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June 30: The birth of a new historical pact?

What is the greatest danger to the revolution? It is not true that it is the regime, or even the counterrevolution in its fiercest forms. The greatest danger lies in a non-revolutionary leadership that constricts freedoms, leans to the right or backstabs.

I discuss here the social class dimension pertaining to the mass protests on June 30. More specifically, I engage with the contradiction between the social class of those leading the mobilization for June 30 and the crowds who are likely to heavily participate.

November to June

There is a major difference between June 30 and the protests against the Muslim Brotherhood that took place on November 26, at least in one regard. The November protests were motivated by the rejection of the Brotherhood’s monopolization of authority following the issuance of the November 22 Constitutional Declaration that granted President Mohamed Morsi far-reaching powers.

Morsi’s declaration angered people everywhere on the left-right political spectrum, including revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries. Accordingly, many strictly non-revolutionary segments of society took to the streets in an effort to bring down Brotherhood rule in favor of the counterrevolutionary forces, for the first time since January 25, 2011.

As for today’s mobilization efforts, they are mainly motivated by socioeconomic grievances. If people do, in fact, occupy the streets on June 30, this will most likely reflect popular anger caused by the wide-scale impoverishment that has hit hard these past few months. I suspect that the bourgeois of the November protest will not be in the streets on June 30; they would fear for their lives due to the anticipated intensity of the demonstrations this time around.

This does not mean that the counterrevolutionary forces will not be present in the streets on June 30; they will be sending their “underdogs,” be it paid thugs or segments of the city’s destitute, or harafish.

But despite this, one can safely assume that if the masses indeed occupy the streets on June 30, they will mostly be composed of low-income classes who have been suffering from the heavy cost of the revolution’s failure up to this day. Inflation — which has always been the way of the wealthy to get back at the poor — in addition to adopting crushing policies to appease big capitalists have caused major devastation to the livelihood of the impoverished, causing defiant rage. It only makes sense to speculate that this state of wretchedness will provoke many of the poor to occupy the streets on June 30 to express their anger at Morsi and his Brothers.

Identity politics

The irony, however, is in how the architects of the June 30 protests and leaders of the National Salvation Front are operating in complete isolation from this public anger. If you put aside the populist demagogic rhetoric and concentrate instead on the social class makeup of the leaders of Morsi’s opposition, do you think they represent the hardships of the impoverished classes who will take to the street to protest their destitution?

The formal opposition’s discontent — due to its own socioeconomic makeup — is very different from that of the masses. The opposition is tainted by all shades of bourgeois liberal and nationalist tendencies, especially after its decision to pardon big capitalists and the old state, manifested in the military establishment, police and sectors of the bureaucracy.

This formal opposition, which adopts socioeconomic policies that are very similar to Mubarak’s regime, perceives its enmity with the Brotherhood administration as a conflict over identity politics. It takes issue with the Brothers’ monopolization of power, the “Brotherhoodization” of the state and the efforts to efface Egypt’s identity as a civil modern state.

This type of identity politics rhetoric emanates from class interests, for sure, but we shall not dwell on this here. The most important thing to highlight here is the aforementioned discrepancy between the reason behind the formal opposition’s discontent and that of the masses, an issue that will prove crucial in the coming weeks and months.

I recently attended a meeting between one of the labor unions and representatives of the Tamarod political movement, which has been organizing a nationwide petition campaign to withdraw the confidence from Morsi and his government, in addition to leading the call for June 30.

The Tamarod representative called on the working class to adopt the campaign’s demands, comprising of holding early presidential elections, forming a national rescue council and a national defense council in the interim period. She argued that this is paramount, “since the workers are part of Egypt and have to adopt the demands that ‘Egyptians have agreed upon’”.

One of the unionists responded, saying the working class is not mobilized by control buttons. He added that many among the working class have no reason to embrace the demands of those who do not themselves push for the workers’ one and only fight for honorable living, which is the essential need shared by all Egyptians.

The Tamarod representative’s face paled, as if suddenly realizing the gap between the political leadership and the masses. Her political disposition is actually reflective of this day and age, where people’s struggle for basic livelihood is absent from the agenda of liberal politicians who are dominating the political scene.

Roll call

Millions of Egypt’s poor who are struggling for their livelihood and are angry at Morsi for this reason in particular will occupy the streets on June 30. But the political leadership will, unfortunately, be preserved for others.

No one can really predict the outcome of this embedded tension between the base and the leadership in such an unorganized, large-scale protest that shall be permeated by the greed of those motivated by petty self-interest. But we have been observing how identity politics, namely the Islamist-secular divide, has been played out to define the political sphere since last November; and June 30 protests in particular shall be played out accordingly.

None among the political leadership is intrigued by subverting this divide, since there is a vested interest in congregating supporters accordingly. Otherwise, the dismantling of this divide will lead to the breakup of each front, be it “Islamist” or “secular.”

I am particularly concerned here about the “civil” or “secular” front, since it comprises the principal revolutionary groups, who have accepted succumbing to the right-wing leadership of the anti-Brotherhood pact.

I have always been confident in the ability of the masses to miraculously reconfigure the political map. But I fear this task will be extremely difficult this time around, for what can we expect from a movement — regardless of its economic and class motives — that is willing to bandwagon with the military/security apparatus or any regressive force, as long as it is nonreligious or “civil” (an attribute that has been grossly abused)? And, on the other hand, what do we expect from a movement — regardless of its economic and class motives — that foments religious sectarianism and is born out of a deep-rooted, regressive force?

The missing player in this political puzzle, let us admit, is a true political and union representation of the working class. Had strong labor unions existed, or had the working class formed influential political parties, or if social-democratic parties had a more powerful presence in the political arena, we would have expected a possible divergence away from identity politics and the promotion of socioeconomic grievances to the center of the political battlefield.   

But the political stage is occupied by a “centrist” leadership that has formed a historical pact, since last November, with the right-wing political current, and has since been appeasing the security/military institutions and big capitalists to consolidate an anti-Brotherhood front. 

The political scene is thus plagued by the regressive bourgeois influences that marginalize the working class and stir events in a detrimental direction that only deepen the wrong type of divide.

A new pact

Despite this calamity, I am not completely pessimistic, especially not for the long run. If there is a favorable outcome that could emerge from the events of June 30, it would be the face-off between the revolutionary current, which is aware of the problems I presented above, and the right-wing classist core of the anti-Brotherhood pact.

This could lead to the formation of an independent revolutionary movement that does not succumb to the aspirations of the centrists (who easily lean to the right) as evident in how a big portion of this group have called on the military to be their savior and power broker.

Finally, the process of creating an alternative to the current political class and old regime should commence now. But will June 30 be its birth date?

An Arabic version of this piece appears in Jadaliyya

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Tamer Waguih