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Egyptian Summer of 2013

by John Spritzler

July 6, 2013

As much as I would love to say that events in Egypt recently (the military "ousting" President Morsi, to the cheers of huge numbers of Egyptians demonstrating and calling for his ouster) are an example of the democratic revolution I advocate (in Thinking about Revolution), by the means I envision (soldiers going over to the side of the people's revolutionary movement), I cannot say it; it's just not true.

The power in Egypt remains in the hands of those who want society to be unequal and based on capitalism. The rank and file soldiers, to my knowledge, have not refused orders from the top military generals, but have in fact obeyed those orders. The top military generals are not only the commanders of the military but, somewhat unique to Egypt, are also among the nation's top capitalists, owning key industries not related to military matters, and exploiting the labor of rank and file soldiers among others.

The capitalist class has ruled over the masses in various ways in the past, and has been forced to use some "trial and error" since 2011 to remain in control. A ruling class needs a modicum of legitimacy among a critical mass of the population in order for them--the wealthy few--to control the many--the masses of have-nots.

There are different ways of achieving legitimacy for the few to rule the many. One way is to use politicians who win an election. Another way is to use theocratic (will of God) means to legitimize rule by religious leaders. Another way is to use the "We are the only ones who can establish law and order and safety," which is what some military dictatorships rely upon.

The ruling class in Egypt is trying to find a method that works and is sustainable, and it is having some trouble, because lots of Egyptians are willing and able to express their discontent when they are discontented, and create instability that prevents the status quo from being sustainable.

But however the chips may land, it ain't a democratic revolution unless the people who are opposed to class inequality and opposed to capitalism and opposed to the hierarchical principle (the principle that one must obey the central government) are on top, and are shaping society by the values of equality and mutual aid. I don't see that happening in Egypt, unfortunately.

Being against the Muslim Brotherhood is not the same as being for democratic revolution. Egypt's military leaders are very consciously taking advantage of this fact to leverage popular discontent at the Muslim Brotherhood to support for the military generals and their rule--to enforce inequality and capitalism! At the same time, being against a military dictatorship is not the same thing as being for democratic revolution either: The Muslim Brotherhood is against a military dictatorship but they are equally for inequality and capitalism and obedience to the central government.

There are some people (probably a small number) who are explicitly advocating essentially democratic revolution, and whose writings we have seen recently. I have no doubt that the vast majority of Egyptians are IMPLICITLY for democratic revolution, in the sense that their values as expressed by their personal actions in everyday life are those of democratic revolution.

The implicit support for democratic revolution needs to be made explicit. It is a task that will take time, here and around the world. To make progress in this task, to do things that advance it, requires knowing the difference between this task and what people with very different goals are doing. There are people in Egypt, some with large followings, who have very different goals from democratic revolution: the generals and capitalists and Muslim Brotherhood, of course, but also popular leaders who frame the goal in ways that do not challenge class inequality or capitalism or obedience to a central government. The latter use nationalism and talk about how the central government should represent "all Egyptians," as if a government can represent both the exploiters and the exploited, the ones who want inequality and the ones who don't. They use the language of nationalism and liberal "democracy" and "rule of law" to divert people's attention from the goals of equality and mutual aid and to make people feel they must obey a central government that is pro-capitalist and enforces inequality.

Perhaps a movement that is explicitly for democratic revolution--egalitarianism--will emerge from the events in Egypt. Perhaps it is there already and just not visible to me. I hope so. If and when it is visible to us, we should support it as best we can. But let's not celebrate movements with very different goals, just because a lot of people are involved. The masses in Tahir Square are apparently cheering the generals whom they cursed in 2011. This shows there is a great deal of confusion among the masses, which is being taken advantage of by the elites. We should try to avoid being confused, ourselves, and do what we can to help others not be confused. The key is to keep in mind what our goals are, and to judge others by whether their goals are ours or not.

The most important way for us to support Egyptians who want a democratic revolution is to work for that goal--explicitly--in our own countries.

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