Socialism or Barbarism in Egypt and Beyond: An Open Question

also republished as “Revolution in Egypt?  What Revolution?” on Pambazuka on 16 February, 2011

and on

Pambazuka summarized my argument as follows:

Whether Egypt’s association with US-backed capitalism has been disrupted is a question that factory workers might yet decide, writes Christopher Carrico.

“Everyone should start forming unions & labor associations now. If we don’t build those now, we’ll be fucked by the regime soon.”  — Hossam el-Hamalawy on twitter, Sunday, February 13, 2011.

Let us be clear from the outset. There has been no revolution in Egypt… yet.

Hosni Mubarak has been President of Egypt since October 14, 1981, and his government has consistently acted on behalf of the country’s economic, political, and military elite for the almost three decades since.  Mubarak resigned as head of state this week: on February 11, 2011. Vice President Omar Suleiman announced Mubarak’s resignation to the Egyptian public and to the world, and state power was handed over to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a body of the 18 highest-ranking officers who head the Egyptian military. As of today (Sunday, February 13, 2011) the Egyptian military has dissolved parliament, suspended the Constitution, and imposed a military junta that has declared itself an interim government responsible for overseeing an “orderly” transition to civilian rule in six months time.

What I have to say here is largely based on the reports of people like Hossam el-Hamalawy, Web 2.0 Activist, and member of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialist party.  In explaining the power that blogs, Facebook, and twitter have had in the popular movements in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, el-Hamalawy notes that:

Nearly 20 million out of 85 million Egyptians have access to the Internet, but its strength lies in the fact the traditional media have themselves begun to use it as a source of information.  If the best known bloggers or online activists post something on their blogs, read by some thousands, it’s more or less guaranteed that BBC, Al Jazeera, or other traditional media will grab the info and it will be read by millions.  Information is thus going to spread.

El-Hamalawy wrote yesterday in his blog 3arabawy that:

(Middle class) activists want us to trust Mubarak’s generals with the transition to democracy — the same junta that has provided the backbone of his dictatorship over the past 30 years.  And while I believe the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who receive $1.3 billion (US Dollars) annually from the US, will eventually engineer the transition to a “civilian” government, I have no doubt it will be a government that will guarantee the continuation of a system that will never touch the army’s privileges, keep the armed forces as the institution that will have the final say in politics… (and) guarantee Egypt will continue to follow… US foreign policy…

Reform-oriented opposition leaders have been “urging Egyptians to suspend the protests and return to work, in the name of patriotism,” and in the name of rebuilding Egypt.  Most of the crowd in Tahrir Square, which activists estimate was in the millions earlier this week, has finished with its celebrations, and left the Square as it leaders urged.  Thousands of hold-outs, however, insist that the setting up of military rule does not meet the main demands of their protest, and refused to leave the Square.  The military has indicated that it will use force if necessary to return Cairo to “normalcy.”  According to the Guardian, Reuters reports that:

Hundreds of Egyptian soldiers shoved pro-democracy protesters aside to force a path for traffic to start flowing through central Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Sunday for the first time in more than two weeks.
Protesters chanted “Peacefully, peacefully” as the soldiers and military police in red berets moved in to disperse them. Scuffles broke out and some soldiers lashed out with sticks.

The military police chief told protesters to clear tents from the square and not to disrupt traffic.

“We do not want any protesters to sit in the square after today,” Mohamed Ibrahim Moustafa Ali, the head of military police, told protesters and reporters, as soldiers removed tents from the square.

… The early morning violence did not last long, but the army action, backed by dozens of military police, split demonstrators who had previously controlled the square into smaller groups.
“In the square, in the square, we demand our rights in the square,” some chanted as soldiers corralled the crowd.
About 2,000 demonstrators remained in the square and some tents were still pitched in the grassy central area.

But Hossam el-Hamalawy has made a more critical observation that has largely been ignored in the Western media, “whether Tahrir Square occupation continues or not, the real fight is now in the factories.”

As of February 7, el-Hamalawy reported in an interview first published on the website of the French NPA (Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste), then reposted in MRZine, that :

There are four hotbeds of economic struggle: a [steel] mill in Suez, a fertilizer factory in Suez, a textile factory near Mansoura in Daqahlia (the Mansoura-España garment factory in the Nile Delta region) on strike — they have fired their CEO and are self-managing their enterprise.  There is also a print shop in southern Cairo called Dar al-Matabi: there, too, they fired their CEO and are self-managing the enterprise.  But, while workers are participating in the demonstrations, they are not developing their own independent action as workers.  We still have not seen workers independently organize themselves en masse.  If that comes, all the equation of the struggle will change.

He went on to recount that when the workers in the factories are included with those in Tahrir Square and the streets of Cairo, the BBC estimates that the maximum number of protestors in Egypt leading up to Mubarak’s resignation was around 8 million people nationwide, and the majority of these 8 million were Egyptians who are poor and working class.

El-Hamalawy’s twitter feed, his blog, and like-minded others, such as the contributors to #egyworkers have been providing us with encouraging news such as:

  • The temporary workers in Helwan Steel Mills are now staging a sit in, south of Cairo.
  • Thousands of Public Transport workers are now demonstrating in el-Gabal el-Ahmar in Nasr City.
  • Railway technicians continue to bring the countries trains to a halt.
  • Around 5,000 workers in El-Hawamdiya Sugar Factory are now on strike.
  • Oil workers started a strike today over economic demands, to impeach the Petroleum Minister, and halt subsidized gas exports to Israel.

And the list goes on and on.

El-Hamalawy’s same blog from yesterday tells us the following encouraging news:

“Some have been surprised that the workers started striking. I really don’t know what to say. This is completely idiotic. The workers have been staging the longest and most sustained strike wave in Egypt’s history since 1946, triggered by the Mahalla strike in December 2006. It’s not the workers’ fault that you were not paying attention to their news. Every single day over the past three years there was a strike in some factory whether it’s in Cairo or the provinces.”

As intoxicating and encouraging as all of this sounds, Reuters reported earlier today that:

“Egypt’s new military rulers will issue a warning on Sunday (today) against anyone who creates “chaos and disorder”, an army source said.

The Higher Military Council will also ban meetings by labour unions or professional syndicates, effectively forbidding strikes, and tell all Egyptians to get back to work after the unrest that toppled Hosni Mubarak.”

And el-Hamalawy reminds us that “when the army took over in 1952, (the) first thing they did was execut(e) two strike leaders at (the) Kafr el-Dawwar textile mill.”

It is exactly the emergence of even more repressive regimes, intent on a struggle to the death to put the breaks on a workers’ revolution in the Arab world, that Vijay Prashad warned of when he wrote that “’If power is not seized, counter-revolution will rise.”

“Clara Zetkin warned that the emergence of fascism can be laid partly on the failure of the workers… to move toward revolution effectively enough. Part of that effectiveness is to challenge those… willing in certain circumstances to turn against the Left and become the foot soldiers of fascism.”

Prashad’s examples in this case included the Islamist parties, Hezbollah and Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood. But it seems fairly clear that in Egypt, as had always been the case in Pakistan, the real Fascist force to be reckoned with is the military, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s power mainly deriving from its mutually opportunistic relationship with the Egyptian Armed Forces.

One would expect, along with American reactionaries like Glen Beck, that the prospect of a military dictatorship, with links to radical Islamists would be an extremely alarming prospect to established powers in the United States and Israel.  In all actuality, this is as nearly opposite the case as can be possible.  It is the United States and Israel that have mainly been responsible for the also mutually opportunistic relationship between the established powers in Cairo, and the established powers in Washington and Jerusalem.  Samir Amin describes the ambitions of the military and the Muslim Brotherhood as follows:

The military and the Muslim Brotherhood accept the hegemony of the United States in the region and the existing terms of peace with Israel.  And their complacency continues to help permit Israel’s continued colonization of what remains of Palestine.

The reason for this is not some Zionist plot, or some secret conspiracy between Mubarak, Israel, and Washington.  The reason for this is the open agreement between all parties on the existing parameters of the established order: the established order of capitalism under US hegemony.  This includes the Muslim Brotherhood.  Amin also writes that:

“The key is that everyone accepts capitalism as it is. The Muslim Brotherhood has never considered changing things so seriously. Besides at major workers’ strikes of 2007-2008, their MPs voted with the government against the strikers. Faced with the struggles of peasants evicted from their land by large landowners, the Muslim Brotherhood took part against the peasant movement. For them the private property, free enterprise and profit are sacred.”

What would really be a threat to the Egyptian military, to United States foreign policy interests, to the Israeli state, and to established capitalist powers in the region, would not be the emergence of a new Islamic extremist party in alliance with the Egyptian military: after all that has simply been the status quo of the Mubarak years.  What would really be a threat to these established powers is if the idea of socialism caught on in the Arab world, in the Mediterranean world, in the Islamic world in general, in the European world, and beyond.  This is why Obama, the US State Department, the liberal capitalist media, and the liberal capitalist states of the world, want to so enthusiastically announce that there has already been a revolution in Egypt.  They want to announce that the revolution has already occurred, as a way of avoiding grappling with the meaning of the prospect of a real revolution: in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Algeria, in Yemen, in Morocco.  If it does not stop there, who is to say it will not come to places like France, or even Germany or the U.K.  Who knows where it will end?  We have been led to believe that we must do everything possible to keep it from it coming to the United States.

2 thoughts on “Socialism or Barbarism in Egypt and Beyond: An Open Question

  1. Christopher,

    I hope that you will also – equally – look kindly upon those poor souls in Cuba agitating, forming protest groups (being incarcerated, tortured and even dying) to effect change against the abuses and excesses of a system that belittles them and treats them like our despot friends in the Middle East have treated their citizens for far too long. Or are we talking chalk and cheese here? I think Tom Paine would not want to hold you accountable for moderating your principles now…


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