Egypt – a counter-revolutionary coup

General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, head of Armed Forces, announces the ovethrow of Egyptian President Morsi

By Paul Roberts

Yesterday Egypt’s military, with the full backing of imperialism, carried out a coup d’état.

Former President Mohamed Morsi was deposed and taken into military custody along with his key officials, with arrest warrants issued for hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

All potentially anti-coup media outlets were closed down by the Army with many staff arrested. Even Al Jazeera was taken off the air, its offices raided and staff detained.

Today the military has sworn in its new ‘interim’ President, the long-established Mubarakist judge Adli al-Mansour.

The coup has annulled the results of a presidential election, two parliamentary elections and two constitutional referendums – all held since Mubarak was toppled in 2011.

This has all been welcomed by a chorus of the imperialist states, many of whom were party to the coup’s preparation, at the centre of which is the US, all determined to restore Mubarakist rule.

Left misassessments

Some on the left have misassessed the character of the situation, making wild claims that Morsi’s removal represents a second revolution or that the Army were forced to intervene to head off such a revolutionary advance. Such wishful thinking is pure and simply that, with no basis in reality.

A serious counter-revolutionary reverse has taken place and the Army is intent on driving through its gains. The situation for Egypt’s left has not just improved, but dramatically worsened.

It is not the size of the mass mobilisations that determines the character of the struggle that has been taking place but the alignment of social forces.

Both sets of mobilisations, these past few days and those in January and February 2011, were huge and brought millions on to the streets. But the fundamental character of the struggles they engaged in were diametrically opposed.

The 2011 revolutionary advance

Two years ago the mass movement was struggling to overthrow Mubarak’s military regime – a revolutionary act. This week’s mobilisations were directly allied to the Mubarakist forces – explicitly calling for the Army to retake power – a counter-revolution.

The opposing fundamental character to these two struggles is why the Egyptian state’s security apparatuses dealt with them so differently, brutally repressing the protests in 2011 but supporting them this week.

The 18 day long 2011 upsurge had to withstand immense state repression; curfews were imposed, protesters tear-gassed, shot, beaten and stoned – over 800 were killed and 6,000 injured. Despite such brutality the generals could not break the 2011 mobilisations. More than 90 police stations were destroyed and the demonstrations continued to grow, so the military sacrificed Mubarak to try to retain its hold.

Continued mobilisations in 2011 forced the generals to concede democratic elections, and subsequently its candidate for President was defeated despite the Mubarakist judiciary manipulating the elections.

This wave after wave of revolutionary mobilisation forced the hand of the Mubarakist state apparatus which conceded on elections and other democratic gains.

The 2013 counter-revolutionary reverse

This week’s four days of anti-Morsi protests have had the opposite character. Irrespective of the different views held by the wide range of political forces that mobilised this week, the dynamic of their struggle has been dominated by the most powerful component in their alliance – the Mubarakist military. Hence the character of the struggle has been to replace the Muslim Brotherhood government with a Mubarakist one.

So this week the security forces openly backed the protests, actively encouraged people to participate and the police even provided refreshments in Tahrir Square.

The military’s repression this week has all been focussed on Morsi’s supporters. Their rallies have been attacked and broken up by the army or their hired agents and Muslim Brotherhood offices have been destroyed by security service linked forces.

The coup’s preparation

Neither is it the case that the military seized power to head off a progressive advance of anti-Morsi masses.

The army, Mubarakist forces and their imperialist allies have carefully coordinated the political struggle against the Muslim Brotherhood, bringing together an alliance that included pro-western liberals, pro-military nationalists, pro-Saudi Islamists and confused left currents.

Alongside this it has coordinated with the main external actors – the US and its agencies the IMF and World Bank, Israel and Saudi Arabia – to cut off the external funding to the embattled regime, deepening an economic crisis already developing as a result of deteriorating world trade, declining cotton prices and exacerbated by the effects of unrest on the tourist trade.

Since June 2012, the US has led the international campaign to block the Egyptian government from securing financial assistance. The IMF has repeatedly delayed payment of its $4.8bn loan agreement, and demanded cuts in food and fuel subsidies before it is released. At the same time, Saudi Arabia, which propped up the Mubarak regime, cut off the petro-dollar support.

With the GDP growth rate falling from 7.1% in 2007 to 2.2% in the first quarter this year Egypt’s finances became so squeezed it could no longer maintain the levels of food and fuel purchases from abroad. Shortages of necessities have been on the increase.

Youth have been particularly badly hit by the deteriorating economy with unemployment of the under-30s currently running at 75 per cent.

At the same time, the Mubarakist state apparatus – which Morsi was blocked from acting against at the end of last year – increased social chaos by deliberately reducing the policing of crime, allowing robbery and murder rates to soar. This has increased insecurity particularly among middle layers in society that were already less favourable to the Muslim Brotherhood and encouraged a more militant opposition.

The strategy was to use the rising economic hardship and social insecurity as a battering ram against Morsi’s Presidency and create a level of civil unrest that gave the grounds for the army to intervene.

This was the lesson learned from the failed coup attempt in June last year. When the generals made a coup attempt in 2012 before the Presidential election – dissolving Parliament and assuming its legislative powers – there was no mass mobilisation in their support, so they were forced to partially back down and accepted Morsi’s election.

This time the circumstances were better prepared, and the mass movement they helped create actually called on the army to intervene.

The Army did not act because they feared a revolution, as some have optimistically claimed. The Army and Mubarakist representatives of imperialist interests in the country have been actively fomenting the economic circumstances for the mass popular protests, and forging their political leadership. The mass movement was unleashed on 30th June precisely to create the excuse for a coup.

The advance preparation is the only explanation for the totally tight choreography of all the actions and statements of the country’s police, internal security and intelligence forces with the Army.

While the mass movement undoubtedly reflects the hardship being experienced by the poorest and most down-trodden of the Egyptian masses, it is not enough to analyse why the masses are discontented. In order to understand the political dynamics of the situation it is vital to understand the situation in all classes in society, including the role of imperialism itself.

Mubarakism – imperialism’s key regional ally

First of all, it should be crystal clear that whatever its careful media comments and official statements, the whole course of events has been closely coordinated with the US.

Egypt has been vital to the US’s regional interests since the 1979 peace treaty with Israel following the Camp David accords. Since then Egypt’s officer corps has been trained by the US, collaborates closely with the Pentagon and receives $1.3bn annual US military aid.

Since the revolt in 2011, the US had had only one goal – to restore a purely vassal Mubarakist regime. Its regional interests can only be fully met by a totally pliant Egyptian state. It requires Egypt to actively assist it to militarily dominate the region, to support Israel and act as a roadblock to the Palestinian struggle.

It was completely insufficient for the US that Morsi would not abrogate Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel. The assistance (even though it was limited) given to the Hamas government of Gaza, the increasing rapprochement with Iran and developing links with China made Morsi completely unacceptable to the US.

From the partial coup in June 2012, the refusal to cede control of any section of the Mubarakist state, the cutting off of sources of external economic aid, the creation of an ‘anti-Morsi’ political front dominated by the right, the retreat of the police from fighting crime, and the encouragement of the June 30th mobilisations, the Egyptian pro-imperialist bourgeoisie, the Army, the state and the imperialists have been in cahoots to create the circumstances for the ousting of Morsi.

The aim is the restoration of a reliable Mubarakist regime in Egypt. As direct Army rule would cause too much destabilising questioning of legitimacy, a democratic fig-leaf is needed. This is likely to take the course of the calling of Presidential elections from which the Brotherhood and other Islamist forces are excluded, by direct bans and repression of the independent media.

We can be quite confident that these elections, unlike last year’s, will be rigged to ensure the election of the candidate of choice, who will be a hardline Mubarakite – very possibly Shafiq – by a margin they are likely to have already decided upon.

Illusions that this process may lead to a non-Islamist liberal alternative will be rapidly disproved.

A counter-revolutionary coup

This week’s mobilisations illustrate the immense discontent that has built up. Even taking into account the destabilisation campaign, the Morsi government failed to take steps, for example on Palestine, that could galvanise the necessary support either abroad or at home.

Also the Muslim Brotherhood’s alliance with imperialism’s offensive against the Syrian government helped isolate Morsi’s government from others in the region fighting imperialist intervention. In accepting the sectarian, Sunni versus Shia, agenda promoted by the US and Saudi Arabia it assisted the undermining of Arab unity, emboldening imperialism to simultaneously target Arab regimes on both sides of the sectarian divide.

Many will have joined this week’s anti-Morsi protest in Egypt in the hope that removing him will get the economic problems sorted. But the Mubarakists no more have a solution for Egypt’s economic crisis than the Muslim Brotherhood. They will introduce draconian austerity measures and, unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, will brutally repress those that fight such policies.

There should be no illusions as to what Mubarakism entails. It has already ruled Egypt for 30 years with a brutal iron fist – trade unions and strikes were outlawed, protest prevented, with political activists detained and tortured. As Wikileaks revealed, Egypt was the country where the US ‘rendered’ most prisoners for torture and interrogation, because it was the most brutal.

Yesterday’s military coup was a significant gain for imperialism’s offensive in the Middle East. The principal democratic gains, achieved by immense struggle in 2011, have mostly been overturned. The conditions for the class struggle in Egypt will be more difficult.

Progressive people across the world should continue to give that struggle their support.