Egypt's Presidential Election: Emancipation Not on the Ballot
by Larry Everest
Sixteen months after the Egyptian people rose up and drove the hated U.S. puppet Hosni Mubarak from power, the country has elected a new president. On Sunday, June 24, a week after the June 16-17 run-off voting, Egypt's Constitutional Committee named Mohammed Morsi of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood the winner over former general Ahmed Shafik. Shafik was the candidate backed by Egypt's military which has run the country for the last 52 years.
The U.S. government and media called the vote Egypt's "first free and fair election." The Brotherhood, Egypt's military, and the U.S.--which had been closely involved in these events--all praised the outcome as a victory for "democracy," the transition from military rule to civilian control, and a big step toward fulfilling the aspirations of Egypt's 90 million people and completing their "revolution."
Egypt's vote may have served the agenda of the defenders of Egypt's intolerable social order, including the U.S., at least for now. But for the Egyptian people, it will not bring or open up possibilities for any meaningful change. Instead it is but another maneuver to keep the chains of oppression firmly around their necks.
This vote--and the whole 16-month transition leading up to it, including the Egyptian military's June 13-17 assertion of decisive control of the state apparatus right before this latest vote, very clearly showed what elections under the rule of oppressors and U.S.-led democracy are--and are not--about. They demonstrate that elections don't decide state power--state power decides the overall terms and outcome of elections. The dominant classes never put the fundamental nature of society and how it's ruled up for a vote.
Instead, Egypt's rulers worked to use elections to channel peoples' hopes, dreams and activism into political dead-ends and to legitimize--or re-legitimize--the very system that's abused and tormented them. The June 16-17 presidential election was a perfect example: the people were given the "choice" between two outmoded, reactionary oppressors--one an Islamic fundamentalist, the other a representative of the blood-soaked, pro-U.S. Egyptian military--with both part of the current horrific status quo. Emancipation was not on the ballot.
If anything, the last 16 months should teach oppressed people they'll never win liberation through elections--it takes a real revolution, a communist revolution aimed at the emancipation of all humanity to do that--a revolution Egypt has not had and urgently needs. For that to happen, the most crucial task is forging the leadership and organization capable of seizing on the storms ahead and leading such a revolution. (See Bob Avakian, "Egypt 2011: Millions Have Heroically Stood Up... The Future Remains to Be Written," Revolution #224, February 11, 2011)
February 2011...A Hated Dictator Is Forced to Step Down
Life under Mubarak's 30-year U.S.-backed reign was a horror--for Egyptians and the millions across the Middle East who suffered from his regime's role in U.S. and Israeli crimes, interventions, and economic and political dominance. Mubarak's Egypt was a socially oppressive, patriarchal, and highly stratified class society, and a key cog in the U.S. empire. It was an enforcer of U.S. interests in the region, in particular backing and protecting Israel.
While a tiny elite grouped around the military and linked to foreign capital grew powerful and enormously wealthy, four of ten Egyptians lived near or below the poverty line, many families trying to survive on $2 a day. Three of four young Egyptians were unemployed, with half of Cairo's 18 million people living in urban slums or shantytowns without basic services. Worst of all, it seemed Mubarak's grip was unshakable, a nightmare without end. (See, "Interview with Raymond Lotta About Events in Egypt: Geopolitics, Political Economy, and 'No Permanent Necessity,'" Revolution #224, February 11, 2011.)
Then came January 2011. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, millions of Egyptians courageously rose up. Sick of life under Mubarak and inspired by neighboring Tunisia's January uprising, Egyptians took to the streets in a series of massive demonstrations, work stoppages, and clashes with the military that forced Mubarak to step down on February 11. This powerful uprising in the Arab world's bellwether and largest country (with 90 million people) shook the Middle East, pierced the pervasive feeling of despair that the world's autocracies are all-powerful and unchallengeable, and spread the spark of revolt far and wide--including helping inspire the Occupy movement in the U.S.
But there was no Egyptian revolution. When Mubarak resigned, forced out by the gathering upheaval and the urging of the U.S., he formally handed power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)--the same institution from which he had emerged, which formed the core of the Egyptian state and his regime, and which has deep ties with the U.S. Led by U.S.-trained Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the generals pledged their loyalty to the people and the "revolution," and a peaceful transition to democracy and civilian rule. Their American backers hailed Egypt's generals and their pledge as a model for the transition to democratic rule for the entire region. Most ordinary people were swept up in the hope that Mubarak's departure would change everything, that the army would deliver on its promises, and that freedom was at hand. Crowds chanted, "The Army and the people are one hand."
A Complex Clash of Outmoded Forces
Mubarak was gone, but the repressive core of the old, reactionary state--the military, the courts, the judiciary--had never been defeated and dismantled. Instead they remained in power and in place. Yet the generals and their U.S. patrons understood that the regime couldn't simply carry on as before after Egypt was shaken by mass revolt and millions were beginning to awaken to political life. It needed a facelift and the incorporation of other social forces to maintain its legitimacy, stability, and ability to continue to function as a critical U.S. regional ally. The challenge for Egypt's military rulers was how to maintain their control of the essential levers of power, while re-legitimizing the state and harnessing the hopes and energy of the Egyptian people toward that end.
This necessitated opening up Egypt's political space somewhat, including legalizing the Muslim Brotherhood as well as other political forces. (The Egyptian state promoted Islam and relied on it as a legitimizing tool, and encouraged the growth of Islamist forces to undercut the secular left at times, and clamped down on them at others. See Samuel Albert, "Egypt: Will god and the ballot box keep the people enslaved?," A World to Win News Service, June 25.)