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From The Socialist newspaper, 28 August 2013

Egypt: Hundreds killed as al-Sisi's military tightens its grip on power

Robert Bechert , Committee for a Workers' International (CWI)

Millions across the world, and especially in the Middle East, have been shocked by the killing of hundreds of mainly unarmed people in the Egyptian military's brutal clearance of the two pro-Morsi camps in Cairo. Since then the military has made widespread arrests.

There are justified fears that this is an attempt to begin the re-establishment of Mubarak's 'security state' under a new leader-ship. Indeed, on 22 August Hosni Mubarak was released from prison.

The military's assault has enormously deepened the polarisation in society, but a polarisation not along class lines, but often increasingly on pro- or anti- the military tops' actions.

If there is no independent movement organised by the working class, and if the developing battle over Egypt's future is simply waged between the generals and conservative religious forces, these events threaten to seriously derail the revolution that began in 2011.

Genuine trade union and workers' organisations are the only force capable of uniting all sections of society in a battle against dictatorship and capitalist exploitation.

While sizeable, the initial demonstrations of support for deposed President Morsi were not as large as the vast anti-Morsi protests a few months ago.

In fact the two pro-Morsi camps, while an annoyance to the new, military-led regime posed no direct, immediate threat.

The timing and the brutality of their clearance was fundamentally a show of force by the generals to serve as a warning to intimidate any current or future opponents to the military.

Immediately after Morsi's removal as president, the CWI warned that the Egyptian generals' hijacking of June and July's huge, up to 17 million strong, anti-Morsi mobilisation was a basis for them to take power themselves.

It "opened the doors to the dangers of sectarianism, different varieties of counter-revolution and the possible ultimate defeat of the revolution" (Polarisation grows - No trust in the generals. 10 July 2013).

Workers attacked

Now it is pro-Morsi protesters who are being crushed, but just two days before the bloody 14 August attack on the pro-Morsi camps the regime moved against a workers' sit-in at Suez Steel, arresting two of the occupation's leaders.

While the attack at Suez Steel showed the generals' class character, it was not a new experience for workers in post-Mubarak Egypt.

Previously Morsi's government had also shown its capitalist character when, last February, security forces attacked a Portland Cement workers' sit-in in Alexandria.

Since the 3 July ousting of Morsi, the military tops under General al-Sisi have worked to consolidate power in their own hands. Old Mubarak era security units have been re-activated.

Two-thirds of the new provincial governors announced on 13 August were either army or police generals, some with "glaring records of hostility to the 2011 revolution" (Economist, London, 17 August 2013).

But the military did not simply stage a coup, they falsely claimed they were acting on behalf of the mighty movement against the Morsi-led government that unfolded in June.

The generals were able to take over because, unfortunately, this magnificent protest of millions did not have its own representative and independent leadership able and willing to show how that movement could take power itself.

So the generals took the initiative and seized power while pretending to be acting on behalf of the protesters.

The fact that the military took over enabled the Muslim Brotherhood leaders to present themselves as defenders of democracy, even though increasingly authoritarian methods were being used during Morsi's brief presidency.

The mounting sectarianism, shown in the attacks on the Christian minority's churches because the Christian leaders are perceived to be supporting the military, can mean that the military will be seen by some as a protection against religious conflict and the development of jihadist violence. But this is not the case.

Actually the military's removal of Morsi, and the support it has got from many foreign governments, will itself fuel Islamic guerrilla and terrorist activity if supporters of right-wing Islamist parties draw the conclusion that the Muslim Brotherhood's strategy of gaining power through elections has failed. The impact of these events will be felt throughout the Middle East and beyond.

Since the start of the revolution in 2011 there has been a massive growth of the workers' movement in Egypt.

Workers' struggles, already important before Mubarak's overthrow, have enormously developed. There has been a huge movement into independent unions from a membership of less than 50,000 when Mubarak fell to over 2.5 million, and there are also four million in the formerly state controlled official unions.

Recently strikes have been running at the rate of 800 a month, compared with 160 a month last year, not just on pay and conditions but also against Mubarak-era management, victimisations and privatisation.

However, an independent voice from the workers' movement has been hardly heard since Morsi's overthrow.

Indeed Kamal Abu-Eita, the president of the independent trade union federation, EFITU, has become minister of labour and begun calling for an end to strikes.

Not for the first time in history, a trade union leader has been brought into a capitalist government with the express purpose of holding back struggles and trying to make workers accept a fundamentally military government.

Officially three trade union federations supported General al-Sisi's call for a mass demonstration on 26 July to show support for the new government, although significantly in the EFITU executive this was only after a nine to five vote.


This policy of supporting the military tops is a road to disaster for the trade unions. Workers' organisations need to have their own, independent and class-based programme, to offer a way to prevent both the consolidation of a military regime and the threat of increasing sectarian division and violence.

Immediately the key question is organising democratically run, non-sectarian defence of communities and workplaces from state and sectarian attack across the country.

The workers' organisations have the potential to begin this task, combined with offering a political alternative to the military, Muslim Brotherhood and capitalist rule.

With such a programme it would be possible for the workers' movement to begin to undermine both the generals and the Muslim Brotherhood leaderships.

The trade unions, especially the EFITU, should demand that Abu-Eita leaves the government and should launch their own campaign against repression, sectarianism and military rule, in defence of democratic rights and for immediate free elections to a revolutionary constituent assembly so that the Egyptian people can decide their own future.

General al-Sisi and his fellow military rulers will not find it easy to firmly re-establish a 'security state'.

The revolution is not yet over. The rapid disillusionment and subsequent outburst of opposition to Morsi's rule showed how quickly opposition can develop.

While the recent bloody events may understandably produce hesitation due to fears of repression and the growth of sectarianism, this will not last forever.

The combination of Egypt's deep economic and social crisis plus the emerging strength of the workers' movement will lead to renewed struggles.

Left or workers' organisations should have no thought of supporting this military regime in any way; it has never had a progressive character.

This is why the regime has been supported by the western powers which, like Obama, have now only been very gently criticising the brutal suppression of opposition.

In tumultuous events like these, the workers' movement, and the revolution, needs clarity more than ever.

From the moment of February 2011's euphoric overthrow of Mubarak, the CWI has been arguing that the revolution could only be successfully concluded in the interests of working people when: "the mass of the Egyptian people... assert their right to decide the country's future.

"No trust should be put in figures from the regime or their imperialist masters to run the country or run elections. There must be immediate, fully free elections, safeguarded by mass committees of the workers and poor, to a revolutionary constituent assembly that can decide the country's future.

"Now the steps already taken to form local committees and genuine independent workers' organisations should be speeded up, spread wider and linked up.

"A clear call for the formation of democratically elected and run committees in all workplaces, communities and among the military rank and file would get a wide response.

"These bodies should... be the basis for a government of workers' and poor representatives that would crush the remnants of the dictatorship, defend democratic rights and start to meet the economic and social needs of the mass of Egyptians" (Mubarak goes - clear out the entire regime! February 11, 2011).

This programme is even more relevant and urgent today.

The full version of this article can be read on

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In The Socialist 28 August 2013:

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Socialist Party reviews

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