The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 76/No. 47      December 24, 2012

(front page)
Egyptian president moves
to restrict political rights
Amid mass protests, workers defend space to organize
AP Photo/Petr David Josek
Dec. 9 protest at presidential palace in Cairo against draft constitution pushed by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi that restricts democratic rights, unions and freedom of worship.

Since Nov. 22 when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi decreed that all his decisions are “final and binding” until a new constitution is passed, hundreds of thousands of opponents and supporters of his government have joined competing demonstrations across the country.

Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, announced Dec. 9 that a referendum on a new constitution—which codifies restrictions on democratic rights, unions and freedom of worship—will take place Dec. 15, pushing aside calls to postpone the vote from a range of bourgeois opposition parties and many trade unions. Morsi said he had authorized the army to arrest civilians to maintain “public order” until the vote is over.

Morsi also modified the decree that his decisions are law and cannot be appealed in court, saying that this only applies to “constitutional declarations.” A few days earlier he called for a dialogue with opposition leaders.

Morsi was elected in June following the military’s removal of dictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 after several weeks of protests by hundreds of thousands, inspired by the movement that overthrew the Ben Ali dictatorship in Tunisia. Protests continued against the military regime that at first took Mubarak’s place.

Under the guise of consolidating the “revolution” and preventing a return of direct military rule, the Muslim Brotherhood—the largest and best organized capitalist party in the country—is moving to close down space working people won in the course of that struggle.

In several cities opponents and supporters of the measures have clashed, with dead and wounded reported on both sides.

Concerned about provoking another round of mass actions in the country, President Barack Obama called the Egyptian president Dec. 6 and “welcomed Morsi’s call for a dialogue with the opposition,” according to a White House press release. “It is essential for Egyptian leaders across the political spectrum to put aside their differences and come together to agree on a path that will move Egypt forward,” he said. But opposition parties rejected the call, unless the referendum was postponed.

Although the draft constitution uses the word “freedom” 42 times, it limits free speech through prohibitions on insulting prophets or individuals. It includes provisions widely viewed as tightening the application of sharia law and limiting freedom of worship, allowing state control of the finances of the Coptic Christian church and eliminating protections for followers of the Baha’i faith. About 5.3 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people are Coptic Christians.

It also undermines workers’ right to organize by specifying that only one union is allowed “per profession.” Since the removal of Mubarak, hundreds of new unions have been formed, often in direct competition with the state-backed federation.

The draft eliminates a clause from the old constitution that prohibited discrimination “on the basis of sex, origin, religion and creed.”

Continuing the uneasy alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military high command, the constitution allows military trials for civilians “for crimes that affect the armed forces” and keeps secret the military budget. High-ranking army officials are a key section of Egypt’s capitalist class. The military owns large factories and farms, controlling between 20 and 30 percent of the country’s economy.

Interests of workers

“The government decrees are clearly not in the interests of workers,” Ibraham Hamdi, a worker at a state-owned textile mill in Mahalla El Kubra told the Militant in a Dec. 8 phone interview. “That is why thousands of us have participated in demonstrations demanding they be repealed.”

While most workers in the mills are not supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, “We try to discuss with those that are with Morsi, to win them over,” he said.

“Our main union demands revolve around job security and public investments to get the machines working in order to hire more workers,” Hamdi added, noting that thousands of workers have lost their jobs over the last several years.

“The constitution says that women are to be protected and that is really worrying,” Alaa Murad, a recent college graduate who works at a university in Cairo, told the Militant. “I am a practicing Muslim, but the Brotherhood twists certain religious texts and interprets them in their own way. They want to bring back laws that a husband can control whether a woman works or not, apply to university or travel without his permission. It’s bad enough already that we don’t have access to a lot of occupations.”

Murad said some of her relatives, many engineers or professors, support the Muslim Brotherhood. “Before Morsi was elected, we used to talk about our disagreements, discussion was more acceptable,” she said. “But now his supporters have become more vicious.”

The National Salvation Front formed to oppose Morsi’s moves is dominated by capitalist politicians. It is headed by Mohamed el Baradei, former head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency and leader of the Constitution Party; Amr Moussa, former Arab League head and at one time Mubarak’s foreign minister; Al-Sayed al Badawy, head of the Wafd Party, which played the role of a loyal opposition during the Mubarak regime; and Hamden Sabbahi, leader of the Nasserite Popular Current.

The front also includes several social democratic and middle class radical groups, including Al-Tagammu, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party and the Social Democratic Party.

The military high command has tried to portray itself as above the fray. “We support the call for national dialogue, to reach a consensus that unites all segments of the nation,” Armed Forces spokesperson Ahmed Mohamed Ali stated Dec. 8. “The Armed Forces have always ensured the security and safety of the nation and its people.”

Since taking office, Morsi has kept in place many policies both of Mubarak and the interim military regime that immediately followed his ouster. And like his predecessors he has called on workers to stop striking for higher wages and better working conditions.

Brotherhood backs IMF austerity

Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil has been negotiating with the International Monetary Fund over the terms of a $4.8 billion loan Morsi’s government has requested to weather the economic crisis, including a sharp drop in tourism and foreign investment and a budget deficit estimated at $27.5 billion.

As part of the deal, the government has already begun cuts in subsidies for cooking gas and electricity and plans to cut more, including for food. “We need to do it gradually and to make sure it can succeed,” Kandil told the London Financial Times in October. “There is no good time to implement a reform programme.”

On Dec. 9 Morsi announced he was imposing new sales taxes on soft drinks, beer, cigarettes, cellphone services, cooking oil, fertilizers and pesticides as part of getting the IMF loan. Later that night he announced the measures were on hold “until the degree of public acceptance is made clear.”

“Morsi no longer has legitimacy,” Gamal Abu’l Oula Hassamin, director of the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services, which helps organize workers in Mahalla, said by phone. “Mill workers, other workers and neighborhood residents are discussing what to do.”

Georges Mehrabian in Athens, Greece, contributed to this article.  
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