Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/772/17040
4 July, see new article: Morsi removed - No trust in the generals
Mass street protests as Egypt is swept by revolution and counter-revolution
As the Socialist goes to press, Egypt is gripped by revolution and counter-revolution, with mass protests against the country's Islamist president Mohammed Morsi. Demonstrators in Cairo ransacked the Muslim Brotherhood's party HQ and several deaths of pro- and anti-Morsi supporters have been reported throughout the country.
In this deepening political crisis the army chiefs have shown their hand by issuing a 48-hour ultimatum to the president and leaders of his political opponents to resolve the country's crisis or else face a military coup. Morsi, however, insists he will continue with his own plans for 'national reconciliation'.
Today's political crisis comes only two years after the revolution which ousted president Hosni Mubarak in January 2011 but then stalled due to the absence of a mass revolutionary socialist party committed to overthrowing capitalism.
David Johnson reports on the economic and social unrest that forms the background to Egypt's political crisis.
Mass protest in Egypt 1 July 2013 calls for the president to resign, photo Screen shot from video released by Egyptian military
Mohammed Morsi's first anniversary as president of Egypt was marked by even bigger demonstrations than brought about the downfall of Hosni Mubarak in January 2011.
According to military and interior ministry sources, 14 to 17 million people protested on Sunday 30 June in cities and towns across the country.
22 million signatures have been collected on a petition demanding that he resign. That's more than a quarter of the population and many more than the 13.2 million who voted for him in 2012!
These huge demonstrations are a new stage in the revolution. But, as we have seen over the last few years, in the absence of a strong socialist movement other forces can take advantage of the new movement.
There are many reasons for anger with Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-dominated government. Drivers queue for up to seven hours to buy petrol.
Electricity cuts last more than ten hours a day in many areas. Food prices have shot up faster than official inflation, which is now 8.2% a year.
Unemployment remains high while economic growth has slowed, with falling foreign investment and tourism.
Hotel occupancy rates are barely 15% in Cairo and below 5% in Luxor, although Red Sea resorts are still busy.
Business cronies of the Mubarak regime are now courted by Morsi's government. Some businessmen facing prosecution for corruption and profiteering under Mubarak have been given reprieves.
Many people fear that a new MB client state is being created and are angry at Morsi's appointment of MB members to public posts such as state governors and to leading positions in the Egyptian Trade Union Federation.
Journalists have been attacked and some well-known critics of the MB have lost jobs in state-run media. Comedians have been arrested for 'insulting the president'.
Protests have reached an "all-time high" according to the International Development Centre (IDC). In the last year of Mubarak's regime there was an average of 176 protests a month.
The 2013 average has been 1,140 a month, with a total of 9,427 protests during the first year of Morsi's presidency. Half of these have been workers' protests.
Those who hoped the downfall of Mubarak would mark the opening of an era of democratic rights have been increasingly angered at repressive measures adopted by Morsi's regime.
In contrast to the light treatment of Mubarak-era businessmen, dockers' strike leaders were sacked.
A new group, Tamarod (Rebel), was launched in April. It set a target of collecting 15 million signatures to a petition calling on Morsi to resign.
Their aim is "to avoid the mistakes of the past period and to continue on the path of the 25 January Revolution," according to co-founder of Tamarod, Mohamed Abdel Aziz.
Organisers said "there will be no flags or banners except Egyptian flags in the demonstrations, as well as photos of Egypt's martyrs, starting with the martyrs of the 25 January Revolution."
While there is an understandable mood for unity, an anti-party political mood reflects the disappointment many feel with the dozens of parties that sprung up after the overthrow of Mubarak.
Most of these called for some form of capitalist democracy, while leaving the real rulers of Egypt in place - unelected big businessmen and generals.
The enthusiasm of party leaders for well-paid elected office has not inspired confidence among workers and poor people.
Those on the left who supported Morsi in June 2012 in opposition to the Mubarak regime presidential candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, have served to spread further confusion.
The development of independent action and organisation by the working class and poor is key, they need their own mass party to fight for their interests and democratic rights.
Tamarod calls on Morsi to resign, to be replaced by an independent prime minister for six months who "will head a technocratic government whose main mission is to put together an urgent economic plan to save the Egyptian economy and to expand social justice policies."
'Saving the Egyptian (capitalist) economy' will mean more attacks on workers and the poor with cuts in subsidies of basic foods and more privatisation to satisfy the International Monetary Fund - the opposite of the January 2011 demands for 'bread, freedom and social justice'.
Workers and the poor need a living minimum wage, a shorter working week without loss of pay, a massive building programme of houses, schools and hospitals and investment in public transport, which would create much-needed jobs.
Socialist demands, combined with a programme of democratic rights, could gain massive support if put forward by a workers' party built by the growing trade unions. It could split away significant layers of Morsi's support.
General Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, commander-in-chief of the armed forces and defence minister, on Monday 1 July issued an ultimatum to Morsi and opposition political leaders: reach agreement with each other within 48 hours and halt the dangerous polarisation within Egypt.
This dangerously confused position of some Tamarod leaders suggests they would support the military to retake power.
Mahmoud Badr, a spokesperson, welcomed the military leaders' statement. "The army responding to the demands of the people crowns our movement," he said.
Crowds in Tahrir Square reportedly cheered when they heard the news, chanting: "The army and the people are one hand."
It seems possible that behind the scenes, the US government has switched emphasis from backing Morsi to backing the army as being the best means of stabilising the country and its capitalist economy.
Ten government ministers resigned on 1 July, suggesting that Morsi may struggle to hang on much longer.
Most senior officers do not want to take direct responsibility for government at this stage. The armed forces own key sections of the economy, with senior officers making fortunes from their control over them.
They want economic and political stability as much as any other capitalist businessmen so they can continue to make money.
It is only 18 months since the military government was shooting demonstrators in Cairo. Any government - Islamic or secular, civilian or military - that defends the continuation of capitalism will attack the interests of the vast majority of Egyptians.
The lack of a programme addressing workers' day-to-day needs from Tamarod or any major party is allowing a dangerous vacuum to exist into which the poison of sectarianism could explode.
Coptic Christians have felt threatened by the MB's programme of Islamisation and by attacks on churches.
Morsi and the MB have lined up with the reactionary Saudi Arabia and Gulf sheikhs supporting the Sunni opposition to Assad's regime in Syria.
There are three million Shia Muslims in Egypt. Extremist Salafi clerics have denounced Shias and in this sectarian atmosphere a crowd of 3,000 attacked Shia homes in one village on 23 June with four killed.
Socialist and trade union activists can build movements that overcome sectarian divisions by building support for a programme of class solidarity against the common enemy of big business, whether imperialist or Egyptian.
A general strike can draw together oppressed sections of society and could gain support from many of the middle class.
But a general strike must not be to overthrow one dictator and see him replaced by another, whether a general, businessman or capitalist politician.
Democratically elected strike committees and mass committees of action in every large workplace and local community and college could discuss and draw up a programme for real revolutionary change.
They could link together at local and national level, laying the basis for a government of representatives of workers' and the poor.
Appealing to workers across the region to take similar action against poverty, sectarianism and repression could build a movement for socialism throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
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