Egyptian workers and activists rose up in protest last week after Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Mursi attempted to force through measures designed to strengthen the Islamists’ grip on power.
Mursi used the prestige gained from brokering the Gaza ceasefire to issue a six-part decree giving himself sweeping new powers. These include awarding himself blanket legal immunity, blocking judicial challenges to the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly and appointing a special prosecutor with powers to lock up activists for six months. Mursi has specifically targeted protestors who halt production or block roads, and he has moved his supporters into the old state labour front ETUF to tighten the noose around workers’ necks.
In response on 27 November, an estimated 200,000 people thronged Tahrir Square in Cairo for one of the largest demonstrations since the previous president Hosni Mubarak was overthrow in 2011. Both the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) and the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress (EDLC, which includes the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services) have denounced Mursi’s moves and called for mobilisations against the creeping theocratic dictatorship.
There were more large demonstrations in other cities. In Mahalla al-Kubra, the militant working-class district famed for its role in bringing down the last dictatorship, 20,000 workers called for an end to the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule, chanting “The people demand the fall of the regime”. As the demonstration reached the town centre square, protesters were attacked by members of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), who threw fireworks and missiles at them. In Alexandria and in Mansoura, the headquarters of the FJP were invaded and trashed.
Mursi’s supporters have counter-mobilised, bussing in Islamists from the countryside. The Brotherhood and the Salafists in the constituent assembly responded by producing a hastily-drafted constitution last weekend, and Mursi’s has scheduled a national referendum on 15 December to rubber-stamp it. There is nothing in the constitution for workers’ rights, and plenty to undermine women’s freedom and other democratic liberties. US academic Juan Cole argues that the constitution is “a big step toward the Iranization of Egypt, and very possibly a death knell for freedom of speech and freedom of conscience”.
The warning is clear. The Egyptian working class movement is now fighting both for democratic rights and for its life as an independent social force. Our job is solidarity: we side with the workers against both the Islamists and remnants of the old regime.
The left and the Brotherhood
These developments in Egypt should force the “anti-imperialist”, soft-on-political-Islam left to sober up. The Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt issued a statement on 22 November explaining why they are protesting Mursi’s constitutional declaration.
The statement, “Workers of Egypt, rise up against the constitutional declaration and poverty!” stated: “Today, all the masks fell from Mohamed Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood organisation, who trade in revolution, and for whom the revolution is nothing but a means to reach the seat of power. They and the remnants of the old regime are two sides of the same coin, which represents tyranny and enmity toward the people.”
“We say to Mursi: you and your organisation are the real threat to the revolution, as you embrace Mubarak's businessmen, run panting after loans from the IMF, trade in religion, threaten national unity and sell out the revolution.”
“The Revolutionary Socialists call on the revolutionary people to save the revolution that has been stolen by an alliance between the Brotherhood and the remnants of Mubarak's regime. We call on people to come out into the streets with the slogans: bread, freedom, social justice.”
The Revolutionary Socialists have drawn the class line between Mursi and the Egyptian working class, siding with the workers in Mahalla al-Kubra and calling for the downfall of Mursi. Their statement is a stunning rebuke to their previous strategy — inspired by the British SWP — of critical support for Mursi.
In Socialist Worker (2 June 2012), Phil Marfleet stated before the presidential election run-off that “A vote for Mursi is a vote against the legacy of Mubarak and for continuing change”. He wrote: “Egyptians will be better off with Mursi as president and an unstable Brotherhood in parliament... Now it is time to put Mursi to the test.”
After Mursi had won, editor Judith Orr (SW, 30 June) wrote: “The announcement that Mohamed Mursi from Muslim Brotherhood had won Egypt’s presidential election was met with relief and celebrations across the country.”
If the Mursi and the old regime are “two sides of the same coin”, then it was wrong to call for a vote for Mursi last summer.
That was the AWL’s view at the time and these events vindicate it. Clive Bradley (Solidarity 248, 6 June) wrote: “You have to be clear about what they [the Brotherhood] are, and whether they are the labour movement’s allies. They are not. To call for a vote for them on the grounds that in some sense they ‘represent the revolution’ is to paint them as something they are not. In the long run or even sooner, it will make it harder to fight them.”
Our leaflet, “Neither plague nor cholera!” (13 June) stated: “The Brotherhood [MB] is a right-wing, anti-working-class, religious party. Voting for it contradicts our basic policy of fighting for the independent working-class politics. 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.”