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Egypt: Rigged elections reflect imperialist consensus

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RUSSIAN IMPERIALISM and its Western rivals may be at loggerheads over Ukraine, but in Egypt they seem to have established a silent consensus, in favour of the consolidation of a barely disguised military rule.

It is just about conceivable that military dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced as the winner of farcical presidential elections held on 26-28 May, enjoys the support of half of Egypt’s population. After all, the military counterrevolution’s previous candidate for the presidency, Ahmed Shafik, who stood in June 2012 against Sisi’s jailed and overthrown civilian predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, supposedly received 48.3 per cent of the vote, in elections that were far less rigged than this year’s.

If it exists, then this “popular support” has a social and material basis: the lack of a political voice for Egypt’s working class; and the exhaustion and disillusionment with the 2011 revolution of Egypt’s urban middle class, in particular its more established and less insecure layers. Hence their search for a return to the decades of military rule since Nasser.

No democratic mandate
But Sisi’s military junta, still engaged in a massive and brutal repression of popular protests against their July 2013 coup, cannot, by definition, hold free and fair elections. With a purged and controlled media screaming its “anti-terrorism” message from all of its outlets, Sisi’s fraudulent “election” is no democratic mandate for his presidency. It lacks even the manufactured credibility that the regularly rigged elections under dictator Hosni Mubarak had.

This can be seen most clearly by looking at the alleged vote and turnout. A total of 25.6 million voters, or 47.5 per cent of the electorate, are said to have turned out to vote, of which 23.8 million apparently voted for Sisi. Hamdeen Sabahi, a Nasserist who was the only prominent bourgeois politician foolhardy enough to act as the regime’s stooge “opposition” candidate, received only 758,000 votes or 3.1 per cent, less than the 1 million blank or invalid votes cast.
Yet, the authorities had to extend voting from two days to three, amid claims from Sabahi’s supporters, reported by France 24, that the turnout was hovering at around 10 to 15 per cent, while Interior Ministry spokesman Hany Abdel-Latif simultaneously claimed to the Associated Press that it was 30 per cent.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab threatened to apply a little-used law to impose fines of 500 Egyptian pounds, equivalent to $70 or about a week’s average income, on those who did not vote. Meanwhile, presenters on pro-Sisi television stations (i.e. all of them) practically begged the electorate to come out and vote, between pieces in which they mocked the laziness of those who could not be bothered to vote because they had the air conditioner on, and the lack of political engagement of an electorate on whom democracy is clearly wasted.

Even Sabahi, who had played ball by conceding defeat, was forced to protest at this blatant bit of rigging, with Israel’s Jerusalem Post reporting him as claiming that the exaggerated turnout was “an insult to the intelligence of Egyptians”.

Back into the fold
As if this were not enough to confirm the counterrevolutionary character of the elections, amongst the first to congratulate Sisi on his victory was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Barack Obama, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, the Algerian dictator, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the Omani monarch, Sultan Qaboos bin Said and the Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, all followed suit.

Not to be left out, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the indispensable backers of dictatorship throughout the Arab world, are reported to be preparing a package of $20 billion in aid to help stabilise Egypt’s worsening economic situation.

Not dead just yet
But, set against this pretence of popular participation, there is an anti-coup movement that enjoys the support of those wide layers of Egyptian society for whom Sisi’s July 2013 coup stole their vote and their revolution. This movement is not yet crushed, despite the massive state violence directed against it. A court in Minya, for example, notoriously sentenced 529 people to death in March for the alleged killing of a policeman, although it has since confirmed only 37 of these sentences, commuting the rest to life imprisonment.

The same court described the (mainly Islamist or Islamist-aligned) condemned as “demons” who followed the teachings of “their holy book, the [Jewish] Talmud”, and sentenced a further 683 people to death in April, their sentences are due to be confirmed on 21 June. More than 41,000 people have been arrested and prosecuted by the authorities since the coup, according to a report by Wikithawra on 25 May.

Even so, Haytham Abo Khalil, of the Victims’ Centre for Human Rights, announced on 30 May that over 20,000 prisoners in over 114 locations would be taking part in a week long hunger strike. Probably the biggest collective hunger strike in history, this action, and others like it, are passed by in silence by the mainstream media, East and West. If there is one thing that Russia Today, the BBC and Al Arabiya all agree on, then it is that in Egypt there really is nothing to see, apart from Sisi’s obvious, if occasionally distasteful, popularity. Move along now, please.

United front
What is desperately needed is solidarity and common action between all the forces opposed to, or at the receiving end of, the military’s repression. This should be regardless of their ideology (Islamist or secular), their attitude towards the demand for Mohamed Morsi’s reinstatement as president, whether they took part in the protests against Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government or whether they supported his government against them.

However, this should not preclude freedom of criticism, because if the masses do not learn from the mistakes of their leaders over the past three years, then there is no hope of establishing a truly democratic, revolutionary regime, committed to social justice in Egypt.

So far, however, neither unity in action nor self-criticism has been forthcoming. The liberal “youth movements” by and large welcomed the overthrow of Morsi as an extension of the revolution, and have passed into the anti-coup camp in dribs and drabs, as they themselves have become targets of the military regime’s repression.

The far left has been scarcely any better. Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists (associated with Britain’s Socialist Workers Party), at first saw Sisi’s coup as a continuation of the 30 June mass movement against Morsi. They failed to recognise a counterrevolution when it occurred and mistook it for a continuation of the revolution.

Earlier, they had decided to support the Brotherhood’s Morsi against the candidate of the feloul Ahmed Shafik, as a distorted reflection of the revolution. They have now compounded these errors by supporting Sabahi’s doomed bid for the presidency this year. Whereas two years ago this meant ditching the principle of working class political independence, even in the course of a struggle for democratic rights, this time around it meant lending credibility to a military regime that is clearly in need of it.

Working class party
Most importantly, the social force most capable of changing the balance of forces in Egyptian society, the organised urban working class, must be brought to bear. The anti-coup protests may well have penetrated into the pauperised rural and provincial regions that came into the Egyptian revolution some time after it had already begun, and they may well have the allegiance of a new generation of genuinely young and plebeian youth that make the graduates of the liberal “youth movements” look like the ageing and out of touch elitists that they are.

However, it will still take the only class in capitalist society that is capable of bringing it to a halt to amplify their discontent and their rejection of military rule until it resonates loudly enough to shatter the coup regime’s fragile “stability”.

In February, as Sisi was preparing the window dressing of constitutional legitimacy for his enthronement, a strike wave over predominantly wage demands forced the resignation of his already fractious cabinet. Involving 100,000 workers in 54 different enterprises, it was not especially larger or smaller than the strike waves that took place under Morsi or the military junta that replaced Mubarak, or for that matter the strike wave that convinced the military to eject Mubarak to preserve its own position.

Just imagine what could be achieved on the basis of mass workers’ mobilisations for political demands: for a decisive breaking of the military’s power, for genuinely free and fair elections, for genuine political pluralism, and for the lifting of censorship and state repression.
This, however, will require a party to articulate this strategy, with a vision that does not stop simply at representative government in a deeply unequal class society, but that sets itself the goal of overthrowing the capitalist social order that threatens to extinguish formal democracy for as long as it persists.