Once more on the Egyptian runoff

I was glad to see today that Alan Maass had made a further response to articles by Mostafa Ali and myself dealing with the question of the revolutionary stance toward Egypt’s presidential runoff between Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, and Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister and the man who all three of us agree is the open candidate of the SCAF-led counterrevolution. The following is a rough series of thoughts, in point by point form. Hopefully a more elegant reply will be posted on SW in the next day or so. I look forward of course to further contributions by Alan, Mostafa and whoever else may contribute to this important debate. With that out of the way…

Much of Alan’s response contains issues that, though very important, I am unable to respond to as I am not in Egypt, and since the situation is evolving so quickly. For example, he spends a lot of time detailing recent developments in the struggle to get Ahmed Shafiq decertified as a candidate under the law that prevents Mubarak’s men from running for high office – in which case the runoff election would instead be between Mohamed Morsi and Hamdeen Sabahi, a left-wing Nasserist who is, unlike Morsi, a candidate who can credibly claim to represent the revolution and a full break with the old regime. We will all hope for this development, but of course in the event that it does happen, our discussion will lose its relevance. So I will move on to the other important issues.

I am similarly grateful that Alan has clarified his position that Morsi represents a “lesser evil” to Shafiq’s “greater evil.” As he writes, the question of lesser evilism has been raised in many different historical settings beyond the current context of the American bipartisan capitalist consensus. The current situation in Egypt is not precisely comparable either to the present United States or Germany in the 1930s, which he mentions briefly without extending a comparison – I will come back to this in a moment.

I believe it is around this that the fundamental disagreement between Alan on the one hand and Mostafa and myself on the other lies. In his original article, Alan wrote that “In this case, as in many others in the past, there is nothing to stop Morsi and the Brotherhood, after winning the runoff as the ‘lesser evil,’ from reaching an accommodation with the ‘greater evil.'” To this I responded that it is not clear at all that Morsi would behave the same way as Shafiq when in power: “Egyptians have a choice between a state apparatus split between contending factions of the ruling class, or one that is united under the SCAF and bent on reversing all the hard-won gains of the revolution.”

Alan writes that some Egyptians “said they rejected a choice limited to Shafiq and Morsi. At a demonstration in Tahrir Square on the night the runoff candidates were confirmed by the regime, chants of “No to the remnant! No to the Brotherhood! The constitution is in the square” rang out.” Indeed, Al-Ahram, the Egyptian newspaper that Mostafa writes for, has reported that a very low turnout is expected for the runoff. I think that it would be dangerous, however, to connect these two to assume some sort of mass revolutionary discontent with the electoral process and with the Brotherhood in particular. A low voter turnout could mean many things – most practically, it might be that people feel that more is at stake with the parliamentary elections, and the future president is a bit far away from practical concerns. Equally, it may signify that many people are becoming disillusioned with post-revolution politics as the regime remains mostly intact and the revolution’s key demands are still being fought for. It is clear that there are many contradictory processes going on in regard to this election.

But, as Mostafa wrote, a Shafiq victory would signal “the official death and loss of the revolution and the onset of mass demoralization.” I completely agree with this. Though one man such as Shafiq does not on his own have the power to turn the tide against the revolution, his victory would be a green light to both vacillating elements in the military, and many of Mubarak’s former thugs who remain on the street, to begin mass repressions. Whether this would mean the end of the revolution, we cannot be sure – but even if the masses stood up to Shafiq, as they are currently doing, this would sadly mean a large cost for the revolutionary camp in the ensuing battles. Furthermore, judging by the news from Egypt, a victory for Mubarak’s man under whatever circumstances could end up being highly demoralizing to many who have fought in the revolution for a new kind of society.

What of a victory for Morsi? As Alan points out, despite their current stance against Shafiq, at “critical points in the revolution, the Brotherhood has stood with the SCAF, against the demands and protests of those fighting for democracy.” This is absolutely true, and it has been best analyzed by the Revolutionary Socialists’ statements. To those of us who have read their statements, of course, it will come as no surprise that, as Alan writes, “there are doubts about whether the Brotherhood is standing by the demand that the exclusion law be used against Shafiq.” Of course, they would much rather run against Shafiq, against whom they feel confident of winning, than face an uncertain campaign against Sabahi, the credible revolutionary candidate. Underlying this is their impatience to reach hegemony in Egyptian politics.

Once again, speculation is useless beyond a certain point. I do believe, however, that a Muslim Brotherhood government would be highly unstable, not merely because of pressure from its own base, which I noted in my last article, but also because of the mass disillusionment with the leadership of the Brotherhood’s leadership, which I am grateful to Alan for noting in his article. In a context of a return to revolutionary mass mobilizations, the Brotherhood government would be placed firmly on the defensive. It would be, as I said, a state apparatus split between factions of the ruling class with different approaches toward the revolutionary process- one that wants to crush the revolution outright, and one that for the sake of its continued predominance will feel compelled to give ground in order to manage it. Surely Alan would agree that the latter is a preferable context for revolutionaries to operate in.

Furthermore, a Morsi victory would place tremendous pressure on the Brotherhood organization itself, which has become increasingly torn between the conservatism of the leadership and the revolutionary aspirations of much of its base – expressed in the election by the revolutionary candidacy of former Brother Abdel Fotouh. With Morsi as president, he and the leadership will be in a position which they owe largely to their working-class and lower middle-class support – but are unwilling to deliver on many of the economic grievances which this mass base has. Though the Brotherhood’s official position is that Islam is the solution to these problems, many of their supporters are likely to have a mixed set of ideas, at the same time Islamist, reformist and revolutionary. As Marxists have always realized, the best way to challenge these ideas is through shared struggle, in which they clarify their ideas and evolve toward a more revolutionary position.

Alan is absolutely write to say that revolutionaries in Egypt cannot vote for the mass base of the Brotherhood, which has participated in the revolution against the vacillation of their leaders – they will have to vote for the candidate of the conservative apparatus. This, however, is precisely why I believe a united front with the Brotherhood is so important in this case. The RS deserve to be credited greatly for their initial statement, which calls for a presidential council of the Brotherhood and other revolutionary forces. This is demand which has been taken up by much of the revolutionary movement, including, as Alan points out, the presidential candidates Sabahi and the socialist lawyer Khaled Ali. In the event that the Brotherhood agrees to such a demand, they have been pushed further left by the revolutionary masses. In the event that they vacillate or refuse the united front, they continue to lose credibility and thus accelerate the decomposition of their base, which turns more and more to the left – also a victory for the revolution.

This, of course, is the purpose of the united front as described by Trotsky, whose writings on the struggle against fascism Alan approvingly cites. Though the role of the Muslim Brotherhood does not correspond to that of the German Social-Democratic Party, nor Shafiq’s to that of Hitler, there are important things we can take away from his analysis. Trotsky’s call for revolutionaries to form a united front with the vacillating and (in the last analysis) counterrevolutionary Social-Democratic leadership was a direct challenge for that leadership to openly align itself with the mass movement against fascism. As he saw it, in the event they agreed, fascism could be immediately defeated with the cooperation of the parties of the working class. If they did not, the Social-Democratic workers, who wanted to fight fascism, would turn toward more revolutionary leadership.

I hope that my small contribution to this debate has helped a little as we in the United States and elsewhere attempt to understand the fast-evolving process of revolution in Egypt. I look forward in hope to the next developments in the struggle, in solidarity with the Egyptian working class and revolutionaries of whatever allegiance – in whose hands the future of their country lies.

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