As soon as the news broke last Sunday that Mohamed Morsi was officially declared Egypt’s first elected civilian president, I could hear loud happy chants and cheers in my street. The janitors in my neighborhood gathered around the corner in their galabiyas, jumping up and down, in the same fashion I usually see them when the Egyptian national football team scores a goal in some match. Their children, in bare feet, were running up and down the street, chasing posh cars that passed by, chanting “Morsi! Morsi!”. While, fellow citizens in “working class districts in Cairo celebrate[d]… with fireworks, marches, dancing and sweets amid hopes of a brighter future,” reported my friend Lina el-Wardani of Ahram Online.
For many, including those who boycotted the elections or nullified their votes, for sure there was a sigh of relief. I, as well as millions of other Egyptians, were certain the ruling military junta will rig the vote in favor of General Ahmad Shafiq, who was to be crowned as Egypt’s next president. I am happy we turned out to be wrong.
Although SCAF mobilized Mubarak’s National Democratic Party network in favor of Shafiq, and attempted to directly intervene to rig the final count, their efforts failed. Some activists are circulating conspiracy theories along the lines of Morsi being the “real SCAF candidate” or that he won by a deal–which I disagree with. The blunt fact is, although SCAF is in still in control, they might not be as confident and powerful as most revolutionaries think.
The majority of those who are cheering the electoral results are not necessarily happy about Morsi’s victory, as much as they are relieved that Shafiq, the representative of the SCAF-backed counterrevolution is not in office.
Shafiq’s victory could have meant a wide level of demoralization among section of the people to see the regime’s loyal man coming back in power, with full force and vengeance. For example, a comrade in Assuit spoke to me in details before the second round about how former State Security officers in his town were sending messages to activists: “Wait till Shafiq gets inaugurated you sons of X#$%, you’ll disappear the following day.” Similar threats were made against activists in other provinces. Remnants of the old regime had felt confident to reappear once again. Shafiq’s loss caused mass demoralization and disarray among their ranks.
The Muslim Brothers have put themselves in a critical position now. Some on the left and in the liberal circles are more than happy to label the Brotherhood as a “fascist” organization and “just another face of Mubarak’s regime.” This social analysis of the movement is incorrect and will entail, in my view, wrong political positions to be taken vis a vis the Islamists.
The MBs are not a unified block. While the organization is in effect run and controlled by multi millionaires like Khairat el-Shatter, seeking compromise and reconciliation with the regime, their base cadres who hail from middle, lower middle and section of the working class are a different story. Across its history and with every twist and turn the Brotherhood were subject to splits.
For el-Shatter, Islamic Shariaa means neoliberal reforms and an economic program which could even be more right wing than Mubarak’s, but Shariaa for the MB worker translates into achieving social justice. Renaissance for Morsi may well include anti-union measures, but for the MB workers I meet, the Renaissance project means nothing but more union freedoms, higher wages, and social justice. Those different interpretations of what the MB stands for is directly influenced by the class (and on occasions generational) background. It is completely off the wall to claim that since Shatter and the leadership are pro-neoliberalism, then their followers in the provinces are up in arms defending privatization or it’s part of their daily discourse to go around bashing unions. This is how a fascist organization would behave.
A fascist organization is solely dedicated to the destruction of working class organizations. The MB is a reformist organization, whose leadership is just as reactionary and opportunistic as any of their reformist counterparts from other tendencies. The MB leadership which refrained for an entire year from mobilization in the streets, collaborated with the junta, for a share of the cake, was only forced to return to the streets recently, after it became clear they were being cornered. The junta dissolved the MB-led parliament in one day and the Egyptian people did not rise up to defend the “Revolution Parliament.” Why would they? What did they see from that parliament except laws banning porno websites, personal scandals that amount to soap operas involving Salafi deputies, failure on all levels to hold SCAF or the cabinet accountable for the state the country has gotten into? The clouds of war had already been looming. The MB leadership understood if Shafiq wins they will be subject to crackdowns and attacks worse than ever witnessed under Mubarak’s reign, and the 1954 scenario was invoked in almost every conversation about the MBs.
But there is no mobilization by the MB that does not put them into a crisis, because of their internal contradictions. To counter Shafiq, the MB leadership had to step up the revolutionary rhetoric, presenting Morsi as the only salvation for the revolution and the one who can achieve its demands. As it became clear SCAF was staging its coup, with the constitutional declaration that stripped the coming president from real power over the army or national security, dissolution of the parliament, the deployment of tanks in and around Cairo and the provinces, the ultra-sensationalist media smearing campaign against the MBs, the mobilization en masse in Tahrir Square was executed under the slogan: Down with military rule!”–a slogan chanted by hundreds of thousands of their rank and file members, repeated by supporters in Morsi’s campaign press conferences.
Is the MB leadership sincere when they mobilized this latest wave of protests? Is the Guidance Bureau willing to go all the way till the end in order to bring down military rule? Of course not. Those opportunists were mobilizing in Tahrir, with figures known to be close to the revolutionary forces like the charismatic Mohamed el-Beltagi making fiery statements about continuing the sit-in till the constitutional declaration and Justice Minister’s decrees allowing military police and intelligence to arrest civilians are nullified (a demand achieved following Morsi’s victory), while at the same time Saad el-Katatni (the parliament speaker) and el-Shatter were conducting negotiations and talks behind closed doors with SCAF.
The MB leaders were and are sandwiched between the pressure coming from above (from SCAF), and that coming from below from the streets and from their own base cadres whose expectations are being skyrocketed. It is the same people who fought to death in the Battle of the Camel, and have broke the ranks of the MBs on occasions to join the confrontations with the army or the police last year in Mohamed Mahmoud Street and the Occupy Cabinet sit-in. Any compromise the MB leaders make will be the function of the pressures coming from those two sides, and it will cost them a new layer of disillusioned supporters.
Morsi’s speech on Friday, even when ridiculed in the social networks by secular activists, did strike a chord with ordinary citizens following the speech on TV screens, impressed that “their president” is a “simple man,” who doesn’t wear bullet proof vest, making all those rosy promises to the public, even when he in effect evaded mentioning SCAF. Morsi keeps on raising everyone’s expectations, including the young and poor members of his group–promises he will completely fail to deliver, whether because he has been stripped of all authority thanks to the constitutional declaration, or because of the neoliberal Shatter-devised approach towards the economy.
Some revolutionaries, including leftists, have been quick to call for united front with Morsi, and to support him in his fight with SCAF. For them, a front led by Morsi against SCAF is a must at the moment to confront the military coup. I stand against that. The end result of those meetings with Morsi up until now are photoshoots, PR stunts where Morsi can be polished up to appear he has the support of all the political forces.
On another front, others are still pretending this is a fight on another planet. Since there is “no difference between the MB and SCAF,” so they say, we should not bother about the outcome of the current confrontation. But this position is dangerous and can tacitly translate into support for SCAF, the stronger party in that equation.
While most leftist activists boycotted the protests in Tahrir over the past week, the Revolutionary Socialists were present every day, to the dismay of some revolutionaries on the left who accused the RS of being “manipulated” by Morsi. This is wrong. The RS have no illusions about Morsi.
The Revolutionary Socialists refused to attend meetings with Morsi when they were invited. Instead the RS have been active with other forces in trying to build a third block building on the constituency that ended up voting for Hamdeen Sabahy in specific, largely the industrial base. But at the same time understanding the contradictions within the MBs, the RS refused to treat Tahrir as some leper colony to be avoided like what other leftists did. The RS were present in the marches and the square with their own red flags, with their newspapers (which made record sales), with their statements that were distributed widely all over the square. The RS were not and are not interested in reaching out to Morsi and the MB Guidance Bureau, but in reaching out to the middle and lower ranking organizers and supporters of the group. The RS presence in Tahrir provided a golden opportunity for opening up discussions with young MBs. The RS activists who went to the square in general reported positive feedback by the young MBs regarding the RS statement and position. Revolutionaries, I believe, must be present at any mobilization against SCAF, even when we know that the MB’s leadership is opportunistic and will not continue the fight till the end. We do not have illusions about the nature of the MB leadership, but their base cadres and sections of the population do. And we must do our best to reach out to them if we want this revolution to succeed.
The first time the presidential guards and the military police showed up at Morsi’s house as part of his security team, his supporters reacted immediately by showering them with stones. It was a natural reaction coming from those young poor members who are part of this revolution at the end of the day and have no love for the army nor the police. Yesterday Morsi entered Tahrir with the presidential guards and the police, via Mohamed Mahmoud Street–the same street that saw bloody battles with the police and the army on several occasions. The RS and others withdrew from the square in protest. But how many other members from the MBs must have also been angry by the army’s presence? How do the young MBs, who’ve been chanting “Death to Tantawi” recently feel about Tantawi remaining the minister of defense, assisted by the notorious General Hassan el-Reweini of the army’s Central Command, who oversaw the Tahrir massacres?
As soon as Morsi’s speech ended in Tahrir, the square echoed strongly with anti-SCAF chants, including one directed at Tantawi, asking him to give the military salute to his president Morsi. In reality, and that’s what will those in the square will discover in the coming days, Morsi has no power whatsoever vis a vis Tantawi and SCAF. And every compromise he will make will cost him and his group disillusioned supporters and splits.
The revolution hasn’t ended and will not be diffused by Morsi’s victory. Morsi and the MBs have opened the pandora’s box, and the coming days will only exacerbate their contradictions. And it’s a process the left cannot be separate from. While continuing to build its base independently, and building alliances with other forces who seek an alternative different from what SCAF and the MBs could provide, the revolutionary left must continue to tactically intervene in any confrontation between SCAF and the MBs.