Egypt: Deja vu as military keeps control

Issue 

The Egyptian army massacred 53 protesters who were calling for the release from detention and reinstatement of overthrown president Mohamed Morsi on July 8.

The fall of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood-led government on July 3 was triggered by between 10 and 30 million Egyptians taking to the streets on June 30. This was the culmination of a protest movement that began in April in the face of repression from security forces and government supporters.

See also:
Socialist Alliance: ‘Revolution belongs to Egypt's people’

As in the 2011 uprising that ended the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak, a strategically timed defection from an unpopular president to “the side of the people” ensured the military kept its central place in Egyptian politics.

Supreme Court judge Adly Mansur was appointed interim president by the military with the consent of opposition politicians. A number of politicians have been named for various offices in the new government, often immediately resigning or reports of their appointments later denied.

The military announced that Mubarak-era attorney-general Abdel Maguid Mahmoud had been reinstated by the judiciary. But after opposition from the anti-Morsi protest movement, he immediately announced his resignation.

Authority

However, using violence against protesting Morsi supporters, detention without process of Morsi and 300 Muslim Brotherhood members and the closure of pro-Morsi media outlets, the military has established itself as the source of authority.

The repression has fuelled protests by Muslim Brotherhood supporters and other Islamist organisations. On July 12, rival protests by supporters and opponents of Morsi both mobilised thousands. But for the first time, the pro-Morsi protests were considerably larger, the BBC reported on July 13.

On July 9, Ahram Online said that the July 8 “interim constitutional declaration” by Mansur as interim president had been criticised by anti-Morsi groups.

Yasser El-Hawary, spokesperson for the Tamarod-led June 30 Front, criticised undemocratic provisions in the proposed constitutional amendments and the undemocratic process of the military (speaking through the interim president) unilaterally making the declaration.

“The constitutional decree was not presented to us or [liberal politician Mohamed] ElBaradei. We were surprised by it, just like everyone else,” Tamarod spokesperson Mahmoud Badr wrote on Facebook.

Ahram Online said that Ahmed Fawzy, secretary-general of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, part of the anti-Morsi National Salvation Front, criticised the declaration for maintaining the institutionalisation of Islamic religious law (sharia) introduced by Morsi’s constitution.

The grassroots April 6 Youth Movement criticised the declaration for maintaining the jurisdiction of military courts over civilians, a holdover from the Mubarak regime.

However, Ahram Online reported that despite these criticisms, the groups were willing to meet with Mansur and representatives of the military to refine the declaration.

The July 10 Los Angeles Times reported young activists saying that, as in 2011, they had been left out of the political settlement following an uprising which they spearheaded.

“They should have stayed on the scene and kept their voices heard,” Cairo University political science professor Hazem Hosny said. “ElBaradei did nothing in recent days to express the revolution and its goals and what the youth want.”

In their calls for the anti-Morsi July 12 protest, Tamarod urged Egyptians to remain in Tahrir Square to safeguard the revolution, learning the lessons of 2011. However, their statements were naive about the army’s intentions.

“The generals will not take over,” Tamarod spokesperson Riham al-Masri told Italian newsagency ANSA on July 12. “Their role is merely to ensure security during the transition. The army is standing by the side of the people. Our revolution continues.

“We have approved the road map (announced by interim president Adly Mansur) and we are committed to making sure it is respected. There is no possibility that the army will come back to power. These are just rumours being spread to create instability.

“Mansur is in charge. The generals are well aware that the situation has changed and that they can no longer behave as in the past.”

In a July 12 video interview with Jadaliyya.com, Egyptian socialist activist and blogger Hossam El-Hamalawy said that supporters of the revolution should not feel demoralised that the military were still setting the agenda and that elite politicians were again representing a movement to which they were peripheral.

Core of Egyptian state

Dismissing as irrelevant the debate over whether the overthrow of Morsi was a revolution or a coup, he pointed out that the military had been the core around which the Egyptian state was built for 60 years.

The problem was that the revolutionary movement’s failure to create a political alternative allowed the military to remain while various governments came and went.

After the overthrow of Mubarak (himself a former officer), the armed forces under Field Marshal Tantawi ruled directly.

El-Hamalawy pointed to the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in acts of violence against revolutionary activists on behalf of the Tantawi regime. This had convinced the military to allow the June 2012 election of Morsi.

While Morsi brought his own theocratic political agenda and his own business cronies, “it was still the Mubarak regime, but they gave a share of the cake to the Islamists”.

El-Hamalawy stressed that the military turned against Morsi in response to his inability to stem the rising protests and that the protests were a continuation of the mass popular movement that began in January 2011, not something instigated by the armed forces.

The US gives the Egyptian military US$1.3 billion a year. This means that while the military dominates politics, Egypt remains subservient to the West. International Monetary Fund-dictated economic policies creating catastrophic poverty (such as 80% youth unemployment) were central to the popular disillusionment with Morsi.

El-Hamalawy said that whatever illusions the masses had in the liberal politicians currently being promoted by the military would be broken by these politicians’ commitment to the same neoliberal policies.

Both the Muslim Brotherhood and their liberal opponents are fiercely anti-Western in their rhetoric, and in particular anti-Israel. The US is despised by the Egyptian people for its close support of the Mubarak regime, while Mubarak’s US-demanded collaboration with Israel - including maintaining Israel’s starvation siege of Gaza - was a big factor in his unpopularity.

The dominance of the military meant that these policies continued under the Tantawi and Morsi regimes. Since overturning Morsi, one of the military’s first acts was to tighten the closure of the border with Gaza, flooding tunnels used by smugglers with sewage. This has not been criticised by the liberal politicians.

US backing

Its control over the military has been a cause for the US to seem unconcerned over who rules Egypt: backing Morsi until the eve of his overthrow, as it had with Mubarak, then calling on him to listen to the opposition and then expressing no opinion on his overthrow.

The US did not call on its former ally’s release until July 12, when in response to the BBC asking about Germany demanding Morsi’s release a White House spokesperson answered simply, “We do agree”.

Turkey, whose beleaguered ruling Justice and Development Party is an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, is the only government to have strongly condemned the overthrow of Morsi.

The Muslim Brotherhood had received support from Qatar. The Qatari government has not officially opposed Morsi’s overthrow, but Qatari TV network Al Jazeera was sympathetic to Morsi in its Arabic-language coverage. As a result, its Egyptian station was among the media outlets closed by the military.

El-Hamalawy was sharply critical of grassroots elements in the revolutionary movement who have turned a blind eye to the repression of the Islamists. He told Jadaliyya.com that because of the Morsi regime’s use of death squads, some of its left-wing opponents viewed it as a fascist force whose elimination by the military was desirable.

He said that the Brotherhood was not, however, fascist but an opportunist bourgeois party with a mass base that was not homogenous.

Opposing the repression of the Islamists was essential because it was normalising repression that would be used against revolutionaries, El-Hamalawy said. He did not oppose Morsi being brought to account for his crimes, along with others from his regime and those of Tantawi and Mubarak, but insisted on due process.

El-Hamalawy is a member of the Revolutionary Socialists, one of five left-wing groups in the Coalition of Socialist Forces. While these groups have called for an end to military repression of Islamists, El-Hamalawy was open about the left-wing groups being a very small part of the revolutionary movement.

At the moment, the revolutionary movement is often represented by unaccountable leaders. El-Hamalawy pointed out that while the liberal activists who initiated the Tamarod petition speak for the movement in the media and in political negotiations, most of the signatures were collected by grassroots groups operating independently.

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