The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The Lessons of Egypt

Sep 2, 2013

This article is from the August 19th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

Two years ago, a powerful wave of demonstrations forced the general staff of the Egyptian Army to abandon General Mubarak, who fell from power after 30 years. The leaders of the imperialist countries – the United States above all – loudly cheered the end of the military dictatorship that they had supported, financed, and armed as long as it proved capable of maintaining order. They made speeches about an “Arab Spring” that would pave the way for democracy and for a new era for the Egyptian people.

Not only did this “spring” fail to deliver basic necessities like bread to the poor masses, to the destitute peasants, and to the workers in the cities, but in addition, rather than liberty spreading, the army has returned to the streets. This time, it has the approval of a part of the population disgusted by the policies of Mohammed Morsi, the representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was elected president barely a year and a half ago and then removed from power by the army. Today, Egypt is in chaos, its cities filled with tanks, soldiers, and policemen firing on unarmed protestors. One thousand deaths were reported – but the real figure is undoubtedly closer to two thousand. Whole neighborhoods are in flames, and a civil war is beginning to take shape.

This civil war is just as bloody as it is fruitless from the point of view of the interests of the poor majority of the population. On one side, there is the army, the general staff, and the caste of higher officers, who have imposed a regime of ferocious repression for more than half a century while their representatives succeed one another at the head of the government. The social order that the army protects preserves above all the material interests of the big bourgeoisie, especially of the international bourgeoisie. It guarantees the pillage of the country by the big Western companies, as well as the strategic role of the Egyptian regime in the Middle East.

In opposition to the army, there is the Muslim Brotherhood. Their representative certainly came to power through the ballot box, but the Brotherhood wants to impose another kind of authoritarian regime on the population, one marked by religious bigotry, by violence against those who don’t share their beliefs, and by the oppression of women. These two forces are rivals, but they are both determined to keep the poor masses under control.

The tragedy of the Egyptian people is that it is torn between these two political forces, both of them unable even to guarantee simple democratic freedoms. What’s more, neither is able to put an end to the underdevelopment of the country and the immense misery of its working classes. These problems are intimately linked. How could the exploiters concede democratic freedoms to the exploited in a place where social inequalities are so glaring and where poverty is so enormous?

The fall of Mubarak changed nothing about this. The situation of the working class has not stopped deteriorating. This is because of the economic crisis, because of worsening unemployment – notably with the collapse of tourism – and because, in its war to preserve its profits, the big bourgeoisie is merciless toward the workers in poor countries. While Obama and the other world leaders talk on and on about a “democratic transition,” the capitalist companies continue to plunder Egypt, to push the working masses over the cliff, and to fund and train the Egyptian army. General al-Sisi, the new candidate for dictator, was trained in a U.S. military academy. The protests of Western heads of state against the army’s violence hide their own hypocritical complicity.

Even if the army is targeting the Muslim Brotherhood and pretends to defend secularism and women’s rights and the Christian minority, it will still try to terrorize the poor classes, all with the approval of the imperialist powers.

The masses have shown their ability to mobilize twice in two years, first against Mubarak and more recently against Morsi. However, the events in Egypt also show that the power of the exploited masses can be led astray and wasted when it is not guided by a proletariat conscious of its class interests, fighting with its own organizations and under its own banner. There will only be a true revolution in Egypt when the exploited masses realize that they can change their condition only by putting an end to the state power of the bourgeoisie – both local and international – and its grip on the economy.

Egypt may be far away, and not only in terms of miles. However, the lesson of the tragic events taking place there is useful not only for Egypt’s working class, but also for us, the workers of this country.