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Vol. 76/No. 27      July 23, 2012

Egypt: Brotherhood wins election,
workers’, farmers’ fights continue
Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi took office as president of Egypt June 29, less than a year and a half after the Supreme Military Council ousted President Hosni Mubarak in the midst of growing protests against his dictatorship.

“There is no room now for the language of confrontation,” declared Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, after the vote. His message was aimed both at assuring the generals and warning workers and peasants, who have been using new political space since Mubarak’s ouster to organize and advance their own interests.

Morsi won nearly 52 percent of the vote in the June 16-17 runoff election, defeating former general Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister. Just 46 percent of eligible voters participated in the first round, where a range of bourgeois candidates vied against Morsi and Shafiq. The election commission said 51 percent voted in the second round.

On the eve of the runoff, the military command shut down the Islamist-dominated parliament, under the pretext of enforcing a supreme court order that a third of the body had been elected illegally. The military government reimposed martial law, but that decree was overturned by the courts.

Islamists seek deal with generals

Morsi has been negotiating behind the scenes with the generals. According to the online edition of Al Masry Al Youm newspaper, “an initial agreement entails that the army will maintain control over its budget and internal affairs” as well as the interior, defense and justice ministries. The military also owns substantial businesses and will remain the largest single employer in the country.

“The Freedom and Justice Party’s economic platform would restrict the state’s role to that of a motivator and coordinator for economic activity,” said Hassan Malek, head of the Muslim Brotherhood-led Egyptian Society for Business Development,” reported Al Masry Al Youm July 2, a reference to advantages given to military-run businesses against their capitalist competitors.

Despite conflicting interests between the Muslim Brotherhood and Supreme Military Council, recent developments represent a shift. The Brotherhood was formally banned in 1954 and more than 1,000 of its members were arrested in 2005 during a military crackdown.

“Instead of asking why confrontation is inevitable, perhaps the more appropriate question is why compromise is likely,” Al Ahram, a government-owned newspaper, said July 3.

The Muslim Brotherhood is the largest, best organized party in the country with significant support among workers and farmers. Noting the group’s influence, the paper said Morsi’s victory was better for the military high command than a victory by Shafiq because “moderating collective action is one of the Brotherhood’s major strengths.”

The generals and the Muslim Brotherhood leadership need each other, Al Ahram said, because of their “mutual interest in sustaining competitive capitalism … the regional status quo and global hegemonic order.”

In one of Morsi’s first statements on foreign affairs, he pledged to respect international treaties, a clear reference to treaties between the Egyptian and U.S. and Israeli governments.

The White House issued a statement congratulating Morsi on his victory and called on him to “advance national unity.”

Among many workers and youth and those in Egypt’s small middle class there is skepticism about the existing political parties and the military.

“I didn’t vote in the first or second rounds,” Maie Sherefay, a recent university graduate who quit her job a year ago and has been unable to find work since, said in a phone interview from Cairo. “We don’t trust the military and we don’t trust the Ikwhan [the Muslim Brotherhood], but I prefer them to the old Mubarak regime.

“What really matters right now is to have a higher minimum wage, a better economy and to fight corruption,” she said. “We’ve been waiting for a year and a half now and nothing happens.”

Working people use political space

The most important consequences of developments in Egypt has been the new possibilities for working people to organize and resist.

Some 4,000 workers at the Cleopatra Ceramics Factory in Ain Sokhna, one of the largest in the Middle East, held a sit-in in front of government offices in Suez City to protest the company’s attempt to renege on a pledge to pay bonuses and profit sharing and its suspension of free transportation to work. On May 22, after a 12-day standoff, management met the workers’ demands.

On June 20 hundreds of workers from the Toshiba El Araby factory blocked the Cairo-Alexandria road protesting what they said was the refusal of the company to compensate the family of a coworker who died from electrocution on the job.

Even unions belonging to the government-financed Egyptian Trade Union Federation, which functioned as a pillar of support for the Mubarak regime, have been taking action. ETUF workers at Alexandria Tire, owned by Italy-based Pirelli Corp., went on strike June 10.

Five workers were fired in retaliation, ETUF spokesman Mostafa Rostom told the Militant by phone July 1. “The company is playing a dirty game,” he said.

In a statement sent to the Militant from Italy, Pirelli said the five were fired for “their active role in the promotion of the illegal strike.” The company claimed that union requests for medical insurance to cover their families and for payment of school fees violate an agreement that no new demands be made for three years.

The membership of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions, which is independent of the government, has grown rapidly since Mubarak’s ouster.

Peasants are also demanding rights to land and water for irrigation. According to the New York Times, 10 percent of Egyptian peasants lost their farms after a 1992 law was passed that overturned land distribution during the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1960s.

In one recent example cited by the Times, farmers in Fayoum took back land they were evicted from by the large landlord Wali family in 1997.

More than 100 Fayoum farmers demonstrated in Cairo in March demanding the release of eight farmers in prison for allegedly stealing crops, reported Al Masry Al Youm. The paper also reported that hundreds of farmers from three villages in the Nile Delta blocked a highway in April to demand the government release water into a canal.

Shadi, a spokesperson for the Land Center for Human Rights in Cairo, told the Militant in an email that 50 new farmers associations have been formed over the last year and a half. Among the biggest problems small farmers face, he said, are debts to the agricultural banks, lack of water, and access to land.  
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