Revolution #225, February 27, 2011

From A World to Win News Service

Egypt: a great victory won, more to be done

February 14, 2011. A World to Win News Service. The Egyptian people have accomplished something great. They are to be congratulated, admired and emulated. They have earned the right to a mighty celebration. Everywhere people are happy for them and for what their achievement may mean for today's intolerable order in the region and the globe.

In a word, they have made their voices and their lives count. Because this is real, not just rhetoric, it has consequences:

—They have brought down a tyrant whose rule has been a pillar of American domination of the Middle East, the dispossession of the Palestinian people, the enslavement of Egypt to alien interests and the robbery and humiliation of its people.

—In the course of a few weeks, they have awoken to political life and surged onto the political stage in their millions, breaking the chains of hopelessness and cynicism that have held them and too many of the world's people captive.

—They have truly taken the initiative in their hands, creating a situation all too rare in today's world, one where events have been driven mainly by the struggle of the people and not the maneuvering of reactionaries.

This has demonstrated a truth that far fewer people would have been able to see only a short time ago: that even in a region where the status quo has seemed as eternal as it is hated, the reactionaries big and small are not necessarily the masters of people's fate. Their power depends on guns, deception and the people's passivity, and now that the people have been able to shake that power mightily, we can all more clearly see how it might be possible to go even further.

In addition to revealing the weaknesses of the rulers, the Egyptian movement has also revealed something often hidden about the people themselves: their ability to transform themselves as they transform the world around them.

Without exaggerating what can be done in a few days in a few square blocks of one city, the people massed in Cairo's Tahrir Square gave themselves and the world at least a glimpse of another kind of society.

The square was once the location of a British colonial barracks. Later it was surrounded by vast buildings symbolizing the country's continuing foreign domination and the cement-worshipping, soulless might of a regime that has been foreign capital's greedy local partner. Once a venue for protests, its roundabout and roads were redesigned to exclude strollers and crowds.

But in the course of 18 days, it became a place where people demonstrated their determination to end oppression and their willingness to take risks and make sacrifices with no thought to personal reward, beginning to cherish and take responsibility for not just their own families but brothers and sisters near and far, and finding themselves able to make more individual contributions to collective strength than they ever might have thought possible.

As one demonstrator told a reporter, in Tahrir Square she had a taste of the kind of society people want to live in.

Now that the door to the future has been forced ajar, extremely powerful forces are conspiring to slam it tightly shut again.

Chief among them are the imperialist powers, especially the U.S., along with the UK, Germany, France, Italy and other countries whose rulers have fattened off the looting of the countries they dominate and the exploitation of their peoples. Like Washington and London, Beijing has emphasized its desire for "stability and normal order," not change, in Egypt. (AP, February 12)

Although imperialist hands are often all but unseen in Egypt, their grip extends throughout that society.

Economically, what Egypt produces, and how, is determined by the imperialist-dominated world market and ultimately by the interests of imperialist capital. That is why an exceptionally fertile country with a favorable climate and plentiful water went from being self-sufficient to becoming dependent on imported food, and why 40 percent of its population can barely eat even as others grow obscenely wealthy. The very so-called prosperity that Egypt has undergone in the last decade has meant ruin for many people, while the countryside has stagnated or worse and the capital has become swollen with millions of former peasants hungry for any work. Selling tourist trinkets and services has replaced any project to build up the country. One of Egypt's main sources of income has become the ten percent of its workforce who labor abroad. Educated youth and intellectuals are unable to find any permanent employment, let alone make the kind of contribution to their country's needs that could bring fulfillment.

Why, in a potentially agriculturally rich country with developed industry, one whose people have shown their desire to take care of one another, are there 50,000 children living and starving on the streets of Cairo alone?

The people's misery has been a source of wealth for some. This is not just a matter of corruption, although there has been plenty of it. The "normal workings" of capitalism in this country dominated by foreign capital have enriched the classes most closely associated with that capital, the owners of the banks and big businesses—often monopolies in their field—closely tied to foreign investment and the world market.

This economic set-up has political representatives to enforce it.

For more than half a century, the chief representative of foreign capital has been the army. The army overthrew the monarchy in 1952, bringing an end to British domination, and for several decades starting in the mid-1950s tied its fortunes to the USSR, then emerging as a social-imperialist (socialist in words, imperialist in facts) rival to the U.S.-led bloc. While the U.S. was happy to see the weakening of British influence in Egypt, it worked to make the Egyptian army an instrument of its own political domination.

For the last three decades, Egypt's senior officers have been systematically trained at the National Defense University in Washington and have been in frequent contact with their U.S. counterparts. Over this period the U.S. has handed over a total of $40 billion to the Egyptian military, which ranks second only to Israel as a long-term recipient of the "aid" money the U.S. spends to protect its strategic interests.

This is not just a matter of buying influence, but of shared interests. The Egyptian armed forces directly own a significant section of the country's factories and other enterprises and real estate. Other huge state companies in industries such as textile and petroleum are run by ex-generals. The military is not just the backbone of the state, as it is in every country; it is also a key player in the country's imperialist-dependent economy.

At the same time, while the armed forces have been Hosni Mubarak's political base, his family has used their political position to extend their influence through the private sector and help it expand. These private-sector oligarchs are in their own way also dependent on the state, but friction has broken out between them and some armed forces leaders.

No one can deny that the U.S. kept Mubarak in power for three decades, even though some people in the Obama administration are now trying to blame Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and not the president for the embarrassing fact that the U.S. tried to cling to him until his next-to-last day. (New York Times, February 14, 2011) Now it seems that even General Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's right-hand man and eleventh-hour Vice President, the man Washington officials publicly named as their second choice if Mubarak became unsustainable, may have become so closely associated with Mubarak's refusal to resign that he, too, has become politically unviable. But as Egyptians said when they heard rumors that Mubarak is dying, the dead have long ruled Egypt.

When it comes to those who represent the dead hand of the past squeezing the living, the U.S. can still count on the Egyptian armed forces. Mubarak personally appointed his generals and had the power to determine the composition of the entire officer corps. (Some people think that because 40 percent of soldiers are conscripts, the Egyptian army as an institution is "one hand with the people." Actually, the wall between officers and the rank and file is even more impervious in Egypt than most countries.)

Mubarak made the head of the Armed Forces Supreme Council now running the country, Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, Defense Minister in 2008, and also handed him the portfolio for the Ministry of Military Production—two posts he continues to hold. This makes Tantawi not only head of the military but also the country's chief CEO. His commitment to U.S. domination of the army, the country and the region is attested to not only by the praise U.S. officials are heaping on him by name, but by the fact that in 1991, he was head of the Egyptian forces that fought side by side with the American invaders against the Iraqi people.

(In this regard, nothing says more about American political goals in the Middle East and the world than the fact that the U.S. sent its troops to remove Saddam Hussein, but for decades did not even publicly criticize Mubarak, a bloodthirsty tyrant as hated as Saddam, and generally like his Iraqi cousin in every way but one—Saddam displeased the U.S.)

An analyst for the Whitehall think tank Royal United Services Institute, Shashank Joshi, concluded, Tantawi "embodies the reactionary forces still embedded at the heart of a regime that may have shed its figurehead but not its essence." (BBC, February 12, 2011)

A 2008 U.S. diplomatic cable made public thanks to WikiLeaks calls Tantawi "Mubarak's poodle," but the truth is that right now he is Washington's lead dog in Egypt.

As for the Supreme Military Council's second in command, armed forces chief of staff Lieutenant General Sami Enan, while he is less known to the public and not as closely associated with Mubarak, he is definitely a favorite of Admiral Mike Mullen. During the recent upheaval, the chief of staff of the American armed forces has frequently taken time out from overseeing the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan to call Enan, despite the Obama government's supposed non-interference in Egyptian affairs. In a podcast distributed to U.S. service members, Mullen expresses great confidence in Enan. "We've had a very strong relationship with the Egyptian military for decades," the American general said. "And as I look to the future, I certainly look to that to continue." (U.S. Department of Defense Website)

Even if we didn't know these men by their friends, we would know them by their works. Along with suspending the now-irrelevant constitution that assured Mubarak's political future, dissolving the completely discredited parliament Mubarak had stuffed with members of his own party (who are resigning by the thousands to set up a new party) and declaring itself in charge, the military Supreme Council's first acts were to ratify Egypt's shameful alliance with Israel—following the explicit public demand of an Obama spokesman—and approve the cabinet that Mubarak himself had appointed, headed by Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, the head of the Air Force like Mubarak once was.

Immediately after the military council declared itself the supreme authority, Tantawi met with the once and future Central Bank Governor, Justice Minister and head of the Constitutional Court, and then chatted on the phone with his Zionist counterpart, Israeli Defense Minister and chief Palestinian-killer Ehud Barak. The old/new Finance Minister, Samir Radwan, announced that there would be "no change" in government economic policies.

As if this weren't enough proof that the military is determined to act as the guarantor of the continuity of the country's political and economic structures, its first actions on the ground were to use a combination of cajoling and bullying in an attempt to clear protesters out of Tahrir Square, and to threaten to ban strikes by the independent labor unions and professional associations that have broken free of government control.

Still a Lot of Rubbish to Be Removed

It's a good thing that the Egyptian people have shown their strength and determination, because they still have a lot of work to do.

They face political battles in the coming days that could be decisive, not in the sense that winning them would mean the final defeat of a whole filthy power structure and the kind of society it represents, but in that the immediate question is whether or not the forces of order are going to be able to stuff the genie back in the bottle. The movement must not lose its momentum and the initiative it has gained at the cost of such sacrifice.

There are additional immediate victories needed to survive and go forward.

Right now the question is posed of "stability" versus "instability." For the enemies of the people, "stability" is defined above all not by preventing looting, meeting people's immediate needs and cleaning up the rubble, but by the Supreme Council's repeated call that the crowds should stop making demands and go home.

That kind of "stability" would mean the end of the kind of fearless and vibrant political debate that the people have always been denied until now. It would mean an end to people meeting in voluntary forms of organization to take collective decisions and enforce their will. The people need the streets and the square, and they are furious with the continuation of the state of emergency that has been in force since 1967, with an 18-month interruption in 1980-1981. So far Tantawi has adopted the same hypocritical excuses made by Mubarak and then Suleiman—any consideration of dropping the state of emergency law must come later, after calm is restored. In other words, first shut up and then we'll see about your right to speak.

The emergency law is no mere formality. The military is still detaining people without charges, and in some cases torturing them. Human Rights Watch reported that they were aware of at least 119 people detained without charges by the army and the military police between the night of January 28, when the military moved to replace the regular police, and the time Mubarak resigned. The Guardian wrote that according to testimony it has gathered, the military detained "thousands" during the three weeks of upheaval.

As part of their test of strength with remaining forces of the old regime, the people are demanding the punishment of government officials and security forces who shed the people's blood, starting with those responsible for the murder of Khaled Said. Last June the police pulled that Alexandria youth out of a cyber café and beat him to death on the spot. That murder inspired the "We Are All Khaled Said" Facebook page that helped initiate what some Egyptians are calling "the revolution of dignity."

The importance of whether or not security forces pay for their crimes can be seen in the way this issue is still being fought out in demonstrations and violent repression in Tunisia, where clearly it has more to do with the future than the past. The current struggle in that country a month after the ouster of the Ben Ali regime shows another factor just beginning to make itself felt in Egypt: some social classes tend to be satisfied now that the tyrant is gone, while many basic masses are thirstier than ever for the kind of basic change in their lives that the still-standing system can't offer. Other major immediate issues will certainly take shape shortly. In the course of these battles the people can build their understanding, organization and strength.

It is particularly important that the people do not let themselves be fooled—and not fool themselves —with the illusion that they can wield power and obtain freedom through referendums and elections. If the military really does organize new elections and fulfills its promises to hand over government to some civilians, it will be for the purpose of demobilizing the people, driving them off the political stage and robbing them of their initiative. The purpose would be to "stabilize" the real power, the dictatorship of imperialism's local partners, with the army as their core and defender, no matter what kind of suit the prime minister and cabinet members wear.

In getting rid of Mubarak, the people have inflicted a serious blow to the power structure. The U.S. and the Egyptian military tried their best to hang on to him not because their domination depended on any individual but because the people driving him out creates a dangerous and unstable situation for these rulers.

For decades the army has mainly been able to hide its fist by outsourcing most of the day-to-day work of arrests and torture to the police, and even managed to stay out of the political limelight as an institution, despite Mubarak's military base and the role of the generals. It has benefited from the popular illusions this has made possible and people's confusion about the role of the army historically due to its role in driving out the British and defending the country against Israel. It has also benefited from people's hope for some other solution other than going up against an army, especially, although not only, because they don't as yet have an army of their own.

But now, against its will and against the hopes of the masters of empire, the army has had to move to the front lines politically, and if it uses the old police, the military police or any other armed body against the people, it will squander a vital part of its political capital. This is not a good situation for the people's enemies.

In the course of fighting the immediate battles, those who most want to see Egypt freed and especially those who hate all forms of oppression and exploitation have to confront the deep causes for the misery of the country and its people and for the criminal state of the world as a whole. They need to study the experience of revolution, both the failure of so many countries to achieve liberation after the fall of their own Mubaraks, and especially the communist-led Russian and Chinese revolutions which, despite shortcomings and eventual defeat, demonstrated the possibility of moving toward breaking free of world imperialism as part of a global revolutionary movement aimed at the liberation of all humanity.

Experience has shown that real revolution is very difficult, but it has also shown that nothing else has even a chance, in the long run, of beating back the forces seeking to "stabilize" everything Egyptians hate and breaking through to the future glimpsed, if only partially and briefly, during the days and nights of combat and solidarity, great pain and great joy, in Tahrir Square.

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

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