Samir Amin on the Egyptian crisis, popular movements and the military
SAMIR AMIN spoke to BEIFANG of REVUE CULTURELLE DU GUANGZHOU about the current crisis in Egypt.
BEIFANG: The rule of the MB lasted only a bit more than one year, why the collapse came so soon?
SAMIR AMIN: The fall of Morsi and of the rule of Muslim Brotherhood came as expected. Firstly, the government of the Muslim Brothers has been pursuing the same neoliberal policies as that of Mubarak, and even worse. It could not solve any of the problems faced by the Egyptian people. Secondly, Morsi was elected as a result of a gigantic fraud. Millions were given to people to buy their votes. The Muslim Brotherhood were mobilized to control the polling stations, which made it impossible for the others to vote, to such an extent that the Egyptian judges who normally oversee the election were disgusted and withdrew their support for the election process. Despite that, the US Embassy and the Europe declared the election was perfect. This is how Morsi was elected.
BEIFANG: Shortly after the fall of Morsi, you released a short statement that claimed it as an important victory of Egyptian people. However, Morsi was ousted by the army, not directly by the demonstrations of the people. To what degree can we say it’s a victory of the people?
SAMIR AMIN: Soon after coming to power, it was clear that Morsi was continuing the same policies that had been rejected by the people (and which led to the downfall of Mubarak). The Tomarod movement started a petition campaign calling for the removal of Morsi and for a new, real election. 26 million signatures were collected, which is the true figure. Morsi had not taken this campaign into account. So it was decided on 30 June — which is exactly one year after his inauguration — that there should be a demonstration. And the demonstration was gigantic, the largest in the whole history of Egypt: 33 million people moved into the streets of Cairo and all Egyptian towns, including small towns. When you say 33 million people out of the total population of 85 million people, it means everybody. To give you a perspective, just imagine if in China 500 million people demonstrated on the same day in all towns across the country!
Morsi replied to the demonstration by saying Oh, we cannot accept it as this will lead to civil war. But there is no danger of civil war, because you have 90% of the people who are anti-Morsi. Morsi was not able to mobilize sufficient support, even distributing lots of money. He managed to mobilise only a few hundred thousand people, which means that the balance of forces was against him. The western media are continuously repeating the words of Morsi ‘we are moving to a civil war’, but it is not possible. Facing the situation, the army operated in a very wise, intelligent way. They simply deposited Morsi and controlled him; his presidency was handed to the first Judge of the Constitutional Court, which is the normal way to replace a president that has been removed.
We shall see what this new government will do, whether they will depart from the policies of Morsi or not, but the movement is completely mobilized and ready to respond.
BEIFANG: The fact that Morsi was removed by the military has been received in very different ways, some welcomed the change, some condemned it as purely a military coup. What’s your view?
SAMIR AMIN: Such an action of the army is not a coup d’état. The western press said it was a coup d’état, but it is not, it is a wise action in response to the demands of the Egyptian people. I don’t want to go into details that I don’t know. Since the death of Nasser 30 years ago, the top leadership of the army has been controlled by the US and corrupted by the money of the US and the Gulf countries; and they accepted the polices of submission of Mubarak and Morsi. But everybody should know that the Egyptian army is not just its top leaders but also thousands of officers who remain patriotic. They are not necessarily progressive, nor socialist, but they understand that the people don’t want Morsi. The new Prime Minister, Hazem Al Beblawi, I knew him personally. He was a brilliant student of economics. I don’t know what his mind is like today, but he’s a clever man, able to understand that continuing neoliberal policies would be a disaster. We shall see.
BEIFANG: As you said, the Egyptian army has been corrupt and has close connections with the US, but this time they stand together with the people. Can we say the army has changed in nature?
SAMIR AMIN: It’s the question we are all asking ourselves. We suspect the top leaders of the army are pro US, I don’t want to go into the secrets that I don’t know. Who is [General] Sisi? Sisi is not necessarily the worst among them, I don’t know. Anyway, we judge people by their actions, not by speculating about this one or that one that we don’t know. But what is more important, I can assure you that many (nobody knows how many) officers have shown their support by moving around among the people quite spontaneously. When the soldiers moved out onto the streets, standing with the people, it was also quite spontaneous. We should not consider the army is just the monolithic instrument of the US.
BEIFANG: Please tell us something about the movement. It seems very broad. Who is joining the movement, and how much do they have in common?
SAMIR AMIN: This is a wide movement which includes all of society. It represents different people with different directions, different political mindsets. There are people of the left, centre and the right in the movement. They are unequally organized; some sectors are better organized than others.
The left is represented by communist and socialist parties. There are also left independent trade unions of the working class. About four to five million workers are organized by the trade unions which are traditionally and constantly on the left, with precise demands with respect to wages, pensions, etc. On the left, there are also has movements of rural peasants who are resisting the process of pauperization and exploitation by rich peasants, a process that has been accelerated by neoliberal policies. They are also very important components of the movement.
There are gigantic organizations, four or five, of young people, basically from urban lower middle class and popular classes. Hundreds of thousands who are organized. They are those who started Tamarod. These young people are politicized, they discuss politics continuously. They do not accept following parties; they have no confidence in bourgeois parties, democratic parties or even socialist parties. They want to continue to be independent.
There are movements of women: two kinds of movements. One is a movement of urban women – doctors, teachers, lawyers, also lower middle class women employees, who are asking for changes in the law. There are also movements of poor women who are very strong fighters and who support workers during, for example, strikes. And there are many, many strikes: 5000 strikes in one year in Egypt. These women organize to provide food to the strikers and protect them from police attacks and so on.
There are also important organizations of the middle classes – engineers, lawyers, judges, employees of the state, etc. They have trade unions of their own. These trade unions are not on the left, not socialist, but they are democratic. They are against the Muslim Brotherhood and against submission to the US. There are also some personalities like Mohamed El Baradei, who are more or less democratic but also pro-US, pro-capitalism, pro-neoliberalism, they don’t understand the link between economic liberalism and the social disasters that lead to the loss of legitimacy of the government and to the lack of democracy.
There are also some people of the old regime who joined the mobilizations because they felt it was so strong that they had to move in. They are not really influential in the movement.
There are also the salafists. The salafists are as bad as Muslim Brotherhood. They were eliminatedby the Muslim Brotherhood because the latter wanted to have all positions in government assigned only to them. This is why the salafists also moved into the movement. They have some influence among some sections of the middle classes and among those very poor who have very little understanding of politics, particularly in the rural area. Not more than that.
To have a movement getting together with a minimum common program is important: there are discussions among various partners, particularly with the organizations of the youth. There is a need for a common program which is to meet the immediate challenge; it is not a program for socialism, but a program to start moving out of the trap of neoliberalization by restoring the power of the state, and the other dimensions of starting to move out of the rut of the alliance with the US, Israel, and Gulf countries, and to open new relations with partners, particularly with China, with Russia, with India, with South Africa, so that we can start having independent policies and therefore reducing the influence of the US, of Israel, and of the Gulf countries.
We can say the movement has three tasks. First is the task of social justice: it is not socialism. It is a set of good and important reforms of management of enterprises; the end of privatization; recapturing of the enterprises which have been given at very low prices to private companies; a new law of minimum wages; a new law for working conditions, a new law of labor rights – strikes and so on; a new law of participation of the working people with the management of the enterprises in which they would have a say. These reforms are not socialism, but they are steps on the long road to socialism, they are socialist-minded. For the farmers, it includes the protection of the ownership of the land by small peasants. These demands are also very strongly supported by small and medium enterprises whose profits are pumped out by monopoly capital of foreign companies.
The second task is to address the national question. It is a question of dignity. People want a government that represents Egypt with dignity and self-respect. It means a government which is independent, not one accepting the US’s orders, not standing with Israel’s repression of Palestinians. A government independent of the Gulf countries who are allies of the US, they can’t be anything else. In this context, China has a big responsibility. It would be great if some people in China say frankly : “we are with you and we are prepared, if you ask, to help you solve your economic problems.” Such a declaration would have a tremendous echo in Egypt. There are slogans on the streets of Cairo, “we don’t need US aid, we can also get it from other countries”. We don’t need US aid – which is associated with corruption and political submission. This is called a national independent policy, in order to be able to develop a sovereign Egyptian project.
The third dimension is the democratic one. On this, there are various views. There are people in favor of normal bourgeois democracy and multiparty elections. But there are many people who think party elections are not the answer to the challenges facing the country. Democracy can’t mean just elections. Democracy implies changes in attitudes, changes in common relations of people in daily life. I think they are right. In Egypt, young people consider democracy as the freedom of behaving yourself in daily relations, particularly between boys and girls, men and women. Maybe, the majority of Egyptian people are believers in God, but they do not accept that because they are believers they should obey the orders of Muslim Brotherhood forbidding them to have free lives. This is the way they understand democracy. We should have a popular parliament, which is not an elected parliament. It is a parliament which consists of people sent by the organizations of the movement, by the trade unions, by the women organizations, by the youth organizations. This is the true parliament, more than a so-called elected parliament in which the distribution of party is so unequal and biased. You can call it not-a-socialist-program, but a national, democratic, sovereign, and progressive program.
BEIFANG: What role did the US play in the change?
SAMIR AMIN: The US supported Mubarak to the end. They also supported Morsi to the end; they continuously repeated ‘the elected president’. But when the leaders of the army took action to depose Morsi, then the US accepted it, they understood. Of course they exercise strong pressure on the new government to continue neoliberal policy, submitting to IMF and the World Bank. But the people on the street shout the slogan, “we don’t want IMF, we don’t want the World Bank.” But there are pressures; those working with the management of finance are spontaneously conservative and pro neoliberalism. So there is a need for a struggle against them.
On one hand, we can say the US accepted and supported the army and the new government, but on the other hand, they tried to put pressure to bring back the old reactionary, which is not Muslim Brotherhood but the salafists. This is the plan of the US, which is not to help Egypt out of the crisis, but to use the crisis to destroy more. Because Egypt is considered by them a dangerous country, it has a long past, it has been the first emerging country since the beginning of the 19th century, and one of the important emerging Muslim countries in the time of Nasser and Bundung, in line with China, the Soviet Union, and other countries of the third world. It played an important role in the liberation of all of Africa. An independent Egypt with a sovereign, popular, progressive project would be a danger to the influence of the US, not only in Egypt, but in the Middle East, in Arab countries, and in all Africa. It will limit the expansion of Israel to Palestine. It will also put an end to the influence of the Gulf countries.
BEIFANG: Egypt is now in another transition which is not peaceful; the clashes have cost dozens of lives. What do think of the bloodshed? What will be the future of the transition?
SAMIR AMIN: Of course it is not peaceful, but it’s not a civil war. The people are highly politicized, everybody is discussing politics on the street every day. People are active. Therefore different opinions appear, they discuss in some cases correctly and in other cases less correctly. But there is no danger of civil war because the common front is very wide.
The US is using another weapon in additional to economic and financial pressure. The US is supporting small armed groups, groups operating as real terrorists. These groups are coming from Libya. Since Libya has been destroyed by the western military operation, Libya has become the base for all kinds of Jihadists. There are Jihadists with strong arms including missiles coming from the desert, this is the real danger. Also in the Egyptian peninsula of Sinai small Jidahist groups supported by Israel and the Gulf countries are carrying out terrorist actions. This is made possible by the so called “peace agreement” between Egypt and Israel which puts a limit on the number of Egyptian soldiers stationed in Sinai : 700 to 2000, very small figure for such a wide area.. On the 4th of July after Morsi was removed, I wrote a paper, the last sentence of which says now the danger is from imperialist US, Israel and Gulf, using criminal mercenaries, coming from Libya, and from the province of Sinai. This is what is happening now: terrorism, not “civil war”.