‘The task ahead for the Egyptian people may be enormous. But the same will, determination and sense of collectivism and focus with which they triumphed over Mubarak should be drawn upon for the reconstruction phase of the revolution,’ writes Horace Campbell.
Today the victory of the peoples of North Africa over one of the most repressive police states in the world is shifting the balance of power in international politics; it is also strengthening people’s power against exploitation, sexism, domination, police repression and those forms of rule that have been associated with neo-liberal capitalism. After resisting 18 days of protest from millions of Egyptians who want the birth of a new Egypt, Hosni Mubarak stepped down from his 30-year presidency on Friday 11 February. From Djibouti, Libya and Yemen, to Bahrain, Iran and Algeria, youths are standing up for freedom as the ripple effects of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions act as a school for new revolutionary processes.
As the people of Egypt move to consolidate their victory there is a sense of dual power – that of the people organised in the streets, and the power of the military that took the reins of the state in the aftermath of Mubarak’s exit. Though they have dissolved the Mubarak puppet parliament and suspended the Mubarak-serving constitution, these military officers continue to dither on crucial issues, such as the lifting of emergency powers and the release of political prisoners.
In order to exercise their newly gained freedom and express their lack of confidence in military government, workers extended their industrial actions after strikes broke out in all sections of the economy. Even the police who were the frontline repressors came out on strike, seeking support from a public that they had oppressed a few weeks before. There are reports that in some enterprises bosses are running away and workers have to begin to manage the institutions because the bosses have been implicated by their collusion with the police state. These actions by workers, along with actions by the rural farmers, signalled to the military that the exit of Mubarak was only a minor step and that the tasks of the revolution were not yet accomplished. The ultimate task is to end oppression and give dignity to the people.
In my previous articles, I drew attention to the issues of self-organisation and self-emancipation in this context of the uprising to remove Hosni Mubarak from power, and I outlined four significant stages that make up the first phase of the revolution. The stepping down of Mubarak has now paved the way for the second phase of the revolution, which is that of reconstruction. In the second phase, the challenge is how to deepen the victory of the people so that what was won politically is not taken away by a transition that is built on the ideals of ‘liberal democracy,’ where there are no fundamental changes in the economic edifice that was built by Sadat and consolidated by the clique around Mubarak. This is the stage where questions of reconstructions are linked to the structural transformation of revolutionary societies.
RECONSTRUCTING A DEFORMED SYSTEM
Mubarak could never have accumulated a fortune of US$40-70 billion through control over the state alone. Such an accumulation is a reflection of how the neoliberal-driven global capital (financialisation of capitalism) is being played out; it reveals that global capital’s junior partners in developing societies are not in politics or the military alone. They are economic agents with links to the military or political power. In a sense, the location of where the primary accumulation of wealth occurs is shifting away from control over the state, to links with global capital and access to the state. Thus, access to and consolidation of political power becomes a way of securing and legitimising global capitalist partnerships to cover up looting, corruption, greed, and obscene accumulation, especially in developing countries.
The above framework is helpful in understanding where the focus of the next phase of the struggle must be placed, but it is also critical for successfully countering what is soon to come from the West, as it seeks to engage Egypt in the name of democracy in order to shape or prevent any emergence of alternative modes of economic organisation. It could be recalled that some media reported that the people rose up against the dictatorship’s refusal to allow more economic freedom. We must interrogate the notion of economic freedom that these media were referring to. There was economic freedom in Egypt in the so-called ‘free market’ sense of the word. But this freedom defied the deformed ‘trickle-down’ economic logic. While the state did use some tools to maintain itself as a source of accumulation (in a sense competing with global capital), we must clearly understand that Egypt’s most powerful economic elites had been ‘freeing’ up the economy from the state for decades, but replaced by the control of the alliance between them and global capital.
It is important to restate the paradox that Mubarak’s billions are not just the work of his personal corruption. They are a logical outcome of the economic structure that has been built for Egypt’s economic elite class and financed through links with foreign capital. Thus, the more challenging task of the reconstruction phase of the revolution is how to achieve a structural transformation from the neoliberal economic framework that strengthened the nexus between money, power, and politics. This conceptual clarification is necessary so that in the phase of reconstruction, Egyptians could move away from the kind of economic freedom that enabled local and global capitalists to prey on their economy.
RECONSTRUCTION AND CAPITAL CONTROLS VS DEREGULATION
The deregulation and privatisation of Egypt’s economy under Mubarak, as it was in many other societies, meant that government corporations were sold to private capitalists, and that the government drastically cut back its regulation of capitalist activities to accumulate wealth on the back of the working class and at the expense of the environment. In Egypt, this privatisation ensured that Egyptians owned up to 51 per cent of stakes in private corporations. But ‘Egyptians’ in this case became Mubarak, his family and their elite cronies, who control bank accounts and assets worth billions of dollars of Egyptian people’s money in various countries, including Switzerland.
However, these local elements did not act alone in their corruption and accumulation by dispossession. They were backed up by a global ‘free market’ system of capital flow, championed by the global financial institutions like the IMF and enabled by the global banking and financial sectors. As one commentator opined, ‘[t]here is no democracy for its economy. The tyrant here is not only Mubarak, but the IMF, the World Bank, the Banks, the Bond Markets, the Multi-National Corporations.’
In my view, the Egyptian revolution challenged this model, so there should not be a reconstitution of this structure or model after Mubarak’s exit.
The outflow of the money meant for education, health care, housing, sanitation, and living wages is now bringing the question of capital control to the fore in the international financial system. Egyptian youths have to follow this debate in their bid to forge a new course for societal reconstruction. This question of capital control is one of the realities that make structural transformation imperative.
Capital control is one of the policy tools that has emerged to strengthen the health of the real economy in a society against the stranglehold of the global financial sector. The corruption and dangers of the neoliberal global finance were exposed by the recent financial crisis that started in the USA. This structural corruption is what we mean when we assert that Mubarak and his own corruption cabal are not the only problem – an entire global architecture facilitated the Mubarak regime’s illicit accumulation and financial outflow. This outflow took various forms, including bribery, theft, kickbacks, tax evasion and other forms of illicit financial transactions from the major exporters of oil in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Egypt was a regional hub for international capital.
Elsewhere, the debate that there has to be some measure of popular and domestic control over financial mobility or outflow has arisen out of awareness that the global financial oligarchs, their proxies and partners-in-corruption thrive on a ‘free market’ ideology based on the economic disenfranchisement and dehumanisation of the mass of the population.
We know that in today's capitalist crisis, many emerging markets and developing nations are using capital controls to counter the quantitative easing policies of the USA, in order to protect the domestic sources of growth of their real economies against the financial speculation-driven asset bubbles and upward pressures on their exchange rates. Of course, we can be confident that the West will offer ‘aid and support’ for Egypt's next government and expect in return that it does not consider such alternative policies as capital controls. But for the revolution to go beyond removing Mubarak and seeking the return of the wealth he accumulated, to exploring how to initiate processes of structural transformation, one policy litmus test for a future government would be whether or not it considers the use of capital controls as a tool to support the growth and development of Egypt's ‘real economy’ for the creation of jobs and small business development beyond tourism.
Evidence of the success of countries using the capital control policy tools dates back to the post 1997 economic reconstruction, when Malaysia (unlike Thailand and South Korea) went against the IMF, US Treasury, and World Bank policy dictates on how to respond to the Asian financial crisis. Malaysia was strongly criticised and told that foreign investment would never come back to its territory. The threats turned out to be wrong, as 10 years later the IMF admitted that Malaysia’s was a legitimate policy response. In recent years, other countries that have adopted a variety of capital control measures include Thailand, South Korea, and Brazil.
That said, capital control measure is one thing, and releasing the capital for the benefit of the mass of the people is another. The constant mobilisation and vigilance of the people will be required to ensure that the country’s resources are used to improve their standards of living.
The Egyptian people must learn from the neoliberal capitalist crisis in the West, where there continue to be cuts in the provision of social services, tight state budgets, and all forms of austerity measures, while the corrupt financial sector is being propped up in the face of the failure of trickle-down economics and the free market ideology of deregulation. The Egyptian reconstruction process is thus faced with the choice of an alternative path that prioritises the interests and well-being of the people over that of corrupt local, regional and global financial oligarchs.
The dominant one per cent of the Egyptian ruling class will manoeuvre to hijack the reconstruction process in order to maintain their economic stranglehold. They would want to deploy their ill-gotten wealth to dominate the discourse on elections and the new politics, as well as buy access to power or prop up a section of the military that could help them maintain their privilege. To sustain capitalism in Egypt, military forces backed up by Israel and the USA will be needed to crush the fledgling revolutionary process.
The challenge of the second phase of the revolution is therefore poised between the reconstruction of the society for the betterment of the quality of lives of the people and the reconstruction of capital for a new dominant class of elites along with the external forces who have supported the dominant one per cent elites of the population.
INFORMATION AND THE OPENING OF THE FILES OF MUBARAK
‘Now we open all the files,’ said George Ishak, head of the National Association for Change (one of the networks of networks organizing in differing spheres of this unfolding revolution). ‘We will research everything, all of them: the families of the ministers, the family of the president, everyone.’
There are now calls for the repatriation of the wealth stolen by the ruling clique as the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions call on progressives everywhere to pressure the UN to give meaning to the question of asset recovery. For the past decade, the international capitalist forces have paid lip service to the question of asset recovery. But as the stories of the wealth of the Mubarak clique is compared to the debt of Egypt, there is no question whether Egypt can use US$70 billion for reconstruction projects that will serve the needs of all Egyptians. This is a major issue that some international capitalists may want to avoid as they focus solely on constitution and elections. The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) was supposed to be the most comprehensive global legal framework for combating corruption, but Western banking and media circles ensure that this UN convention is not in the popular consciousness.
The top echelons of the Egyptian military, who were ensnared in the top tiers of the Mubarak police state, will work hard for a situation where the rich will prevail. As Robert Fisk pointed out, the generals are concerned about ‘the size of the archives left behind by the regime and the degree to which the authorities, especially the lawyers and ‘the reformed judiciary’ will be drawn into the information freedom so that the full corruption will be exposed.’ Information freedom must be an integral part of Egypt’s reconstruction.
The archives of information on the theft challenge the young revolutionaries to build on the power of the control over news and information to prolong the exposure of local and international forces that looted Egypt.
Mohammed Bamyeh captured the essence of the political earthquake that shook the foundations of corruption, greed, exploitation with links between money, power, and politics. According to him:
‘Like in the Tunisian Revolution, in Egypt the rebellion erupted as a sort of a collective moral earthquake—where the central demands were very basic, and clustered around the respect for the citizen, dignity, and the natural right to participate in the making of the system that ruled over the person. If those same principles had been expressed in religious language before, now they were expressed as is and without any mystification or need for divine authority to justify them. I saw the significance of this transformation when even Muslim Brotherhood participants chanted at some point with everyone else for a ‘civic’ (madaniyya) state—explicitly distinguished from two other possible alternatives: religious (diniyya) or military (askariyya) state.’
The call for a civic state was also a call to bring back democracy at the economic level, in order to end the figment of a democratic society where state property could become private property protected by a police state, with a media designated to pacify and dumb down the population. Foreign correspondents of all the major international networks descended onto Cairo, Alexandria and other cities. When the brutality that had been reserved for the poor rained down on these international journalists, even the conservative columnists and newscasters from the West had to expose the brutality of neoliberalism.
Spin and infotainment as diversions for the youth failed. This was most graphically exposed as citizens all around the world were tuned into the popular revolution in Egypt, and Egyptian state television brought out a sport programme on Thursday night after Mubarak had given his speech of defiance. Youths should now put into proper context the reasons why English Premier League football is the principal form of entertainment on television in Africa and the Middle East.
Two days after Thursday 10 February, media employees began to say that they themselves were stifled and that they wanted to report on the democratic struggles in the streets. These personnel in the state media will be called on to prove their commitment to democracy as the revolutionary moment called for the expansion of information on the theft of wealth from the society. This democratisation of information could reveal whether Egypt was one of the principal money laundering centres for North Africa and the Middle East.
DESTABILISING THE SPIN DOCTORS OF THE TERRORISM INDUSTRY
Egypt was one of the centres of psychological warfare and disinformation by the US military along with their allies in the Israeli military. Private military contractors had been deployed to drive home the divisions on religious grounds and to spread confusion among the ranks of the poor. But the speed of the unfolding revolution ensured that the public information business cannot keep up.
From the news reports, the victory of the people is being called a military victory or, in some quarters, a military coup. In the most conservative sections of Western Europe there is an effort to mobilise Islamophobia, with a focus on the Muslim Brotherhood. Even this is failing as the revolutionary fervour spreads to all societies, with the popular rebellion in Bahrain destabilising the US military command so that the chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had to be deployed to the region. As the people of Bahrain rise up more and more, one reporter writes:
‘The tiny oil-producing state just off the east coast of Saudi Arabia is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, headquarters for a U.S. Marine Corps amphibious unit and a crucial base for U.S. Air Force jet fighter interceptors and spy planes. Bahrain gives Washington a base in the very heart of the Gulf from which it can protect and monitor the movement of 40% of the world’s oil through the Strait of Hormuz, spy on Iran and support pro-Western Gulf States from potential threats.’
The spread of the revolution to the oil producing societies of the Middle East and North Africa brings back the centrality of Egypt in the regional strategy of empire. All of the ruling classes of the oil rich states were integrated into the torture practices and police state structure of Egypt, and their financial transactions internationally were interconnected to the private equity firms of the Mubarak one per cent dictatorship. If and when Bahrain implodes to the point where the Fifth Fleet can no longer prop up the dictators and sheikhs, would there be outright war from the US military against the revolutionary forces?
It is the history of wars to crush revolutions that must be part of the focus of peace and social justice networks all around the world, so that the phase of reconstruction is not hijacked by counter-revolutionary violence. Mohammed Bamyeh observed correctly that ‘the transition to a new order would be engineered by existing forces within the regime and organized opposition, since the millions in the streets had no single force that could represent them.’
Our concern is how to strengthen the popular power in the streets in order to dismantle the structures of repression and exploitation of the police state, so that the strengths of the networks of networks inside Egypt are reinforced by networks of peace and justice internationally.
KEEPING OPEN THE ROAD TO TAHRIR SQUARE
From the dawn of history, the persistent struggles of a oppressed but resilient people or nation have always had tremendous impact on humanity, sometimes speeding up the process of social change. In the last three centuries there have been major historical changes in certain parts of the world that have created this impact. The most significant of these historical changes include the Haitian and French Revolutions of 1789/1791; the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Chinese Revolution of 1949; the victory of Vietnamese over the technologically superior American occupation forces in 1975; and the victory of the peoples of Africa over the forces of colonialism and apartheid.
The Egyptian revolution is equally an event of historical proportion. We hope the people can learn from the positive and negative lessons of the previous revolutionary openings. It is the same information revolution that has schooled the youths to understand that after the massive sacrifices of the anti-apartheid struggles in South Africa, international capitalism worked very hard to build a new class of capitalists to maintain the social structures of apartheid without its racial manifestations.
The optimism and inspiration generated by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions have been given concrete meaning by the information revolution that placed the initiative in the hands of the revolutionary forces. The confidence of the revolutionary forces remains high as they point to the fact that they brought down Mubarak. In the words of Abdel Rahman Yousef, a prominent figure in the National Association for Change, ‘I am optimistic [because] the people know the road to Tahrir Square now and they can go back if they do not get what they are asking for.’
The awareness of the people of the road to rebellion must be buttressed by the popular education on the logic of global capital that supported and maintained the ruling clique for the past 40 years. They must transform this system which extracts wealth out of Egypt, leaving the elites to capture the largest percentages kept in the country, while the rest of society battle for the crumbs whether as a state employee linked to tourism or part of the informal economy.
The Egyptian people must strengthen the committees that they built to defeat Mubarak, and use these committees as a template for people’s power behind reconstruction. They must seriously engage the military so that there is an exposure of the top one per cent of the top military officers who are themselves complicit in the drain of resources from the society. The resulting split in the army will have to be managed by the sophistication of the revolutionary forces that managed the campaign to remove Mubarak.
They must reconstitute democratic participation. This democracy would include political and economic democracy; cultural/religious democracy, and information democracy. They must always remember that their revolution serves as an inspiration to other revolutions. Whatever measure they take for reconstruction would go a long way to not only influencing other revolutions but impacting reconstruction in the process. So far, the popular democratic explosion has shaken not only Egypt but all of the Middle East and Africa and the destabilisation of the one per cent in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Nigeria along with their external handlers will rapidly accelerate the global anti-capitalist struggles. The task ahead for the Egyptian people may be enormous. But the same will, determination, and sense of collectivism and focus with which they triumphed over Mubarak should be drawn upon for the reconstruction phase of the revolution.
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* Horace Campbell is a teacher and writer. Professor Campbell's website is www.horacecampbell.net. His latest book is 'Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA', published by Pluto Press.
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