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Egypt: Debates rage on the streets and at the ballot box

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Anne Alexander writes on the new wave of protests and what the elections mean for the revolution
Issue 2307

Voters in Egypt face a critical choice in the second round of presidential elections on 16 and 17 June. On the ballot paper will be Ahmed Shafiq, candidate of the army and supporters of Hosni Mubarak’s old regime, and Mohamed Mursi, a leading figure of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Despite revolutionary activists’ anger at the Brotherhood, voting for Mursi and against Shafiq is an important step in building a revolutionary movement beyond the elections.

There are two main reasons for this. The first is that further demonstrations on their own are very unlikely to force the state to concede. The second reason is that the process of fragmentation in the Brotherhood’s mass base can and must go further.

Millions of voters, particularly in the main urban centres and working class areas, are disillusioned with the Brotherhood. The two main revolutionary candidates in the first round of the presidential election—Hamdeen Sabahy and Abd-al-Moneim Abou-al-Fotouh—took around 40 percent of the vote.

The massive votes for Sabahy in Egypt’s main industrial centres and his outright victory in Cairo and Alexandria is stunning confirmation of the shifting mood. Sabahy is a left wing Nasserist—a secular nationalist. Even more importantly, Egyptians have proved once again that they will go into the streets to protect their revolution.

Sabahy and Abou-al-Fotouh have played a leading role in calling the protests for Shafiq’s exclusion and the retrial of Mubarak and his cronies. This shows it is possible to build a movement which combines the legitimacy of Tahrir with the weight of millions of votes. However, the movement from below is still reacting to attempts by the counter-revolution to assert itself. It is not yet on the offensive.


As the Revolutionary Socialists put it recently, “The question is which of the two would we rather fight? A general who will call in the tanks or an opportunist Muslim Brother who is vacillating under the pressure from below and who can be exposed before his own rank and file and the masses?”

But the scale of the protests last week shows both the need and the potential to build a revolutionary movement which can continue the resistance beyond polling day.

Such a movement needs roots in every neighbourhood and every workplace. It needs to open out to the Brotherhood’s wavering mass electoral base while consolidating and putting down roots among the activists who delivered the votes for Sabahy and Abou-al-Fotouh. At the same time it must retain the angry street fighters, the youth activists and the football Ultras.

The leaders of the workers’ movement can play a crucial role in this process. Even though they have not yet been able to win the workplaces to strike for the revolution, large numbers of activists leading the independent unions mobilised votes for Sabahy.

Over 100 leading workers’ movement activists signed a statement, organised by the Revolutionary Socialists. It pledges support for the revolutionary demands of the street protests, adding the social demands which are fuelling the ongoing strike wave.

Every small action overcoming the gap between the workplaces and the streets matters—the power to break the old regime lies in their alliance.

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