The revolutionary momentum currently making waves in Egypt once again is not primarily a revolt against one man or even one state, but an uprising against conditions which are fast becoming universal features of the current crisis-ridden world economic order: permanent mass unemployment, rampant inflation in the price of basic goods (food and fuel in particular) and merciless attacks on welfare for the poor. Egyptians are through with governments that are prepared to impose such conditions and sacrifice all notions of sovereignty and social justice whilst feathering their own nests in the process. President Morsi has overseen a year in office in which food prices have doubled, and has – at the behest of the IMF – committed himself to ending the fuel subsidies on which millions of the poorest Egyptians depend. He has signed up to a Free Trade Agreement with the EU that will exacerbate unemployment and rural impoverishment and has shown his commitment to imperial interests by flooding the Gaza tunnels with sewage and calling for a ‘no-fly zone’ (code for NATO bombardment) in Syria. In so doing, he has attempted to ensure that the Mubarak strategy of subservience to American, British and Israeli interests is not only maintained, but deepened – at the cost of basic living standards and at a time when the neo-colonial world order is clearly breaking down under the double hammer blows of economic crisis and third world resurgence. This is not a strategy which most Egyptians are any longer willing to tolerate. The millions-strong mobilisations of the past week have shown that they will no longer back leaders who leave economic policy in the hands of Europe and the international banking elite, security in the hands of a savage and torturing police force, and foreign policy in the hands of the US, Britain and Israel.
The revolutionary upsurge that has just forced Morsi from power, however, did not just emerge last week, last year or even in January 2011. It began in 2007 when the biggest strike wave to have hit the African continent for 50 years broke out in the Misr spinning and complex in Mahalla, quickly spreading to most other major industries in the country. This coincided with an unprecedented wave of agrarian unrest against neoliberal policies which were – and still are – devastating the rural population who still constitute the majority of Egyptian society. So taken aback were the Egyptian authorities, that they were forced to put the brakes on the ‘economic reforms’ – code for the decimation of national control and regulation – being pushed by the IMF and the EU, in an attempt to quell the emerging unrest. It did not work, and the growing movement demonstrated its strength by putting 15million onto the streets in January 2011, forcing Mubarak’s removal. The military council that replaced him backtracked on neoliberal diktat even more, reversing some of the liberalisation measures that had been implemented previously, much to the fury of the EU.
President Morsi was supposed to put a lid on this unrest. By adding a veneer of Islamism to the same neo-colonial policies of his predecessor, he was supposed to succeed where others had failed, tapping into the cultural traditions of Egyptian society in order to win ‘legitimacy’ (his favourite word, used 56 times in his last speech) for fundamentally unpopular policies. It didn’t work. The events of this week mark the defeat of neocolonialism’s ‘plan B’ for Egypt.
What plan C will look like is not yet clear. The problem for the Egyptian army council is that to win genuine legitimacy, any future Egyptian government will have to end its collaboration with the blockade of Gaza, stop privileging extortionate interest payments to international bankers on Mubarak-era loans over social spending, and reject the IMF loan conditionalities and EU trade deals that threaten to plunge millions into ever deeper poverty. Indeed, it is precisely these types of demands that were at the forefront of the Tamarod campaign of opposition to Morsi, whose petition garnered a reported 22 million signatures. These moves would be the minimum necessary to win the support of the people, but are precisely what would make the Egyptian government illegitimate in the eyes of its international backers in London and Washington.
The dividing lines, then, are clear. Much as the imperial powers would love to see Egypt implode into a sectarian disaster along the lines pioneered in Iraq and now being spread to Libya and Syria, the dividing line is NOT between Sunni and Shia, or between Islamist and secularist. It is between those who support genuine independence (the prerequisite for any meaningful moves towards social justice or democracy), and those who support continued collaboration with the imperial project to plunder and cripple the region. Long live the Egyptian revolution!
Dan Glazebrook is a political writer and journalist. He writes regularly on international relations and the use of state violence in British domestic and foreign policy.