Thousands took to the streets across Egypt last week in popular protests against the military. They were marking the two-year anniversary of the murder of up to 40 people by the military on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Hatem Tallima, a member of the Revolutionary Socialists (RS), marched in Cairo. “I had tears in my eyes,” he told Socialist Worker.
“The protest was so enthusiastic, people were getting back their confidence. It was a very significant day.”
The military took power in Egypt on 3 July after demonstrations toppled Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Mursi. Marchers used familiar slogans of the revolution, which overthrew dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011, against the latest regime.
Hatem explained that the biggest protests were in the capital Cairo but that people also came out in Port Said, Alexandria and other cities.
There have been bigger protests in Egypt since January 2011. But for those standing firm in opposition to counter-revolution the latest protests were an important breakthrough.
“I have been proud of my party,” said Hatem. “We have been a small voice in the last few months but this means we have a little more space to organise.
“These protests are linked to a small rise in workers’ strikes. The mood has changed.”
The Revolution Front (RF) organised the demonstrations. Hatem explained the RF’s roots. “We formed the RF to counter the deep polarisation that followed the fall of Mursi,” he said.
“On the one hand there were those who were totally with the military and supported the attacks on the Brotherhood. On the other were Brotherhood supporters.
“The RF was a way to bring together all those who oppose the military and do not want the return of Mursi. Along with the RS it includes the April 6 Movement and many independent leftists such as writer Adhaf Soueif.”
The military-appointed government enjoys popular support. Army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi openly talks of standing in presidential elections planned for next year.
The Muslim Brotherhood, long repressed under dictator Hosni Mubarak, once again faces criminalisation and persecution. The army has massacred over 1,000 Brotherhood protesters since July.
This is part of a wider clampdown on the revolution. Hatem said, “During the last four months many different revolutionary forces disappeared.
“For a time the only ones to take to the streets were the Brotherhood. The number of workers’ strikes went down. The pro-military media—which is all the media—frequently denounce the RS as ‘traitors’.”
A new law outlawing protests is expected to be passed later this month. Yet a move to allow police to enter universities sparked anger among students last week.
“I want to see them try,” said Omar Saher, a Cairo University student and RF member. “They’ll enter over our dead bodies.”
Events in Egypt show that revolutionaries can’t take over the existing state and use it to create a different society. Its ultimate purpose is to maintain the power of the current ruling class.
When the Brotherhood took power it used state forces that had repressed it against its own opponents. Now it is the victim of that same state as it openly reasserts its control.
Mubarak’s old Western allies had been willing to work with Mursi and the Brotherhood’s neoliberal leadership. Western coverage of Mursi’s toppling described it as simply a military coup.
More recently the US has shifted its line to ensure it can work with the new regime. US secretary of state John Kerry said the military had been “restoring democracy”.
Last week he declared the Brotherhood had “stolen” the revolution from “those kids in Tahrir Square”.
It is important to understand the contradictions that produced the current regime. On 30 June 17 million demonstrated across Egypt after a call by new coalition—Rebel—demanding Mursi’s downfall.
Mursi went and the military moved fast to appoint a new government. It is now clear that state forces had begun a process of hijacking the mass movement to facilitate their capture of power before Mursi fell.
Remnants of the old regime, “feloul”, were found to have mobilised to harness popular dissatisfaction with Mursi to regain control.
Now several old Mubarak ministers form the current government and the state apparatus in Egypt is still intact.
So far the military has succeeded at diverting the immense power of the masses from continuing a revolt that might have gone further than deposing Mursi.
As the RS stated, “The primary goal of the military was return of the millions who filled and controlled the streets to their homes in the shortest time possible, and to stop the movement at the limit of overthrowing the head of the regime and getting rid of him.”
“People took to the streets against Mursi because of his right wing politics and because he delivered no benefits to the working class and poor,” said Hatem.
The level of bitterness meant few protested against the subsequent brutal clampdown of Brotherhood supporters.
Liberals and even some of the left have backed the army and its crackdown. The liberal National Salvation Front alliance said after one attack on a Brotherhood protest, “Today Egypt raised its head up high…The National Salvation Front salutes the police and army forces.”
The dictators of the Gulf recognise the new regime as retrenchment by the old order and have offered funding.
Sameh Naguib of the RS pointed out that liberal support for the military has even extended to the dictators who support it.
“The head of the Egyptian Popular Current, Hamdeen Sabbahy, praised Saudi’s role,” said Sameh. “He confirmed his support of the regime’s actions against protesters. This King, this arch-enemy of the Egyptian Revolution, became a hero.”
Rebel leaders also now work with the military. One of Rebel’s founders, Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, defended being part of a panel approving military arrests of civilians.
He wrote, “After long talks, we balanced the revolution’s demand for an end to military trials of civilians with the people’s will to defeat terrorism targeting the armed forces.”
The military’s strategy of containment and co-option of the revolution led them to appoint independent trade union leader, Kamal Abu Aita, as labour minister.
The army recognises the critical role played by the organised working class in the revolution and wants to stifle it. Abu Aita complied and has issued declarations against strikes to allow “national reconstruction”.
Hatem said millions of workers and the poor face harsh conditions with low pay and rising living costs.
“Now there are lots of expectations that the military will deliver,” he said. “It’s really alarming and people are getting impatient.”
Workers at Crystal Asfour, the world’s largest producer of full-lead crystals, are just one example of recent workers’ struggles.
They have been on strike for two weeks over pay and demanding permanent contracts for the 11,000 out of 18,000 workers on temporary contracts.
“Public sector workers are being promised a minimum wage in January,” said Hatem. “This leads to the many other workers asking why not us too.”
But he said Egypt’s weak economy means that the government won’t be able to deliver.
The government has proposed implementing a popular demand to impose maximum pay on the wealthy. But Hatem says so many bosses are exempted that “it might only affect 30 people in the whole of Egypt”.
The military may have won the latest battle to portray itself as the true face of the revolution working for the interests of the Egyptian masses. But the struggle is not over.
“The revolutionary process is very complex,” said Hatem. “There will be victories but also many defeats. But in every struggle people are learning lessons for the future.”
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