Egypt: After Mubarak

On 10 February, with the streets still heaving and protests growing in other cities, Mubarak made his final move. In a televised speech he promised, for the nth time, not to stand as a candidate in the next election. He declared he was ready to concede any reform and to cancel the anti-terrorist laws which had allowed him to physically and politically eliminate all opposition, real or imagined. He made no mention of his resignation as his aim was to be the overseer of the transition to a new government which was to be chosen in September 2011, the normal date for the end of his mandate.

On 11 February, in spite of this speech, he was forced to resign. He conferred all his powers on his number two Suleiman who in turn passed the ball to the Armed Forces which both of them belonged to.

Imperialist Tensions

Joy for those in the streets. For US imperialism too. Though having had a loyal ally in Mubarak for thirty years they thought it better to dump him after an initial period of confusion both towards Mubarak himself and to the diverse opposition groups. There is nothing unusual about this. The initial confusion was, in part, due to surprise and in part to the will to resist of the “pharaoh”. It took Washington a few days to work out that their old ally was no longer useful or dependable so it settled on the idea of “change” in order to maintain a political reference point useful for its interests in the area. In the long run whatever government was decided, “democratic” or not, would be fine. There was no shortage of candidates including El Baradei who had already announced his intention to run. In the short run, the military solution looked the best.

  • First of all, because it represents continuity, even if “progress towards democracy” was promised.
  • Second because it is the most trusted organisation as far as the US military is concerned. For years the Egyptian Armed Forces has benefitted from a regular subsidy in the form of US aid to Egypt worth close to $1.5 billions a year. Its highest ranks have enjoyed high salaries, financial kickbacks and benefits which has created a sort of economic and military oligarchy closely linked to the overseas imperialism on which it depends for everything. Under Mubarak, with US backing, and with the energetic participation of the notorious secret police (Mabhet Amn Dawla) the Army exterminated all opposition. Now, with people on the streets, it is putting itself forward, with the same accomplices, as some sort of guarantor of the nascent “democracy”, on condition that the protests cease, the domestic economic structure doesn’t suffer any big shocks, and the imperialist framework remains the same. Confirmation of this came immediately. The Army leaders, on the same day as they took power, had an official meeting with the Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak. In this they gave assurances that the existing peace agreements would be respected and that the two countries would continue to collaborate in Washington’s corridors of power as they had done before.
  • Finally, faced with the first strikes which broke out in the docks of Suez, in the textile factory of Mahalla al Kouba (which in April 2008 had already started the bread revolt) and in other localities like Port Said, Ismailia and Assyut, the Army could, better than any other “democratic institution”, carry out its natural role of repression as in earlier years. We should not forget that the military management of the transition includes the suspension of the Constitution, the dissolution of Parliament and 6 months of emergency laws which ban demonstrations and above all prohibit strikes in every sector of the economy under penalty of once again facing the axe of repression.

To change everything in order that everything remains the same except for outward appearances is just a sop to a population which is at the end of its tether, economically depressed and politically disarmed.

The Character of the Movement

This brings us to the protests. Sure enough, when the initial condition of starvation and desperation become unbearable street movements start and even the most terrifying of governments can disappear in the space of a few days. When the masses move the deeper questions to look at are; the composition of the mass, how it moves and what its aims are. In Egypt everyone was on the streets just as they should have been. There was, above all, the young, the children of the petty and middling bourgeoisie, graduates and other qualified people, without a job and without a future, all on the road to proletarianisation. They also included young unemployed and part-time casual workers, and that plethora of humanity with neither trade nor role, who for years made up the court of miracles of Cairo and other big cities. The economic crisis has made them poorer and even angrier.

The simultaneous proletarian response was not only to be found in the street protests but above all in the textile factories, in workplaces linked to commercial activity, and in the ports of Suez and Port Said. It is no accident that neither the local nor the international media devoted much space to this fact. Whilst the Higher Army Council, via the mouthpiece of its boss, Marshal Hussein Tantawi, besides announcing the suspension of the Constitution, the dissolution of Parliament and the end of all forms of demonstration wanted to make clear, with impeccable timing and in no uncertain terms, that no strike of any kind would be tolerated by virtue of the compelling need for the country’s economy to revive. Political institutions can be debated, dissent can be expressed, the young on the streets will be tolerated, but the working class must remain firmly in their place, continuing to produce for the benefit of capital on hunger wages and in the most precarious conditions for survival. The street movement demanded the resignation of Mubarak, the fall of a corrupt and repressive regime. It invoked democracy and liberty. But despite the exceptional character of these events everything has remained within the capitalist economic framework, and the various groupings which are institutionally bourgeois. The options on offer are a choice between a dictatorship or a military regime, between a “democracy” in uniform or one in civilian clothes, between a religious or a lay government, all leaving unchanged capitalist relations of production. These very relations are at the root of the economic crisis for the movements which have taken place on the streets. Though the wave of protest which is devastating the regimes of the Mahgreb and the Middle East has produced something significant on a class level, the struggle needs to get out of the usual capitalist bourgeois framework, away from the present interclass reformism, in order to take a really revolutionary road which aims to eliminate the bourgeois state in whatever clothes it dresses itself. What we need is a rupture between capital and labour. Otherwise everything will remain as before, if not worse.