Egypt: the Lost Transition and the Libertarian Alternatives

Posted on Updated on

by Yasser Abdullah *

Introduction [ZACF]

Egypt: the Lost Transition and the Libertarian AlternativesBeginning in December 2010, a series of uprisings in Arab countries brought hope to workers and the poor – not only in the Middle East but throughout the world. Dictators have been toppled in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and struggles continue throughout the region.

For anarchists the question has always been: will the struggles stop with overthrowing dictators, an important victory but one that cannot end oppression? Or will it go further? Can a mass movement continue the struggle until imperialism, exploitation, capitalism and the state itself are finally destroyed?

In the Arab countries and elsewhere, the ruling class – the capitalists, the officials of national governments and imperial powers, the generals, and their propagandists in the mainstream media – have hoped to maintain “order”, to hold elections that will at most offer a little more freedom and a change of faces at the top, while keeping the core structures of hierarchy intact.

In this article, an Egyptian anarchist explains how not only the ruling class but even “leftist” parties have joined in this attempt to keep the military and capitalist bosses in control – and at the same time how this trickery is being exposed, and how a libertarian working class movement is emerging to continue the struggle.

The situation has changed since this article was written, as a new wave of protests against the Muslim Brotherhood and the SCAF has broken out. Although Morsi has offered concessions, the protests continue with chants of “leave means go! Morsi doesn’t get it”, and there are unconfirmed reports of the formation of revolutionary councils in Mahalla, north of Cairo, and a few other Egyptian cities.

*   *   *   *   *

Right after the announcement of the first round of presidential elections in Egypt, it became clear that the choice was between two old authoritarian persons: Ahmed Shafik, a retired general, the last prime minister under fallen dictator Hosni Mubarak; and Mohammed Morsi, the chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Freedom and Justice” party. Many foreign commentators, and some local ones too, started to talk about a “lost transition” in Egypt; i.e. international crisis group published an article called “Egypt lost in transition” [1], they had supposed there was a chance for a smooth, predetermined transition, and they thought this chance was lost after the results.

What happened in January 28th, 2011?

To understand their viewpoint about the lost transition, and to propose another alternative, we need first to know exactly what happened on 28 January 28 2011. That day angry youth, poor masses, intellectuals declared clearly that people want to remove Mubarak’s regime. The outcome was disastrous for any authority: that day people burnt most police stations in major cities; the police were totally defeated; Mubarak ordered the army to interfere. For many commentators, that was a predictable crisis; some of them actually wrote about this before 2011 (e.g. Steven Cook from the Council of Foreign Relations). After the crisis they hoped for a smooth transition that could restore stability and maintain the old state. This was exactly what was lost in transition for them; Mubarak’s successors and loyal generals in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) failed to learn the lesson.

The main structure of the Egyptian state is the army, so when Mubarak’s civil repression forces were defeated he ordered the backbones of the state to interfere. Actually, it’s not just Mubarak’s army, somehow Mubarak himself was their civilian face, concealing the oldest state apparatus in the Middle East. The Egyptian army was formed by Mohammed Ali in the 19th century, and gained control of the state after the 1952 military coup. That apparatus need a civilian cover to hide under: when the state became stronger the civilian veil became thicker, but when the state became weaker, it couldn’t put on the civilian veil and threw it away. What’s really lost in transition is that the military state apparatus has totally failed to cover itself again, and it will be exposed for many years to any attacks from the Egyptian masses.

Not just Generals, but also Big Capital

The state apparatus in Egypt is an original model for many neo-colonial states in the Middle East. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the dictator from 1956 to 1970, formed a very strong apparatus that rules and govern many aspects of life: it owns all the land space in Egypt; it controls about 25-30% of the Egyptian economy; even after the privatization in 1990s, it keeps a lot of big capital controlled by the Egyptian army, either by owning it or by controlling it through partnership with private business. The hidden face of the military apparatus in Egypt is their economics and business. Only after SCAF took power in Egypt did some journalists and commentators begin to realize this hidden face. The Egyptian army is not just a repression tool, it’s a repression-governing-industrial compound, it’s the ruling class in its pure sense.

The Political Parties and the People

The army, which forms the main ruling class apparatus in Egypt, has many relations throughout the society: the army personnel’s families, the army’s civil workers, and some intellectuals who try to join the ruling class. After Mubarak stepped down in February 2011 it was the opportunity for many of them to become the ruling class organs. This would happen many times after: in many clashes between people and army, the political parties would try to take a “neutral” position between the ruling structures they hope to join and the people they want to govern. So all the political parties, especially the Islamists, stood against the angry masses in the November 2011 clashes: the parties hoped for a quick election that would form a parliament through which they could rule, after defending SCAF’s parliament in many ways. The SCAF had declared the dissolving of the parliament, sending the parties out of the ruling strata, and sending its civilian cover away.

The Workers’ Struggle, the Left, what about People’s Parties?

The traditional political parties defended SCAF in many clashes, but there was a small fraction of political forces that not did so, mainly a leftist organization called Revolutionary Socialists, the Egyptian affiliate of the International Socialist Tendency, which includes the Socialist Workers Party in Britain and Keep Left in South Africa. They have some influence among workers, but unfortunately, they are using it in a most reformist way. They helped workers to build an independent trade union federation, which is another bureaucratic federation; they helped workers to form independent trade unions to joins the independent federation, and gave them leftist rhetoric to propose a reformist agenda. The independent federation succeeded to send its chairman to the dissolved parliament, to became another yellow trade unionist.

Before the elections one of the revolutionary socialist divisions, called Socialist Renewal Current, backed an Islamist candidate, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotoh. For them he is a moderate Islamist; one of their main figures even called him a revolutionary Islamist, and wrote an article, called “ An Essay about the method”, which was totally mixed up with many Marxist terms but without any analysis.

Right after the first round results the Revolutionary Socialists declared they would back the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi, in the last. The Egyptian left main force has joined the political parties block which strive to be a ruling class one day.

For me the Egyptian left played the most dangerous counter-revolutionary part in the Revolutionary process. They make rhetorical speeches containing many Marxist terms, many rebel slogans, but they don’t give people any analysis of the state, class, and revolution. They are using revolutionary slogans to adopt same reformist transition model; they hold a socialist banner to build a bourgeois state.

Is there any chance for a Libertarian Alternative?

Last December I wrote personal notes about the coming insurrection in Egypt: after the formation of parliament I expected the state crisis would continue for many years. The ruling class can’t adopt a solution from above; it can’t repair the damaged state; it only holds now the military apparatus, but can’t build a civilian one; it can hold aggression but can’t build consent and hegemony.

But people can build hegemony from below; a counter-state could be built through local councils, syndicates, etc. The libertarian alternative can still bring fresh air to this struggle. The difficulties for the libertarian solution are many, one of them being that a lot of people believe the authoritarian rhetoric about anarchy. many full paid commentators which are pro ruling state escaped from analyzing the state and created another silly term called “Deep State”, Another difficulty is that we don’t have any anarchist organization, after a failed attempt to build one. But the libertarian alternative will still be out there, as long as state is not able to repair the damaged civilian apparatus. I think the next few months are likely to give some answers.

Cairo, June 15th, 2012


This morning Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, declared himself the winner of the presidential elections,there’s no official results yet, but most likely it would be the same, according to his campain, Morsi has win by 52% of votes, after SCAF released supplementary constitutional announcement, which reduce the president forces, now the SCAF, will form the the constitutional assembly, and keep the veto against its decisions, the new president will be a new cover for SCAF, a new puppet, Egypt will face a new kind of regime, a military-Islamist which has been tried before in Sudan, an Islamist puppet president with no force, and tremendous SCAF power control everything. after few days the court will give its verdict about dissolution of Muslim Brotherhood itself, is it a chance for a conflict between Islamists and SCAF, or it’s a chance for people to topple down both SCAF and political Islam?

18th, June, 2012



* Yasser Abdullah is an Egyptian Anarchist