Egypt: Will Mursi’s presidential election victory bring real change?

Working masses need independent policies and their own party

A week after Egypt’s new president – Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) – took office, a dramatic confrontation with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) erupted. As we go to press it is unclear how this brinkmanship will unfold.

A week before the recent presidential election, the Supreme Constitutional Court, packed with Mubarak-era judges, ruled that the parliament elected earlier this year was illegal.

A third of the seats should have been filled by independents and not party nominees. In effect, this was a Scaf coup, taking back powers conceded in the face of the revolutionary movements last year.

Mursi overturned this ruling while conceding new elections. The MB called for mass marches to support Mursi but then appeared to back down; and the reconvened Islamist-dominated parliament immediately adjourned pending legal appeals.

While millions of Egyptians yearn for genuine democratic rights and social justice, no faith can be put in Mursi and the MB leadership who compete with Scaf for power.

In this situation, it is vital that the working class develops its own independent programme and mass party. David Johnson and Niall Mulholland give the background to these latest moves.

On 24 June, with just under 52% of valid votes cast, on a 51% turnout, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi was declared president of Egypt.

The defeat of rival candidate Ahmed Shafiq was a rejection of the old detested regime of Hosni Mubarak.

Shafiq had served Mubarak as a government minister and then as prime minister in the last few days before Mubarak’s overthrow back in February 2011.

That only slightly over one quarter of eligible voters supported Mursi, however, shows widespread doubts that his victory will be a step forward for working and poor Egyptians.

It also shows the fears of many that a Muslim Brotherhood (MB) regime could remove rights for women, for the Christian minority, and for the working class.

The result of the election was not announced for a week, with rumours of victory for both candidates circulating.

There were probably negotiations during that time between the MB and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) about the powers of the presidency and of Scaf.

Soft coup

Two weeks before the election, the 19 generals of Scaf carried out a ‘soft coup’, dissolving the parliament elected a few months ago.

Scaf made clear that it would not be giving up its control over the armed forces, its budget or Scaf’s massive economic interests.

They have been able to get away with these counter-revolutionary measures, at this stage. After 18 months of struggles, many Egyptians are exhausted and have to spend great amounts of their energy on the daily struggle to feed their families.

The failure of the revolution to achieve a clear break from the old regime has led to political disappointment among many.

Such temporary moods occur in all revolutionary situations, but moods can rapidly change again as the situation changes. In particular, the ‘whip of counter-revolution’ can lead to renewed mass struggle.

Mursi made three speeches after his election. Showing the still-strong pressure from the revolution, his first was in Tahrir Square on Friday 29 June.

To large crowds of cheering supporters, Mursi said: “I salute all the revolutionaries in all Egypt’s freedom squares…

I will always be the first supporter of the revolution, so it should continue everywhere in the farthest corners of the homeland… There is no power above people power.”

But the following day his speeches at Cairo University (before an invited audience) and at the Hikestep military training headquarters were different in tone.

He thanked Scaf for its role in maintaining national security during the transition period and promised to honour its members in a special ceremony at the end of their tenure.

He did not say that their economic interests should be investigated, nor corruption, nor the generals’ role in repressing opposition.

But he did promise to grant the armed forces and the police all powers necessary for them to “successfully bring security back to Egypt.”

Security for whom? Thousands of protestors have been injured and dozens killed since the downfall of Mubarak, with the armed forces used by Scaf to repress opposition to its rule.

In return for Mursi’s praise, Field Marshal Tantawi, head of Scaf, thanked him for his speech at Cairo University and promised on behalf of Scaf “to stand by the side of the president the way we did with the revolution.” That may be as much a threat as a promise!

The MB leadership includes wealthy businessmen such as Khairat El-Shater, who had been their first choice as presidential candidate.

They represent a different wing of the same class as Scaf. But the MB’s large membership and its wider support reflect the views of many other layers in Egyptian society, including middle-class professionals and small businessmen, workers and the urban and rural poor.

Economic crisis

The desperate state of the economy means there is little scope for real reforms that would improve living standards, create jobs and build homes, although this is what most Egyptians desperately need.

The day after his inauguration, Mursi announced a 15% rise in social allowance for government employees and a 10% rise in civilian and military pensions, raised the next day to 15%.

But it is not clear where this extra money will come from. Foreign currency reserves have fallen by half since the revolution and revenue from tourism continues to fall.

Mursi will come under strong pressure from imperialism as the price of a $3.2 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

The Financial Times advised Mursi to use “what powers remain to him to implement the reforms that Egypt badly needs.

“This means taking decisions that will be politically difficult, such as eliminating costly subsidies that cripple the country’s budget” (30/06/12).

If Mursi goes down the road of removing subsidies on the price of bread and fuel, or of privatisation, his government will come up against massive opposition, especially from workers and the poor.

The MB leaders have already shown their opposition to genuine trade unions. In May they proposed draft legislation in parliament that would have made recognition of trade unions dependent on court rulings.

Another issue producing conflicting pressure on Mursi is the peace treaty with Israel. The US government, supported by Scaf, who receive over a billion dollars a year of US military aid, are strongly opposed to any renegotiation of the treaty.

MB businessman Khairat El-Shater also said: “We have announced clearly that we as Egyptians will abide by the commitments made by the Egyptian government, regardless of our reservations regarding anything else.

“There is an obligation attached to all things relating to conventions in general, not only Egypt’s Accords with Israel, including oil and gas agreements and so on” (Ikhwan Web 29/01/12).

But millions of Egyptians want an immediate re-opening of the Rafah crossing into Gaza and the lifting of its blockade.

There is enormous anger at the export of cheap gas to Israel while Palestinians continue to be evicted from their homes and land by illegal settlements, and the Israeli government continues to prevent the free movement of Palestinians as they lay siege to Gaza.


After decades of Mubarak’s corrupt dictatorship, Mursi’s election will raise expectations that there will be real change.

But he also has strong opposition from the start. In the first round, the radical Nasserist, HamdeenSabbahi, came a close third.

On top of the almost 50% of the electorate that did not vote in the second round, 800,000 voted but invalidated their ballot by writing “down with military rule” while refusing to vote for Mursi.

Disappointment with Mursi will quickly start to surface. Blocked on the political front, the opposition is likely to show itself in increasing numbers of strikes and occupations, as workers fight to improve their living standards through trade union action.

The independent trade unions, nearly all of which have been formed since the revolution, now have an estimated 2.5 million members.

The Egyptian Trade Union Federation, whose leaders were compromised under the Mubarak regime, still has four million members.

Nevertheless, it is also possible that there will be a prolonged trial of strength between the MB president and Scaf, with the MB opportunistically leaning on the masses during this process.

Socialists will fight alongside the masses, including working class and poor MB supporters, in the struggle for basic democratic rights.

But socialists will also fight for independent policies and a workers’ party, putting no faith in the new MB presidency, and exposing the class bias of MB leaders.

The responsibility of socialists in this situation is to warn workers that they cannot rely on Mursi to deliver the democratic rights and higher living standards desperately needed and that they can only rely on their own organisations and struggles to fight for their interests.

It was a serious mistake of the Revolutionary Socialists, part of the International Socialist Tendency, to call for votes for Mursi.

There is a danger that they, and the April 6 Youth Movement, who also issued this call, will be blamed as workers and youth turn away from the new government.

Workers’ movement

Winning those who supported the MB to the banner of socialism will require an independent workers’ movement, including trade unions and a workers’ party that struggles alongside workers and the poor and puts forward a clear programme addressing their daily needs.

This must be linked to a programme of socialist and democratic change, raising the need for a second – socialist – revolution to complete the tasks started on 25 January 2011.

The MB could split along class lines if this programme was fought for. But if such a lead is not given, there is a danger that disappointed MB supporters will turn to the more conservatively religious right-wing political Islamic party, Nour.

In the last few weeks, Scaf have attempted to control the presidential elections, including ruling out several candidates, scrapping parliament and carrying out a ‘coup’.

This all shows the need for the working class to fight independently for real, lasting democratic rights, including genuine elections to a revolutionary constituent assembly and for a workers’ government to carry out socialist policies.