“Neither plague nor cholera!”: an open letter to the Socialist Workers' Party

At the start of June Egyptian activists rallied to remember Khaled Said, a young man killed two years ago by Mubarak’s police, sparking protests that eventually brought down the dictator.


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At Said’s grave, Laila Marzouk, his mother, said she could not bring herself to vote for either of the remaining candidates in Egypt’s presidential election: “I will not choose between the plague and cholera.”

Those candidates are Ahmed Shafiq, a former prime minister and long-time ally of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak and Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Many of the young activists, trade unionists, leftists and feminists who made the uprising against Mubarak are also dismayed at the choice.

Yet Socialist Worker comments: “The choice is clear. A vote for Shafiq would be a vote against the revolution. A vote for Mursi is a vote against the legacy of Mubarak and for continuing change. Now it is time to put Mursi to the test—and to continue struggles over jobs, wages, union rights and for radical political change.” (2 June 2012)

But a vote for the right-wing religious sectarians, and fighting for “radical political change,” are in flat contradiction.

The SWP-linked Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt appeal to, “all the reformist and revolutionary forces … to form a national front which stands against the candidate of counter-revolution”, and demands that the Muslim Brotherhood declares its commitment to the following:

“1. Formation of a presidential coalition which includes [Nasserite] Hamdeen Sabbahi and [‘liberal’, salafist-backed Islamist] Abul-Fotouh as Vice-Presidents. 2. The selection of a Prime Minister from outside the ranks of the Brotherhood … and the formation of a government across the whole political spectrum in which the Copts are represented. 3. The approval of a law on trade union freedoms … in contrast to the draft law proposed by the Brotherhood to the People's Assembly. 4. The Brotherhood's agreement with other political forces on a civil constitution which guarantees social justice, [etc]”

Workers’ Liberty does not advocate voting for Ahmed Shafiq. He is a representative of the old regime and shares political responsibility for the crimes of the Mubarak era.

But no socialist should advocate a vote for the MB, either. The Brotherhood is a right-wing, anti-working-class, religious party. Voting for it contradicts our basic policy of fighting for the independent working-class politics. Worse: the Revolutionary Socialists’ four point programme attempts to line-up all left and liberal Egyptian society behind a fantasy programme to press the MB to become an entirely different organisation, or at least to display some pretences and gestures, and link the left into an “agreement” with it.

Since the Brotherhood is the strongest party in Egypt, with a big base in the bourgeoisie as well as in poorer classes, and the left is relatively weak, the “agreement” could only be on the Brotherhood’s terms.

SW’s positive case for backing the MB in the election seems to rest on the fact that the Islamists oppose the old order, and have a mass base.

The MB is against the old order, but in the name of something at least as bad! If you don’t believe what the MB might do, just look at Gaza where their sister party, Hamas, is in power. Hamas has smashed the journalists’ union, broken teachers and health workers’ strikes, broken up opposition protests with guns, stamped on all organised dissent — including competing Islamists — and imposed conservative social legislation, for example imposing a new ‘modest’ dress code for schoolgirls.

Hamas has not brought democracy — it has brought its own, authoritarian one-party, clerical rule. It has made a revolution — but its revolution, which is a revolution also against the labour movement, democracy and women’s freedom.

And the idea that voting for the MB will represent the continuation of the Egyptian uprising against Mubarak is a re-writing of history.

The MB played a marginal role in the revolution that overthrew Mubarak. At first it refused to participate in the mass demonstrations, only joining — eventually — for fear of losing support.

The MB is not a new, fluid formation created by the uprising against Mubarak. Far from it. It has a long history, going back to 1928. In 1946 Tony Cliff, who would later found the SWP, called it “clerical-fascist”: that is how most left-wingers thought of it.

In the 1960s, with the contribution to its ideology of Sayyid Qutb, it became more, not less, insistent on imposing the rules and institutions of an imaginary ideal Islamic past on workers, women, LGBT people, free-thinkers, and religious minorities.

Illegal or semi-legal for many years in Egypt, and well-rooted now in the wealthy classes, it has learned canniness and tactical flexibility. It knows when and how to display itself as “moderate”.

In the last year the MB has attempted to avoid confrontation with the military, which is still hanging on to power. In February, for example, the MB rejected calls for a national strike to bring down the ruling military council. Its counter-campaign was “A day for cleaning Egypt”, when it sent its people to clean up litter instead of striking. MB Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein condemned calls for a general strike, urging the population to double their work rate in order to “rebuild the country and not bring it down.”

The MB is running Mursi because its preferred candidate, Khairat al-Shater, a millionaire businessman, was disqualified. “We have sought to reassure people that a free market in Egypt is the only way forward,” says Mahmoud Ghozlan, a spokesman for the Brotherhood.

If Mursi wins, his intention is to immediately strike deals with the IMF and World Bank — as always, such deals will be against the workers.

In the presidential first round Mursi ran a right-wing, religious campaign, aiming for the votes of the salafist (ultra-conservative Islamist) movement. He called himself the only true Islamist in the race, led chants for the implementation of Islamic law, portrayed his political program as a distillation of Islam, occasionally interrupting proceedings with pauses for mass prayer.

Now the MB are shifting their presentation. Murad Mohammed Ali, speaking for the Mursi campaign, states: “We no longer present Mursi as the candidate of the Islamic current but as the candidate of the revolution.” The MB has not changed its political nature. It has chosen to change its “image”, and dissimulate. But the Revolutionary Socialists take this dissimulation as good coin, and boost it by “demanding” that the Brotherhood continue it.

It is true that the MB has a mass party — led by professionals and rich businessmen, but backed by many workers. The Marxist tradition in such conditions is pretty clear: we don’t vote for such parties. Would SW like to revise our past and vote for Peron? or Bhutto’s PPP? or the New Deal Democrats? or the Liberals in Britain when they still had the mass workers’ vote?

Our job is not to prettify the MB, hold our noses and hope for the best. Our job is to organise those who want to fight. By advocating a vote for the Brothers the SWP/RS discredit themselves among the — numerous — opponents of both the old order and the MB already mobilised in Egypt.

In the late 30s Trotsky made this appeal against lesser-evilism and for independent working class politics: “The whole of [Marx and Lenin’s] revolutionary thought was directed towards this: that the fetishism of two camps would give way to a third, independent, sovereign camp of the proletariat, that camp upon which, in point of fact, the future of humanity depends.”

Neither Mubarak’s henchman, nor the Muslim Brothers, but independent working class politics!

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