Egypt: Pharaoh’s Plebiscite and the Left.
Egypt is, as they say, in turmoil.
The BBC’s latest report,
Protests by the president’s supporters have prevented Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court from meeting in Cairo for a key ruling on a draft constitution, state media say.
Hundreds of protesters are trying to block any attempt to dissolve the panel that passed the draft.
President Mohammed Morsi has tried to bypass the court by assuming new powers and speeding through the draft.
His opponents say the document undermines basic freedoms.
On Saturday, Mr Morsi called a referendum on the draft constitution for 15 December.
Why exactly do they say this?
To begin with organising a referendum in two weeks time means that it will be a classic plebiscite. People will be asked for their loyalty, not for any reasoned position on the constitution.
Next, the constitution has strongly anti-democratic elements.
It is worth citing this in detail (from Al-Jazeera
“The draft constitution no longer includes article 68, which ensured equality of the sexes provided “this does not conflict with the rulings of sharia.”
That provision was fiercly opposed by women’s rights groups, which argued it would give men unequal advantages on personal status issues.
But the draft also includes article 219, which declares the principles of sharia to be the “fundamental rules of jurisprudence”.
It also removed language prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender, and it includes article 10, which stipulates that the state “shall provide free maternal and child care services, and maintain a balance between a woman’s obligations toward the family and public work”.
“The state’s role should be confined to ensuring equality and non-discrimination, without interfering with a woman’s choices about her life, family and profession,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
Freedom of religion and speech
The draft, as expected, maintains article 2 from the 1971 constitution, which declares Islam the state religion and “the principles of Islamic sharia” to be the “principal source of legislation”. (Note by TC:reference to the Sharia exists in the present constiution).
Liberals are willing to accept this formulation, because there are no fixed “principles” of Islamic law. Some Islamists, particularly members of salafi parties, had pushed for a stricter application of Islamic law.
Article 11 provides that the state “shall protect ethics and morality and public order,” broad language which rights groups say could allow the government to impose a religiously-inspired version of “morality”.
Article 43 provides for freedom of religion, but only for the “heavenly religions”: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. This limitation could preserve discrimination against minority groups, like the Baha’i, who have long been treated as second-class citizens in Egypt. (They were unable even to obtain identity cards until 2009).
The constitution provides for the freedom of expression, but it also includes article 31, which bars “personal insults”; it is unclear how the two articles will be reconciled. Article 44 prohibits insulting prophets – blasphemy, in other words.”
The Revolutionary Socialists, a small group with close links with the British SWP, issued this statement (extracts) on November the 22nd on Moris’s coup.
TODAY, ALL the masks fell from Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood organization, who trade in revolution, and for whom the revolution is nothing but a means to reach the seat of power. They and the remnants of the old regime are two sides of the same coin, which represents tyranny and enmity toward the people.
WE SAY to Morsi: you and your organization 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 out the revolution.
But what was the position of their co-thinkers, the SWP, on Morsi’s election?
“A vote for Mursi is a vote against the legacy of Mubarak and for continuing change.
Revolutionary activists will not enjoy voting for Mursi.
If they do not do so, however, they are likely to experience the real nightmare scenario—a president cloned from the dictator they overthrew last year
“Egyptians will be better off with Mursi as president and an unstable Brotherhood in
parliament than with Shafiq in office. Shafiq is backed by generals who wish to bring the revolution to an abrupt end.
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 2nd June.
Those from the same political tradition (though presently estranged) have concentrated on these ‘struggles’ – largely to the exclusion of those for democratic rights
As the Arab Revolution has evolved Counterfire leaders, John Rees and Joseph Daher, have confined themselves to windy generalisations,
The behaviour of the new ‘post-revolution’ authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, assisted by Western imperialism, is reminiscent of the approach of Tancredi, nephew of the aristocratic Prince of Salina, in Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel ‘The Leopard’. When asked by the Prince why he is intending to fight with Garibaldi’s revolution against his own class, Trancredi answers ‘If we want everything to remain the same, everything must change’.
Western imperialism and the new regimes must give the illusion of change for things to remain the same. The movements in Egypt and elsewhere created a revolutionary process with the power to overthrow the system, not merely to gain reforms. They must struggle for a permanent revolution to achieve far-reaching social and economic change.
We have yet to hear from Counterfire on the latest developments.
But SWP, like the wind, changed.
“the show of strength by the revolutionary movement in the streets suggests that the Muslim Brotherhood remains under immense pressure from below.
Unlike Ayatollah Khomeini, who came to the head of and then crushed the revolution in Iran, Mursi’s attempts to claim revolutionary legitimacy have so far backfired.
The Egyptian economy is in crisis. Mursi wants to attack peoples’ living standards, not raise them. The mass of ordinary Egyptians want the revolution to fulfil their aspirations for a better life.
Around 1,000 strikes greeted the Brotherhood’s government in its first two months in office—many organised by people who had supported Mursi.
This is the greatest source of tension between the Brotherhood and its mass base of poor and working class voters and supporters. Linking the fight for social justice with the struggle for democracy can guard against the return of the old regime.” Socialist Worker. 1st December
We offered an extended critique of the SWP and Counterfire position in Arab Spring, Islamist Winter (December 2011). The argument for work with a modernising democratic left, and independent trade unionists, including constitutional liberals, is one accepted by many on the European left. We do not consider issues like women’s rights, freedom from religious rule, and other social liberties to be ‘secondary’. They involve key rights which the Islamists’ aim of creating the ‘rule of god’ threaten.
There is little doubt that a long period of collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood’s British antennae, notably what was known as the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB)_, has inclined them to a certain degree of sympathy for the Islamist reactionaries. Such rights became less and less important for the SWP, the StWC and Counterfire as they imagined they had become players through their alliance with the Islamists.
Leaving aside the contemptible Respect ‘coalition’ some of these positions remain.
Some of the British left continue to indulge fantasies about the ‘progressive’ of ‘anti-imperialist’ Islamism. They are after all (hardly a surprise for a body with deep hatred for ‘Jews’) against Israel.
We have expressed a very different judgement of the Moslem Brotherhood that, “The modernised, Constitutional Islamism they represent is not fundamentally democratic, it is bounded by the limits of the Divine Message. (Here).
In an excellent article Peter Mason in the latest Weekly Worker notes,
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 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).”