A court of judges appointed by Egypt’s disgraced former president Hosni Mubarak last week (June 13) dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament elected last year — in the first proper elections in Egypt’s recent history.
Many oppositionists denounced the move as a coup d’etat, as it leaves the army — the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has ruled Egypt since Mubarak was deposed in February 2011 — in uncontested control of the country.
June 16-17 saw the second round of Presidential elections. But without the Parliament, which was elected to oversee the drafting of a new constitution (though a court earlier dissolved the Constituent Assembly set up by the Parliament), the status and of the new President — whoever wins — is dubious at best.
Although SCAF has promised to hand over power to the new president, it has issued a declaration granting itself sweeping powers over legislation and the introduction of a new constitution.
SCAF has also stripped the future president of any authority over the army. The same court ruled that Ahmed Shafiq, one of the two presidential candidates, and a politician close to Mubarak and the regime, widely decried as a “fuloul” — a remnant of the old regime — was legally entitled to stand.
Oppositionists had contested that, since he is so closely associated with the Mubarak era, Shafiq’s candidature was illegal. (These rulings followed a decision earlier in the week that the military police and security services are entitled to arrest and try civilians — which they have been doing anyway under Emergency legislation since 1981, just lately supposedly repealed).
Turnout in the presidential run-off is reportedly low — and in the first round was only around 44%. This is partly due, as most reports suggest, to a serious heat wave, which makes it difficult to be outside for long periods. But for sure it also reflects a widespread belief that neither neither Shafiq nor his opponent Mohammed Mursi of the Freedom and Justice Party (in reality the Muslim Brotherhood, a right-wing Islamist party) is worth voting for.
These events amount to a critical stage in the Egyptian revolution. In fact the army never relinquished power, and only removed its figurehead. Recently the trial of the former president came to a conclusion — sending him to jail but exonerating him of the worst charges brought against him; and this saw a resurgence of protests and the reoccupation of Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
But Wednesday’s coup reveals a decision by the military junta to pull back from its policy of controlled and limited democratic transition. Possibly this is due to concern in elite circles about the growing power of the Muslim Brotherhood, though for most of the last eighteen months the Brothers have collaborated with the Supreme Council. Or, others suggest, it reflects a more general reassertion of Egypt’s “deep state” — a very entrenched and secretive repressive apparatus (which is less concerned than its public face with the opinion of, for instance, Washington).
This is not, yet, a full-blooded military coup on the model of Chile in 1973. The popular movement remains strong and confident, able as it was to mobilise after the half-hearted conviction of Mubarak. The new workers’ movement — over a million workers organised into new trade unions since the beginning of 2011 — remains militant.
As Solidarity goes to press, the supporters of the Muslim Brothers are on the streets, expecting victory. However, whoever wins the Presidential election the popular movement faces challenges.
If Shafiq wins — and there are fears of ballot rigging (which the regime has long expertise in organising) — it will be seen as a victory for the counter-revolution. Especially if the state is believed to have rigged the ballot, this may well lead to a renewal of mass street protests. And the political shape of those protests will depend on whether or not the Brothers decide to mobilise their base.
If Mursi wins, several scenarios seem possible. There must be a danger of a “full” military coup. Or the Brotherhood will seek to find a new modus vivendi with the Supreme Council which allows them to consolidate their strength.
The judicial ruling is blatantly undemocratic. The court claimed that around a third of the elected MPs were “illegal”; obviously they could have ruled simply in favour of by-elections in those seats, rather than dissolve the whole Assembly.
There has been justified alarm among secular oppositionists that the Parliament — and the short-lived Constituent Assembly it formed — was overwhelmingly dominated by Islamists. The ultra-conservative Nur Party was the second largest party after the FJP. But now a democratically elected Parliament has been dissolved by the military regime.
The workers’ and popular movements must fight for democratic rights, attempting to put our movement’s stamp on the protests against the military. In such a fight the Muslim Brotherhood leadership and its party machine are not our allies.
The labour movement internationally must show the Egyptian labour movement and the genuine democrats in Egypt our solidarity.