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It is difficult to overestimate the relief many Egyptians will have felt yesterday, upon learning that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi had formally triumphed over the “military’s candidate” Ahmed Shafiq, in the country’s presidential election.
Neither candidate represents a future worthy of the Egyptian people. Both are committed to neo-liberalism and sustained inequality. Meanwhile the Brotherhood have shown themselves to be, at best, ambivalent towards outbursts of popular power.
Yet an important material difference separated the two candidacies. While both stood for reaction, Shafiq stood for reaction backed by the full force of Egypt’s ancien regime. He had served as Prime Minister under Mubarrak, and had the full backing of the Military Council. Recent weeks have seen the supreme court – still in old regime hands – strike out last year’s parliamentary elections, and the military reassert its right to arrest civilians. Had Ahmed Shafiq won, the counter-revolution would have been complete. Meanwhile, it is not difficult to imagine what Shafiq’s central campaign pledge – to “restore order” – would have meant in practice.
It does, therefore, make perfect sense for Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists to have called upon Egyptians to vote for Mohammed Morsi – despite the criticism this generated from sections of the international left. For those actually living in Egypt, this election was a matter of life and death. And people are understandably more inclined to deal with the possibilities at hand, rather than engage in “all power to the soviets” type fantasies, when faced with violent and powerful counter-revolution upon their doorstep.
That is not to say, however, that this election has brought safety, either to the revolution or to the popular forces that have sustained it. The powers of Egypt’s new president remain uncertain, but they will certainly be circumscribed by the sustained authority of the country’s old military establishment.
The suggestion that the Brotherhood will naturally unite with the forces of the old security state on the basis of “shared class interest” strikes me as overly crude. Decades of torture can, after all, create a level of lasting eminity. Nonetheless the Brotherhood have appeared ambivelent, and even averse, to the kind of popular mobilizations that are necessary if the revolution is to be sustained against the wishes of the old security state.
Now, there is a time and a place for quoting dead communists. When my ex-comrades in the offensively boring IMT rolled out the example of Lenin in 1917 to explain why the left should not campaign for Morsi, they deployed a predictable, and predictably ill-fitting, historical analogy. Of perhaps more relevance is Trotsky’s commentary on 1931 Spain. Here was a situation very similar to contemporary Egypt. A “revolution without a revolution” had fundamentally changed the constitution, but had left the forces of the old state in tact. The Army and Civil Guard remained powerful, autonomous and unreconfigured. Trotsky predicted that the Spanish people would learn “through bitter experience” that certain kinds of change could not be achieved by the ballot box, and by the end of the decade he had, unfortunately, been proven right.
It is therefore fortunate that Egypt’s biggest cities, it’s major centres of popular power, are oriented towards left democratic politics – in Cairo and Alexandria it was the Nasserite SOcialist cnadidate who achieved most votes in the first round of the presidential poll. For, whichever way President Morsi swings, it will be the power of the people. continually manifested in the work place and the streets, that represents the fundamental bulwark against the still very powerful forces that are committed to restoring the old order.
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