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Revolutionaries in Egypt will regret support for coup

July 5, 2013

The defenders of the Egyptian coup, and the defenders of Morsi are both wrong. Morsi’s attempt to impose dictatorship cost him legitimacy long ago. But the military coup will be even worse. The leading opponent of the revolution, in  the sense of those most opposed to the revolution’s demands, have always been the Egyptian military. Both Mubarak and Morsi were in different ways masks for the military. Both were discarded and used as fall guys to keep the military in power. (A fall guy differs from a scapegoat in that the fall guy is one of those guilty of the crime. But the fall guy ends up with all of the blame so that the other criminals can continue committing the crime).

All militaries within capitalism have close ties to the capitalist class. Individuals officers are often admitted into that class by marriage or business partnership. The reverse is true as well. The military is an acceptable career for children of large capitalists who don’t wish to go into business. But in nations like Egypt, where the military rules, it is more than that. Through corruption and extortion, the Egyptian military has become a large part *of* the capitalist class. The military as an institution owns many of the largest businesses in Egypt. And most top officers in the military have grown personally rich. That gives the military three core interests in Egypt.

One is austerity, the squeezing of the working and middle classes as much as possible for maximum benefit of the rich. For various reasons, support for austerity is consensus position among capitalists all over the world. Individuals may disagree, but no leading sector of any nation’s capitalist capitalist class opposes austerity at the moment. I suspect this is because this is because of the weakening of working and middle class power. Elites no longer feel there is any reason to make concessions to other classes.

A second interest of the Egyptian military is maintaining and increasing the Egyptian military budget. That needs no explanation. Most militaries want as big a budget as they can get.

The third interest is continued impunity. That consists both of the right to arrest, kill, torture and disappear civilians, and continued corruption that allows the military to flourish economically. This last may not be in the interest of other sectors of capitalism in Egypt, but other sectors of capitalism in Egypt don’t have guns.

Note the revolution opposed all three interests. The revolution was anti-austerity, and anti-corruption. If the demands for increased civil liberties and real democracy had been met, that would have ended military impunity. And ending civilian austerity would have required taxing businesses more including those owned by the military. Because the military is huge recipient of US military aid, it might look at first glance like the military budget would not have been cut. But a real democracy would have resulted in Egyptian foreign policy changing in ways the US and its ally Israel would have strongly disapproved of.  That might have cost Egypt US military aid.

When the revolution against Mubarak took place the military wisely stood aside and let the civilian police try to suppress it. If the police had succeeded, great. When the police failed, the military were able to posture as protectors of the people. With great reluctance they forced Mubarak aside, and took control of the transition.

Over the objections of the secular left who initially led the revolution, the military put through hasty elections that would not give that secular left time to organize. So, as was guaranteed by calling elections so quickly, parliamentary elections resulted in control of the parliament by the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Presidential election resulted in a runoff – a false choice between former members of Mubarak’s  National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood. Because the Brotherhood had been repressed but also tolerated within limits it had a political organization comparable in size to the National Democrats. Secular leftist organizations had been smashed, many of their leaders arrested or murdered. So quick election ensured that the left would not appear in any run-off. Given that false choice the people chose the Muslim Brotherhood over the military that had oppressed them for so long. The Brotherhood rode to power on the back of a revolution they did not create, and only joined at the last moment when its victory was inevitable.

Morsi came to power in alliance with the military. I don’t know if the deal was explicit. At any rate, he knew what the military would and would not tolerate. No attempt was made to rein in the military power to arrest civilians and try them in military court. Morsi continued Mubarak’s policy of opposing Israel’s siege of Gaza verbally, as a concession to Egyptian public opinion, while supporting that siege in practice. He made a few concessions to popular economic demands, but overall followed a policy of economic austerity. He did nothing to crack down on corruption.

In turn, the military supported his grabbing of more and more power. They tolerated his arrest of his opponents, especially when they were the military’s own enemies, the secular left. On occasion they carried out arrests themselves. They did not oppose his continued imposition of social conservatism. As long as public opinion was pacified, Morsi was a useful idiot to the military.

But once the public turned against him to the point of an actual revolt, instead of being a useful idiot, Morsi became a useless idiot. The military had sacrificed Mubarak, who had been a highly respected and well liked officer within the the institution. So they did not hesitate to discard Morsi who they had nothing but contempt for.

Some commentators have mentioned that the military is foolish for driving the Muslim Brotherhood, which still has a large base, underground. But that is foolish only if the military intends to restore democracy. If they plan on staying in power, which they always have, having an unpopular permanent domestic enemy will be useful.

In my opinion, the revolutionary leaders who called for a military takeover, and supported the coup are the ones who made the mistake. The longer they continue to support the military the worse that mistake will become, because that continued association will taint them in the public eye with whatever the military does. When the military turns its attention from the Muslim Brotherhood, and begins arresting the secular left, how easy will it be for that secular left to mobilize the people in their own defense?

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