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Egyptian Counterrevolution Struggling for a Breakthrough

A vendor arranges Egyptian flags before a morning prayer service at Tahrir Square, in Cairo, July 11, 2011. Almost six months after the Egypt revolution that successfully saw the toppling of former President Hosni Mubarak, protesters remain in Tahrir Square and debates rage over who should rule, how they should rule and who should make those decisions. (Photo: Jehad Nga / The New York Times) The ripples from the January 25 insurrection continue to rock Egyptian society. On July 8, hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in squares across the country on the Friday of Determination. As Al-Ahram reports, “retribution against 'the killers of the martyrs' undoubtedly stands out as the foremost demand raised by demonstrators from

The ripples from the January 25 insurrection continue to rock Egyptian society. On July 8, hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in squares across the country on the Friday of Determination. As Al-Ahram reports, “retribution against 'the killers of the martyrs' undoubtedly stands out as the foremost demand raised by demonstrators from

Alexandria on the country's northern coast all the way down to Aswan, in the deep south.”

Among the demonstrators were trade unionists as well as university teachers from the Coalition of Egyptian Universities Faculty, mobilizing under the slogan, “We want a free university and the National Democratic Party out” and “the people demand the cleansing of universities.”

Spot fire strike activity and union organizing is continuing and mounting – including a three-week long strike by the workers of the Suez Canal Authority, who are agitating for higher wages and better working conditions.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of protesters streamed into Tahrir Square, where, as 3arabawy blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy reports, “The demonstrators' fury was further inflamed … by a threatening speech from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, which constituted an official declaration of war on the revolution.” He adds that he “heard strong chants against the police, PM Essam Sharaf and the military junta generals.”

Meanwhile, in America, machinations to control the course of the uprising continue. Against the backdrop of the pitchfork-bearing Islamophobia of the reactionary wing of the business class, housed in the Republican Party, the Muslim Brotherhood has cozied up to the Obama administration and the Obama administration to the Muslim Brotherhood, as the latter has promised to retain the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, against the wishes of the Egyptian electorate, 54 percent of which has called for annulling the treaty.

It was only reluctantly, under pressure from its lower ranks, that the Muslim Brotherhood participated in last Friday's massive demonstrations.

As the most organized political force, the Muslim Brotherhood is best poised to take control of the country during the upcoming elections.

Its political orientation will most likely be conservative – having nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the fact that it spent years as the “official opposition,” while its leadership has come out against independent working-class action.

There is a temptation among those recoiling from Western Islamophobia to support the Muslim Brotherhood in performative defiance of Western racism. That temptation should not be indulged: the Muslim Brotherhood has been pro-business and anti-redistribution, a reminder that political Islam can as easily resist Western power – Hamas and Hezbollah – as augment it: Wahhabi Saudi Arabia.

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Against this tableau, with revolt and reaction jostling uneasily between Tahrir and Heliopolis, it's probably premature to speak of revolution, or at least, to speak without an awareness that the counterrevolution is struggling to break the grassroots surge.

One sector where policy making continues with barely a hiccup is US arms sales to Egypt, the foundation stone of the Egyptian Army's repressive capacity. Congress was notified on the same Friday that saw the massive demonstrations about a possible sale of 125 M1A1 Abrams tanks to Egypt. Including weapons, equipment, parts and logistical support, the total will be about 1.2 billion dollars, most of it going to the Abrams' manufacturer – the American arms corporation General Dynamics.

The Pentagon is peddling the sale to Congress under the premise that it would “contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been and continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.”

As usual, stability needs to be translated from the bureaucratic jargon of Pentagonese into the English language: the US interest in the Middle East has never been regional stability, but stability of friendly regimes and instability of the rest of them. So, weapons suffuse Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt, while bombs carpet Libya, Lebanon and Iraq, with Iran perpetually under the gun.

Commentary magazine, the house organ of the Israel lobby, has come out against the sale, worried about the power of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. The Obama administration, awash in campaign dollars from wealthy Jews, doesn't seem to care so much.

The weapons are useful both in sowing chaos and in keeping American arms manufacturers marinating in profits: the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute notes that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was the biggest weapons importer in the region between 1990 and 2009, so that Saudi Arabia can “deter and defend against threats on its borders and to its oil infrastructure.” Since 1967, the region has been the major recipient of US arms exports, keeping major production lines thrumming during lulls in Pentagon purchasing.

Germany also is getting in on the looting of Arab oil wealth. The Tehran Times reports that the German coalition government has confirmed – unofficially – that it has approved the export of 200 tanks to Saudi Arabia, worth roughly 1.8 billion euros, or 2.6 billion dollars. Apparently, the “the delivery of the Leopard tanks to Saudi Arabia was supported by the governments of the United States and Israel.”

So long as Israel maintains its Qualitative Military Edge, reactionary sectors of its American supporters may quaver about the arms sales to the Arab states, but are unlikely to do much more.

And as long as ties continue between Egypt and America, and especially between the Egyptian Army and the Pentagon, the trajectory of the Egyptian insurrection will remain unclear.

One hopeful sign is the awareness of diverse social sectors that the major cleavages within their societies have more to do with access to social power than their stance on religiosity. The increasing radicalization of the lower layers of the Muslim Brotherhood is one example of that awareness. Egyptian liberals may fret about Palestinian suffering, but too many want to maintain Egypt as an Arab buttress of the regime which perpetuates precisely that suffering.

Another more transnational example of those cleavages was the coalescing of the European, American and Israeli governments around blocking the Freedom Flotilla.

The sooner we can recognize that similar cleavages exist in our own societies and the sooner we can organize and mobilize on their basis, the sooner we can bring the liberatory energy of the Arab Spring across the Atlantic, and the sooner we can make America cease its major exports to the Middle East – reaction, repression and destitution – break the Special Relationship and start using American resources to build America and not to turn the Middle East into rubble.

If anything, that should be the lesson from and reaction to the Tahrir demonstrations: that the time for replicating them was yesterday and that if we want to see them in our own societies tomorrow, we better start organizing to that end today.

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