Saturday, 6 July 2013

Egypt: Why Morsi Fell

Oh, hello again Mr ElBaradei. It's been well over two years since I last wrote about Egypt. Since then, there's been a lot of changes. But in a rather peculiar way, things are the same again. A heavy-handed and out-of-touch presidency is toppled by a de facto alliance of a millions-strong insurgency and the military, and once again the mercurial Mohamed ElBaradei is prepared to act as an interim figure until things die down and elections are called. The only difference between this time and last is, unlike ElBaradei and his military friends, his predecessor - the hapless Mohammed Morsi - actually had democratic credentials he could brag about. Oh, and that ElBaradei actually made it into the interim's chair on this occasion.

The scenes that have played out on our screens again this last week are inspiring and deeply worrying all at once. Millions taking to the street is enough to stir any socialist, regardless of how cynical they may have become. But seeing it mobilise, agitate for and support a temporary military takeover is something else. That will require a post of its own, so the question I want to confine myself here to is how Egypt found itself convulsed by a revolutionary crisis two short years after Mubarak's departure, and one year since Egypt's first properly democratic - at least by internationally-recognised standards - presidential election. Let's begin with the basics.

As a rule, while not adept at fomenting them Trotskyists nevertheless have a good understanding of the dynamics of revolutions, and the standard frame of Trotsky's permanent revolution stands up well in this case. Egypt has a growing but still subaltern presence in the global economic order. Its healthy GDP growth figures (5.1% per annum before the revolution, 1.8 and 1.5 per cent each year since) belies chronic unemployment, poverty wages and spiralling prices. While the state was a significant factor in the economy - a legacy of Nasserism - Egypt's development has also been held back by Mubarak’s grotesque dictatorship. While undoubtedly resting on a measure of popular consent (as all dictators do), one of its key props of support was the United States. In words that ring true for Mubarak as they did for Somoza, as Harry Truman put it "he's a bastard, but he's our bastard". As the declining but still dominant global hegemon, it has long been in the USA's strategic interests to maintain a friendly regime in Egypt as both the most populous and potentially powerful Arab state; and as home to the vital Suez Canal. Control of this arterial waterway is absolutely paramount to any who seek to dominate the Middle East. Unfortunately for the ancien regime Egypt’s economic problems could not be untangled from the dead hand of political authoritarianism and economic subordination. Hence when it came to the crunch, the antagonisms arising from mass unemployment and the absence of basic liberties were too much for Mubarak to keep a lid on. And off to the dustbin he went.

The problem is, from the viewpoint of Trotsky’s theory, the Arab Spring in Egypt stopped well short of solving the country’s problems. For the fetters placed on Egyptian capitalism by dictatorship and foreign domination to be swept aside and the long-term issues of its underdevelopment to be addressed, their resolution depends on the revolution being socialist in character. It might have been a while since one of those has come along, but the point stands. The ‘indigenous’ capitalism of a state in Egypt’s position is incapable of consistently addressing developmental issues because the domestic bourgeoisie are compromised by the immediate interests they have in the present set up. Hence rounded out development of a nation like Egypt depends on the working class via its revolutionary party taking into ownership the commanding heights of the economy. And in so doing, the question of the development of Egyptian capitalism becomes one of the development of Egyptian socialism.

However, one would need a magnifying glass to identify the influence revolutionary socialism has in Egypt at this juncture. Therefore the assumption of revolutionary leadership by the Muslim Brotherhood some time after Mubarak was deposed would likely store trouble up for itself. They did not have a programme to address Egypt's underdevelopment. They did not have a programme that could satisfy the aspirations of the street. Nor did they have a programme for the modernisation of the Egyptian state apparatus. As a movement whose core constituency was the petit bourgeois, sections of the urban middle class, landowners, and what remains of the peasantry all it could achieve, at best, was a fudge. It wasn't that Morsi's leadership had 'failed'. It was always doomed to do so because the Brotherhood was structurally incapable of satisfying the revolution's appetite. The social forces it represented, ultimately, were tied too much to the prevailing state of affairs. And when revolutions go hungry, they have the awful habit of consuming their children.

But, of course, Morsi's leadership did fail. Just because history's cards are stacked against you doesn't mean your actions have zero bearing on the outcome of the game. And by all accounts, his presidency was a disaster. To be fair, and as you might expect, inheriting a state apparatus stuffed with Mubarak place men found Morsi at a disadvantage from day one. Nor were things helped by having to fight turf wars with the army. It's in this context that his November decree that exempted his decisions from judicial or any kind of oversight must be viewed. With the army temporarily sidelined and any incoming legal challenges to his summer purge of the top brass headed off, Morsi's decree was a provocation to others involved in drawing up Egypt's new constitution. Denounced as a "new pharaoh", liberal and secular elements quit the constituent assembly and violent street scenes manifested. The decree was later reversed, though peculiarly maintained the effects of the decree stood. When is a withdrawal not a withdrawal? Nevertheless the constitutional referendum, held on December 15th, passed it into law - including controversial sections on Sharia-derived jurisprudence. Perhaps more interesting was the constitution's attempt to ameliorate the military to the new system of governance. They enjoyed a special self-appointed committee that dealt with "military matters" and controlled the defence budget. They also retained the right to try civilians for crimes of harm against the armed forces, however that may be so defined.

Unfortunately, for Morsi, while this was a clever-clever piece of politicking it did not wash with the masses outside. From the resumption of protests in Tahrir Square that December a febrile mood had the nation gripped. Dozens lay dead after clashes with the police. Matters definitely weren't helped by a perceived softness toward a crackdown on Hamas influence in the eastern Sinai, or turning a blind eye to sectarian murder. Perhaps most stupid of all Morsi's decisions was the appointment of Adel el-Khayat as governor of Luxor. Presumably, this attempt to shore up his support among the ultra-reactionary phalanx of Salfaist politicians blinded him to the small matter that he was associated with a group that killed 58 tourists in 1997. I'm sure the bulk of his Muslim Brotherhood base would be okay with that. Wider sections of society less so.

Among the list of manoeuvring and front-and-back stage battling you will be hard pressed to find anything approaching a social programme. Instead, what Morsi's one year in office represented was an attempt to consolidate an authoritarian presidency in a volatile situation, albeit one that allowed the contradictions to build and, on occasion, taking a stick and stirring them up some more. Ultimately, he tried to rule in the old way when the masses were not willing to be so ruled. And despite his undoubted mass support the Brotherhood, or the bulk of its sociological composition, do not represent Egypt's future.

Morsi may be gone, for now, and the Brotherhood on the receiving end of the military lash once more. But even the army won't be able to keep a lid on things. They may enjoy popular support right now, but in one, two, three months time? I'll return to this in another post.


Anonymous said...

They can call themselves revolutionary socialists, or anti Islamists but what these people have fought for is a military dictatorship. This military are now shooting protesters dead and the so called revolutionaries will be delighted and more to the point, not surprised!

If the people who toppled Morsi now call for elections we can only assume they are having some sort of sick joke. And if they dare ever to speak about democracy they should never be allowed to forget the day they fought for military despotism against electoral democracy.

Their only way out of this hypocrisy is to redefine what democracy is, i.e. it can never equate to simply voting for people but can only ever equate and be connected to concepts such as classlessness, equality. Without these democracy is but a sham and can only ever be a sham.

Events in Egypt show bourgeois democracy for what it really is, and from that perspective these are inspiring days indeed!

Phil said...

I have a thing or two to say about the coup and what's going to happen next. I might do a bit of digging to find out what happened to Egyptian communists - they were a factor back in Nasser's day.

deppy said...

Please take a look at this blogpost

Speedy said...

All well said, but the coup was a mistake - the military should have twisted his arm and forced concessions (which he appeared to be prepared to give).

They have now turned the MB in to victims, which they will use to justify any future actions against the state. And without accommodating the MB it is hard to see how there can be peace and development in Egypt.

I predict a riot, that will last a long, long time. So sad for the ordinary people.

Anonymous said...

Considering Speedy's attitude to the Woolwich murders, which were, and I quote, "representative of Islam" and that the left were "in denial about Islam", can we have confirmation that the massacre of Morsi's supporters was representative of Secularism and are the left in denial about Secularism?

It is also interesting that Speedy thinks the military were correct to intervene into the democratic process, albeit slightly differently to what they actually did. Which is surprising considering what Speedy said before and I quote

"Ignoring these realities is frankly racist, as if just because most Muslims are not white they are somehow less entitled to the rights shared by all other Britons to not be bullied or have their children subjected to violent extremism."

So does speedy think the military should step into the democractic process in the West if needed, or has he now conveniently ditched this one size fits all idea. Has he now ditched the belief that despite different levels of development. historical processes, every society should be viewed the same? It certainly looks that way!!!

But am I surprised by this sudden about turn, not a bit. The only thing certain in life are death and that an apologist will twist and turn!!

Speedy said...

I can see will have to follow these comments if I think someone will actually respond to them...

Rattled by the previous exchange were you Anon? I'm glad it was so memorable.

I was responding to the claim that the murders were NOT reprsentative of Islam. Of course Islam is not all about this kind of event, but it is absurd to deny it is a factor.

And of course this is representative of secularism (just look at the US/UK's shameful history in the ME) but two wrongs do not make a right.

As I commented on CIF recently - it is possible to be opposed to western imperialism AND islamic imperialism. It's called being a socialist.

Egypt is clearly a work in progress - democracy evolves, as it did painfully in the UK. The Egyptians made a mistake in choosing a US style system with a powerful president - a system which is famous for engendering coups, which is why a UK-style parliamentary system was imposed on Germany and Japan. What Morsi needed was a power above him, like a President, to nudge him in the right direction as things got out of control. In the absence of this the military intervened.

I could go on, but doubt you will even read this (let alone appreciate the subtleties).