21 August 2013 **** Front Page

The crisis in Egypt

By Sami Ramadani

The main problem with most current analysis of events in Egypt is that they ignore the most significant factor of all: Egypt has been going through an astonishing, fast moving process of insurrectionary and revolutionary convulsions in which the full array of socio-economic-political forces are flexing their muscles on the streets and contending to keep or capture power. These acute contradictions are driven by domestic developments, which have been in the making for decades, as well as Egypt's regional and international links.

Most analysts have forgotten that it was the US-backed army generals who removed Mubarak following the January 2011 uprising. And it was the army top brass (SCAF) which presided over the transition period that ended in the Brotherhood winning the presidential election. Morsi won 24% of the vote in the first round and won the second round by gaining the votes of Nasserites and most of the left. Millions boycotted the second round because they couldn't stomach voting for the Brotherhood or the Mubarak regime candidate.

An even wider spectrum of Egyptian society came out on 30 June 2013 to demand that there should be early elections to remove Morsi. The same reason that drove the army to intervene to remove Mubarak were at play in acting to remove Morsi, namely, to preserve the state in its wider sense. This is the state that gives the army generals their privileges and dominance within the ruling elites of Egypt.

The Brotherhood clashed not so much with the army generals but with the overwhelming majority of the Egyptian people. They have a powerful 85-year organisation, and significant minority mass backing, but the reactionary social and political nature of their leadership rapidly alienated most people. The army were the least threatened by their policies, except in driving the people into an even bigger uprising than 2011.

Why would the army and major businessmen hate Morsi so much as to conspire to overthrow him when he gave them all they wanted? His policies included:

- writing a constitution that protected army interests and allowing trial of civilians by the military and preserving the generals control over army business ventures
- opposing independent trade unions and strikes, and subjugating women
- enacting neoliberal measures that were no different from Mubarak's
- letting the Mubarak regime murderers and criminals go free
- giving himself dictatorial powers and subverting the democratic process gained by the people
- agreeing IMF conditions
- opposing the left
- playing the sectarian card (just like Mubarak) against Egypt's ten million Christians
- being friendly to the US and Israel by preserving all links and reorienting Hamas leaders from an alliance with Iran, Hezbullah and Syria to an alliance with Qatar, in return for millions of petro-dollars
- organising the infamous rally few weeks before his removal in which Morsi, and an assortment of viciously sectarian Takfiris, called for NATO intervention in Syria (imposing a no-fly zone), declaring jihad against the Shia and Iran. This was the clearest policy decision that revealed the Brotherhood's US-backed, terrifying agenda for the region.

Revolutionary convulsion

I think analysts underestimate the current revolutionary convulsion within Egyptian society. It's a convulsion that has frightened the army and the country's multi-millionaires, driving them into a last ditch effort to protect their interests. The Brotherhood were driving most Egyptians into insurrectionary fervour. It was no coincidence that the 'organisation' that captured the mood of the people was called Tamarud (rebellion), which today is also leading popular demands against US and Israeli "humiliation" of Egypt.

Indeed,  I would not rule out the possibility that the army might be forced to distance itself from the US and Israel because of the rising popular pressure to do so. Saudi backing is designed to stop Egypt from going down the path that Nasser travelled and reflects fear of the Brotherhood's alliance with the US neocons, who assessed the Brotherhood to be the best replacement for the hated dictatorships and medieval rulers. Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin describes the current Saudi role as "opportunist".

However, non of this justifies attacking demonstrators, murder, brutality and the army's attempt to highjack the people's uprising. We should also remember that the Brotherhood leaders  are not a bunch of pacifists either. They always had an armed wing. They even  tried to murder Nasser many decades ago. During the past few days they used armed men to clash with the army and cut the throats of policemen in Kerdasa. This is a deadly militarisation process that suites them because they know that they would lose future elections. But it also suites the army and allows it strengthen its grip on the country.

In a broader Egyptian context, we need to remember that the Brotherhood leaderships were either in the enemy camp or stayed aloof during some of the Egyptian people's greatest battles against imperialist domination: the nationalisation of the Suez canal, the fight against the Tripartite Aggression, building the Aswan dam, Nasser's loosening of the Western grip on the Egyptian army, the 1973 war to drive Israel out of occupied Sinai... Furthermore, anti-socialism was always their main ideological battle cry across the the Arab and Islamic worlds. Their sizeable mass support in Egypt has occasionally forced them into playing a dual role. It was thousands of their young supporters, for example, who forced them to belatedly join the January 2011 uprising. The leadership's decision was to reach agreement with Mubarak's chosen successor and brutal security man and close friend of Israel, Omar Sulaiman.
The key problem facing the masses is that Egypt does not have a very strong democratic, anti-imperialist organisation that can unite most people against the domestic class enemies as well as imperialism and Zionism.

Last but not least, and regardless of our differences on the nature of events unfolding in Egypt, the anti-war movements' main task here, as always, is to campaign against imperialist intervention and to support the right of the region's peoples to determine their own future.

I am noting daily the rapidly rising anti-US anger in Egypt. Given this massive anti-Imperialist wave, the Obama administration is terrified of losing Egypt and its army. Russia and China are already befriending the new Egyptian administration.

US 'aid' to the army is $1.3 billion and is not that substantial when considering that $500 million goes on buying US spare parts and $300 million on US training programmes. Indeed, the army gets most of its revenue from running (unsupervised by even the Mubarak regime) a big sector of the economy. US 'aid' is less than 1% of Egypt's GDP.

One Egyptian economist put it this way: US aid is vital to the US and not to Egypt and its army. It is used to keep the Egyptian army "three steps" behind Israel's and to "spy" on Egypt for Israel. He added with typical Egyptian wit, " Mossad will assassinate Obama if he stops aid to Egypt "!! Most on the left in Egypt are extremely worried that the US would encourage the Brotherhood to do a Syria in Egypt: to start civil war and destroy Egypt's future strength to resist US domination and Israel. This is not far fetched considering that it was the Brotherhood in Syria that led parts of the opposition in the process of militarisation of the democratic protests, helped by Nato's Turkey, Qatar, the CIA, etc. Qaradhawi and Al-Jazeera are doing their bit to push for civil war in Egypt today. The sectarian card is equally potent in Egypt, with about 10 million Christians.

McCain's recent visits to Syria and Egypt revealed a great deal. His visit to Syria was unofficial but to Egypt was on behalf of Obama. The US administration is as perplexed and thrown into confusion as it was in January 2011. How it will respond longer term remains to be seen.

One thing they are keenly aware of is that their policy towards Nasser pushed him into a strongly anti-imperialist stance. General Sisi and co are aware of this too, and are feeling the heat from the people below, with millions chanting Nasser's name and putting Bin Laden's turban on Obma's head in posters across Egypts.

The problem for the US today is that their strongest card in putting immediate pressure on Egypt is not aid to the army but backing the Brotherhood, and hence threatening the very army they want onside. Abandoning the Brotherhood, present in 72 countries, is the price they have to pay to please Egypt. The alternative is to have a Syria in Egypt. Obama is pondering whether to listen to the likes of McCain or ditch the brotherhood and with it the anti-Iran alliance they have been carefully building for so many years. This alliance was to include the Taliban too...


Sami Ramadani is a senior lecturer in sociology at London Metropolitan University and was a political refugee from Saddam's regime.

This analysis of the crisis in Egypt appeared in an exchange of email messages between several analysts/activists. I thank Moshé Machover and Hannu Reime for forwarding them to me.

Visit the archive: Egypt, Middle East, Ramzy Baroud, Robert Fisk, Noam Chomsky


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