Friday, 6 July 2012

Egypt: Brotherhood claim presidential win amid big street protests

This was orginally published in Green Left Weekly here, going to print on June 24 shortly before Morsi's victory was announced. Stay posted for another update on his swearing in, the Brotherhood's withdrawal from Tahrir, and the military's advances.

[Although official results are yet to be announced, it seems] Muhammad Morsi, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (MB) candidate, has won the second round of Egypt's presidential elections, held on June 16-17.

However, his opponent, ex-regime candidate Ahmed Shafik, also declared victory on election night, claiming there was no way Morsi had secured the million-vote lead their camp claimed.

Election Contest

In the lead-up to the second round of voting, several prominent left forces, including the Revolutionary Socialists and the April 6 Youth Movement, declared their support for Morsi's campaign.

In a statement on May 28, the Revolutionary Socialists described Shafiq as the "face of the counter-revolution", and without a candidate standing for the Tahrir revolution, called for all supporters of the January 25 revolution to unite behind Morsi.

The statement attributed Shafiq's success to "the smear campaigns, systematic repression and intimidation of the social and popular forces "

An independant election monitor supported by Middle East Voices substantiated Morsi's claim of  leading with around 51.8% of the vote. (the final count was 51.7% Morsi)

Much of the attention from the elections, however, was taken up with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF)'s maneuvers to limit the power of the winner.

Military Declares Power

After the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruled on June 14 that the Parliamentary Election Law regulating the 2011 elections was unconstitutional, the SCAF issued a decree dissolving the Islamist-majority parliament on June 17, shortly after the presidential polls had closed.

The day before the ruling, the Justice Ministry had also decreed that military police and intelligence officers could arrest civilians, continuing the legacy of the state of emergency, which legally ended at the start of June.

Al Jazeera English quoted Mohamed Beltagy, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, as describing the decree as a "military coup" which had not been discussed in Parliament.

On June 17, Ahram Online reported Saad El-Katatni, speaker of the Parliament, as having told the SCAF he would continue to convene the body despite its dissolution.

The SCAF has also issued a "supplementary constitutional declaration" seizing many Presidential powers for the council itself.

Armed forces were deployed in great numbers across Egypt ahead of the announcement of official results – originally scheduled for June 21.

Amr Ahmed, from the Egyptian Socialist Party, told Green Left Weekly: "There are four main points to the declaration.

Firstly, that the SCAF are the only ones responsible for everything relating to the military, the appointment of leadership, and [Field Marshall] Tantawi is to hold the power of Commander in Chief and Secretary of Defence

Second, that the SCAF must approve any declaration of a state of war.

Thirdly, the SCAF will hold the authority of Parliament until a new one can be elected.

Fourth, the SCAF will control the body to draft a new constitution within 3 months, to be approved by a referendum after that.

So at present you can see the SCAF will remain in the scene regardless of who is the president.... they will be like a marionette in the hands of the military."


The US government has signalled concerns with the situation. Hilary Clinton responded to the declarations with a statement on June 14 calling for the military authorities to "fully transfer power to a democratically elected civilian government as planned", reported Ahram Online.

However, the role of the US has been far from helpful to the transition to democratic rule in Egypt. In fact, in March Clinton waived the requirement  for certification of basic human rights conditions in the country before the United States' $1.3 US billion of aid to Egypt could be released, reported the New York Times on March 26.

The Guardian reported that Egypt's benchmark index dropped 1.9% in the early hours of Monday morning, on the back of the expected win of Morsi and the military maneuvers.

Initial protests at the dissolution of parliament drew thousands to the street on June 15. Then on June 18, a joint statement was issued by a variety of left forces to "Announce [the signatories'] complete rejection of the Supplementary Constitutional Declaration."

The statement called for the president-elect to reject the Supplementary Declaration, cancel exceptional measures issued by the SCAF and refuse to take the oath of office before the SCC. (ed: Morsi did take the oath before the SCC, which I write about in my following article)

The statement called for a protest in Tahrir Square on Tuesday June 19; tens of thousands responded, rallying through the night.

The Muslim Brotherhood called for its supporters to join the protests throughout the week, launching its own vigils in public squares throughout the country against the "coup".

Ahmed told Green Left Weekly: "What's happening now has nothing to do with the goals of the revolution or the people, but is part of the ongoing conflict between the SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood for power and influence in the state."

Where to for the Revolution?

Since the first-round elections, when all candidates reflecting the demands of the revolution were defeated, Egypt's revolutionary camp has been split on how to approach the electoral processes and the political sphere.

One important chapter for breaking people's illusions in the Muslim Brotherhood is the question of sexism and sexual harrassment, which was brought to the fore in December when footage of a female protester being beaten and stripped half-naked in Tahrir by soldiers spread online.

Ahmed said: "On this issue there is no conflict between the SCAF and the MB. The Brotherhood said that it was the fault of the protester for being in Tahrir Square that this happened to her."

"The illusion of fundamental differences between the MB and the SCAF will become more and more apparent over time."

Where to for Tahrir?

The "leaderless" approach of the Tahrir revolutionaries, uniting around basic demands for democratic and economic reforms, has been a factor in the lack of significant wins in the political sphere for the demands of the revolution beyond the winning of electoral process and the trial of Mubarak.

"We have pushed to take some advancements and achievements, but they have all been taken up by the Brotherhood", Ahmed told GLW.

"We need to create a third power, an organisation of the revolution, to represent its agenda & goals, and lead people towards the revolution's milestones."

"The Egyptian Socialist Party is seeking to create this third political force with other figures on the left – such as Sabahy and El Baradei – that can represent the revolution."

Writing on her blog Tahrir & Beyond on June 17, Gigi Ibrahim, a leading member of Egypt's Revolutionary Socialists, declared: "the revolution has no machine, no organised group, no political party sufficient enough to adopt the revolution's goals and capable of fighting the two most organised and biggest threatening machines to the revolution, the NDP (Mubarak's party) and MB, and the SCAF"

Throughout the struggles around the elections, the workers' movement has continued to push for economic & political reforms in workplaces across Egypt.

Public Transport workers in Cairo went on strike for two weeks in March, demanding the removal of corrupt Mubarak-era officials as well as a bonus equal to 100 weeks pay.

On March 27 they went back to work, winning their demands for improved pay and conditions.

The strong showing of Hamdeen Sabahy, who put forward a Nasserist platform of expanding subsidies and state investment, and polled a close third behind Shafik in the first round of the presidential elections, shows that the prospects for building on the demands of workers and democracy activists in the political sphere are good.

The question is – will they find the vehicle to exercise their own power? Or will the mauevering between the SCAF & MB stagnate the January 25 revolution?

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