Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2387

Dark days in Egypt on the third anniversary of the Revolution

This article is over 10 years, 3 months old
On the third anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution the military is cracking down. Wassim Wagdy examines the balance of forces, Mostafa Bassiouny looks at the workers’ movement while Phil Marfleet looks at the role of the old left
Issue 2387
March remembering the martyrs of the revolution
March remembering the martyrs of the revolution (Pic: Hossam el-Hamalawy)

‘All the liberals backed army calls to leave the streets’

by Wassim Wagdy, Egyptian Revolutionary Socialist 

Wassim Wagdy

Wassim Wagdy

The revolution in Egypt is facing dark days as it approaches the third anniversary of the uprising. Many of the hopes that brought millions out on to the streets during its high points have not yet been realised. But the process of revolution means the situation is still full of contradictions

Winning a recent referendum on a new constitution has entrenched the military’s power. But the low turnout of 37 percent means that millions of Egyptians are not won to the idea of a future shaped by army rule. 

The army is pushing counter revolution, though not always directly. It has murdered and jailed members of the Muslim Brotherhood and has gone on to arrest some of the activists of the left who are symbols of the revolution. It has used a shoot to kill policy on university campuses. 

The workers’ movement will be next to face attack. 

So why are so many Egyptians declaring they have fallen in love with the army and the governing General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi?

The ruling class has found the saviour it has been hoping for since the revolution erupted. 

When the masses brought the dictator Hosni Mubarak down after only 18 days in January 2011 the ruling class was left reeling. The police were forced off the streets in the first week of the revolution. 

It was a crisis of rule. 

The army tried to take a lead over the next six months, but it couldn’t hold back the rising struggle. So the military looked for other forces to head it off. 

The final round of the 2012 presidential elections saw Mubarak’s former minister Ahmed Shafiq against Brotherhood supporter Mohamed Mursi. The army would have preferred to work with the old order but went with Mursi because it hoped the Brotherhood could choke off the revolution. 

Many of the poorest Egyptians also looked to the Brotherhood for different reasons. It was the only sizable opposition organisation to have survived the Mubarak years. People hoped it would deliver reform.

But the Brotherhood pursued a pro-business, pro-army agenda that provoked resistance from below. Struggles rose in the streets, factories and on university campuses. 

In the two months before Mursi fell protests happened at a rate of twice an hour. This pivotal moment showed the potential to radically challenge the state. 

It was more than a crisis of rule. Nearly 50 percent of the protests were over economic issues, but most of the rest were political. 


These social struggles threw the whole of Egyptian society into turmoil. The ruling class didn’t want to let it carry on. 

This meant that the massive demonstrations against Mursi that took place on 30 June last year included people opposing him both from the left and the right. 

The issue became political representation. The left didn’t have the ability to offer a political alternative. The Revolutionary Socialists have played an important part in the revolution from the start and have grown significantly—but we were still too small to fill the role. 

We called for a general strike and for people to stay mobilised on the streets. If only half of the 14 million who demonstrated had stayed out it would have maintained the momentum.

But every other part of the left was just concerned with beating the Brotherhood. Once Mursi went they fell in behind the army.

They called for the “unity of the army, the police and the people” against Mursi. Most of the left didn’t see the return of the Mubarak regime as too high a price to pay to get rid of the Brotherhood government. 

Here is a society being shaken to the core by working class struggles with its ruling class staggering under pressure from below. Yet the Stalinist and social democratic left looked to the army as a saviour. 

All the media, the liberals and “chic” society backed the army’s calls for people to leave the streets and go home. And that’s what happened. The ruling class and all the remnants of Mubarak’s regime are united behind el-Sisi. 


Large sections of the middle class have also come behind him. Some were terrified by the revolution from day one. Others grew frustrated because it denied them everyday stability without delivering anything concrete.  

The army is offering stability to people with property and wealth. 

Now the police are back. They have been retrained, with new and more lethal equipment. The state wants to show it is in charge.

But the revolution has also not delivered on the aspirations of the masses for bread, peace and social justice. Millions who fought have still not seen their lives improved. 

Lenin said that one of the worst things to happen in a revolution is the demoralisation of the masses. 

This is what is happening in Egypt. The revolution has run into the power of the state. 

The army is out to kill the revolution but it’s using its reputation for being “above politics” to win the allegiance of those who have become disillusioned.

But we shouldn’t believe the propaganda that everyone is celebrating the rise of el-Sisi. All the official trade unions and leaders are supporting the army but this doesn’t mean they have won the majority of workers.

Demoralisation and frustration mean the masses are not mobilising and they have no political representatives to raise their voice. 

They are not only silent they are being made invisible by the media. 

This is important when trying to understand the balance of class forces. The army hoped for an 80 percent turnout in the referendum. It was shocked by the quiet polling stations. In particular it has not won over the mass of young people. 

One supporter of the military said this was because of the state’s actions in recent months. He worried that instead of rebuilding the country this process could mean another social explosion. On the day they won 98 percent of the votes cast already some el-Sisi supporters were uneasy.

The process of stabilising the regime is strengthening the state and its allies, but it is also creating deeper faultlines that can generate future struggles.

Protest outside the Egyptian Embassy Saturday 25 January, 2pm, 23 South Street, London W1K 2XD.

‘Anyone who speaks up is accused of being a traitor’

by Mostafa Bassiouny journalist and Revolutionary Socialist

Mostafa Bassiouny

Mostafa Bassiouny

We’ve seen the independent unions, or rather their leading bodies, make a sharp shift recently. Their executives have clearly moved towards the regime. They announced that they would stop any strikes to avoid undermining the state’s struggle against the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Workers’ representatives were surrendering the weapon workers use to defend their interests.

The independent unions, like trade unions anywhere, have produced a bureaucracy which doesn’t really represent workers’ interests.

We always see how the top layers of the unions spend their time negotiating with bosses. They become ever more isolated from the rank and file, who engage in the day-to-day battles.

In Egypt now anyone who speaks up is accused of being a traitor against the state and the army. Even Christian workers are accused of being in the Muslim Brotherhood. 

This is a permanent threat that creates enormous pressure on the workers’ movement. 

But not everyone has succumbed to this rhetoric. 

Recently we’ve seen a bit of an upturn among important sections of workers, including iron and steel workers, the factories in Tenth of Ramadan, Alexandria and Suez.

Hopefully pressure from workers like these can win the independent unions back to representing workers’ interests, or workers will create new forms to represent themselves.

We expect to see a rise in the level of workers’ struggle. Pressure on workers is increasing and the state can’t improve the economic situation in the way that people expected. 

The minimum wage, which is a basic item in the state budget every year, has to be financed by loans from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait.

And the state can’t fund major projects, such as development of the health service, education or public facilities. 

The old left failed

by Phil Marfleet

Every one of the old political parties claiming to represent the mass movement has failed the test of revolution.

The dismal performance of the Muslim Brotherhood created a huge audience for the left. For the first time in decades a mass movement sought to engage with radical politics.

Millions of people associated the army with progressive change because of the nationalist military ruler, president Gamal Abdel Nasser.

He won popular support after seizing power in the 1950s for land reform, sweeping nationalisations and creation of a welfare state—and his opposition to Israel.

Communist currents had played a leading role in the anti-colonial movement and in establishing the first unions. But they were always compromised by Stalinist politics, with its search for allies among “progressive” members of the capitalist class.

In 1965 the Communist Party dissolved, arguing that the army now represented the interests of all the people.

What remained of the communist movement became an ally of president Hosni Mubarak. In the 2012 election it backed his ally Ahmed Shafiq—the candidate of the counter-revolution. 

In the 2012 presidential elections Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi declared that he was the candidate of the revolution. He won a big vote in every major city.

But he faded from view, and negotiated for influence with the army. When the army again took power in July 2013 Sabbahi backed new dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. 

The old left has failed. The new left must be unwavering in its commitment to the interests of the mass of people.



Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance