Egypt: threats and tensions

Egypt’s presidential election of 23/24 May has resulted in no overall winner and threatens the potential advances from the revolt that removed former President Mubarak in February 2011. A run-off between the Muslim Brotherhood, with its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) candidate Muhammud Mursi, and Mubarak’s last Prime Minister, General Ahmad Shafiq, is scheduled for 16/17 June. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has ruled Egypt since Mubarak’s overthrow, has said it will hand over power to the newly elected President by the end of June. If Shafiq is the President it will effectively retain power – he is their candidate.

Shafiq is an outright counter-revolutionary, backed by sections of the military with substantial economic holdings. The SCAF-led state mobilised funds and its administrative machinery to get Shafiq elected. As we go to press he got 23.7% of the vote to Mursi’s 25.3%. Shafiq’s campaign spending far exceeded those of his rivals. The Muslim Brotherhood’s vote was down by 40% on the winter’s parliamentary election, when it gained nearly half of the seats. Aboul Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood member and student leader, jailed under Mubarak, gained 17.9% of the votes and Hamdeen Sabahi, Egypt’s leading adherent of Nasserist ideas, received 21.6%. Overall turnout was 43.4%, down nearly 20% on the parliamentary elections.

Fotouh and Sabahi are closest to the youth and workers who made the revolt and if their supporters switch allegiance to Mursi he should win comfortably. However, they may be loath to do so. The Muslim Brotherhood distanced itself from the revolutionaries and sought to compromise with the SCAF.

In fifth place with 11% of the votes was Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister and head of the Arab League. Moussa joined the Tahrir protests just before Mubarak was toppled and has had US and European advisers for his campaign. Moussa was the only candidate seen by US Senator John Kerry on his recent visit to Egypt. His supporters are likely to vote for Shafiq in June.

The SCAF’s priorities are to preserve its economic ownership, up to 30% of the economy, retain immunity from prosecution, maintain its special status in the constitution, control its own budget and have veto powers on strategic issues, including war and peace. Reports indicate that army recruits, police officers and state employees were instructed to vote for Shafiq, and Mubarak’s banned National Democratic Party and its millionaire backers paid to ensure votes went to him. Shafiq presented himself as a strong man able to protect the Christian population from the ‘Islamists’ and as standing for ‘security and prosperity’.

The Muslim Brotherhood/FJP supports the market economy and its delegates have met representatives from many countries and multinational companies. France has offered it guidance on judicial reform, Britain on restructuring the security services and South Africa on transitional justice. To beat Shafiq and the entrenched interests he represents, the Muslim Brotherhood will have to reach out to the people who made the revolt and to Fotouh and Sabahi and their supporters and include them in any future government. This would be seen as a real threat by the SCAF. The coming weeks will be tense in Cairo and across Egypt.

The youth and workers that overthrew Mubarak are not yet organised sufficiently to win this election. Strikes and protests continue across Egypt. A quarter of Egypt’s 85 million people live in shanty towns. Youth under 30 constitute 60% of the population and 85% of the unemployed. New unions now claim over two million members. The main political contenders do not have the political or economic programme to meet the people’s demands. The struggle over the Presidential election may be one step along the way to that programme emerging.

Trevor Rayne

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012