From the International Report delivered to the CPGB-ML’s central committee on 4 March.
The ruling military council in Egypt has come under renewed pressure from intensified mass demonstrations calling for all power immediately to be vested in parliament following incidents at a football match in Port Said at the beginning of February.
In Egypt, football supporters clubs, known as the ‘ultras’, have been an important factor in the anti-government protests that brought down the Mubarak regime. They are known for their anti-government chants and formation marching. It is thought that at the Port Said match the police and military deliberately failed to implement routine weapons searches and subsequently stood aside to allow thugs posing as Port Said supporters to attack ultras in the crowd who had travelled from Cairo for the match. Seventy-one people were killed.
Meanwhile, the military government has ordered the arrest of no fewer than 19 persons working for foreign NGOs said to be carrying out illegal activity in Egypt, namely, conducting research with a view to sending information to the US and supporting candidates in Egyptian elections whose function would be to represent foreign interests. Eleven of those to be arrested are US citizens.
Personnel from 44 NGOs have been targeted, including the National Democratic Institution, Freedom House, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and others who were raided by the authorities in late December. In fact, according to the New York Times, “American pro-democracy groups were founded in the 1980s in part to take the place of what had been decades of covert Central Intelligence Agency involvement in the political affairs of other countries.” (‘Charges against US-aided groups come with history of distrust in Egypt’ by Scott Shane and Ron Nixon, 6 February 2012)
None of the US citizens concerned were actually taken into custody but several were holed up in the US embassy in the expectation that they would be arrested if they stepped outside. Meanwhile, as a result of the threatened arrests, the US was having to contemplate whether to suspend its military aid to Egypt, which amounts to $1.3bn annually – but if it did that it would have no hold over the country to force it to maintain its de facto truce with Israel.
However, this embarrassing impasse has now been avoided by an Egyptian court releasing 11 US citizens on bail (totalling $4m), thus enabling them to skip the country, which they have done. It is not thought that the US government will be amenable to any request for extradition for the persons concerned to face trial.
From the International Report delivered to the CPGB-ML’s central committee on 4 February
Relations between Egypt’s ruling military government and the US remain fraught, as the government has barred six US ‘human rights’ workers from leaving the country. To avoid arrest, at least three of them have taken refuge in Cairo’s US embassy, while the US threatens to withhold its $1.3bn annual military aid to Egypt unless the government stands down on its objection to so-called ‘pro-democracy’ groups from abroad operating in the country.
In the meantime, the severe economic difficulties that lay behind the Arab spring uprising have continued to worsen. Unemployment stands at at least 15 percent, (but much higher among the young), half as high again as it was when the uprising started. Tourism has declined 30 percent and construction work has come to a standstill.
To avoid a devaluation of the Egyptian pound that would send food prices spiralling upwards, the Egyptian government has been spending $2bn a month in a losing battle to prop it up. According to the New York Times, foreign currency reserves have, as a result, fallen to about $10bn, from about $36bn before the revolt. Clearly this is unsustainable. (See ‘Economic crisis adds dangers on Egypt’s new political path’ by David D Kirkpatrick and Mayy El Sheikh, 24 January 2012)
Nor is the government able to raise money from Egypt’s banks to finance its expenditure, even at an interest rate of 16 percent, because the banks are fearful that the state will be unable to repay them. Another drain on its resources are energy subsidies, which cost it $15bn a year (one-fifth of all government spending), but the government cannot afford to reduce the subsidy as to do so would infuriate the Egyptian population still further.
In the circumstances, the Egyptian government has had to go back cap in hand to the IMF to ask for a $3.2bn loan – after having refused an offer of aid of $3bn only last June because it would have excessively compromised Egyptian sovereignty. In the meantime, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party controls over half the seats in Egypt’s new parliament, has pronounced itself in favour of IMF borrowing, free markets and abolishing subsidies.
With regard to relations with the IMF, the New York Times pointed out that the Muslim Brotherhood’s position was a “stunning reversal after eight decades of denouncing western colonialism and Arab dependency”. The crisis is making many such organisations reveal their true colours, which can only advance the understanding of the masses.
From the International Report delivered to the CPGB-ML’s central committee on 3 December
Tahrir Square is once more open for business – the business of overthrowing dictatorships, that is.
Throughout most of November, after the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) proposed to guarantee the military budget against any scrutiny, while also giving itself the power to veto the new constitution due to be finalised next year, hundreds of thousands of people returned to Tahrir Square, erected tents and vowed to stay there until power was definitively handed over to a civilian government, for, as David Blair so graphically expressed it, “the central paradox remains: everything has changed in Egypt, except the country’s rulers”. (‘Will Egypt’s generals listen to Cairo protesters now?’, Telegraph, 22 November 2011)
The response of the authorities to these protests has been brutal. At least 41 unarmed protesters have been murdered in cold blood, with over 2,000 injured (eg, losing their eyes to rubber bullets). In one case the police have been seen dragging the dead body of a protester to a rubbish heap.
Far from intimidating, such brutality has only served to fan the flames of revolutionary fervour. The protesters are more determined than ever to save their revolution, to safeguard the honour of the Egyptian masses and get rid of the present continuers of the Mubarak regime.
They have succeeded in securing the resignation of the entire civilian cabinet, including Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, only to see the military replace him with the 78-year-old former Mubarak lieutenant and tool of the military council Kamal el-Ganzouri.
In the meantime, Egypt has held its first post-Mubarak elections and it would appear that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has emerged as the largest party. Banned under Mubarak, they are not about to defer when in power to those who were only yesterday responsible for suppressing them.
However, the Muslim Brotherhood has indicated willingness to uphold the undertakings made by Anwar Sadat to US imperialism under the Camp David accords, which includes safeguards for Israel.
If that is indeed the case, then US imperialism is as happy for the Muslim Brotherhood to run Egypt on its behalf as it previously was for the generals to do so. The only difficulty is that popular public opinion in Egypt is thoroughly opposed to the Camp David accords, and if free and fair elections are going to predominate in Egypt, all political parties hoping to get themselves elected are sooner or later going to have to make concessions to that public opinion.
The US government’s current tactic, however, is to call on the Egyptian military to hand over at the earliest to a civil administration, in an apparent show of support for the protesters. Its motivation, however, is simply to retain control of the situation.
Helen Cooper of the New York Times has correctly noted: “The Obama administration appears now to be openly hedging its bets, trying to position the United States in such a way that regardless of who comes out on top — the army or the protesters — it will still maintain some credibility, and ability, to influence the government and ensure a level of stability in Egypt, and to continue to uphold the Egyptian-Israeli peace deal, which the United States views as central to stability in the region as a whole.” (‘For US, risks in pressing Egypt to speed civilian rule’, 26 November 2011)
From the International Report delivered to the CPGB-ML’s central committee on 5 November
The Egyptian caretaker government is rapidly exposing itself as a true successor to Hosni Mubarak, determined to maintain itself in power by fair means or by foul – with circumstances demanding mainly the latter.
The Egyptian army was mobilised to mount violent attacks on Coptic christians as they protested at the main television building in central Cairo on 9 October. Their protest was in response to the torching of a newly-rebuilt church in the village of Marinab (Aswan) incited by a local fanatic preacher.
The protest was not only about the attacks on christians, however, but against the military government itself. The most common refrain of the protesters was “The people want to bring down the field marshal,” ie, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who has effectively stepped into Mubarak’s shoes. There were also chants of “Muslims and christians are one hand”.
The army assault resulted in 24 people dead and over 200 injured. While gangs of Islamist thugs roamed the streets looking to set upon any unarmed and defenceless christian, there were plenty of muslims who, seeing the unwarranted attack, joined the christian demonstrators in fighting back against the army.
Egyptian television, in the meantime, was fanning the flames by urging citizens to go to the defence of the army, as though it had been the Copts who had been responsible for the attack!
A few days later the army announced that it plans to remain in control of government even after the parliamentary elections that will be taking place on 28 November, with parliament playing a subordinate role, as it did under Mubarak, until a new presidential election in 2013. The only way it might get away with such an unpopular decision is if it manages to divide the Egyptian people against each other – hence the attempts to incite religious violence.