A Revolution Is Not a Marketing Campaign

by Joel Beinin | published June 18, 2012 - 5:20pm

A revolution is not a marketing campaign or a digital social network.

In the run-up to the second round of Egypt’s presidential election, the Supreme Constitutional Court validated Ahmad Shafiq’s candidacy for the presidency and ruled that the procedures for choosing the People’s Assembly, the only democratically elected body in post-Mubarak Egypt, were unconstitutional. These rulings signaled that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which gently nudged former president Husni Mubarak out of office on February 11, 2011, was preparing to consolidate its power. The SCAF will continue this effort despite the apparent victory of the Freedom and Justice Party’s Muhammad Mursi in the second round of the presidential election. As they have so many times in the past, the Muslim Brothers are likely to cut a deal with the army for a share of power rather than fight for democratic principles and the common interests of the broad majority of Egyptians.

The amended constitutional declaration issued by the SCAF, without the slightest pretense of democratic process, clarifies that the officer corps intends to maintain its perquisites and status as the ultimate arbiter of power in Egypt, to limit the extent of civilian political power and to undermine any political initiatives from Egypt’s popular classes. The fundamental structure of the military regime and the internal security apparatus -- the “deep state” whose origins and legitimacy (insofar as any remains) are based on the Free Officers’ coup of July 23, 1952 -- remains intact.

When the SCAF removed Mubarak, many Egyptians, including a good number of those who played heroic roles during the 18 days of the occupation of Tahrir Square, imagined that the army was a popular institution and, therefore, that the SCAF would carry out the revolutionary will of the people. They desperately wanted to believe that the simple act of removing Mubarak, his sons and a few of their most visible cronies would constitute a “revolution” and that law and order would be restored quickly, allowing the country to get back to business. Consequently, there were many pleas for “national unity” and for Egyptians to work together for the future economic development of the country. 

Such calls deeply misunderstood the nature of revolution. Revolutions involve broad and deep social upheavals that overturn existing hierarchies of power. No such upheaval has (yet) occurred in Egypt. And from February 11, 2011 to the present the SCAF has done everything in its power to prevent one from occurring.

The SCAF’s Decree 34 of March 2011 criminalized strikes and demonstrations, though this edict has been flouted on an almost daily basis. In the fall of 2011 the SCAF prevented the interim cabinet from enacting a draft law that would have established trade union pluralism and guaranteed workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. Such a law would have dealt a big blow to the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, a pillar of the Mubarak regime. In early 2012 the SCAF prevented the elected parliament from holding ministers accountable and dismissing ministers who had blatantly lied to the people’s elected representatives. The SCAF trafficked in sectarian incitement, just as the Mubarak regime did. And it opened fire on peaceful demonstrators on several occasions in 2011-2012.

Continuing street protests, strike action by workers and the possibilities for a new parliamentary election may give Egypt’s revolutionary forces of all stripes -- leftists, liberals, Islamists -- another chance. To make the most of it, they will need to understand that democracy emerges from a social struggle against constituted power. They will need to find a way to maintain a united front against the remnants of the Mubarak regime while formulating a practical political program that addresses the most pressing needs of the Egyptian people -- good jobs at a living wage, especially for youth, adequate social services supported by sustainable economic development, thorough overhaul of the dysfunctional educational system and substantive, not merely procedural, democracy. In short: “Bread, freedom and social justice.”