Two funeral processions turned into mass protests on the streets of Egypt today. Over the last 5 days thousands of people have taken to the streets in order to protest against a decree announced by the Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, allowing him to rule more or less autocratically. The events have publicly displayed the true nature of the Muslim Brotherhood who once claimed to be representatives of democracy in Egypt. At the same time these events show that none of the contradictions which led to the revolution have been solved and that under the surface a new wave of revolution is being prepared.
"If I fail to come back, I ask the people to continue with the revolution and claim our rights," wrote 16-year-old Gaber Salah on his Facebook page shortly before his death fighting against police forces near Cairo’s Tahrir Square last Friday. Today thousands answered his call by joining his funeral that went through that same iconic square.
Also the funeral of Islam Masoud, a 15 year old that was killed on Saturday fighting against Muslim Brotherhood forces, was attended by thousands in Damanhour. Saleh was killed as he participated in a mass protest that attacked the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood in Damanhour on Saturday. Before going to another protest on Friday (which also happened to be the first anniversary of the deadly clashes between revolutionaries and security forces on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square) Saleh wrote on his Facebook page:
"I am going for the sake of the blood of our brothers and sisters; I am going to Mohamed Mahmoud for the sake of the revolution; I, am also going because I carried with my own hands my friend, Ahmed Osama, after being killed; I am going to regain my country,"
The New Pharaoh
Today’s mass protests followed 4 days of protests which erupted on 22 November 2012, when president Mohammed Morsi issued a declaration which in practice concentrates all state power in his hands. He declared that all of his decisions and the laws he issues are immune from any challenge and cannot be overturned. He also said that no judicial body can dissolve the Constituent Assembly, a thoroughly non-representative organ firmly controlled by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Not even the overthrown president Hosni Mubarak enjoyed such wide-ranging powers.
While trying to cover the key points of his declaration he also announced a few concessions such as a new investigation into some of the crimes committed by members of the old regime. This is a demand that the revolutionaries have fought for since the first day of the revolution. But it is clear that Morsi is not going to apply this – at least not at a top level where all of the SCAF and even some of his own ministers, such as Ahmed Gamal who heads the hated Interior Ministry, are directly linked to the old regime.
In June when Morsi was elected as President, he leaned on the masses to strike blows against parts of the old regime that were not willing to share power with him. But it is also clear that Morsi and the SCAF immediately struck a deal after the elections which meant that the SCAF would allow the Muslim Brotherhood to take a share of power while the Brotherhood would keep the old state apparatus including the armed forces intact.
This time, having the army off his back, Morsi thought that by giving a few concessions as well as focussing on taking power away from the hated judiciary he could divide the movement and push his main agenda through.
The judiciary initially responded by declaring a national strike, but this measure was quickly abandoned as the Supreme Judiciary Council watered down its opposition to the decrees.
It told judges and prosecutors to return to work and announced that its members would meet Mr Morsi today to try to persuade him to restrict immunity to major state decisions such as declaring war or martial law or breaking diplomatic relations with foreign nations. In other words, the judges are making it clear that they are willing to strike a deal with Morsi as well.
Morsi’s power grab was correctly seen by the youth as an attack against the revolution. On Friday, thousands poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square to show their opposition to the President. In scenes which resembled those of the first days of the revolution the protesters were shouting slogans such as, “The people want to bring down the regime,” and “Down, down, Morsi-Mubarak.”
Throughout the day, as more and more people gathered in the square, violent clashed broke out between the protesters and the security forces.
But the protests weren’t limited to Cairo. Throughout the weekend there were major protests in Alexandria, Port Said, Suez, El Behaira , Dakhalia , Assuit, Qena , Luxor, Aswan, Damanhour, Tanta and many more towns and cities.
At least in Alexandria, Port Said and Suez –all three old strongholds of the Muslim Brotherhood – the offices of the ruling party were attacked. In the major industrial city of El-Mahalla El-Kubra, the members of the MB had to organise defence teams to stave off angry protesters who wanted to storm their offices.
In Damietta a protest in front of the MB headquarters was attacked by a small group while the police withdrew from the scene. In Aswan, there were also clashes between protesters and security forces at the MB headquarters in the city.
A blogger wrote about Port Said and Suez :
“Port Said was on fire for real last night. There was an attempt to storm the FJP HQ in Port Said last night just like Alexandria but armed Salafists unleashed attack on the protesters. According to eye witnesses these Salafists got automatic guns and came in tracks. There were many injured in these clashes. No police was found. Morsi got 46% of the votes there.
In Suez the protesters attacked the Muslim brotherhood HQ in the city with rocks and Molotov cocktails. The protesters also attacked the FJP HQ in Suez and there have been clashes between and the Salafists who appeared suddenly to protect it.The protesters accused MB supporters of using gunshots and bird shots against them.”
The responses of the state to the protests were very violent. It is clear that in many places the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists and the police were coordinating their forces with the police acting as defence guards and the Salafists as shock troops. Throughout the weekend more than 500 people were injured and several – all oppositionists – have been killed.
What stage are we passing through?
The Egyptian revolution is entering a new stage. “Everything has changed, nothing has changed”. This is an often heard statement in Egypt. The revolutionary masses brought down a ferocious regime that had a massive state apparatus and a fully developed repressive system as well as the full backing of all major powers of the world. They did this without a plan, without a programme, without an organisation and without a revolutionary leadership.
But after almost two years of struggle nothing has fundamentally changed in society. People are tired of constant demonstrations and mobilisations that do not bring about any tangible results. They are therefore less prone to aimlessly take to the streets and the broadest layers of the masses feel disoriented and without a clear perspective.
But Morsi’s decree has been a wake-up call. The advanced layers, especially feel that the revolution is in danger. This process is common to all revolutions. After the initial stages of euphoria, the advanced layers are the first ones to realize that all is not good. They see that behind the scenes a deal is being struck with the old rulers to sell off the revolution. This radicalises them and spurs them to an offensive against the reactionary leaders who are about to sell off the revolution. This is a very dangerous time because the advanced layers are in danger of being isolated and thus vulnerable to attacks from the counter-revolution. But nevertheless they anticipate a process which will also take place amongst the masses.
Tomorrow there is a call for a million man march against the regime. The Muslim Brotherhood has also called for a demonstration – also in Tahrir square. This is clearly a provocation, and it could seem that the MB feels strong enough to a direct encounter with the revolution. But it is not at all certain that the Brotherhood will walk away from this clash all safe and sound.
The Muslim Brotherhood achieved 10 million votes in the parliamentary elections last year, but already by the first round of the presidential elections that vote had been halved. On the other side the revolution at its peak had 15-20 million people on the streets. A public and open move against the revolution might be what spurs the broad layers of the masses back into struggle and crushes the Brotherhood all together.
Contradictions of the Revolution
Almost two years after the revolution began it is clear to most Egyptians that not much has changed. Many people, although they did not necessarily fully support the Brotherhood, were thinking “They are not like the old ones, they have clean hands and they are democratic”. But as the fog of religion, which the Brotherhood used to hide behind, clears awy, many people are starting to realize that there are no fundamental differences between Morsi and Mubarak. While the faces at the top have changed, the old state apparatus remains in the hands of the old ruling class in Egypt.
But as we have said many times before: In the final analysis, the question of democracy cannot be separated from the question of bread. But capitalism today, being in a deep crisis on a global scale, not only cannot afford to give concessions, but is forced to attack the living standards of the working masses. Egypt is no exception to this. Since 2011 GDP growth has fallen from 6 percent to 1.8 percent, pushing millions deeper into poverty. Unemployment has risen to 12.6 percent. Foreign direct investment has fallen to just $218 million in the first quarter of this year, compared with $2.1 billion in the same period of 2011.
In this context, ever since the revolution there has been a growing workers movement developing with millions of workers going on long and militant strikes for their modest demands. Only in the last month there have been more than 1.000 strikes; a figure which has only been higher in the months immediately after the revolution. But the regime – to which the MB and the Salafists now also belong – is incapable of fulfilling the demands of the workers and is increasingly meeting the strikes and protests with repression thereby defending the interests of capital and big business.
The only way of granting even the most modest demands of the working class, is by breaking with the capitalist system as a whole. It is necessary to expropriate the property of the ruling class and its imperialist bosses and introduce a democratically planned economy to develop society. As long as the revolution fails to break the rule of capital in the country, misery and poverty will continue to prevail. In the final analysis, the dictatorships in the Middle East are all are reflection of this contradiction.
The revolutionary masses will learn these lessons the hard way through many bitter setbacks and defeats. Had there been a Marxist mass organisation, such as the Bolshevik party in Russia in 1917, this process would have been quicker. The lack of any real revolutionary leadership for the working class turns this process into a long and protracted one.
But nevertheless this process is taking place. While a certain hopelessness and disappointment prevail on the surface, there is a profound process going on beneath. The youth and the advanced workers especially are becoming more and more radicalised by the day and they are looking for ideas that can explain a way out of the impasse. They are beginning to understand that a fundamental change of the system is necessary.
The Egyptian revolution is far from finished. While reaction might seem to be firmly in control of the situation, their base is very fragile. At the same time the masses remember that they alone, without any help, brought down the Mubarak regime. This weekend’s protests reveal an element of the anger that is simmering beneath the surface.
The Brotherhood is a bourgeois party and has no choice but to continue to carry out the attacks of capital on the working masses. But every new murder and every new act of injustice fills the minds of the masses with more bitterness and hatred. Sooner or later this will lead to an open clash. Nothing has been settled yet – a new revolution is being prepared.