As with all political organizations that base themselves on religion - no matter what religion - the Muslim Brotherhood is controlled by a wing of the Egyptian capitalist class. At its top sits multi-millionaire Kharat el-Shater, who has vast holdings in retail, land, agriculture, etc. Morsi is largely viewed as a stalking horse for el-Shater. In any case, Morsi himself is a multi-millionaire capitalist
On the day after the recent presidential elections in Egypt the Egyptian stock market surged 2.8% and the editors of the Wall St. Journal called the outcome "a qualified step forward." Both Egyptian and foreign capitalists were satisfied with the victory of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammed Morsi. It is not hard to understand why. As several commentators explained, Morsi will have more credibility with many Egyptians than does the military, yet he is linked to them and they remain the true power.
Military in command
Prior to the election, the Egyptian military had banned the newly elected parliament. They then issued a decree that lets the generals pass laws, write the state budget, write a new constitution and run security policy. The military also has the final say in declaring war, not an abstract question with Israel across one of the borders. Thus, in all but the most extreme of circumstances Morsi will be carrying out the military's policies, even if with slight changes.
Thus is it confirmed that capitalism cannot establish stable democratic rule in the formerly colonial world, especially in this period of world capitalist crisis. Egypt is a perfect example of why.
As in most former colonial countries, Egypt has a historically weak capitalist class and the result has been that the Egyptian military has stepped into the breach. Under Nasser, who came from the military, certain reforms were carried out. Hundreds of state-owned enterprises were established. Also, the peasants were given important land rights (although not outright ownership of the land). This was at the time of the colonial revolution as well as the existence of the Soviet Union. In the era of retreat of the working class, the Egyptian military has played a different role,and under Mubarak many of the Nasser-era reforms were reversed. Peasant lost the rights granted to them under Nasser, land rents tripled. One in ten Egyptians who did own land lost it. Many worker rights were rolled back and nearly half the state-owned enterprises were privatized, leading to layoffs and wage cuts.
The military itself became a major economic power. As one political blog explains, 'The (Egyptian) military now owns fertilizer and chemical plants, vast real estate holdings, road construction firms, factories that make home appliances, clothing and much more. "They have wide-ranging economic interests from bottled water, raising cattle, construction — things far removed from any sort of military industries," notes Egypt expert Michael Hanna with the New York-based Century Foundation.' (http://emirateseconomist.blogspot.com/2011/02/egyptian-militarys-ownership-stake-in.html)
The Egyptian military exemplifies the link between the semi-feudal land owning class and the capitalist class. They, and the class they represent and are part of, cannot resolve any of the problems facing Egypt. They cannot redistribute the land, since they are landowners themselves. They cannot modernize the economy. As a result, they must base themselves on outright repression as well as on religious prejudices.
In the last year, the military regime sought to stir up xenophobia. In addition, they used the prejudices against women that are common in all societies with semi feudal relations amongst a vast rural population. Egyptian soldiers dealt with protests by publicly stripping and viciously beating women protesters. They apparently sent undercover agents into the crowd to harass women. Combining the xenophobia with the sexism, there has been a series of public mass rapes of Western women protesters. If this was not carried out by government agents themselves, it is a result of the campaigns of the military-run regime.
As shown by the Sadat-era treaty between Egypt and Israel, the Egyptian military is also beholden to US capitalism, from which they receive some $1.3 billion per year.
Having been viciously repressed under Sadat and Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood has at times supported and participated in the movement against military rule in Egypt. At root, however, they too represent the capitalist class, and this implies certain things.
As early as the 1950s, US capitalism and its government saw the major international threat as being the Soviet Union. It saw Nasser as being influenced by it. As a result, they encouraged the development of the Muslim Brotherhood as a counter weight. In 1953, for instance, they organized an academic conference of Islamic scholars linked with the Brotherhood. They continued this relationship even after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As recently as 2006 they were organizing such conferences (this time in Brussels) in order to influence the Brotherhood. Brotherhood leaders were all too happy to participate in and cooperate with these conferences and thereby maintain their links with the US regime.
As with all political organizations that base themselves on religion - no matter what religion - the Muslim Brotherhood is controlled by a wing of the Egyptian capitalist class. At its top sits multi-millionaire Kharat el-Shater, who has vast holdings in retail, land, agriculture, etc. The original candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood's "Freedom and Justice Party", he was ruled ineligible because he had only recently been released from prison. As a result, Morsi became their candidate, but it is reported that he is largely viewed as a stalking horse for el-Shater. In any case, Morsi himself is a multi-millionaire capitalist.
One of the main issues President Morsi will confront will be dealing with the Egyptian economy, which contracted by a massive 4.3% in the first quarter of 2011 and has stagnated since then. Egypt's foreign debt has increased by some 20% since the uprising, and its foreign reserves have declined dangerously, leaving the country with just three months of import coverage. This is a result of both the weakness of the Egyptian economy on the world scale, the destabilizing effect of the Egyptian revolution, and most of all the world capitalist economic crisis.
To deal with this, Morsi promises more of the same. As the Wall St. Journal reports: "Top diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador in Cairo, have had a number of "friendly contacts" with leading Muslim Brotherhood figures, including the former presidential candidate, Khairat al Shater, and members of the group's economic team, a senior U.S. official said. In these private talks, Muslim Brotherhood representatives have reassured the U.S. by saying 'all the right things on the economic side'…"
Upon his election, one of Morsi's first statements was to reassure US and world capitalism that he would be "preserving Egypt's international agreements and commitments." This was a reassurance that there would be no question about repaying the foreign debt as well as that he would not try to repeal the treaty with Israel.
In any case, the holdovers from the previous regime, both military and civilian, remain at their posts at all levels. They will insist that the regime remain on its old course. This means more privatization, more unemployment and wage cuts, more driving of peasants from their land, more attacks on women and minorities. It means continuing to try to placate the IMF and international finance capital.
Pressures on the Morsi presidency
As the recent strike wave in Egypt shows, however, things will not be easy for this new president. Many capitalist forces were somewhat pleased with his election (as shown by the comment of the editors of the Wall St. Journal). They believe that Morsi will have greater credibility and therefore will more easily carry out their agenda. While this may be true, he will also come under somewhat different pressures.
With a popular base due to its mass charity work, the Muslim Brotherhood does come under and as a result also does exert some somewhat different pressures. On the one hand, there is an economic "state interventionist" wing of the Brotherhood. In the face of a mass workers' movement, this wing could come to greater influence. There is also the more strict fundamentalist wing. In addition to this wing, there is the role of the more outright fundamentalist Salafists and their Al Nour Party with which the FJP had blocked in the now defunct parliament.
If a more acute crisis develops, a wing of the Egyptian capitalist class is likely to turn more directly to religious fundamentalism. Also, a layer of Egyptians, responding to the extreme crisis, will be seeking extreme solutions. If the Brotherhood and their party, the FJP, do not step up the religious demagoguery, then the Salafists and Al Nour will and will tend to undercut their base. In some ways, this will create problems for US and Western capitalism, as it will tend to increase the conflicts with Israel. It may also help further the rise of religious fundamentalism and its political role in both Syria and Jordan, where groups linked to the Brotherhood are already developing.
Any increase in fundamentalism, however, will not help the Egyptian working class. It will also mean increased repression of women. It will also mean more xenophobia and an attempt to further isolate the Egyptian working class from their class sisters and brothers internationally.
Struggle will continue
As the recent strike wave shows, the heroic movement of Egyptian workers and youth will not stop. During past occupations of Tahrir Square and other such squares throughout Egypt, committees were formed to maintain these occupations. Unfortunately, according to some comrades, there was a reluctance to have these committees to take up political issues as this would have tended to bring out the political differences. While unity in action is important for the movement, however, equally important is clarification of the political differences. One wonders whether these committees might have thereby become committees of struggle, committees which raised the main issues, clarified the differences, and reached out to others outside the occupation, such as striking workers and landless peasants. One also wonders whether such committees could not have formally organized protection for female comrades as well as specially oppressed minorities such as the Coptic Christians. This, too, would help spread and strengthen the movement.
There is also the issue of international links. This is especially important with the developments right across the Mediterranean in Greece. There, several years of strikes and street protests culminated in the formal coalition of the left forces in Syriza, which recently formally established itself as a political party and nearly won the elections. The rise of Syriza struck terror in the hearts of European and world capitalism. It also serves as an example for the next stage of the workers' movement around the world: Its development of a clear policy which rejects the idea that workers must suffer for the crisis of capitalism, and the consolidation of that policy into a radical, anti-capitalist political party.
In the last two years, workers the world over were inspired by and learned from the Arab revolution, especially that in Egypt. Now, that movement there can join with their brothers and sisters in Greece in taking the Egyptian movement to the next level.
John Reimann is a retired carpenter and an expelled member of the Carpenters' Union in the United States. (He was expelled for leading rank and file struggles against the union bureaucracy.) He is a long-time socialist, who organized for a number of years in Mexico. He is presently a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.