By Paul Roberts
Imperialism and Israel have never reconciled themselves to the 2011 overthrow of their client Mubarakist regime in Egypt. Israel and the US perfectly understand that not only is Egypt the most populous Arab state but it is the decisive one from the point of view of any military confrontation with the Zionist state.
The Saudi Arabian dictatorship, concerned above all with its own survival, is terrified by any unrest in the Arab world and looks to the US and Israel as the only reliable pillars to support it.
None of them consider the moderate Muslim Brotherhood dominated presidency of Mohamed Morsi radical. But nothing other than the purest of client regimes in Egypt is acceptable to the US, Israel or Saudi Arabia. They are therefore determined to restore a Mubarakist regime, without the former dictator, in Egypt.
This is the background to the recent disorder in Egypt, where violent demonstrations in the main cities have left more than sixty dead and thousands injured. Rioting has been widespread, the Presidential Palace in Cairo assaulted with Molotov cocktails and guns fired at a prison, police stations and court house in Port Said.
It is clear that Egypt’s security forces, which are still dominated by supporters of Mubarakism, stood aside in a number of these violent attacks. Armed protestors were allowed to rampage and create chaos.
The clear aim is to create conditions in which the army and security forces can carry out a coup d’etat utilising the claim that the country is descending into chaos and therefore they have no option than to step in to ‘save the country’.
This goal is now beginning to be made explicit. The week before last the Army warned it may seize political control. Raising the need to restore order, its chief, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is also Defence Minister, pronounced that ‘the political strife is pushing the state to the brink of collapse.’
President Morsi has handed control of three provinces to the military; Port Said, Ismailia and Suez are now declared subject to a state of emergency.
However, the army and other Mubarakist forces in the security services are not yet able to stage a coup, as the opposition to themselves and corresponding support for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood is still too strong. Therefore the Mubarakists strategic aim is to deepen the chaos and therefore create more favourable conditions for a coup.
Egypt’s unfolding economic crisis
The background to these events is Egypt’s steadily worsening economic situation and slide towards open financial crisis. The country is running out of the foreign currency it requires to import basic necessities.
It is estimated that reserves will barely cover three months of the currently inadequate level of fuel and food imports.
Overall the economic situation is deteriorating. GDP growth has slowed from 7.2 per cent in 2008 to an estimated 1.5 per cent in 2012. Industrial output and employment continued falling in the second half of last year. As a result Egypt’s currency (Egyptian pound) is rapidly losing value, having dropped nearly 10 per cent already this year.
Egypt’s government currently needs a significant inflow of funds to avoid a crisis. Recent loans from Qatar ($2.5bn) and Turkey ($2bn) have provided some relief. Iran’s President Ahmadinejad last week also offered a credit line.
But those with the greatest access to funds are deliberately holding back from providing support as their aim is to destabilise the situation in Egypt in order to prepare a coup.
Israel, Saudi Arabia and US
Saudi Arabia sits on immense reserves from its oil revenues, which last year left its government with a budget surplus of $102bn. A fraction of this would halt the Egyptian crisis, but it is not on offer.
US assistance, which is part of an IMF loan package, is also currently on hold. This IMF loan of $4.8 billion has been agreed and will unblock an additional $9bn of funds, but is not being released.
Whilst this loan is due to provide Egypt with much needed up-front funds, the punitive conditions attached will impose further hardship on the population. Austerity measures of tax hikes and subsidy reductions have been ‘backloaded’ to start later this year.
In short those who want Egypt’s regime changed back are weakening its government by holding back the funds it needs.
The goals of Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia are clear. Whatever its moderation the Muslim Brotherhood Presidency has weakened the power of the US, Israel, Saudi axis in the region.
Whilst President Morsi does not intend to overturn the fundamentals of the Israel-Egypt Treaty, he did constrain Israel’s recent assault on Gaza and has helped to strengthen Hamas.
Morsi’s discussions with China and the rapprochement with Iran, both of which differ from the pure clientalism of Mubarak, are not desirable for imperialism or Israel.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s advance in the region has also bolstered opposition movements in the Gulf States, a process the Saudi monarchy wants to reverse.
Muslim Brotherhood government
The election of President Morsi last June, decisively defeating the former regime candidate, naturally led to imperialism seeking ways to influence the Muslim Brotherhood – which imperialism perfectly understands is not a radical anti-imperialist force. But this is purely an enforced tactical shift. Nothing other than a pure client state is strategically acceptable for imperialism in Egypt.
So far Morsi has been able to rely on substantial popular support against the Mubarakists. His constitutional changes were endorsed – the Referendum result was 63.8 per cent ‘for’ and 36.2 per cent ‘against’, on a turnout of 32.9 per cent. This is too wide a margin of popular support for Morsi, and against the Mubarakists, to risk an immediate coup.
Hence the need to promote economic and political chaos to prepare better conditions for a coup.
Of course the Muslim Brotherhood, having no solution to the country’s economic crisis, also permits the economic chaos to deepen. Without financial support from either imperialism or Saudi Arabia, solving the economic situation would require measures going against significant capitalist interests. As the Brotherhood itself is allied to sections of Egyptian capital, it is not even considering such steps.
Therefore discontent has been spreading. Since last Autumn waves of protest have been escalating, and these followed on from a summer strike wave. This discontent will deepen as living standards continue to decline.
The reality of Egyptian ‘secularism’
When President Morsi issued the constitutional decree granting himself powers to overrule the Mubarakist judiciary last November, followed by the constitutional referendum, pro-imperialist forces took advantage of the political confusion on the issues to bring some left forces in Egypt under their political leadership.
Mubarak-era minister Amr Moussa and the pro-Western liberal Mohamed El Baradei used the banner of ‘secularism’ to bring ‘left’ nationalist Hamdeen Sabahi into a ‘National Salvation Front’ to oppose Morsi. They forced Morsi to retreat from his constitutional decree and have organised the protests demanding Morsi hand over power.
As the Mubarakists well understand that the only force strong enough to take over from Morsi at present is the army this was regarded as a partial victory by imperialism – although one then nullified by the outcome of the referendum itself.
The Mubarakists are using sections of the Egyptian left to cover over their own goals. At last June’s Presidential election final round ‘left’ nationalist Sabahi, who had come third in first round, declined to endorse Morsi. He claimed the choice between the Muslim Brotherhood and Mubarak’s former prime minister Ahmed Shafik was between a ‘tyranny in the name of the state’ and ‘tyranny in the name of religion’ – a position which totally neglected the real alignment of social forces in Egypt, which is one in which imperialism and Mubarakism were solidly supporting Shafik.
The NSF strategy is to create disorder and prepare conditions for a coup. Its coordinator, Mohamed ElBaradei, tweeted last week: ‘Writing on wall: violence & chaos will continue until Morsi & co. listen 2 ppl’s demands’. Such calls are used by the Mubarak loyalists within the alliance, and by the security forces, to build up the case that the army will have to step in to ‘restore order’.
In these preparations for a coup Israel, Saudi Arabia and US will doubtless not only be objectively coordinating with the Mubarakists but also helping guide their actions.
There are still formidable obstacles for imperialism and its clients in Egypt. The memory of the revolution, and of the craven and vile dictatorship of Mubarak is recent, the results of the referendum show forces opposed to Mubarakism still have a significant majority.
But there should be no illusions. Israel, the US, and Saudi Arabia are attempting to prepare the conditions for a Mubarakist coup d’etat in Egypt.
The chief task of the left is to do everything possible to prevent this strategy being crowned by success.