Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Egypt at a Critical Crossroad

Egypt at a Critical Crossroad

Who will prevail in the present conjuncture?

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

As opposition to the upcoming December 15 referendum on the draft constitution escalates with demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in various regions of this North African state, the newly-elected President Mohamed Morsi has given the military authority to arrest protesters leading up to the national poll. Opposition organizations and coalitions have been challenging the police for the last several weeks through the ongoing encampments at Tahrir Square and in mass marches and rallies outside the presidential palace.

At least eight people have been reported killed in clashes between supporters and opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) since November 22, when President Morsi issued his controversial decree aimed at consolidating power within the administrative branch of the Egyptian state. Morsi’s supporters have accused the opposition of fostering chaos and working to restore the remnants of the former regime of deposed President Hosni Mubarak and the National Democratic Party (NDP).

The opposition groups have in turn accused Morsi of attempting to institute another dictatorial regime where power will be exclusively held by the Islamists forces including both the FJP and the Al Nour Party of the Salafists. The dispute has impacted various sectors of Egyptian society where people have taken positions on both sides creating a paralysis of governance and political legitimacy for the ruling FJP.

In a statement from military sources it emphasizes that “The latest law giving the armed forces the right to arrest anyone involved in illegal actions such as burning buildings or damaging public sites is to ensure security during the referendum only.” Yasser Ali, a presidential spokesperson pointed out that the executive branch requested the assistance of the military noting “The armed forces will work within a legal framework to secure the referendum and will return (to barracks) as soon as the referendum is over.” (Reuters, December 10)

Since the issuance of the decree by Morsi on November 22, offices of the Muslim Brotherhood and the allied FJP have been attacked and burned in several regions of the country. In response on December 5, crowds of FJP supporters and other Islamists sought to clear out protesters from the areas surrounding the presidential palace and Tahrir Square resulted in several deaths and serious injuries.

These developments are taking Egypt into the second anniversary of the uprisings inside the country and throughout the region of North Africa and the Middle East commonly known as the “Arab Spring.” In December of 2010, the self-immolation of a trader in southern Tunisia lit the spark for a national revolt that led to the eventual resignation and flight of former western-backed President Ben Ali.

By late January 2011, the Egyptian masses from various sectors including the youth and students, workers and professional groups were on the barricades demanding the resignation of the NDP and its leader President Mubarak. Nearly 900 people were killed over an 18-day period of mass demonstrations and rebellions.

Since the resignation of Mubarak the Egyptian Revolution has still not sorted out its political course. The Muslim Brotherhood, having eight decades of underground and clandestine organizing experience dominated the parliamentary and presidential elections.

Efforts on the part of the former regime elements and allies have been met with much skepticism within the general public. The presidential candidacy of Ahmed Shafiq was seen as an effort to retake through the ballot box what had been lost in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, the Suez and the Nile Delta.

Overall the Egyptian people wanted fundamental change—a break from the past characterized by the subordinate partnership with the United States and the State of Israel—a political relationship that has left the majority of Egyptians in poverty and without national pride and dignity. Yet the split between the Islamists and the secular parties and coalitions have only been sharpened through the rule of Morsi and the FJP.

The Character of the Opposition Forces

Within the secular opposition parties and coalitions there is by no means political and ideological uniformity. There are the more liberal figures and strata, represented broadly by Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa, who have a strong link to the NDP of the past but with a degree of international legitimacy through institutions such as the United Nations and the Arab League.

Then there are the more left forces, although fragmented as well, appear to want more fundamental political and economic change. The founder of the April 6 Movement, Ahmed Maher, says that the referendum is totally illegitimate and is designed to curtail fundamental rights that should be guaranteed under any genuine revolutionary government.

According to Ahram Online, “Many opposition forces and activists have denounced the draft constitution as ‘illegitimate,’ having been drawn up by a largely controversial Islamist constituent assembly, which saw fifteen—the majority of which were non-Islamist—of its 100 members withdraw.” (December 10) This opposition to the November 22 decree and the proposed December 15 referendum has been evident in the judiciary which has been split over the legality as well as their participation in the upcoming constitutional vote.

The most noted coalition of opposition forces, the National Front for the Salvation of the Revolution (NSF), was formed on November 24 in the aftermath of the decree issued by Morsi. It includes a range of parties such as the Egyptian Popular Current, al-Dustour, al-Tahammu, Free Egyptians, New Wafd, Democratic Front, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, Nasserist Democratic Party and the Conference Party. (BBC News, December 10)

This coalition embodies three high profile political figures: Mohammed ElBaradei, who is the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Amr Moussa, the former secretary general of the Arab League and Hamdeen Sabahi, a Nasserist who came in third in the first round of the presidential race. ElBaraedei told the international press at the founding of the NSF that “We will have to continue to escalate our level of expressing resistance, peaceful disobedience.”

Later the NSF accused President Morsi of “trying to impose a constitution monopolized by one trend and is the furthest from national consensus, produced in a farcical way.” The NSF has rejected as well participation in the December 15 referendum.

NSF spokesperson Sameh Ashour said that organizing such a vote in the midst of mass opposition and political unrest “in a state of seething and chaos” was “reckless and flagrantly absent of responsibility, risking to drive the country into violent confrontations that endanger its national security.” The NSF rejected Morsi’s call for dialogue and has continued to demand that the referendum be cancelled.

This front also consists of other parties and coalitions including the Farmers General Syndicate, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, National Association for Change, National Progressive Unionist Party, the Socialist Party of Egypt and the Revolutionary Socialists. Some of the members of the NSF have undergone criticisms from within that the coalition embodies remnants of the former NDP ruling party.

Youth and student members of the Constitution Party, Socialist Popular Alliance, and the Popular Current have objected to the presence of what they call feloul, or former members of the Mubarak regime.

Nonetheless, Akram Ismail, a leading member of the Socialist Popular Alliance, in response to these criticisms has said that it did not matter whether feloul and non-feloul were involved but that “the battle now is between the oppressive Islamist alliance and the ascendancy of the democratic forces.”

A moderate Islamist tendency, the Strong Egypt Party, headed by former Muslim Brotherhood member and presidential candidate, Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, has refused to join the NSF because of the involvement of former Mubarak regime politicians and is opposing the call for a boycott of the December 15 referendum. Abul-Fotouh has encouraged people to vote “no” on the constitutional proposal because the draft document does not meet the demands of the January 25 Revolution that toppled Mubarak.

From the perspective of the supporters of President Morsi, the well-known cleric and member of Salafist Call, Saeed Abdel-Azim, warned that the Islamist forces would not stand idly by if the opposition attempted to overthrow the FJP government. He accused the opposition forces of receiving foreign funding and said that “they are enemies of Islam.” (Ahram Online, December 11)

The opposition forces do not appear to be united on the legitimacy of the Morsi government. Some within the mass demonstrations have called for the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood rule while other such as Amr Moussa have said their objective is not to remove the president but to cancel the referendum and broaden the dialogue and involvement of secular forces within the political process leading to the drafting of a new constitution for Egypt.

Class Character of the Egyptian Revolution

In order for Egypt to reach the objectives of the Revolution it must break with imperialism and re-structure the national economy and political system in the interests of the workers, peasants and the youth. This premise raises questions about the role of the military within Egyptian society as well as the Revolution.

As a result of the close alliance between the Egyptian bourgeoisie and the U.S. ruling class and the State of Israel, the military has been placed in a strategic position as the national ruling class with substantial business interests. This may very well determine the long term role of former members of the Mubarak regime and professional groups within the judiciary and the civil service.

The working class through the trade unions played a pivotal role within the national uprising that overthrew Mubarak in early 2011. It is the working class that can turn the tide in the current struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the secular opposition forces.

Considering the worsening conditions of the Egyptian economy, drastic political measures are of utmost importance. Morsi’s government has attempted to address the economic crisis through negotiations with the U.S., the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the monarchies allied with imperialism in the Persian Gulf, such as Qatar.

However, these economic forces offer nothing new to the Egyptian situation. The capitalist interests are responsible for the failure of the national economy to develop along lines that benefit the majority of people within society, the workers and peasants.

The working class, the peasantry, the revolutionary youth and intelligentsia must come together to overthrow the national bourgeoisie and their class masters in the imperialist states, led by the U.S. in partnership with the State of Israel. If this does not occur the political crisis in Egypt will intensify and the conditions for even deeper imperialist interference and intervention will escalate.

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