Military Coup in Egypt

It is always difficult for socialists in one part of the world to pronounce on events thousands of miles away – at least without a certain degree of hubris and a certain risk of making oneself ridiculous. This applies perhaps in particular for those countries where the political forms and institutions, immediately apparent to outsiders, do not actually reveal much about the internal political and economic stucture: one can think here of Turkey, Pakistan, and the like. In a sense, it can perhaps be said that generally poor countries are effectively more divided than rich ones. This should come as no surprise given the desperation of poverty, the strength of religious divisions in such places, and the nature of class conflict. Sometimes these divisions are relatively clear and transparent to the outside, but often they are not, and even when properly understood reveal nothing much more than the many contradictions that keep such countries in a social and economic trap of poverty and violence. Egypt seems to fit the latter mold.

Nonetheless, I think it can be useful and justified for Western commentators to speak about events there, even if they know neither the country nor the language very well. There are several reasons for this. The first is owing to the political conclusions drawn by the various progressive forces in the West from events abroad, which makes the struggle over how to interpret these events also a struggle over the political outlook locally. Such arguments by proxy are, as I have argued before, often inherently questionable and misleading, but they are frequent. Secondly, the internationalist and cosmopolitan viewpoint that the current age demands and solidarity with people abroad requires a lively interest in their affairs, including in assessing the successes and mistakes of the progressive movements and parties of the places in question – but without thereby implying that some recipe for success exists in this or that office in London or Chicago. Such certainties are exactly the domain of the world improving free traders in the international economic organizations, and their all-knowing charity has done immeasurable harm. Rather, our perspective should be to see what the events and politics abroad look like to us, and what we can learn from them rather than to telling people far away what to do. But of course any intellectual independence also requires the courage to identify and comment on a mistake when one sees one, even if it is just to unleash a discussion on strategy. Due to its relation to ongoing events, such a strategic discussion can be infinitely more fruitful than overly abstract and general chatter about ‘workers’ parties’, ‘united fronts’ and so forth. But this, too, requires to obtain as much knowledge as possible for an outsider about the place in question, and a critical sifting of the writings and actions of the people on the ground. Continue reading “Military Coup in Egypt”

What Can We Expect in Egypt?

The Egyptian Parliament has just convened, recently elected by a partly proportional and partly district-based system in the first more or less meaningful elections in recent Egyptian history. Confirming the worries I laid out in earlier articles on developments in Egypt, the socialist and liberal parties performed according to their narrow, largely urban working and middle class bases (respectively); the great victory went to the Muslim Brotherhood and to Al-Nour, the more explicitly religious reactionary party. Now the first thing is to dismiss any attempts by Western commentators to condescend toward the Egyptians, to state the results as evidence that Arabs don’t know what is good for them, that pro-Western dictators are better than votes, and so forth. This kind of chauvinistic laziness only serves the interests of the thieving and warmongering cliques around the so-called ‘secular dictators’ in the Arab world, and the interests of the Western governments who supply them with money and arms. Continue reading “What Can We Expect in Egypt?”

Whither Egypt?

President Mubarak’s non-resignation this evening expresses such a fundamental contempt for the Egyptian people that it is difficult to believe his regime will be able to exist one week hence. With the pompous and grandiloquent style of any puffed up petty tyrant, he waxed lyrical about practically every patriotic subject he could think of but offered absolutely nothing to the revolutionaries other than the mere possibility of formal Constitutional changes, which would change the procedure for his succession and which may or may not get rid of the emergency law which has held the country in his grip for decades. The shift of real power from Mubarak to Omar Suleiman is, if possible, even a retrograde step: Suleiman was head of the main intelligence agency (the Mukhabarat), and although the average Egyptian has had less to do with this than with the corrupt and brutal police force, it is still hardly a beloved state institution. Moreover, Suleiman in this role has been consistently the go-to man for the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies in their many manipulative attempts at controlling Egypt as the lever for the Middle East and Israel in particular. There is no reason to believe that Suleiman has any more interest in the progress of Egypt, even just towards a liberal democracy, than Mubarak did, and his appointment seems to have been mainly calculated to appease the military leadership, beneficiaries of American largesse. This move then is a cynical attempt at placating the West in their strategic interests and the army within Egypt, while leaving as little as possible transformed. The Egyptian people will not accept this. Continue reading “Whither Egypt?”

Revolt in Egypt

The Egyptian tyrant Hosni Mubarak, after having ruled for thirty years under the emergency laws called into effect after the assassination of Anwar Sadat, has been confronted with the largest demonstrations against his regime since the ‘bread riots’ in the 1970s. His infantile tinpot tyranny has given the Egyptian people nothing whatsoever in thirty years of rule: one-third of the population is illiterate, a quarter lives on less than $2 a day, there are virtually no political institutions that can represent the popular will and needs, and the Third World ‘population trap’ is present in one of its worst forms in that country. Mubarak has now declared around midnight local time in Cairo that he has fired his government, many of whose ministers had been ‘serving’ for more than ten years; although this is a blatant attempt at sacrificing those around him in order to buy himself time and legitimacy, this seems if anything rather a sign of weakness. The inspiration from the people of Tunisia in their overthrow of the useless kleptocracy of Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali will certainly have played a major role, but so has the persistent economic failure of the government, the lack of development, and the worsening of poverty under the current crisis and the attendant rise in food prices. Continue reading “Revolt in Egypt”