Thinking about Egypt: between cynicism and wishful thinking

Monday, 19 August, 2013

On the developments in Egypt, on the framework in which people talk about the devlopments, and a bit on that attitude to take. Already published on my Libcom blog.

What follows is a long piece, but splitting it up and presenting it in two or three posts would not make the argument clearer to follow and would split ip the reactions as well. Se bear with me, poor reader…

Analysis on the overthrow of president Morsi in Egypt ran from utter cynicism to the wildest wishful thinking – though the wishful thinking is on the retreat now that the putschist military is opting for mass slaughter, drowning remaing illusions in blood. Neither cynicism not wishful thinking is very fruitful. Neither makes adequate sense of what has been happening. Neither gives a clear and balanced picture of the two fundamental conflicts which are raging. One is the conflict between revolt from below against all kinds of wings of the ruling class and their state institutions; the other conflict is the one between wings of the rulinge elite, between the part of the business class expressing itself through the Muslim Brotherhood, and the part of the buseness class connected with the army leadership and the state bureaucracy.

Cynics only see the second conflict, or put it central stage in such a way that the agency of the forces from below is ignored, denied, or at the very least dismissed as a secondary issue. There was a military coup, not much else, and certainly no major victory for any “Second Revolution”. That was what I call the cynics’ view. A good example – well worth a read because of the information it contains – is Esam Al-Amin’s “The Grand Scam: Spinning Ergypt’s Military Coup” Everything is conspiracy, there is hardly room for inititive from below, the conflict is almost reduced to a battle between military conspiracy ond onde side and electoral legt itimnacy on the other. There is inner- elite conflict; there is no class struggle, no revolt from below in this narrow perspective. This will not do.

The wishful thinkers not only put the forces from below central stage – where they belong! – but also see them as the big victors, the only independent actors in the drama. According to the wishful thinking brigade, the protesters – not the army – put Morsi and his Brotherhood on the run. The army basically did the mass movements’ bidding and hardly plays an independent role. Here is Mohamed Khamis, a Tamarod activist, in a Guardian diary-style article on 6 Jul : “I don ’t call what happened that day a coup. Sissi and the army took their cue from the people. They had many previous chances to do what they did but they didn’t take them. But once millions of people went out and chanted for the army to step in, they took their orders from us. The army did not take over power. They were merely a a partner in the democratic change we were seeking.” That day’ was the third of July the day of the military move against Morsi. One wonders if, when the army started mowing down Morsi supporters, they also took orders from ‘the people’.

The military, in this view, operated basically as enforcers of the people’s will. There was not really a coup. No, there is only the victorious people’s revolution, and the main counterrevolutionary force is the Muslim Brotherhood. That was what I call the wishful thinkers’ view. Alan Woods, in his “The Second Egyptian Revolution” gives a good example when he writes, the day after Morsi had gone: “Despite all the lying propaganda that tries to present the revolution as a “coup”, this was a genuine popular insurrection (…). This was the Second Egyptian revolution.” You see the boundless euphoria. You see also the confusion – as if you can’t have a coup – a technique for replacing governments, just like an election – within a broader revolutionary wave. There is only victorious revolt, the inner-elite conflict is almost removed to the sidelines. This will not do either.

I think both the cynics and the wishful thinkers have it wrong. But if I would be forced to choose between the two interpretations, I would side with the cynics. Their attitude betrays a very healthy lack of illusions, something we need for a serious appraisal of the weaknessses of our side, the oppressed and exploited, their revolt from below. Their error is mostly a matter of degree, of exaggerating the weakness and underestimation of the independent role that the revolt on the strteet still has. They see the big demonstrations of 30 June up to 3 July that formed the immediate prelude to Morsi’s fall as part of the military coup by which that fall was instigated; the demonstrators formed a stage army, a cloak under wich the real army did its thing. As wel will see, this will not quite do, though it contains an important grain of truth. Denial or dismissal of what is still an important and revolutionary force on the streets and in the workplaces makes it impossible to see from where a serious revival of the Egyption revolution still might get its strength. This is a reason for not going all the way to a purely cynical evaluation, one that only sees what is going on at the summit of society.

The wishful thinkers’ weaknesses, however, are much more serious. Not seeing how little has changed, not seeing how central the role of the army was and still is, not seeing that the army had its own reasons for dumping Morsi, not seeing the prominent role of ancien-regime, pro-Mubarak, ‘felool’ forces, both on the mass demonstrations and backstage – this is the politics of illusion. It is putting blinders on, neglecting serious dangers already threatening during the big anti-Morsi demonstrations, and becoming fully operational after general Sissi had got rid of president Morsi and is unleashiong ferocious repression. When the military imposed their solution, wishful thinking still saw a big revolutionary victory. A serious disorientation, which makes it even harder to regain one ’s balance in a situation that, in itself, makes this already quite difficult. Dressing up a counterrevolutionary generals’ victory as a victory for the revolution is worse than exaggerating that counterrevolutionary victory, making it seem much more complete than it actually is.

Now, let’s put some flesh and bones on the argument. First, the point of honor of the wishful thinking argument: the mass movement and its role in Morsi’s overthrow. It is right to put it center stage, as they do, and it ’s also correct to reject the cynics’ tendency to just see it als an irrelevance, or even as just a part of a military-felool conspiracy. There was a mass revolt, first expressing itself around a petition, then exploding in giant demonstrations on 30 June, then continuing for several days with demonstrations, occupations and blockades, and the beginnings of a general strike in the days up to 3 July. The movement was put in motion by a grouping called Tamarod, which means Rebellion. This group was formed by people with a background in earlier freedom struggles: “Tamarod was founded in late April by members of the Egyptian Movement for Change – better known by its slogan Kefaya (‘Enough’) – which pushed for political reform in Egypt under former president Hosni Mubarak in 2004 and 2005.” That means that the founders belong to an earlier generation of the same kind of oppositional politics from which in 20102-11 the groups sprang that initiated the protests culminating in Mubarak’s overthrow. This makes Tamarod a continuation of the campaigns that played a central role in the Ergyption revolution up to now. Not an especially left wing or radical current, but liberal, democratic in a general sense of being opposed to dictatorship and oppression. They express continuity in the mainstream of the unfolding revolutionary process. It makes no sense to see them as felool, pro-Mubarak, counterrevolutionary.

They put forward a few slogans and demands, and made them into a petition to call for Morsi ’s departure. “Security had not been restored since Februari 2011”, they complained. This chimed in with a longing for law and order, especially attractive for people who were opposed to the overthrow of Mubarak. It can be seen as a nod to counterrevolutionary sentiments. Other points, however, complained about the poor having to place in society, the economy in crisis. That struck a chord by many of those people who expected materal progress from the revaolution and hadn’t seen much of that. Another complaint: “There had been ‘no justice’ for people killed by security forces during the uprising.” Justice for the martyrs of the struggle, a better life for the poor: this tapped the same kind of motivations that led to the 2011 uprising in the first place. Both the petition – which drew an estimated 22 million of signatures – as the demonstration of 30 June and the following days show basic continuity with struggle from 25 January 2011 onwards, first against Mubarak, then against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the military leadership that took over on 11 February, and then against Morsi and his Brotherhood government. People still wanted freedom, justice, dignity – and bread. There is poverty and misery. Unemployment has risen from 12,5 percent in 2012 to 13,2 percent in 2013. There are shortages and high prices of basic needs. Economic collapse, the hurt and misery that it brought to millions of people, and the fact that Morsi’s government did not exactly improve matters for the people, all helped explain the size of the wave of demonstrations. Yes, the mass mobilizations of 30 June up to and including 3 July expressed a next wave in the continuing revolutionary struggle in Egypt. Yes, this wave contributed to Morsi’s downfall. So far, so good.

Other things are not so good. There is the rermarkable size of the demonstrations – according to peculiar sources. We hear about 14 million of people demonstrating, we hear of 17 million as well. But note: it is the Army and the ministry of Interior Affairs that are presenting these kind of numbers! Would we believe them if they had told us that there were ony 20.000 demonstrators on 30 June? If not, why would we take their numbers seriously, now that they come up with much higher numbers? Do we suddenly believe them, now that the numbers sound more pleasant in our ears? I think some distrust is in order. If the Ministry of Interior Affairs says that there are 14 or 17 million demonstrators, that only means one thing: the ministry wants people to believe that there were that many people demonstrating. It does not prove that there actually were so many. Apparently, it suited state authorities to encourage a picture of enormous crowds, unprecedented in size, demonstrating against Morsi. If state institutions are enthousiastic about big crowds on the move, we should take note and be a bit distrustful at least. Maybe the crowds are not quite that big. Maybe the crowds were somewhat less revolutionary in character than we might like to think.

Now, surely, there were millions on the street those days. We don ’t need the hype of Egyptian state institutions to convince us of that fact. But the attitude of those institutions towards the mass movement consisted of more than hyping the numbers. There was active state support. On 3 July, hours before the coup, there was an instruction from the same Interior Ministry to hand out water and juice to the demonstrators. No teargas this time, no rubber bullets or water cannons against demonstrators. No, refreshments to make life easier for them. What a difference from those confrontational days of 25 January 2011 and after! The state presented itself, not as furious opponent of the demonstrations, but as its ally and assistent.

Now, why could that be? One possible reason might be fear: let’s present them with refreshments, before they present us with the storming of our buildings. There are reasons to dismiss this motivation. The crowds were not at all anti-police or anti-military. There were blockades of local government buildings, yes. But no wave of furious attacks on police officers, no chasing of the police out of Cairo, as was done quiten effectively between 25 and 28 January 2011. On the contrary, police officers took part in the demonstrations, openly wearing their uniform. People were chanting both pro and contra the military. However, “activists admit that retired army generals asked them not to chant against the military and the police”, according to Ursula Lindsey on The Arabist. This shows, first, that some demonstrators apparently wanted to chant against military and police, which is good; but also that “activists” were in touch with “retired generals”, and taking their advice seriously, which is not so good at all. It points to a degree of military cooptation of the demonstrators, and a willingness of too many of them to be so coopted. Many of the demonstrators clearly saw the military as an ally, at least in a tactical sense. Attacks on buildings reprersenting the authorities there were, but these were mainly the ofices of Morsi ’s governing party. Police did not defend them, so Brotherhood people did that themselves, sometimes shooting and killing demonstrators whio sometimes used molotovs and the likes. This was a revolt against a government and a party; it was not a revolt against a regime and its state as such. So there was no reason for state authorities to become so afraid that they preferred handing out refreshments above handing out a rain of live bullets on demonstrators. Especially when forces within the state never liked the Brotherhood very much in the first place, and were keen on the opportunity to get rid of Morsi.

There was worse. Many of the demonstrators had come out for reasons in basic accordance with the uprising against Mubarak. But not all of them. There was a sizable felool component, where ‘felool’ means the sympathizers and remnants of the Mubarak regime. How sizable? Hard to say. An anarchist present among the activists on Tahrir Square in the days before Morsi ’s fall – and arguing against support for army intervention there – was being asked wether there were felool around. “A lot of them” he says. Gilbert Achhar, a sensible Trotskyist analyst, makes clear that Morsi managed to make enemies of both those who found the revolution distasteful because it upset “law and order” on the one hand, and those who rejected Morsi “because he is continuing the social policies of Mubarak.” So yes, many people wanted to get rid of Morsi because he was an enemy of the revolution. But a sizable part of the demonstrators wanted to get rid of Morsi for the opposite reason. They rejected him, not because he was a counterrevolutionary, but because he was a rather ineffectuial counterrevolutionary, with some Islamist ideas that they disliked. They searched for something more robust and less Islamist. If they could find a solution which, while counterrevolutionary, had legitimacy in the eyes of the peiople, so much the better. This is why felool jumped on the Tamarod bandwagon, even if they did not start the movement.

The idea of a military takeover made sense for felool: they were sympathizers of the former Mubarak regime, a military-dominated set-up. Unfortunately, among the non-felool parts of the crowds, the idea that the military might at least help to get rid of Morsi, was quite strong. Those parts of the movement that were resolutely anti-Morsi and resolutely anti-Army, were not silent. But they were not the strongest force. The mass movement was not the army’s stage army. But the mass movement became, partly through conspiracy and partly through illusions, part of the plans the generals were making. The impetus of the demonstrations came from people who wanted to fight for liberation in a braod, general – not necessarily very radical – sense. But the demonstrations were used by the generals als proof that Morsi had to go, and that the military should make that happen. In ther name of “the people”, of course.

What was the game the generals were playing? Partly is was a matter of beheading the revolt before it got out of hand. Millions of people were demonstrating, a campaign of civil desobedience was beginning, there was talk of a general strike, though a 2 July call by the trade union federation EFITU for such a strike “failed to materialize”, as Jano Charbel points out. ‘Stability ‘, that main obsession of military leaderships, was in danger. Morsi showed himself unwilling to compromise with establishment opposition. He used to be an asset for the military because his constitution granted much power and autonomy for the military, and because he didn’t work for justice against earlier repressions. Now he was turning into a liability because he turned everybody into an enemy, provoking revolt. So, he had to go. And rather than let demonstratorss chase him from his palace, the generals found it safer to remove him themselves. So, they made a military coup to coopt and limit the revolutionary wave that they saw unfolding. By this move they took the initiative out of the street movement, and into the hands of themselves and their friends and allies. Instead of a potentially uncontrollable revolt, the generals enforced a power shift at the summit of the state, reducing the demonstrators to an auxiliary force. People were complaining that, by calling this a coup, the autonomy of the struggle was being denied and the agency of the mass movement is taken away. I would say that the complaint is a bit misdirected. It is the army which, through ttheir coup d’etat try to take the autonomy of the struggle away and deny the mass movement any agency or even independent space. Not the ones who call the army ’s action a coup.

This certainly is part of the dynamics: the army restoring control by doing what demonstrators ask for and thereby getting the initiative away fromn the streets, back into the state ’s hands, and getting extra legitimacy as enforcers of the ‘people’s will’ as a bonus. But this interpretation is rather incomplete. For instance, it is simply not true that the army started moving only after the wave of demonstrators proved to be vast. The army ’s attidude was not simply reactive, it was proactive. The army leadership was already plotting, putting pressure on Morsi to broaden his base and compromise with the mainstream opposition. According to a Guardian article, the Brotherhood knew already on 23 June that Morsi’s time was up; another reconstruction names 26 June as the date for a point of no return. And there appear to have been more reasons for the army leadership to desire thedeparture of Morsi. Some reports suggest that Morsi was trying to replace army leader and minister of defence Sissi. So, in removibng Morsi, he may have been saving his own skin and career. Now, I have read the allegation, I have not seen evidence. But is is clear that the attitude of state institutions to the demonstrations ware generally positive, even openly helpful. Tha army made its move, not under duress from demonstrations it opposed, but under the cover of demonstrations that it found connvenient and basically coopted. Broad illusions among demonstrations, and a large contingent of felool as well, helped them in this operation.

So, yes, there was a revolutionary eruption against Morsi and his government. That is the rational core of what I have called the wishful thinking discourse. But yes, there has been an army coup d’ etat, not only to coopt and derail the mass movement, but also to shift the balance within the power elite away from the Islamists, back to generals, secular politicians and bureaucrats – and probably also to save some army careers as well. On the whole, the army coup has managed to twist the developments in a counterrevolutionary direction. Here, the discourse of what I call the cynics, is valid, though they tend to unreasonably dismiss any radical potentialities in the protest movement.

The counterrevolutionary turn is visible in several respects. Within days of Morsi’s overtrow, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates came forward with financial aid. These are two of the most oppressive, reactionary and openly counterrevolutionary states in the whole region. If regimes like these support a government, we can be sure that they see such a government not as as a bulwark against revolution, not as an expression of revolutionary progress. And class consciousness from their side is usually not lacking in these circles.

The same applies to the attitude of the United States; the White House pointedly refused to call Morsi’s overthrow a coup. By naming it a coup, continuing financial support for the Egyptian military would become legally problematic. And the US wants to continue such support. The Egyptian state is an important ally and bullwark for US strategy, and continuation of financing its army fits into that strategy. Well, an Egyptian army and government treated as an ally and a bulwark by the likes of the Saudi and US governments lacks any revolutionary credentials. The same applies to Sissi and his military enablers of this regime, and the wing of the street opposition that cheers them on.

Looking at the allies and helpers of the new regime is indirect evidence of its reactionary character of the military power grab. There is direct evidence as well. Within days, repression was already quite extensive. The massacre of a sit-in by Brotherhood people, Morsi supporters and the like, on 8 July, was already symptomatic. There were reports that the military violence was provoked by armed Brotherhood activists; a Guardian reconstruction, however, talks about “a coordinated assault on mainly peaceful protesters”. But even Brotherhood provocation preceded military repression, the extent of the slaughter, the number of victims on the demonstrators’ side, points to the preparedness of the military to beat down protests outside proscribed limits. And there was worse, much worse, w to come with the killing o around 600 people when the army attacked twe sit-ins/ protest camps on 14 August.

Other symtoms of counterrevolution are not hard to find. I saw a very interesting piece op reporting from Port Said in The Guardian. It opens like this: “In Port Said, on the Suez Canal there is relief both that Morsi is gone and that the old ways have returned.” The old ways? Yes. “Port Said: Secret Police returns to the streets” , is the title of the piece. There is a kind of personality cult around general Sissi, with portraits and all (hardly anybody talks about the interim president). What we see is the counterrevolution all around that has taken a big step forwards. In no serious sense is this a “Second Revolution”.

Now, there are people whose hatred for Morsi and Brotherhood is so deep that they neglect the military danger. That is one of the reasons that the wishful thinking attitude is so dangerous: it helps those who think that, against the Islamist danger, almost anything is justified. Well, it is not. Militarily repressing people for the mere expression of opinion is inherently wrong, no matter what the opinion is. Repression against Brotherhood supporters is also dangerous. Repression meted out today against Brotherhood sympathizers can be used tomorrow as precedent for repression against strikers, democratic demonstrators, women activists against sexual abuse. Repression against Brotherhood supporters also encourages those parts of the Islamist movement to turn its back to more-or-less-peaceful activism, and once again take the road of armed struggle, thich then gives the army extra excuses to pump up the repression under the flag of “antiterrorism”. Algeria in the 1990s, anybody nostalgic for that episode?

It might even help the Brotherhood pose as upholders of democracy and defenders of the revolution against the army – both of which they definitely are not. The Brotherhood and Morsi have themselves to blame for much of the hatred they encounter. They, not their street opponents, shot at people demonstrating against them and their buildings. They took responsibility for repressive laws, for defending the army’s position, for protecting military human rights abuses and abusers. They used security forces against demonstrators. How reactionary the Brotherhood is, becomes clear by one of the forms the reaction against the military repression takes: a wave of attacks against Coptic churches and institutions, with dozens of churches set on fire or otherwise damaged or destroyed. In this way, Brotherhood activists and/ or other Islamists are turning their rage into a Muslim versus Christian fight, using Copts as scapegoats. This is no force against autharitarianism. This is religious authoritarianism, with a pogromist dynamics, against military authoritarianism. There is no reason to mourn for Morsi, there should be no regrets for the downfall of his Brotherhood as such.

But their repression by the Egyptian army – the same army that only recently was protected by the same Brotherhood ’s president – is a serious threat to workers’ freedoms and space for resistance. In the conflict between Brotherhood power play and military repression, there is no valid side to take. It is a conflict between elite forces that are both counterrevolutionary. But the right even of Brotherhood sympathizers to demonstrate without being arrested or shot at, should be defended. Freedom is universal, not a privilege only for the ones we agree with. Today they shoot at the Brotherhood, tomorrow they shoot at us, like they did yesterday. Demanding the reinstatement of Morsi is as reactionary as tolerating the coup. Demanding an end to the violent mass repression against Morsi ’s supporters, up to and including mass arrests and the murderous attacks on demonstrations, is valid as part of broader resistance against the state.

The development of the Egyptian struggle has taken a turn from the worse, both through the military coup itself, the massacres it alreadty is committing, and through the much too positive attitude many activists within and outside Egypt have been taking towards it. Too many people saw the army’s role as hardly more than a minor complication in an otherwise very positive dynamic. I think they are wrong. With the army coup, one wing of the ruling elite has enforced its way against the other. Street politics is being reduced to a sideshow in which supporters of one wing of the elite show their anger towards supporters of the other side. The Morsi supporters claim democratic legitimacy, because once upon a time, Morsi was elected. That is correct from a legal point of view, a legal point of view that radicals need not accept. Their opponents point out that being elected does not mean that you can just trod upon people’s rights and desires and treat the state as private property. That is also correct, from a much more valid, revolutionary point of view. And yes, removing Morsi through extraparliamentary means is illegal. But, as one clever commentator says: “Revolutions, after all, are illegal affairs.” Of course they are, and that is part of their charm! The problem, however, is not the ‘illegality’ of Morsi’s removal. As a pro-revolutionary person, I couldn’t care less. The problem was the army’s central role in removing him, and parts of the protest movement cheering them on. The problem was that he was removed, not by revolutionary means but by a counterrevolutionary coup. That is what cannot and should not be condoned, let alone supported.

There is a sinister aspect of the violence that may not be getting the attention it deserves: the apparent participation of residents inn thehostility against Morsi supporters. There have been all kindds of clashes between Brotherhood supporters on the march, and other people confronting them with hostility. “Anti-coup protesters in Egypt broke a military curfew to mach through Cairo but were prevented frtom reaching their planned destination due to heavy security and reports of hostile locals, we read in Aljazeera, which prefers to call the supporters of Morsi and the Brotherhood ‘anti-coup protesters’. “A heavy military presence was deployed in other areas to check the marchers’progress. They also faced the task of passing through several neighbourhoods that were hostile to their presence, Tadros said.” Tadros is Aljazeera’s reporter on the spot. Hostility from residents of several neighbourhoods… Apparently, the anti-Brotherhood-sentiment of many people is so strong that thety are not even satisfied with the security forces attacking and murdering Brotherhood sympathizers; they want a piece of the anti-Brotherhood action themselves. In the context of a military curfew, this is pro-Army vigilantism making iots ugly appearance, even if Morsi and his Brotherhood have themselves to blame for helping provoking this rage. In Egypt we must take the word ‘civil’ in ‘civil war’ quite literally. If it comes, it will not juist be the state against armed Islamist gangs; it will be civilians against civilians, supporting one armed force against the other, engulfing Egypt in deeper bloodshed, with reaction as the big winner.

There is no good reason to take to the streets for any of the two contending sides. Opponents of the coup tend to call for the return of Morsi. Opponents of Morsi tend to support the army or at least lean on its protection. Two wings of bourgeois politics are fighting it out through fake-radical street action. If the revolution is to regain some of its strength, the place to look is elsewhere: in poor neighbourhoods and villages, in factories, in schools and universities. Poverty and the threat of more poverty is what helped provoke the revolt against Mubarak. Poverty and the threat of more poverty helped provoke the uprising against Morsi. The new leadership will not solve these social and economic problems. They may make them worse, with the neoliberal policies they have in common with Morsi and Mubarak before him. Morsi, the object of many people’s discontent, may be gone, but the deeper reasons for that discontent remain. That means that fighting directly for better wages, a bit more job security, a better life is as relevant as ever.

Egypt has seen an ongoing wave of strikes, demonstrations, sit-ins on social and economic issues. The big mobilization of 30 June- 3 July partly reflects that anger and the confidence gained in that struggle. Here, is is imnportant to note that workers were active in these protests, activity that was channeled by trade union organizations. There was the Center of Trade Union and Workers’Services CWTUS making its offices avaiolable for colecting signatures under the Tamarod petition. There were the two trade union federations, EDLC and EFITU, together with CWTUS, encouraging participation in the 30 June actions, in coordination with Tamarod. It is a classical alliance between trade union forces and liberal activists. Obviously, this is not independent, lety alone autonomous, workers self-activity. But it is an expression, filtered through trade union srtructires, of deep workers’ anger. And the activity sometimes took militant forms: municipal workers cooperated with protesters on the street in bringing local government institutions to a standstill in several places. However. the danger of derailment and recuperation through liberal support for the military coup quickly became clear. The president of EFITU accepted a job as Minister of Manpower in the popst-coup government, while EFITU itsel;f came with a declaration in which it said that the “heroes of the strikes against the two previous governments” should now become “heroes of hard work and production for the nation”, in return for being treated like citizens like any other. Not everybody was pleased with this nationalist, submissive language.

Working class rebellion was part of the pressure that made Mubaraks position untenable in 2011. It was part of the pressure against Morsi as well. And now, with general Sissi in charge, working class resistance is still there, confronting the current regime as it did its predecessors. Just before security troops massacred the participants of the pro-Morsi-sit ins, security forces ended another a sit-in, held by steelworkers on strike. Interestingly enough, the April 6 Youth Movement, one of the networks that was central in the revolt against Mubarak, protests at the repression . This strike is an example of the sort of fight in which people confront not just one wing of the capitalist class, but capitalists as such. Fighting that fight, in the neighbourhoods and in the workplaces – whether textile factories or university buildings – may offer a way for resistance to regain strength. Class resistance, organizing strikes and similar actions, in as independent, autonomous and horizontal way as possible, rebuilds strength down below. That autonomous strength may come in handy as a new wave of street revolt breaks out, against whatever government is running things. In that case, infused with direct action class struggle spirit, such an eruption may be considerably less easy to derail, coopt or suppress by either army, Brotherhood or whatever wing the Egyptian rulers can put forward to wrongfoot the struggle once again.

Peter Storm

2 thoughts on “Thinking about Egypt: between cynicism and wishful thinking


    Dear Peter,

    Again, my compliments about your very interesting article ”Thinking about
    Egypt: Between cynism and Wishful thinking” and your clear analysis of
    the political situation in Egypt.
    Your article is impressive and it goes to far to mention all points, of which
    some I agree and other not.
    However, generally your view is my view, especially regarding the
    Egyptian stryggle for justice and the fact [but that’s the way I know you] that you
    don’t close your eyes for the fact, that there was actually a military coup and
    the massslagugher and persecutions of the Muslim Brotherhood are hugh
    human rights violations.
    On the other hand you are right, that the Morsi government [I hold this
    seperated from theoriginal ideology of Muslim Brotherhood, which has several aspects]
    violated human rights seriously and supported on the military also.

    I also share this quote of you

    ”But if I would be forced to choose between the two interpretations, I would side with the cynics. ”


    Speaking of this, I want to share my opinion, that I am not of the opinion, that what happened
    in the uprisiing against Mubarak was a revolution.
    You hear that all the way and I think it’s annoying, because with the fall
    of Mubarak, nu fundamental economic or political changes in Egyptian society took place
    On the contrary
    The military [Tantawi] had a temprary power ]although not by a coup, like al Sisis], security forces
    remained doing their dirty work, etc
    But that was a remark aside and no comment at all on your artcle


    Now back to the article

    You wrote

    ”Now, there are people whose hatred for Morsi and Brotherhood is so deep that they neglect the military danger. That is one of the reasons that the wishful thinking attitude is so dangerous: it helps those who think that, against the Islamist danger, almost anything is justified. Well, it is not. Militarily repressing people for the mere expression of opinion is inherently wrong, no matter what the opinion is.”

    I share your opinion totally, because I can’t undestand the mentality and views of people, who think, that against which real or alleged
    [in this case I think alleged, but that is only my view] ”danger” human rights violations as in the case of Egypt, are justified.
    I detest that sort of thinking and such people can never be my allies.

    Also you point out, that violence against the Brotherhood today can be violence to other groups tomorrow


    Interesting, that you wrote

    ”The Morsi supporters claim democratic legitimacy, because once upon a time, Morsi was elected. That is correct from a legal point of view, a legal point of view that radicals need not accept. Their opponents point out that being elected does not mean that you can just trod upon people’s rights and desires and treat the state as private property. That is also correct, from a much more valid, revolutionary point of view. And yes, removing Morsi through extraparliamentary means is illegal. But, as one clever commentator says: “Revolutions, after all, are illegal affairs.” Of course they are, and that is part of their charm! The problem, however, is not the ‘illegality’ of Morsi’s removal. As a pro-revolutionary person, I couldn’t care less.”

    Seen from my point of view, I have very much respect for [although I often disagree the outcoming, but that’s point two] thev legitimate
    results of elections in the sense, that removing a legitimately chosen government is a break with democratic
    principles, cetrtainly since it is often done by authoritarian or military regime.
    So I can support that argument of the supporters of Muslim Brotherhood.

    At the other hand you are right
    Real revolutions [which want radical economic and political changes] are never legitimate and when
    overthrown by a real revolutionannary force, you agree with that.
    I think you are right
    But I have one main condition [sorry, I don’t know a better word]
    To mention that, I quote you again

    ”The problem was the army’s central role in removing him, and parts of the protest movement cheering them on. The problem was that he was removed, not by revolutionary means but by a counterrevolutionary coup. That is what cannot and should not be condoned, let alone supported.”

    Again, I think you are right
    However, when I want to support a revolutionnary overthrow, it must be according to human rights principles
    I mean
    No extrajudicial executions, like happened often in the past, no torture, no show trials
    But which respect for any human being, also your adversary

    That is not only a question of ethics

    I am convinced, that revolutions, however noble the intention [power away from capitalists, equal division
    of the worlds riches, etc], a revolution or new society will not last on the justice
    of committed human rights

    Also an adversary has the right to a fair trial, to life, to a human treatment

    And if co revolutionaries breach those human rights rules, they have to answer to Court also

    That’s my opinion

    I am convinced of the fact, that apart from all economical and political and
    other causes, one of the reasons of the failure of the russian Revolution was, the non
    respect for human rights and human lives

    And in my Human Rights book that doesn;t only apply to Kronstadt, but also
    the murder of the Czar family
    When one does that sort of things, the door to a society, build on real justice, is
    But few persons will share that opinion, but I think it is important, to
    mention it, because in all struggle movements for a better world that aspect
    is mostly underestimated

    Therfore I emphasize it here

    Of course I don’t say, that neglecting human rights in revolutions is your opinion
    [on the contrary]
    I only want to make my pomt here regarding struggle for a better world

    Kind greetings

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