Sunday, August 18, 2013

Egypt: Brotherhood Bloodshed

Morsi supporters killed by the Egyptian military
by Stephen Morgan

I must admit that I didn't at all foresee the ferocity with which the Security Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) would attack the Muslim Brotherhood and it has now drastically changed perspectives. After the second revolution, I had even thought that the pressure of the masses could force some limited economic gains and that this, combined with illusions in the Army and a mood among the masses to give the new liberal government a chance, could have led to a temporary stabilization for a year or two before a new revolutionary wave broke out again.

But the prospect of a temporary stabilization now looks unlikely, because of the political factors which flow from the SCAF actions; Their repression has torn apart the fabric of Egyptian society to such an extent that civil war or some form of “Algerianization” of the country couldn't be ruled out. The military have done this on purpose, in order to crush an old foe and divide the masses, but they may have overstepped the mark now to the point that they will damage their own interests and those of the bourgeoisie.

That doesn't mean that strikes and social battles on things like wages, jobs and housing still won't take place, but there will now be a constant underlying backdrop of religious and sectarian violence, which can present a barrier to the working class. It also gives opportunities for extreme-right, religious groups like the Salafists and Al Qaeda to grow and pose a threat to the workers movement.

Furthermore, the SCAF tactics are clearly aimed to undermine and intimidate future struggles by the Egyptian working class who will also face the same brutality by the army in the future. Many left publications have made generally good analyses of the situation and I wont repeat or paraphrase that here. I only want to raise a few discussion points arising from the events last week and this weekend.

It is absolutely true that the MB is a thoroughly reactionary organization, but it would be wrong to stereotype it, so that it fits with notions of conservative parties or small right-wing extremist groups in the West. It isn't possible to pigeon-hole it like that. The MB has existed for 85 years and could previously boast a membership of some 600,000. While it is controlled by religious intellectuals it has had considerable support from the poor, the small peasants and even many workers. It is not simply a group of petty-bourgeois reactionaries, but it has enjoyed popularity because of its work among millions of impoverished Egyptians, running charities, providing cheap food, education and medical treatment, as well as creating workers' educational groups. It also earned considerable respect as the only major opposition forced constantly persecuted by Mubarak before the revolution and their cadres were respected for their courage.

However, its leaders initially opposed the revolution in 2011, but were forced to do a rapid U-turn under the pressure of the masses and the fact that nearly all its youth were in rebellion against the top and had joined the masses on the streets. The MB leaders were challenged by their youth members and the group began to split apart on a vague “right-left” basis and those who considered themselves the “truer revolutionaries” than the bureaucrats. In fact, the MB youth became respected revolutionary fighters, particularly because they didn't attempt to preach religion and fought shoulder-to-shoulder with secular groups.

The MB also has its different wings and shades of opinion despite its reactionary, religious policies and the way its leaders supported capitalism when in power. Among the large membership there are different questions of emphasis or interpretation, as well disputes on organizational issues. Some came to support the ideas of Islamized economic measures or even full Sharia Law as an alternative to the problems of Western-style capitalism, at a time when socialism seemed to no longer be an option. There are also the hundreds of thousands of grass roots workers and supporters involved in helping the poor and see themselves in a “left” or progressive role, despite their religious faith or inspiration.

Furthermore, the MB was the only well-organized, credible party, which could attract the confidence of the people. While not ignoring the low turnout in 2011, the absence of any other credible popular, and large parties, with historical roots, meant the MB was looked on as the natural party of the masses. However, mass moods can change with lightning speed in revolutions. Ironically, millions of MB supporters undoubtedly joined the second revolution again this time and were equally disappointed in Morsi and wanted him to step down. Given that some 20 million were involved in comparison to 2 million in 2012, far more MB supporters took to the streets this time. This goes to show that MB supporters aren't all reactionary enemies of the revolution.

I get the impression at the moment that the MB is only able to mobilize a hard core of cadres and has lost the majority of their active supporters. But that can change again to some degree and sympathies for those who are seen as martyrs can rise, especially as disillusionment reappears, when the new regime proves itself to be no more successful than Morsi in dealing with the country's economic problems.

The MB has shown in the last week that it can still muster strength and has hard core cadres ready to die for it. Regardless of the army's ruthlessness, the MB is far from finished and cannot be exterminated. Indeed, in the future it can regain popularity. In fact, the army's actions are solidifying a fighting cadre of embittered and enraged opponents. Persecute group members and people only identify more loyally with their organization and become more prepared to sacrifice or die for it. A group which was close to splitting during the first revolution can now become more compact and consolidated and, although it might be partly driven underground, it has sufficient popular support to be a constant thorn in the SCAF's side and a major destabilizing factor in Egypt's future.

The MB is a complex group which can't be simplified down into a some neat designation as a monolithic bourgeois party. Like with many other developments and groups in the underdeveloped world, Marxists have to recognize that hybrids or mutant groups exist, which don't fit easily into traditional notions or formulas. To do otherwise would be mechanistic and undialectical. Such a mistake can also be a basis for opportunism, in the sense of falsely analysing something like the MB and labeling it incorrectly, but in such a way as to avoid complex questions and risk losing popularity among some secular youth and workers. If we look more closely at the MB then we see that it has hundreds of thousands of supporters, who are the natural allies of the revolution, as long as they are approached in an empathetic way and only a small minority are determined reactionaries.

Therefore, although no socialist could support Morsi's Presidency, no socialist can support the army's attacks on the Muslim Brotherhood either, nor fail to stand up and say so. But, at the same time socialists unconditionally criticize the MB's policies and actions particular their sectarianism to Christians, other minorities and their attitudes to and attacks upon women.

However, dealing with MB is a political and not a military issue and it is the duty of the labour movement to intervene independently, without any support for army, police and security forces or for that matter the use of the state machinery to ban the MB as a party. The SCAF is using this situation to hone its abilities to deal with workers' unrest in equally bloody ways later and to ban strikes, protests and independent organizations as well.

Therefore, we should defend the MB's right to protest (as long as it's not in a violent or sectarian manner) and oppose any army or government bans on demonstration or rallies. Socialists should demand the army withdraws and discuss with the rank and file troops about not shooting. Labour Movement groups should organize marches to any similar flashpoints where massacres could take place and demand the right to appeal to and discuss with MB supporters. They would have to develop credentials as an independent arbiter and such an approach might well catch the ear of MB members more than the liberal groups who are in power colluding with the army.

The army and security forces are also conniving to simultaneously allow sectarian bloodshed to divide the masses. The army or police will never protect minorities or workers. Therefore, the labour movement must also intervene to stop MB and/or Nour Party thugs from attacking Christians and others. Secular and united, multi-faith self-defence teams must be organized and arms will be needed for personal protection, although all efforts should be made to avoid bloodshed. Women too should also have the means to bear arms.

End the massacres of MB members!
Freedom of assembly, the right to protests and strike!
Labour movement intervention and arbitration now!
Workers' self-defence groups to protect Christians and minorities!
Immediate elections to a Provisional Assembly!
Build independent unions and a workers' party to take power on a democratic socialist program.

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