Egypt Mursi: Showing his true colours

The SWP's decision to call for a Muslim Brotherhood vote in Egypt is coming back to haunt them, writes Peter Manson

The huge mistake of the Socialist Workers Party in urging a vote for Mohammed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in the second round of the Egyptian presidential election has been clearly exposed by the events of the last week.

On November 27 around 200,000 demonstrators poured into Tahrir Square in Cairo. They were, of course, protesting against Mursi’s assumption of sweeping new powers on November 22. He is now free to take any measures he says are necessary to “protect the revolution”. He has decreed that no presidential decision can be challenged by the courts until a new constitution is established. The same applies to the constitutional assembly, dominated by Islamists, which will be free to write in as many reactionary religious clauses as it chooses.

This has enraged thousands who voted for Mursi in the June 16-17 second round of the election. They say he is Egypt’s “new pharaoh”, who has carried out a “constitutional coup” and “betrayed the revolution”. Although for a time he seemed to be ready to retreat in face of the mass protests, stating that he would only employ his new powers in relation to “matters of sovereignty”, in reality he has not renounced any of them.

Mursi has implied that the protestors are paid supporters of the old regime - a ridiculous charge. While the backers of former president Hosni Mubarak continue to condemn his Muslim Brotherhood successor, they would certainly not be shouting slogans accusing Mursi of ‘betraying’ the movement they opposed - the movement which toppled Mubarak in February 2011. In fact the demonstrators seem to be a mixture of religious and secular, including leftwing, opponents of Mursi. Many of them would have voted for Hamdeen Sabbahi, the leftwing Nasserite and opponent of Mubarak who finished third in the May 23-24 first round of the presidential elections - not Ahmad Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister and effectively the candidate of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. It is likely that in the second round most of the demonstrators would either have voted for Mursi or boycotted the ballot, along with thousands of others who could not stomach choosing between two anti-democratic reactionaries.

The SWP’s co-thinkers in Egypt, the Revolutionary Socialists, report that people whom they call feloul - supporters of the Mubarak regime - tried to join some of the demonstrations that have been reported in Cairo, Port Said, Suez and Alexandria. In the capital “We drove them out of the square”, claims Hatem Tallima of the RS (Socialist Worker December 1).

Mursi, of course, was riding on a wave of national, regional and western acclaim after he helped broker a ceasefire in Gaza. And he has definitely gone up in imperialism’s estimation - he has now been confirmed as someone you can do business with.

According to Jane Kinnimont of Chatham House, a “world-leading source” for “independent thinking on foreign affairs”, western governments have been “pleasantly surprised” by the Muslim Brotherhood: “… the first impressions of many westerners is that the articulate, suited and often US-educated businessmen they meet are easier to talk to than many expected. This honeymoon has been largely sweetened by the discovery that the leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood seem largely centre-right on the economy” (The Daily Telegraph November 23).

On last week’s presidential decree, Kinnimont says: “The timing will convince his critics that he has had a US green light to take on more power in return for brokering the ceasefire.” For its part, the International Monetary Fund has implied that Mursi’s “constitutional coup” will “have no bearing” on the approval of a pending $4.8 billion IMF loan to Egypt.

The views of the imperialists can hardly be ignored by revolutionaries. If it is true that the US gave Mursi the “green light”, then that ought to mark him out as an opponent of “the revolution” just like Mubarak. So it is gratifying that the Revolutionary Socialists’ November 23 statement on the new situation correctly describes the MB and supporters of the fallen regime as “two sides of the same coin”. They both represent “tyranny and enmity towards the people”.

In relation to Mursi, the statement declares: “… you and your organisation are the real threat to the revolution, as you embrace Mubarak’s businessmen, run panting after loans from the IMF, trade in religion, threaten national unity and sell the revolution.” But “we will not accept remnants of the old regime returning to the revolutionary scene under the pretext that ‘we are all against the Brotherhood’. We will not work with anyone who worked hand in glove with the deposed dictator. We call on our comrades in the revolutionary march to step back from this game of shuffling the decks of cards” (www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=30081).

Unfortunately the idea that the MB and the old regime are “two sides of the same coin” was not quite the position the comrades adopted before the presidential second round. In a statement published in Socialist Worker the RS talked only of its “opposition on principle” to “the candidate of the Military Council, the dissolved National Democratic Party and the forces of the counterrevolution, Ahmad Shafiq”.

Without specifically urging a Mursi vote, it declared: “We therefore call on all the reformist and revolutionary forces and the remainder of the revolutionary candidates to form a national front which stands against the candidate of counterrevolution”. It noted the “magnitude of the error in failure to discriminate between the reformism of the Muslim Brotherhood and the ‘fascism’ of Shafiq” and pledged to “join in the widest possible struggle among the masses of our people against the candidate of the old regime” (Socialist Worker May 28).

Worse, instead of rejecting lesser evilism, and joining a clear majority in a ‘pox on both sides’ boycott, the RS pleaded for Mursi and MB to declare themselves in favour of a “national front” government, which would include representatives from “across the whole political spectrum”. In other words, a grand coalition uniting all classes, all interests, all parties - excepting only the “fascists” of the “old regime”.

Speaking at the SWP’s Marxism school earlier this year, RS leader Hossam al-Hamalawy did not explain why his organisation did no more than imply that Egyptian workers should vote for the MB candidate. In fact he did not mention the RS position at all. But he was not so reticent on the “reactionary” nature of the MB leadership (seemingly in contradiction to RS talk of MB “reformism” just two months earlier).

The truth is that the RS, which is not actually affiliated to the SWP’s International Socialist Tendency, had been divided over its position on the election between, on the one side, those who were for the current “two sides of the same coin” line and, on the other, those who were prepared to vote for the so-called ‘lesser evil’.

For the SWP itself, however, the choice had been immediately “clear”: “A vote for Mursi is a vote against the legacy of Mubarak and for continuing change in Egypt. Now it is time to put Mursi to the test - and to continue struggles over jobs, wages, union rights and for radical political change” (Socialist Worker June 2). In justification, Mursi was presented as a vacillating reformer, a reed willing to bend before mass pressure. By contrast, to vote for Ahmed Safiq would be a vote to finally snuff out the revolution.

While the SWP continues to give space to its Egyptian comrades, it has clearly not yet renounced its identification of the MB as a (perhaps reluctant) contingent of “the revolution”. The latest Socialist Worker contends: “In fact, the show of strength by the revolutionary movement in the streets suggests that the Muslim Brotherhood remains under immense pressure from below” (December 1). Implying that Egyptians had been correct to vote for Mursi, and not for “a president cloned from the dictator they overthrew last year” (June 2).

In contrast to this, the Weekly Worker had from the start upheld the independent interests of Egyptian workers. We declared our opposition to “any form of political rule that denies us the light and air we need to turn the situation to our advantage. The … second-round Hobson’s choice … lines up two prospective presidents who can both be expected to impose draconian rule, if allowed to get their way. Heads I win, tails you lose” (Weekly Worker June 7).