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Accueil du site > 20- ENGLISH - MATERIAL AND REVOLUTION > The Obama administration and Egypt - Obama backs Mubarak’s bid to retain (...)

The Obama administration and Egypt - Obama backs Mubarak’s bid to retain power

jeudi 3 février 2011, par Robert Paris

Obama backs Mubarak’s bid to retain power

2 February 2011

The battle lines in Egypt are being drawn. On the one side, huge protests in Cairo and other cities, estimated at more than a million, demanded that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his regime immediately go. On the other, Mubarak thumbed his nose at the demonstrators and announced his intention to serve out his term of office until presidential elections due in September.

Shortly after Mubarak’s speech, US President Barack Obama endorsed his Egyptian ally’s plan to cling to office until September. In a brief White House address, Obama, who had just spoken to Mubarak for 30 minutes, reiterated the longstanding “partnership” between the United States and Egypt, spoke of the need for an immediate and orderly “transition” to democratic reform, and pointedly refused to back the popular demand for Mubarak to step down.

Obama’s aim is all too clear : to keep Mubarak in office for as long as possible while fashioning a regime to prop up bourgeois rule and uphold the strategic and economic interests of US imperialism in the region. This inevitably means relying on the military to suppress popular opposition.

Obama’s determination to back Mubarak exposes the rank hypocrisy of his declarations of support for “democracy” and the rights of the Egyptian people. Washington has relied on the Egyptian dictator as a cornerstone of American policy throughout the Middle East for the past three decades, tacitly sanctioning his regime’s repression and even using its torturers for the US rendition program.

The US position stands in direct opposition to the sentiments of the Egyptian people, who turned out in their hundreds of thousands on Tuesday to call for an immediate end to the present regime. In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, demonstrators chanted : “He [Mubarak] goes, we are not going” and “Revolution ! Revolution until victory !” Protestors carried signs simply declaring : “Game over,” “Checkmate” and “Get out”. A 19-year-old student told Bloomberg : “We want the whole regime to change, starting from Hosni Mubarak. We don’t accept [Vice President] Omar Suleiman or anyone else.”

Earlier in the day, protesters streamed into Cairo from other areas despite efforts to block travel to the city by halting train and bus services, and setting up roadblocks. Large protests were held as well in other major cities, including Suez and Alexandria, where tens of thousands participated.

Reports were vague about the impact of the call for an indefinite general strike, but many shops and businesses were closed. Cargo operations at the ports of Alexandria and Damietta were at a standstill. “Customs officials are not there. There is nobody to operate the cranes. You could say the country has effectively shut down,” Dan Delany, a Lloyd’s of London agent, told Reuters.

Expectations were high among the protesters. News agencies reported a festive atmosphere. But the mood quickly changed to disbelief and denunciation following Mubarak’s speech. The CNN correspondent on the spot in Tahrir Square declared that she had never seen the crowd so angry. Some declared the speech an insult. Others waved their shoes in the air to show extreme disapproval. Large crowds remained in the square in defiance of the night-time curfew.

Mubarak’s speech contained a definite threat. While declaring that the young people who had initiated the protests had legitimate grievances, the president added that the opposition movement had been “exploited” by political groups that wanted to destroy the constitution and others who engaged in looting. After announcing that he would stand aside in September, Mubarak declared that it was his responsibility in the coming months to “establish stability” and alluded to measures to deal with those involved in criminal acts.

Mubarak and the Obama administration are clearly counting on the military to contain and ultimately suppress the mass opposition to the dictator’s continued rule. To date, the army has declared that it will not use force to silence “legitimate” demands for reform. But as one US official told Associated Press, the military leadership is allowing protestors to “wear themselves out”. Behind the scenes, the generals are making their preparations for repression when they judge that the time is right.

In his comments yesterday, Obama hypocritically declared that it was not “the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders”. Yet US officials were frantically engaged in discussions throughout the day to do precisely that. While US special envoy Frank Wisner spoke to leading figures in the Mubarak government, Defence Secretary Robert Gates was sounding out the military hierarchy in a phone conversation with his Egyptian counterpart, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.

Obama’s short speech was the outcome of these deliberations. The White House has decided to throw its weight behind the present regime, rather than turn to an untested coalition of opposition parties headed by Mohammed ElBaradei.

While Obama called for the “transition” process to begin now and to include opposition figures, any involvement will be on Washington’s terms. In effect, the US has rejected the proposals of the opposition National Association for Change for an emergency transitional government, which would include Vice President Suleiman and army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sami Annan, to oversee constitutional change and new parliamentary elections.

In response to Mubarak’s speech, ElBaradei declared that the regime had lost its legitimacy, adding that only the president’s resignation would bring stability. At the same time, however, he held a phone conversation with the US ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey. Other opposition leaders have begun talks with Vice President Suleiman, according to Al Arabiya, despite previous declarations that Mubarak had to first go.

Far from representing the interests of working people, these opposition groups are functioning as vital safety valves to dissipate the anti-Mubarak uprising.

The movement is facing serious dangers. None of the demands of those protesting on the streets for basic democratic rights and decent living standards can be met by any section of the Egyptian bourgeoisie—either Mubarak and his cronies or the various opposition figures and parties that now posture as “democrats”. The working class can fight for its interests only by mobilising independently and drawing to its side sections of young people and the urban and rural poor in the revolutionary struggle for a workers’ government and socialist policies.

By Peter Symonds

The Obama administration and Egypt

31 January 2011

As the Obama administration confronts a growing revolutionary movement in Egypt, its tactics will flow from two overriding and inseparable strategic aims : defending the Egyptian capitalist state and maintaining the country as the linchpin of American imperialist operations in the Mediterranean, North Africa and throughout the Middle East. The working class in Egypt and its allies among the insurgent masses must not permit themselves the slightest illusions in the intentions and plans of President Obama. The president and his advisors in the Pentagon and the CIA are determined to contain, defuse and eventually crush the revolutionary movement.

The events of the past week took the administration by surprise. It did not foresee the mass revolt against Washington’s longtime asset, Mubarak. Even as tens of thousands of workers and youth were defying police violence last Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was vouching for the stability of the regime.

The United States is heavily invested—politically, economically and militarily—in the Mubarak regime. Its reluctance to dispense summarily with the dictator is not an expression of sentimentality. Rather, the United States fears that the too rapid ditching of Mubarak will undermine the confidence of other dictators on the CIA payroll in the reliability of Washington. However, in the final analysis, Mubarak’s fate is a secondary matter. Of incomparably greater concern to Washington is the survival of the Egyptian military and security services upon which capitalist rule depends.

At the moment, the Obama administration is concerned that an attempt to use the army to crack down on the protests could lead to the military’s collapse. It is not certain that the troops can be relied on to shoot down citizens on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and other cities, which might be the only way to save Mubarak.

US policymakers are haunted by the precedent of the Iranian revolution of 1979. Washington had not prepared a political alternative to the Shah, and the Iranian military cracked beneath the pressure of the revolution. The result was the loss of a critical client state in the Persian Gulf.

The policy being developed in Washington has, in the short term, two aims : to shore up the Egyptian military and intelligence apparatus—hence the appointment of intelligence chief and former general Omar Suleiman as vice president—and to prepare a political alternative to Mubarak if his removal proves necessary. But any replacement sanctioned by Washington will be nothing more than a puppet providing pseudo-democratic window dressing for a new military regime.

One candidate for the job is Mohamed ElBaradei, who is being promoted by the US media. A trusted representative of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, ElBaradei flew to Egypt from his home in Vienna last week for the explicit purpose of heading off a revolutionary overthrow and rescuing the bourgeois regime.

The Muslim Brotherhood, for its part, has agreed to back ElBaradei as it makes its own bid for patronage from Washington.

In a series of television interviews on Sunday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clearly indicated the basic outlines of the counterrevolutionary strategy being developed by the White House. She avoided calling for Mubarak’s resignation while refusing to commit to his continued rule.

In line with the Obama administration’s cynical calls for democratic reform in Egypt, Clinton made the ludicrous statement : “We continue to urge the Egyptian government, as the United States has for 30 years, to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people and begin to take concrete steps to implement democratic and economic reform.” [Emphasis added].

Of what has this 30-year crusade for democratic reform in Egypt consisted ? Plying Mubarak with $35 billion in aid, overwhelmingly military, and lauding him as a staunch ally in the wars against Iraq, the defense of Israel and the “war on terror.” Not only has the US colluded in the regime’s murder and torture of political opponents, it has used Mubarak’s intelligence agencies and police as torturers-for-hire in Washington’s policy of kidnapping and “rendering” alleged terrorists.

Clinton added, “And we have to make the distinction, as they [the Egyptian army] are attempting to do, between peaceful protesters whose aspirations need to be addressed, and then those who take advantage of such a situation for looting and other criminal activity.”

Here Clinton is already distinguishing between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” forms of protest—the former being those that do not challenge US interests and the latter being those that do. She is laying down the political and pseudo-moral framework for justifying future mass repression.

Washington is aware that whatever government it sponsors will not end the political crisis in Egypt. It is impossible for any capitalist regime to meet a single one of the social or political demands of the masses—for jobs, an end to poverty in the cities and countryside, and the abolition of the brutally repressive police agencies. Nor will a bourgeois regime end Egypt’s alliance with Israel, which has been an essential component of the country’s strategic role in the Middle East since the trip of President Anwar Sadat, Mubarak’s predecessor, to Jerusalem in 1977. The venal Egyptian bourgeoisie is too complete an appendage of American imperialism to carry out such policies.

The Obama administration’s strategy, therefore, is to prepare the military, behind the façade of a phony “reform” administration, for a future brutal crackdown on the working class. One can be certain that behind the scenes, the Pentagon is conducting a detailed inventory of every regiment, brigade and branch of the Egyptian military to determine which forces can be relied upon.

The burning issue confronting the revolution is political leadership. The American ruling class is well aware of this fact. In an interview published Saturday, Jon B. Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said, “As in Tunisia, the protests appear to represent a largely leaderless movement with no clear agenda and no way to seize power.”

It is this political vacuum that American imperialism and its clients in the Egyptian ruling class seek to exploit.

The Egyptian working class is gaining confidence and experience. Throughout the country new forms of popular representation, independent of and hostile to the existing state, are beginning to emerge. But the development of the revolutionary forces requires a clear political strategy, based on an understanding of the historical background, international context and class dynamics of the revolutionary movement that is unfolding in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.

At this critical moment, the International Committee of the Fourth International issues this heartfelt appeal to the Egyptian working class and its allies among the students, youth and rural poor : The principles of Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution, verified by the historical experiences of the twentieth century, are profoundly relevant to the struggle that is now unfolding. The victory of the revolution and your desire for democratic rights and equality can be achieved only on the basis of a socialist program and the struggle for power. No confidence whatever can be placed in any political representative of the capitalist class and its institutions. Look for allies not among the pseudo-democratic and compromised representatives of the national bourgeoisie, but, rather, among the working class throughout the world. As workers on every continent encounter ever more brutal attacks on their social conditions and democratic rights, they are drawing new inspiration from the revolutionary struggles that have begun in North Africa.

Barry Grey and David North

The Egyptian working class needs new forms of mass organization

2 February 2011

With his announcement that he will not step down and intends to serve out his term until September, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has thrown down the gauntlet before the millions opposing his regime.

Mubarak could not hold onto power without the support of substantial sections of the military and his paymasters in Washington, DC. The Obama administration has been in constant contact with the Egyptian high command, which it funds to the tune of $1.5 billion a year.

Mubarak’s promise not to contest the next election is meaningless. Its only purpose is to provide Washington and the Egyptian military with the necessary time to disorient, disperse and repress the mass opposition to the regime. During the past 24 hours, even as tens of thousands of protesters occupied Tahrir Square, Mubarak, the military and their US advisors have been huddled in intense strategy sessions on how to formulate a political response to the outpouring of opposition that will ensure the survival of the regime.

Initial reports spoke of Mohamed ElBaradei, a man with no substantial support in Egypt, being in discussions with former intelligence chief and newly named Vice President Omar Suleiman and representatives of various opposition parties. The aim of the discussions was reportedly to establish a “board of trustees” made up of Suleiman ; Sami Anan, the chief-of-staff of the armed forces ; ElBaradei himself and Ahmed Zeweil, a Nobel chemistry prize winner. It now appears that this course of action has been rejected, with the US fearing that ditching Mubarak too quickly would create a power vacuum.

Mubarak’s defiant stand underscores the reactionary and two-faced role that has been played by the military. Its pledge “not to resort to the use of force against our great people,” presented as a sign that it stands behind the protests, is nothing of the sort. The military remains in charge of the country. Tahrir Square is still surrounded by tanks and troops.

Egypt’s rulers have depended directly on the military and drawn their leaders from its ranks ever since Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser led the Free Officers Movement in overthrowing King Farouk in 1952. Mubarak emerged from the army to become president in 1981 following the assassination of Muhammad Anwar El Sadat.

The army remains Mubarak’s power base. His initial effort to secure his rule in the face of the protests that erupted last week involved appointing a cabinet even more openly dominated by the military. He named Suleiman, a former general, as vice president, Ahmed Shafiq, former air force commander, as prime minister, Defence Minister General Mohamed Hussein Tantawi as deputy prime minister, and General Mahmoud Wagdy as interior minister.

This is what is really meant by the army’s declaration that it is “keen to assume its responsibility in protecting the nation and the citizens.”

Time magazine said of Suleiman : “Finding himself at the fulcrum of a fast-changing power equation could put the intelligence chief turned vice president in a strong position to script the denouement of the rebellion.”

The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall was clearer still, noting that the Egyptian regime’s “survival plan” centres on Suleiman : “At this point, Suleiman is the most powerful man in Egypt, backed by the military (from whence he hails), the security apparatus and a frightened ruling elite hoping to salvage something from the wreckage.

“Suleiman is, in effect, heading a military junta at this point, with all the principal civilian power positions—the presidency, the vice-presidency, the premiership, the defence and interior ministries—held by former senior officers, and with the military itself in full support.”

The claim by the Muslim Brotherhood that the army is “the protector of the nation” is false to the core. The army is the protector of the capitalist class.

The role of the Brotherhood is to politically disarm the working masses. Presently its propaganda lends credence to the political manoeuvres aimed at preserving the monopoly of power and wealth enjoyed by the ruling elite. Ultimately, however, should real change be posed, bloody experiences such as Chile in 1973 and Tiananmen Square in 1989 show that the army hailed by the Brotherhood will act ruthlessly to preserve the existing social order.

The Egyptian capitalist state is in crisis, but it remains intact and is working to regain full control. The mass movement has yet to develop the necessary organizational forms and political leadership.

The Mubarak regime, resting on the military and retaining the backing of US imperialism, seeks to exploit this limitation. The critical task confronting the working class is the creation of popular centres of power, independent of the government, the military apparatus and those “oppositional” forces now seeking an accommodation with the old regime.

The International Committee of the Fourth International calls the attention of Egyptian workers to the experiences of the greatest revolutionary movement of the twentieth century—that which unfolded in Russia between 1905 and 1917. In 1905, workers’ councils, known as soviets, sprang up in Saint Petersburg and throughout Russia’s industrial regions as organs of struggle against the Tsarist regime. In 1917, soviets again emerged, uniting workers and rebellious soldiers recruited from the peasantry. The soviets became the basis of revolutionary struggle and the overthrow of the bourgeois government.

This must serve as an example for the next stage in the development of the revolution now unfolding in Egypt. Mass organisations must be created that can become mechanisms for establishing the power of the workers and oppressed.

Chris Marsden

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