By Paul Roberts
With Egypt intermittently rocked by weeks of violence the conditions necessary for a successful military coup are advancing.
Imperialism and its allies are exploiting mounting social instability to raise the prospect of removing President Mohamed Morsi with the military returning to power.
The possibility of a coup d’etat is under discussion in Egypt’s media. There have also been some initial street actions calling for military intervention to restore order, most notably in Port Said, as reported recently in the New York Times.
As outlined in a previous article on this website, the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia are determined to restore a pure client Mubarakist regime in Egypt and are coordinating closely with the Egyptian military.
The national political situation has not yet deteriorated sufficiently for the Army to seize back power, but with Egypt’s economy worsening, wave after wave of unrest is being exploited to build support for a coup.
Egypt’s economic crisis is being deliberately deepened to facilitate the coup plotters through creating social chaos.
Egypt – on the verge of bankruptcy
Egypt is fast running out of the foreign currency required to purchase basic necessities. Needing to import around 70 per cent of its food consumption, reserves have fallen so low they cover less than three months imports.
As the economic crisis has escalated Egypt’s currency has collapsed in value, more than eight per cent down against the US dollar this year. This pushes up the price of imports, so domestic inflation is sharply rising, reaching 8.2 per cent in the cities in February, with food and drink inflation running at 9.3 per cent.
Increasingly fuel is in short supply, creating long queues at petrol stations and prompting last week microbus drivers in Cairo to take strike action which created traffic chaos in the capital.
At present foreign reserves continue to dwindle, with no sign of an 11th hour rescue.
Saudi Arabia, which provided aid last year to keep Egypt’s economy from collapse when the military was in charge, has not stepped in to prop up the Muslim Brotherhood Presidency.
Likewise the US-led IMF dangles the offer of a $4.8bn loan, but stipulates various economic and political conditions that would undermine Morsi.
The IMF’s economic demands are for the introduction of a tough austerity package of subsidy cuts on food and fuel plus taxes rises, prior to Parliamentary election. Morsi wants to delay austerity measures till after elections take place.
The US/IMF also have implicit political conditions: that Morsi concedes to the key demands of the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) – the alliance of liberal and other parties formed to oppose December’s constitutional referendum. Its principal demands are for the formation of both a new government and a constitutional committee to amend the newly approved constitution – that would be to overturn the results of last year’s elections and referendum.
Mubarakist state apparatus – on the offensive
Taking advantage of the worsening economy, powerful state institutions still aligned to the former Mubarak regime have gone on the offensive against Morsi’s Presidency.
The Mubarakist judiciary, which defeated Morsi last November when he sought to establish the precedence of his own authority, has overturned a Presidential decree calling parliamentary elections to start on 22 April. At minimum there will now be a legal battle over the decree, which will force a delay in the elections.
The legitimacy of these elections was already under challenge from the parties in the NSF, which announced they will boycott them.
The Mubarakist Army is progressively dropping its façade of ‘neutrality’; making strident criticisms of Morsi’s Presidency and issuing thinly veiled threats that it will seize power.
The spectre is being raised of political intervention by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), similar to when they assumed power in February 2011 following the18-day uprising that ousted the dictator Hosni Mubarak.
The new Egyptian constitution, agreed in December, maintains the military’s freedom to operate independent of governmental control and keeps its vast economic interests beyond oversight. It has recently threatened that any attempt to replace its top command would be ‘suicide’ for the government. And its generals have made clear they are not subject to Presidential command.
So in January, when the President imposed a night time curfew on three rioting Suez Canal cities, the Army decided not to enforce it.
Increasingly there are reports of the Army encouraging protestors to defy authority, so assisting the clashes with the police.
The Army is trying to rebuild its reputation as defender of the right to protest. Its image was badly tarnished during the transitional period between Mubarak’s overthrow and Morsi’s election in June 2012. During that time the SCAF’s real brutality was on open display, as it oversaw widespread human rights violations including the torture of detainees and trial of at least 10,000 civilians before military tribunals.
So the slogan, ‘the people and Army are one hand’, which protesters popularised in the uprising against Mubarak, is timidly being reintroduced on demonstrations.
Offshoots of the now dissolved National Democratic Party – Mubarak’s former party – are collecting signatures for the Army Chief / Defence Minister Al-Sisi to take over as Egypt’s head of state.
In this attack the Mubarakists are being given cover by sections of the left and liberal opposition, and some – the ‘left’ nationalist forces within the NSF, for example – are directly assisting the restoration of the previous regime.
Waves of protest have hit many towns across the whole country, but the most intense have been in the Nile Delta cities of Mansoura and Mahalla and the Suez Canal city of Port Said, where civil disobedience campaigns have been directed against the government.
Port Said has been in almost open rebellion since January, with intermittent deadly clashes between protestors and the police. The catalyst was on 26 January, when a Cairo court sentenced to death 21 Port Said football supporters for involvement in the killing of 70 plus Cairo football supporters at a match last year.
Since these death sentences were pronounced there have been demonstrations, strikes, blockading of the port and a series of riots directed at government buildings in Port Said. There has also been a protest organised in support of the armed forces. More than fifty people have been killed and hundreds wounded this past month.
On 3 March protesters firebombed Port Said’s interior ministry building, which stations the police. A few days later protesters attacked the building again and police defenders also found themselves under fire from the Army.
On 8 March a Cairo appeals court confirmed the death sentences. In response, Port Said’s police forces – anticipating another wave of violence – abandoned the streets and handed control of the city over to the Army.
At the same time the court acquitted most of the police officers charged with involvement in the football massacre, so riots also erupted in Cairo and the Egyptian football federation headquarters and a police social club were set on fire.
Since January there has been a series of violent attacks on state buildings in the capital, with the Presidential Palace being fire bombed on a weekly basis. In Tahrir Square there have been regular clashes between anti-government protesters and police.
In January 2011 the pro-democracy movement was largely a peaceful mobilisation, forced to defend itself from the Mubarak regime’s assaults. In contrast, today, the same people who attacked the protests in 2011 are now on the demonstrations themselves, and they are using their shotguns and Molotov cocktails not against the uprising but to attack symbols of government.
Egypt’s police are much less popular than the Army, having been deployed as Mubarak’s repressive force through out his 29 years of rule. During the 2011 uprising it was police snipers on Cairo’s rooftops that killed nearly 900 protestors. Their authority with the demonstrators is rock bottom and their capacity to enforce order very limited.
Added to which, since mid February there have been a series of police strikes across the country, creating further chaos.
As living standards fall and unrest spreads crime is on the rise. Those with property are becoming increasingly concerned about the deteriorating law and order situation.
Real mass discontent about the deteriorating economic situation and political grievances is increasingly being channelled by the NSF into the campaign to bring down the Morsi Presidency.
The violence that has been erupting from within the new anti-government movement is not just spontaneous. The US, Israel and Saudi Arabia are helping guide the Mubarakists in their actions. President Morsi has drawn attention to Israeli involvement with the Black Bloc militias engaged in the riots and Saudi Arabia is financing the organisers of riots, who include Army officers.
The NSF will boycott elections, because it knows it cannot win them. Whilst polling indicates a decline in Morsi’s support since he was elected last June, the electorate is not flocking to support the NSF.
But Morsi faces deep problems. The financial crisis is deepening, with neither imperialism nor Saudi Arabia willing to bail out the Muslim Brotherhood. Their condition is the implementation of fierce austerity measures, which will destroy Morsi’s popular base. Morsi’s aim to hold the parliamentary elections before having to implement austerity is being blocked by the IMF.
The only alternative would be to confront Egyptian capital itself to reorganise the corrupt distribution of internal resources. But this would require a confrontation with Morsi’s own support within Egyptian capital and with the army – which controls a major share of the economy – which he is not strong enough to do.
So with the Brotherhood having no solution to Egypt’s crisis, the chaos will deepen, and the Mubarakists will step up the covert campaign for a coup.
In these circumstances the key task of the left is to campaign against a Mubarakist coup, which would block-off and destroy the potential in the 2011 Spring movement for steps in a progressive, anti-imperialist direction in Egypt.