EGYPT: the tortuous winding path away from Mubarak continues

In the July/August 2012 edition of Lalkar, we reported on the Egyptian elections of 16 and 17 June which saw Mohamed Morsi lay claim to the Presidency with just over 51% of the vote in a second round contest against former Mubarak loyalist Ahmed Shafik. At that time we were unsure of how the future for Egypt would unfold. We must say that we are still unsure as to the final direction but the few first faltering steps away from the Mubarak days are certainly interesting and in the ebb and flow of the political situation there are some positive points on show.

One of the first actions of the newly elected Morsi was to sack leading military personnel including the Defence Chief, Tantawi, and the Army Chief of staff, Samy Annan. These last two were then publicly given great honours for the service they had given the country. Tantawi, in fact received the Nile Collar, the highest award that can be given. These two were also made advisors to the President (more anon) and the Army kept its ‘National Defence Council’ which gives the Army a very real veto on matters of national security. Also, of course, there were no charges brought against any of the Army top brass, sacked or still in service, for any crimes committed during the Mubarak years and certainly no move against the Army’s vast economic interests and business privileges. This proves, if proof were needed, that the Army is still very strong in Egypt and only a crisis away from possibly retaking direct power.

The Army were not the only ones that Morsi and the Brotherhood needed to appease, he ordered the cutting off again of the tunnels which had been supplying Gaza and even sent Egyptian soldiers into Sinai to expel forces “intent on attacking Israel”.

The murderous bombing of Gaza in November saw Morsi telling the world that Egypt would not stand a ground invasion of Gaza and he took the opportunity of appearing as the peace maker in a visit to Gaza.

Quite how much of this response was because of pressure he was under from his own people or genuinely wanting to help the heroes of Gaza can only be guessed at along with what he would have done if the Zionists had gone ahead with a ground invasion.

Before he could be hailed in Egypt as a peacemaker for the Palestinians a public display of anger towards a new constitution from some quarters of Egyptian society arose.

The Draft Constitution has been criticised by some as “too Islamic” and by others as “not Islamic enough”.

In an effort to ease tensions between his own and opposition supporters, President Morsi put on hold the IMF loan that he had negotiated, a condition of which had been the unpopular proposed tax increases on a range of services including cigarettes, soft drinks, oil, beer, cement, fertiliser, mobile phone calls, water and electricity. He also annulled the decree he made on 22 November which had taken away the right of an obstructionist judiciary (many judges being Mubarak appointees) to nullify his decisions and put obstacles in the way of the passage of the new Draft Constitution, but which enabled the opposition to portray him as being a ‘Pharaoh’, as dictatorial as Mubarak, and to mobilise mass demonstrations against him. This is really a very important issue and lies at the heart of the current crisis.

In the short interval in which the judges’ powers were suspended, however, the Constitutional Assembly (yes, mainly made up of members of the Muslim Brotherhood representing the mainly Muslim Brotherhood elected Government) was able to finalise drawing up the draft constitution that has now been put before the Egyptian people, who have now approved it by a clear majority of over 60% of votes cast. This draft had enough concessions to the military for them not to openly move against it at present but the Judges Club (an unofficial body that has most of the county’s judges in it) decided not to supervise the referendum on the draft Constitution. However, there were enough judges found who were willing to carry out this procedure, but only over two days rather than the originally proposed one day. The Government decided, therefore, that the voting would take place on 15 and 22 December. The main part of the ‘opposition’, the National Salvation Front, opposed this idea but couldn’t decide on whether to call for a no vote or a boycott. In the end of course, they called for a no vote and the ballot of half the country went ahead on 15 December, when the voting time was extended in response to the high turnout according to Jon Leyne of the BBC reporting from Cairo.

No bourgeois constitution will ever satisfy us as a set of rules to live by but looked at against what Egypt endured not so long ago under military rule crowned by the autocratic figure of Mubarak this may well be a step forward. The draft has a clause saying that equality of all citizens should be observed and that freedom of religious practice will be extended to all the “Abrahamic” faiths (Islam, Christianity and Judaism) although insulting the Prophet and the Messengers would be a crime. A limit of two four-year terms of office is also included.

At this point it may help to remind ourselves who the opposition are. Some Leftists within Britain, and, undoubtedly, in other imperialist countries, portray the ‘opposition as the same forces that brought Mubarak down but this would be difficult to substantiate. Those who supported Mubarak, and yes, there were quite a few of them, now make up part of the ‘new’ opposition along with small parties and groups under the name of the National Salvation Front. The street demonstrations and rallies in the country have been held by both sides, although the Muslim Brotherhood claims that the majority of those who have died (mainly of gunshot wounds) have been their supporters. While this is unsubstantiated, it is certainly true that the police failed to intervene when ‘new’ opposition protesters ransacked the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo; and it is also claimed that the police also moved away and let ‘new’ opposition protesters breach the cordon round the palace from which the President conducts government business. This has forced Morsi to empower the military to take over relevant police duties.

There is some credibility to the idea that the Army are letting the Muslim Brotherhood (with a little help from them behind the scenes) hang themselves and are just waiting for protests, etc., to get out of hand before they step in (in the interests of ‘national security’) and restore ‘order’ and their rule. It is telling that the two sacked military chiefs referred to earlier, Tantawi and Samy Annan, who were made Presidential advisors by Morsi, resigned at the start of the protests. A broadcast by the Army, interrupting programmes, was made on Egyptian TV warning that it “would not allow” Egypt to enter a “dark tunnel with disastrous consequences.”

The Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi have claimed that attacks on them and their property, including the palace, have been funded from abroad by enemies in the Gulf. The names of the enemies weren’t mentioned but the monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are two countries that have a particular fear of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Some, though not all, within the National Salvation Front have talked about the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi being backed by the USA but, while it would be understandable for the US to try to keep the Egyptian President onside for as long as possible, it is far more likely to be looking at ways to end the short reign of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, if only to help settle the nerves of its lieutenant in the region, Israel. The US are quite happy to use Muslim extremists to do their dirty work in the region but supporting Muslim governments that may turn out to be anti-zionist and/or anti-imperialist is definitely not to their taste.

Both Clinton and Obama have publicly called on Morsi to talk to the ‘opposition’ and to ‘respect the rights of all citizens’ despite the attacks on his palace, etc. Obviously there is a threat behind these words, but equally obviously these beasts who have washed their hands with the blood of millions have no understanding of irony.

However, Fox published an article on 11 December stating that while Egypt is in turmoil, a gift of 20 of the latest F-16s are being sent to Egypt. The planes, with all the latest updates were promised to the Egyptian military during the last days of Mubarak to add to the 200 older models that they already possess. And while the Fox news manipulation machine quotes some of the representatives of US imperialism up on Capitol Hill meekly questioning whether the gift should still be delivered now that Morsi is in charge, Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Wesley Miller, was quite candid when he said “ The delivery of the first set of F-16s in January 2013 reflects the US commitment to supporting the Egyptian military’s modernisation efforts. Egyptian acquisition of F-16s will increase our militaries’ interoperability, and enhance Egypt’s capacity to contribute to regional mission sets .” Please note, there is no commitment to Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood in these words. Any commitment is to its old friend the Egyptian military, the self-same Egyptian military that has so many connections within the ‘new’ opposition and the Egyptian judiciary.

No one can say with any certainty where Egypt is going at the moment or even where Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood want to go. There are no quick answers, and all we can do is keep watching and keep trying to analyse the situations as they arise.

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