It was the poverty and insecurity spawned by economic crisis that drove the masses onto the streets of Cairo a year ago. The people’s misery has multiplied since then, and is again fuelling the Egyptian revolution. At the same time, the economic crisis is also applying intolerable pressure upon all the key actors on the bourgeois political stage, cruelly exposing to public view their double-dealing and hypocrisy.
If in spring 2011 the long-time imperialist stooge Mubarak was identified as the chief enemy, in spring 2012 not only the replacement military junta but also the phony ‘opposition’ Muslim Brotherhood are being identified as enemies of the revolution, with the ‘hidden hand’ of Uncle Sam ever-less well concealed with each new twist of development. This cannot but create valuable opportunities to advance the political understanding of the masses.
Unemployment levels have climbed 50 percent since the beginning of the 2011 revolt, disproportionately hammering the country’s youth. The tourist trade is down 30 percent, and nothing is getting built any more.
Before, Egypt’s foreign currency reserves totalled around $36bn. Now they have been eroded to about $10bn, as the military government has been spending $2bn a month trying to shore up the crumbling Egyptian pound and stave off the nightmare of food prices spiralling out of control and pouring flames on the revolution.
A similar fear of social upheaval keeps the government subsidising energy to the tune of $15bn a year – 20 percent of the total government spend. Meanwhile, Egyptian banks refuse to bail out the government for fear that it will default. Against this background, the $3.2bn loan being dangled contemptuously by the IMF is like an aspirin offered to a cancer patient.
When Mubarak was ousted and Field Marshal Tantawi slipped into his reactionary shoes, the supreme council of the armed forces (SCAF) did all it could to persuade the world of its progressive and nationalist character, despite its unbroken violent repression of dissent and craven submission to western pressure.
Back in the spring of 2011, when a popular slogan declared the army to be “one hand” with the people, illusions in the army’s patriotism were easier to foster. After the ensuing months of violent suppression of the popular democratic forces by slaughter, incarceration and torture, such illusions have been ever-more difficult to preserve.
Caught between the need to please its imperialist backers and the fear of revolutionary overthrow by its own citizenry, SCAF has oscillated wildly. For example, last June SCAF abruptly spurned an IMF offer of $3bn, eager to posture as the defender of Egyptian sovereignty and unwilling to accept the stick of austerity that came with the carrot. Now the situation is turned on its head, with SCAF reduced to begging the IMF for a $3.2bn loan.
The same impossible contradictions must face any rival bourgeois force in Egypt that asserts a claim to national leadership but struggles to conceal its shameful dependency on the West. This truth is now being discovered by the followers of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, many of whom are unaware of the brotherhood’s origin as a West-funded tool against secular nationalism and communism. Indeed, many good anti-imperialists, both inside and outside Egypt, would be shocked to know that the Brotherhood’s goal in the 1950s was to assassinate Nasser and replace his secular, left-leaning government with an islamic, West-leaning one of their own, with a similar aim also set for Syria.
In recent times, with its credentials bolstered by decades as the official underground opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood has been known for its anti-imperialist and anti-zionist rhetoric, so it will have come as a rude awakening for many Egyptians to see how quickly the worm has turned. It has been enough, apparently, for the Brothers to win power in a powerless parliament and be patted on the head by Obama for this plucky ‘opposition’ force to embrace the IMF, champion free markets and denounce state subsidies.
It is a measure of the instability of the military junta that Washington is not prepared to rely solely upon the SCAF dictatorship to hold the counter-revolutionary line, hedging its bets by reinforcing its old ties to the Brotherhood. But the headache for imperialism is that the parliamentary alternative is proving no less unstable.
NGOs: a fifth column
This has been nowhere more apparent than in the row over the misuse by the West of ‘non-governmental organisations’ (NGOs) as a fifth column for imposing imperialist interests throughout the region.
The decision to prosecute 43 NGO employees for systematically flouting Egyptian laws on the licensing and funding of these bodies was an assertion of basic national sovereignty. Sailing under the false flag of ‘democracy’, many of these NGOs have been involved in both subverting sovereign nations (like Libya, Syria and Iran) and in attempting to hijack popular democratic revolts – as right now in Egypt.
Two of the NGOs in the dock, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, are funded by the US and have close ties with congressional leaders. Indeed, one of the defendants, an IRI operative named Sam LaHood, turns out to be the son of the current US transport secretary Ray LaHood.
The Muslim Brotherhood, eager to please their friends in the West, came out in support of deregulating the activities of NGOs and ending restrictions on foreign funding. The judiciary persisted however and the legal wheels started turning.
When private briefings from US officials suggested that some defendants might skip bail and not show up for trial, the judges responded by slapping on a travel ban. This simple attempt to make Egyptian laws apply on Egyptian territory triggered a scalded reaction from Washington, which promptly threatened to withhold the next $1.3bn in sweeteners for the military.
Then, suddenly, after long weeks of pressure, there was an abrupt climb-down. The presiding judges resigned, the travel ban was rescinded, with bail posted at $3,000 a head. This national humiliation sparked widespread outrage, prompting questions in parliament about who had authorised this capitulation to US bullying.
The resignation of the judges and reversal of the travel ban was denounced by parliamentarians and lawyers as a gross infringement on the independence of the judiciary. One of the Freedom and Justice MPs called for an inquiry into who decided to let the defendants go, whilst evidence piled up suggesting that the Brotherhood itself was implicated in the sell-out!
Meanwhile, the misery of the Egyptian masses deepens and the exposure of the revolution’s false friends sharpens – and not alone in Egypt itself. Those in Britain who posed as champions of the Arab spring whilst praying fervently for the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi; those who persist with that pose now whilst praying for the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are revealing themselves in their true reactionary colours no less than the rival bourgeois contending for leadership of the Egyptian revolution.
Those who muddle up popular democratic revolts against comprador stooge regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain with the western-backed armed rebellions against anti-imperialist leaderships in Libya, Syria and Iran put themselves squarely in the camp of imperialist reaction, and history will judge them just as surely as it will judge SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood and Washington’s NGO stooges.
And in Britain, just as surely as in Egypt, it will be the dialectical science of Marxism Leninism that will prove indispensable in the forward progress of the revolution.