Friday, July 5, 2013

Egyptian Revolution: perspectives and international repercussions after Morsi

A woman protester celebrates near the presidential palace in Cairo as news spreads that Morsi has been taken out of power by the military. Source
by Stephen Morgan

I would like to offer some remarks on the international repercussions of the 2nd phase of the Egyptian revolution, the effects on the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, plus some comments on the perspectives for the workers' movement in the Arab world.
Another key factor which needs to be considered is what the international repercussions will be for the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamists and Al Qaeda, as well as for the growing global anti-capitalist movements.
With regard to the MB and Islamists, the effects will probably be very contradictory. In the first place, the scale of the secular revolt against their government will have been a startling blow to their leaders and core supporters, both in Egypt and around the Muslim world. Similar revolts on a lesser scale have taken place in Tunisia already and it will no doubt have further repercussions there. It will also definitely affect the political process in Islamic countries across the North African/Maghrebian region such as Libya, Morocco and Mauritania.
The MB's authority or their equivalents across the Arab world will be undermined and their influence and popularity diminished temporarily. It will most certainly strengthen the secular movement in Turkey, Jordan, Yemen and even in Syria, it may well give a fillip to the secular or moderate Sunni rebel groups. It will also have repercussions in Muslim Asian countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan strengthening secular opposition to the governments there. However, that doesn't mean that the effects will be simply a copy of Egypt, but they will take forms and nuances relevant to the historical background and concrete situation in the different countries.
Like the MB, Al Qaeda and its equivalents will have been caught off-guard and confused by events, just like they were by the first Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions in 2011. In the interim period since then they have regained something of their equilibrium and broadened their influence to some degree. While having fiercely denounced the MB in the past, Al Qaeda has nevertheless also been making overtures and toning down their rhetoric against the MB governments recently, in order to reach out to their wider supporters. So, in general terms, the shift towards the MB and the election of MB governments helped them to recover from the disastrous blow they suffered by the secular revolt in 2011. For their supporters, the new MB regimes seemed to reaffirm the idea that the shift towards Islamism was still continuing, that the secular nature of the first revolutions was merely a passing aberration and that history was in fact on their side. However, the scale and power of the new mass secular movement in Egypt and the passionate rejection of even the MB's milder Islamist ideology will again flabbergast them and disorientate them temporarily.
Having said all of that, there are two sides to the coin of what is happening or developing. The crack down on the MB by the Egyptian military can make martyrs of them among their supporters, who will fight back. Moreover, they are used to this situation, having learned how to sustain themselves during persecution by the military and secular state under the Mubarak regime. The current attacks on them by the military, compounded by the eventual disillusionment with new regime's failure to meet the expectations of this second revolutionary wave, will lay the basis for a recovery in their support, although I doubt it will be sufficient to sweep them to power again in the future. A far "messier" period is opening up in my opinion.
The eventual failure of the new regime to fulfill the expectations of the second revolution will instead lead to a clearer left/right polarization in society, though this will be complicated by the fact that the military could also retain the support of an important section of the population, particularly among the middle classes, who will want stability, particularly if the MB turns to violence and Al Qaeda begins an urban guerrilla offensive and terrorist activities in the cities and the Sinai.
The outlines of civil war will emerge and the international effect of civil war in Egypt would likely plunge the whole of the Arab world into an inferno of civil war with confrontation with secular, religious and sectarian groups, thus significantly complicating the tasks of the socialist revolution.
Therefore, so much depends on how the Egyptian labour movement develops in the next period. It alone could be the force which would cut across or diminish such developments and send a different beacon of light to the workers of the region. Like the rest of the underdeveloped or emergent countries, the Arab nations have seen a huge growth in the size of the working class. 21% of the workforce in the Arab world are now employed in industry, equivalent to Latin and Central America and only 1% less than Western Europe!
In Tunisia, a colossal 32% of the workforce are industrial workers, Algeria 24%, Turkey 26%, Libya 23%, Palestine 22%, Saudi Arabia 21%, Jordan 20%, Morocco 20% and Egypt 17% (although this is probably an underestimation, given that some 40% of peasant small holders have a primary income from working in industry, while at the same making a part of their income from small farms and are therefore classified as part of the agricultural workforce) Even in Syria, 16% of the workforce are in manufacturing.
Furthermore, statistics show a drastic rise in days lost to strikes across the N. African countries in the last decade often trebling in number. Unfortunately, I have been unable to obtain detailed statistics for the numbers and ratios of women in the workforce in the region, but one can suppose that it has risen dramatically as in other underdeveloped and newly industrialized countries. Women have played a key role in the strike waves in Egypt and Tunisia often leading the men into action, as well as playing a prominent role in the protests in Tahrir Sq.
Moreover, despite the fact that the Arab working class is largely a "virgin" proletariat whose class consciousness and independent organization is weak, in the Maghrebian countries especially, there are established trade union and leftist traditions. It is an ironic offshoot of French imperialism that union federations based on the French models do play a prominent national role in countries like Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. The fact that many of them have become stooge unions of the state in a way confirms the potential for industrial action by the workers, in the sense that the ruling classes have taken control of the hierarchy of the unions, precisely because they recognize and fear the potential for independent working class organization.
Regardless of this the ruling class was unable to stop the massive strike waves which swept Tunisia and Egypt in advance of the revolutions. Indeed, in Tunisia during the 2011 revolution, while independent, free unions were established, the workers in the industrial heartlands, who started the revolution, took the local stooge unions by the neck, invading their offices and removing regime puppets or forcing them to call regional general strikes, which snowballed into national actions.
The workers in the phosphate mines and industrial heartlands of Tunisia and the textile workers of Mahalla in Egypt played a crucial role during 2006-2008 in paving the way for the revolutions. They fought the forces of the state and broke the "fear barrier" surrounding the dictatorships. The effect of their struggles was to leave the imprint of the idea in the subconsciousness of the masses that it was possible to stand up to the state and win. However, as we have said before, despite the mass strikes which later complimented the revolutionary movements, the proletariat has yet to assert its domination and leadership of the uprisings. Even so, there is tremendous potential for an independent workers movement to grow in the coming period and the possibility not only of general strikes in different countries, but even regional transnational, general strikes similar and probably greater than the one-day general strike against austerity, which took place across Southern Europe in 2013.
At the moment, the masses are going through a process of testing out alternatives; firstly the Muslim Brotherhood, which they have rejected and now the army backed by the liberal center. They are searching for a way out on the basis of trial and error and it can be that a sense of desperation and impasse will overcome them. But if the working class moves into the arena and fills the vacuum with its own independent unions and a party with a radical, anti-capitalist programme, this new alternative to secular liberalism, military Bonapartism and radical Islam can quickly grip the imagination of the masses, who will flock to its banner, pulling behind them the semi-lumpen and lumpen sections of society, the poor farmers, the street vendors and craftspeople and sections of the middle classes, particularly small shopkeepers and professionals like doctors and lawyers, engineers and those working in the high-tech communication sector.
Even then, however, it may take new upheavals, victories and defeats before it becomes crystal clear to the masses that the workers' movements have to do away with capitalism all together. That would be an earthquake with worldwide consequences. We have already seen how the first stage of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions swept North Africa and the Middle East from the shores of the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf and how it inspired movements like Occupy, the Indignados and the strikes in Greece and across Europe and elsewhere as well.
Its effects have continued to be felt in the massive movements recently in Turkey and Brazil. This second phase in Egypt now will solidify the idea in the minds of the masses around the world that 2011 wasn't a "one-off" but that it is indeed really possible to remove dictators and unpopular governments through mass action. The masses globally will become more confident in their potential power as a result. In that sense it is also possible that while Egypt has influenced the developing world revolution, events stemming from it in other countries, especially through the intervention of the labour movement in other nations, can in turn affect the future events in Egypt as well.

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