Conflict in Egypt, Agendas of the Oppressors…
And the Need for Another Way

by Alan Goodman | December 9, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper |



Massive protests are sweeping Egypt, and many people who are part of them have aspirations for real liberation from oppression. At the same time, right now the terms of what is possible in Egypt are far too much defined by the interests of competing oppressive agendas, and a whole other way is needed to liberate Egypt. AP Photo

Massive protests are sweeping Egypt, triggered by Egyptian President Morsi’s November 11 decree that, among other things, radically restricted the role of Egypt’s judiciary. While it is difficult to get a clear picture of the forces in the field, they appear to represent a wide range of interests, agendas, and sections of society, including the ongoing aspirations of the people of Egypt for real liberation from oppression.

At the same time, right now the terms of societal conflict in Egypt are defined in the main by intense contradictions between two sections of the ruling class. Neither of these forces represents anything positive for the millions of Egyptian people who rose up with such inspiring courage in 2011.

The Uprising of 2011

The significance of, and the challenges facing the inspiring uprising in Egypt in 2011 were identified incisively in Bob Avakian’s statement, “Egypt 2011: Millions Have Heroically Stood Up…The Future Remains to be Written.”

That statement begins:

“Millions of Egyptian people from all walks of life, drawing inspiration from the people of Tunisia, have heroically risen up, defied the hated regime of Hosni Mubarak and forced Mubarak to resign. This has shattered the notion that ‘things can never change.’ It is a powerful demonstration that there is no permanent necessity to the existing conditions under which the great majority of humanity suffer so terribly. Oppressed people and people who hunger for an end to oppression, in every country all over the world, have deeply shared in the joy and hope of these massive uprisings. And the stirrings of revolt continue to spread.

“At the same time, while Mubarak has stepped down, the same basic forces that have so cruelly ruled over and exploited the Egyptian people remain in power. And, despite their honeyed words of praise for the masses of youth and others who have risen up, despite their promises of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy,’ in reality they are determined to bring about a ‘transition’ that will ensure that there is no fundamental change—that whatever new arrangements are engineered in the political process will still keep the masses of people in Egypt, in Palestine, and other countries of strategic importance for U.S. imperialism, in unbearable conditions. After all, the armed forces in Egypt—which are now supposed to carry out this ‘transition’—are the same armed forces which for decades faithfully and brutally enforced the rule of the Mubarak regime, while the heads of this military enriched themselves through becoming major exploiters of the Egyptian people; and the imperialists of the U.S.—who fully backed Mubarak and his cronies and kept them in power for 30 years, without any regard for the suffering of the people—are the very same imperialists who are now seeking yet again to call the shots and give the ultimate orders in terms of what the ‘transition’ in Egypt will be.

“The plans and designs of these oppressors and exploiters are NOT what the masses of people desperately want and need...”

That basic situation remains. And, at the same time, there are sharp conflicts within the forces that control, or aspire to be cut in on, the exploitation of the people of Egypt.

The Army and the Muslim Brotherhood

Media analysts generally portray the conflict in Egypt today as one between “secular democracy” (the army and apparently major sections of the judiciary), on the one hand, and Islamic forces gaining strength within the region on the other.

The Israel Factor

Both the Army and the Muslim Brotherhood have a long history and current role in Egypt’s shameful collaboration with Israel in the oppression of the Palestinian people, in Gaza and beyond.

In 1978, the U.S. oversaw the "Camp David Accords" between Israel and Sadat of Egypt, which became the first Arab country to officially recognize the Zionist state. The Mubarak regime was a shameless collaborator with Israel, enforcing Camp David and sealing Egypt’s border with Gaza to contribute to the starvation, isolation, and imprisonment of the 1.7 million Palestinians in that crowded outdoor prison.

The Muslim Brotherhood is no better. In October 2012, Morsi wrote a letter to Israeli President Shimon Peres—a fanatic Zionist who has presided over years of brutal oppression of the Palestinian people. Morsi called Peres "a great and good friend" and went on to call for "maintaining and strengthening the cordial relations which so happily exist between our two countries." Morsi closed the letter by expressing "highest esteem and consideration." For purposes of domestic consumption within Egypt, a Muslim Brotherhood leader claimed that the letter was "fabricated," saying that "Zionist media have leaked baseless statements by Morsi in the past." However, Morsi spokesman Yasser Ali told Egyptian state-run newspaper Al-Ahram that the letter was "100 percent correct." And all indications are that this represents the actual position of the Brotherhood.

Morsi has repeatedly made clear he would honor all of Egypt's international treaties, a clear signal to the U.S. imperialists and Israel that he would honor the one that mattered most—Camp David.

On November 14, 2012, when Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip, Morsi's government condemned the operation and called for a halt to air strikes. And Morsi sent Prime Minister Hesham Qandil to Gaza to express solidarity with Gaza. But Morsi kept Egypt’s border with Gaza essentially sealed, and overall he collaborated with the U.S. and Israel in locking down the defenseless people of Gaza as they were being slaughtered by Israel’s murderous rocket and bombing attacks (see "Israel's Murderous Assault on the People in Gaza...
And the Need to Oppose These Crimes NOW"
in #286).

Barack Obama had six phone conversations with Morsi during Israel’s assault on Gaza, and by all (U.S. ruling class) accounts, Morsi played an invaluable role orchestrating a cease fire with terms Israel found acceptable.

Republican Senator John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte said in a statement after the ceasefire: "We commend Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders for the role they played in reaching today’s ceasefire. We also are encouraged by the responsible leadership role played by the President of Egypt and his government. President Morsi deserves credit for successfully bringing an end to the violence and preventing further loss of life on both sides. These actions are befitting the commitment to peace and security that Egypt has traditionally upheld as a leader of the Arab world."

Speaking of the diplomatic maneuvering, Bruce Jentleson, a Duke University public policy professor and former State Department adviser, said "What we're seeing here is 21st-century peacemaking, where the U.S. still has a very central role to play, but the old Camp David model is no longer sufficient.” And he added, "There have to be key players in the region who bring their own identity and credibility to the table."

Such is the role of the Morsi regime, in service to U.S. interests in the region, including support for the key U.S. hit man in the region—the state of Israel.

The “secular democracy” of the pro-U.S. Mubarak regime was characterized by grinding poverty, an economy that turned on the command of foreign investors, brutal repression, and slavish complicity with the agenda of the U.S. in the Middle East, particularly in relation to Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.

Sitting atop all this were forces concentrated in the Egyptian army. The Egyptian army was and is a force for repressive violence, intervening at key times during the uprising two years ago to constrain, control, and set limits on what could be challenged.

And, as pointed to in the excerpt from Bob Avakian’s statement on Egypt, the clique of top army officials is itself a grouping of major comprador capitalists—big Egyptian capitalists who serve as local agents of international imperialist capital. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) controls as much as 40 percent of Egypt’s economy. Those holdings are largely secret, and this network of investments is closely guarded by the officers and generals who benefit from its profits. The Egyptian army reportedly owns tourist resorts, processed food plants, weapons factories, and owns companies that make and sell household appliances. And financial networks controlled by the army generate profits for the SCAF on everything from bottled water and olive oil to computer chips and cotton underwear.  (See: “In political fight with Egypt’s army, Muslim Brotherhood follows the money,” Global Post, April 3, 2012)

This entrenched network of parasites sits on top of the masses of Egyptian people. And it stifles and suppresses other comprador forces that have their own aspirations and alternate visions of how to cohere Egypt as a stable, regional power within the chains of global imperialist exploitation.

The Muslim Brotherhood developed, over decades, as something of a parallel economic, political, and ideological network in Egyptian society. It provided social services for the poor, closely associated with the mosques. It both served as a stabilizing factor in Mubarak’s Egypt, and as a force “waiting in the wings” for an opportunity to become the senior partner of the forces serving imperialist interests in Egypt. The uprising that toppled Mubarak, along with the highly unstable situation and rise of different Islamic forces in the region overall, has provided such a moment. Morsi was put forward by the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP—the political party associated with the Muslim Brotherhood) as candidate for president and won the first post-Mubarak election with about 51 percent of the vote.

The Muslim Brotherhood has its own social base and vision of a cohering morality to re-stabilize Egyptian society, with a more overt role for oppressive Islamic values in the state. One very legitimate target of protest against Morsi’s proposed new constitution is the codifying of women’s oppression in Article 10 which mandates: “The family is the basis of the society and is founded on religion, morality and patriotism.” One can look to the inhuman oppression of women in other countries where Qur’an-based oppression of women is institutionalized in law to get a sense of what horrors such a constitution might usher in.

The Muslim Brotherhood opposed or sat out the uprising against Mubarak until the very eve of his overthrow. And it has exerted a powerful conservatizing impact on the people since then, including driving women out of the upsurge, and providing an “alternative” that seeks only to restructure the way Egypt fits into the world of capitalism-imperialism.


A Statement By Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
February 11, 2011

Translations available at this page in Arabic, French, German and Spanish.

Nothing put forward by the Muslim Brotherhood even claims to provide a program for breaking Egypt out of the crushing chains of global capitalism. Instead, their differences with the Mubarak/army clique revolve around how Egypt will operate in that world of oppression. As part of those differences, there are very real clashes over how to reforge the legitimacy of whatever oppressive state structure emerges in Egypt, including the formal role of Islam in that.

And there are sharp conflicts over shares of the loot allocated by imperialism to its local compradors in Egypt. Shortly after the fall of Mubarak, a leader of the FJP said: “The army must be made aware that there was a revolution, and that things have to and will change… The army must go back to its normal role as defender of the nation, and it should not have this kind of economic control. It should not be a state within a state.”

The FJP leader did not mean that a real revolution had taken place where the oppressive structures that serve and enforce capitalism-imperialism were shattered, and a whole new society could be built. Nor was he calling for such a revolution. He meant that too much of the spoils of imperialist-capitalist exploitation were still going to the army. And like a rising mob boss, he was demanding a bigger cut of the action for the networks of the Muslim Brotherhood, something that would give them a basis to shore up the allegiance of their social base.

The Egyptian army, for its part, is not about to step aside without a fight. Like an established mob boss, the SCAF’s chief financial officer, Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Nasr, told Al-Ahram news agency in early 2012 that “the armed forces will fight to defend” their projects. “We have been building them for 33 years,” he said. “And we won’t give them to anyone else to destroy.”

The Need and Basis for Another Way

Behind slogans of freedom, democracy, and justice issued by the contending ruling class forces in Egypt are essentially agendas of these forces to impose their version of an exploitive, oppressive order.

Right now, masses of people who desire real liberating change are being drawn into protest throughout Egypt—such people make up at least a significant section of those in the streets. But given the present lineup of forces, they are pushed and pulled back and forth between one or another faction of the ruling class.

Both these factions of the ruling class appeal to people with demagoguery, and at times attack real elements of their opponents’ positions. The Muslim Brotherhood issues demands that the army and judiciary stop protecting officials of the Mubarak regime who ordered torture and murder, but their objective is to remove obstacles to themselves assuming improved positions within the existing setup.

The Mubarak-associated clique calls people into the street to defend “secular democracy.” But people need to understand that when you hear someone like Mohamed ElBaradei—a favorite of the U.S. who overall served the interests of U.S. imperialism as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), say that Morsi “usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh,” behind that rhetoric is essentially nothing more than the class interests of sections of the ruling class in Egypt issuing demagogic appeals to sections of the masses (and making their case in public to the rulers of the U.S. as well)—in service of one of the contending agendas for exploitation and oppression.

On the other hand… speaking of the real aspirations of the Egyptian people, Bob Avakian, in his Statement on Egypt, wrote:

“Theirs is the cry of ‘freedom,’ and the struggle must be carried forward until real freedom is achieved—freedom from the rule of the imperialists and their local henchmen and junior partners, freedom from all forms of oppression and exploitation. Freedom from both the outmoded forces which would enslave women, and the people as a whole, in medieval darkness and oppression—and from the outmoded forces who would enslave people in the name of ‘democracy’...‘freedom’...and capitalist-imperialist exploitation marketed as ‘progress.’”

And later in this statement, BA—drawing on the experience of Lenin in the Russian revolution, emphasizes this:

“When people in their masses, in their millions, finally break free of the constraints that have kept them from rising up against their oppressors and tormentors, then whether or not their heroic struggle and sacrifice will really lead to a fundamental change, moving toward the abolition of all exploitation and oppression, depends on whether or not there is a leadership, communist leadership, that has the necessary scientific understanding and method, and on that basis can develop the necessary strategic approach and the influence and organized ties among growing numbers of the people, in order to lead the uprising of the people, through all the twists and turns, to the goal of a real, revolutionary transformation of society, in accordance with the fundamental interests of the people. And, in turn, when people massively break with the ‘normal routine’ and the tightly woven chains of oppressive relations in which they are usually entrapped and by which they are heavily weighed down—when they break through and rise up in their millions—that is a crucial time for communist organization to further develop its ties with those masses, strengthening its ranks and its ability to lead. Or, if such communist organization does not yet exist, or exists only in isolated fragments, this is a crucial time for communist organization to be forged and developed, to take up the challenge of studying and applying communist theory, in a living way, in the midst of this tumultuous situation, and to strive to continually develop ties with, to influence and to ultimately lead growing numbers of the masses in the direction of the revolution that represents their fundamental and highest interests, the communist revolution.”

During the time I was in Egypt, as part of the Gaza Freedom March three years ago, I had some, if limited, opportunity to engage with Egyptian activists who at the time were bravely organizing protests against the Mubarak regime, in solidarity with striking workers, in opposition to Egypt’s support for Israel, and around other issues. Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, had not been translated into Arabic at that time, but I was able to get it to a number of English-speaking activists.

During these engagements, I did my best to struggle with them to engage and take up BA’s new synthesis of communism, and to seriously grapple with what it would take to really transform Egyptian society in the context of getting to a world without oppression and exploitation. Often the response was that if there was any country in the world where revolution was a far-far-far-off possibility, it was Egypt, where the political police crushed protest, where people were viscerally demoralized, and where—it was argued—distinctions between “progressive Islam,” “radical democracy,” and revolutionary communism were abstract issues that might be relevant in a distant future. So, obviously there is a lesson in that for everyone everywhere who desires serious political change but can’t see the potential for a revolutionary situation developing, and the urgency of preparing for (while hastening the coming of) such a moment.

Several people I met were intrigued by the Manifesto. But they tended to see it as one of many sets of good ideas, along with illusory conceptions of “Western democracy” and/or “enlightened Islam.” Events are demonstrating that demarcating between contending reactionary or non-revolutionary poles on the one hand, and real revolution on the other, is a question of life and death for the masses of people.

If even a small core of forces cohered in Egypt around what is in the Manifesto, that could make all the difference.

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