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Lessons to learn in Egypt

This article is over 9 years, 6 months old
Leading member of the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt, Sameh Naguib, analyses the scale of the revolution’s retreat and the balance of power with its enemies
Issue 2413
Protesters marching in Egypt in November last year
Protesters marching in Egypt in November last year (Pic: Hossam el-Hamalawy)

We are witnessing a clear victory for the counter-revolution and confirmation of the end of the first wave of the Egyptian revolution. 

This does not mean, however, that the counter-revolution’s victory is final. 

Nor does it mean that the revolutionary process has run its course. But it does mean we are facing a new kind of challenge. 

This requires serious study in order for revolutionaries to be able to confront and eventually overcome it. 

The coronation of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as president has taken place over the corpses of the revolution’s martyrs. It also comes alongside the largest wave of detentions in Egypt’s modern history. 

El-Sisi has received unprecedented support from big business and all the security, judicial and religious institutions of the state. 

The massive media institutions also back him—both private and the state owned, the latter under the direct control of the secret police.

El-Sisi has brought in repressive laws restricting the space for political action. He has clamped down on social and economic demands under the cover of the “war on terrorism”. 

There is no point in downplaying the scale of the defeat or the size and nature of the enemy. That would only heal our own consciences. 

If our goal is victory in future waves of the revolution, we must study the balance of power with our enemies in a scientific fashion. This is precisely what our enemy did.

There is a clear contradiction for the new regime. Its ideological and populist statements contrast with the lack of any possibility of real economic growth which will allow stability.

The media has whipped up big expectations among wide sections of the middle class.   

Such expectations will quickly run up against the regime’s austerity policies. 

No austerity programme can deliver the necessary funding, even if el-Sisi slashed wages and doubled working hours. 

This does not mean that the regime is about to collapse, as the Muslim Brotherhood endlessly claims. Nor does it mean that a second revolution is at the gates. Economic crises do not in themselves lead to collapse or revolution.

The essence of el-Sisi’s popularity lies in a mixture of expectations and fear. People fear the collapse of the state, chaos, civil war and terrorism.


El-Sisi played a pivotal role as director of Military Intelligence in preserving the unity of the army. He prevented the revolution from leaking into its ranks, though we won’t know all the details until after he has been overthrown. 

At the start the Brotherhood helped him, but he completed this mission over their corpses. 

Yet the Egyptian state remains severely fractured. El-Sisi’s moment as the leader who is the saviour and unifier will not last long. 

The betrayal of the January 2011 revolution lies with the reformists. Reformists always betray revolutions. This either leads to the removal of the reformists and the consummation of revolution or to counter-revolution, in the absence of effective revolutionary forces with deep roots in the masses. 

History is full of examples of this.In the Chinese Revolution of 1925-27 the Stalinists betrayed the revolution and the result was that they were wiped out with it as General Chiang Kai-shek came to rule.

And during the German Revolution of 1918-1919, the Social Democrats betrayed the revolution and the result was the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.

It has been the lot of the Egyptian revolution to suffer a double betrayal. 

First it was betrayed by the Muslim Brotherhood, which arrived in power on the back of the revolution and then delivered it to its enemies. 

But the final preparation for the counter-revolution came at the hands of the liberals, the left and the nationalists.

They created the National Salvation Front with Mubarak’s supporters and the secret police, and afterwards the Tamarod “Rebel” movement and the coordination for the mass protests on 30 June last year. 

What began as a new revolutionary wave against the Brotherhood’s betrayal of the revolution’s demands turned into the rise of popular support for the counter-revolution.

They concentrated the whole of the battle on the single goal of removing the Brotherhood.

And by doing this they broke the link between opposition to the Brotherhood and opposition to Mubarak’s state. 

Here the bourgeois media and the security services played a pivotal role. They focused the entire attack on the Brotherhood alone. 


The “secular” reformist leaders justified this in a classically opportunist manner. 

They claimed the Brotherhood was an obstacle to the completion of the revolution and it was necessary to get rid of it first. They argued they would deal with the remnants of Mubarak’s regime afterwards.

This was Stalinist in its stagism. The conclusion to such opportunist logic was to argue for an alliance between all elements opposed to the Brotherhood. This was regardless of the position they took towards the revolution.

This meant not only an alliance with Mubarak’s supporters but, more dangerously, an alliance with the steel heart of Mubarak’s state.

It argued that the Brotherhood threatened “the state” with collapse and civil war. Therefore the fall of the Brotherhood and rebuilding of “the state” was the only safe way out of the crisis.

So 30 June did not come as the crest of a revolutionary wave travelling in the same direction as the wave of January 2011. 

In reality it paved the way to provide a popular mandate for counter-revolution. 

Of course this was not our perspective or analysis in the Revolutionary Socialists at the time. The situation was very complicated.

We took part in 30 June with other revolutionary forces on the basis that it was a mass mobilisation and was preceded by a wave of protests and strikes.

In this context we believed it would be possible to cleanse its ranks of traitors and supporters of the police and army. 

Or at least to create a degree of independence for those who wanted to get rid of the Brotherhood as part of completing the revolution against Mubarak’s state.

But what happened on the day was enough to confirm that the balance of forces was not at all in our favour. 

Despite having the appearance of a million-strong demonstration, its social and political content was the opposite of the previous waves of the revolution.

The most influential element in the protests was the secular middle class. They were overwhelmed by hostility towards the Brotherhood mixed with adulation of the army and the police.


There has also been confusion about the nature of 30 June. This was caused by a wrong and simplistic understanding of what we call “the masses” or “the people”.

The masses are not only divided into different social classes but also different sections within these classes adopt and express varying degrees of consciousness.

The counter-revolution also used many slogans and forms of mobilisation of the revolution. 

Another source of confusion among revolutionaries, including us, was a range of perspectives on the nature of the Brotherhood.

Since the 1990s the Revolutionary Socialists have an analysis of Islamist movements which strongly contradicted most of the Egyptian left.

Many left groups afflicted with Stalinism see the Brotherhood as a kind of religious fascism.

We say the Islamist movement is full of contradictions, has many factions, and has witnessed many changes. It is a reformist movement, carrying class contradictions with a socially conservative outlook.

The performance of the Brotherhood during the first phase of the revolution is the best proof of this contradictory nature. 

Their youth and rank and file strongly participated in the revolution while their leaders negotiated with the regime to reach a compromise. 

With Mohamed Mursi becoming president, both his fate and the fate of the Brotherhood were sealed. 

They were unable to absorb and calm the eruption of social demands. Nor were they able to seize control over the key sections of the state.

The army, with the support of the secular reformist forces, used 30 June as the cover for a military coup. 

The massacres and arrests among the Brotherhood, quickly became a war against whoever took part in the revolution and against all its demands.

It is this war which is being celebrated now, a year after its beginning. 

This is an edited version of an article which first appeared at 

Read more: 

  • Egyptian universities on the frontline of protest. An Egypt Solidarity pamphlet by Nicola Pratt, £1.50
  • The Egyptian Revolution, a political analysis and eyewitness account by Sameh Naguib, £3
  • Bread, Freedom, Social Justice—Workers and the Egyptian Revolution by Anne Alexander and Mosafa Bassiouny £16.99

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