the presidential elections as a ‘coup’, although an understandable piece of political rhetoric, is not quite accurate. A coup is mounted against an existing ruling group. SCAF are the ruling group in Egypt, and their reversal by fiat of every democratic gain of the 25th January revolution is designed to maintain them in that power. The correct word for this is ‘counter-revolution’.
To recap what SCAF has done through the judicial means of the Presidential Election Committee and Constitutional Court: reinstated the provisions of the Mubarak-era emergency law allowing the military to arrest civilians and repress protests; dissolved Parliament; abnegated the Political Disenfranchisement law, thereby permitting Ahmed Shafiq to run in the second round of the presidential elections: issued a constitutional amendment giving SCAF legislative authority in the absence of the parliament the Council itself had just dissolved, establishing a National Defence Council of unknown and wide-ranging powers, ensuring SCAF’s veto over any future constituent assembly and endowing the military with potentially unlimited powers in the (highly likely) event of widespread unrest. These decrees are an attempt by SCAF, now that the claim ‘the people and the army are one hand’ has become so visibly untenable, to reverse the outcome of the “Battle of the Camel” of February 2011: perhaps to establish a Mubarakism with a more inhuman face.
The counter-revolutionary move is a bold one. It might have been expected that SCAF would use the opportunity of the presidential election to encourage the formation of a reactionary political subject to match the revolutionary one: an assemblage of the rich, the armed servants of the state and their families, the small businesses of the tourist industry, ‘law and order’ types and those – laïco-fascists?- who would rather have Shafiq’s white terror than see the Muslim Brotherhood win the presidency. The decision to pre-empt the election results suggests that such a project proved impossible, or that Morsy was on course for too obvious a victory.
In any case, SCAF’s move may seem to have rendered moot the question of whether revolutionaries should boycott the election or vote for Morsy, given that whichever candidate Egyptians have voted for, they are going to get SCAF. Yet the question it raised of how revolutionaries should deal with the Muslim Brotherhood is now, even more than last week, literally one of life or death. There is now an outright confrontation between SCAF and any element of popular legitimacy in the state won by the January 25th Revolution: given physical form by the Parliamentary Speaker’s (who opened Parliament with a vote of thanks to SCAF) announcing that the assembly will convene in Tahrir if necessary. The Brotherhood, whether others like it or not, are on the revolutionary side of this confrontation. They do not want to be there, for sure, but they must now unavoidably seek to ally themselves again with a revolutionary mass that they do not control. This juncture is crucial. To remain neutral in the fight between SCAF and the Brotherhood, or to suggest organizing against both equally, would ensure the victory of the counter-revolution.
Yet, have not the Muslim Brotherhood proved themselves entirely capable of cutting a deal with SCAF to form the counter-revolution, before we even speak of their neo-liberal, sectarian and sexist policies? They are indeed capable of doing so, but they have failed. Since the constitutional referendum neither SCAF nor the Brotherhood have been willing to give up enough to make a functional compromise. One of them is going to lose the coming confrontation, and for the revolution to succeed that must be SCAF. SCAF have straightforwardly launched their counter-revolution: the Muslim Brotherhood is a different kind of beast. The attacks launched on revolutionaries by MB Parliamentarians reflect the group’s instinctive cleavage to a politics of private property, respectability and patriarchal authority. Khairat Al-Shater and the other businessmen who run the organization most certainly do not want workers and the poor to overthrow the state that guarantees their investments. Yet, the Brotherhood’s evasive and populist slogans (who doesn’t want freedom and justice?) together with a formidable nationwide organization have won it a mass support ill-served by the group’s actual politics. Moreover, the revolutionary process is accentuating the tension between these two elements, perhaps to breaking point: witness the decline of 5 million votes for the Brotherhood between the parliamentary and presidential elections. Were revolutionaries to abstain from the confrontation between SCAF and the Brotherhood, or treat both sides as the same, they would offer no pole of attraction to those MB supporters abandoning its irresolution and hypocrisy.
When the president-elect is announced, it is quite likely that the losing side will not accept the result. In that case, a decisive clash between the legitimacy of the revolution and the legitimacy of the state will be posed. Yet there is no dual power in Egypt: at most there is a situation of one-and-a-bit power. A Brotherhood-sized revolutionary entity of political cohesion, organizational reach and economic power would be needed to bring about the former. It is not there- yet, at least.