Sunday, April 01, 2007

Egypt: the next Venezuela.

I say Egypt could be the next Venezuela - it would be more accurate to say that it would be far, far more significant than what is happening in Venezuela, much as one admires the popular movements and the political leadership shown thus far in that country. The reasons are obvious: the overthrow of a pro-imperialist dictator subsidised by $2bn dollar donations from the Washington treasury each year, on the back of a massive wave of labour strikes and uprisings, would lay the grounds for a revolutionary transformation of the Middle East that no neoconservative would appreciate. Every single pro-American dictatorship would be under threat, and every opposition group in the region would acquire a bastion of support - especially the Palestinians, the self-righteousness of whose oppressors is limitless. Perhaps you imagine I'm writing my April Fool piece, but if that breathless enthusiasm does seem a little overdone to you, perhaps it is because you haven't seen a fraction of what is happening in Egypt on your television screens, in contrast with the regular bulletins on Iran.

Hossam el-Hamalawy's blog contains regular updates on the strikes sweeping across Egypt, and the state's crack-downs. Plenty will you read of bloggers and dissidents taken away and tortured in Mubarak's cells, and you can even watch footage of the ballot-stuffing carried out by state officials in the recent referendum on constitutional amendments designed to crack down on opposition groups, but much also about the victories of the workers' movement. These strikes are illegal, frequently wild cat actions, and the state has not been slow to send in the goons where it has had the confidence to do so. But from time to time, they have been outnumbered. And, of course, a report from this remarkable Cairo Conference, the fifth since they began. (Last year, we had a report and some pictures from our own Guy Taylor, so I hope he's been again this year). This year, Rose Gentle of Military Families Against the War spoke alongside Alex Callinicos and John Rees in front of socialists and resistance groups from across the Middle East, as well as Muslim Brothers, Hizbollah and Hamas representatives, and anticapitalist activists from South Korea. The conference's anti-torture forum featured bloggers who had been detained and tortured by Mubarak's secret police, and also a chap named Abu Omar who had been kidnapped by the CIA in Italy and packed off to Mubarak to be electrocuted. Others were put through sexual abuse alongside the other forms of torture. That is how the empire, and its client despots, keep order: this repression, this tyranny, is paid for with a share of the profits of the American capitalist class, the very same who we are supposed to believe are concerned for democracy and human rights in Venezuela.

The radicalisation in Egypt has been going on for some years, and has already won some limited political reforms. The opening up of the electoral system allowed 88 Muslim Brothers to be elected and form a substantial oppositional bloc to the regime - even if the Brothers' leadership has tended toward conservatism and compromise. The confidence with which the opposition is organising is indicative of how much the state's power has been curtailed. Recently, a remarkable article in Merip's Middle East Report by Hossam and Joel Beinin, discussed how Egyptians workers are challenging not only Mubarak's deep-state, but the whole economic order that the US seeks to impose. The privatisation drives, the cuts to wages and the attempts to reduce social protections for workers established under Nasser, have all provoked the fierce strike waves that have intensified even while state terror has intimidated opposition groups. Without this, you can be sure that the political ferment would not be at the pitch that it is at, and the opportunities for dissent would be even narrower than they are.

The nationalist and Islamist resistance groups in Iraq can cause American imperialism to have a crisis of overstretch, and also intensify its legitimacy crisis, particularly when the American ruling class is unwilling to fund a substantial material boost to the Pentagon. As a percentage of national income, US military spending is much lower than in the Cold War, but to increase that share, they would have to raise taxes at a time when the rich generally prefer to see them rolled back. And the European and East Asian capitalist classes are not necessarily willing to raise indefinite loans for the empire, especially if they come to doubt it can defend their interests. Hizbullah can temporarily stun Israel into a humiliating military defeat, and lead the fight against the yuppies of the Lebanese neoliberal and far right, but ultimately they will compromise and are indeed already compromised by an almost uncritical attitude to Syria (which does a substantial portion of the empire's torture for it) and Iran (which has assisted the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan), and to the SCIRI in Iraq (whose militias are rented out to the occupiers). The working class, by contrast, can overthrow Mubarak. They can halt the neoliberal tide and help the Palestinians resist their oppressors and stop the Zionist ethnic cleansing drive in its tracks. They can send the stale, odious system of pro-American tyrannies to an early grave. That working class, contrary to the fantasies of some beautiful souls, will not be only or even principally socialist - although we need the socialists to prevail as an independent alignment and as a constant pressure against sell-out and compromise. It will comprise Islamists and Nasserists, communists and liberals, supporters of the Muslim Brothers and of Kefiya, the militant, the devout, the timid, the reactionary, anyone who will stand on a picket line and resist the robocop thugs and their capitalist paymasters.