Monday, April 24, 2006

Egypt: neither Mubarak nor the Muslim Brotherhood

Egypt is - second only to Iraq - the country where many current theoretical debates in the anglophone blogosphere play out in real life, with real consequences for tens of millions of real people.

It's also a country I can claim to know, at least a little, having visited it a couple of times on journalistic assignment.

Tonight we read that at least 22 people have died, with perhaps 150 injured, in a triple bomb attack in the resort town of Dahab. Although no group had claimed responsibility at the time of writing, the operation bears the familiar hallmarks of al Qa'eda inspiration.

One section of the far left - the one that sells papers uncritically hailing this brand of terrorism as 'the new anti-imperialist ideology' - will strike its usual posture of 'refusing to condemn' the atrocity, just as they refused to condemn 9/11.

Meanwhile, foreign policy realists will stress the need for continued support of the de facto dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. The US already does that big time. Egypt receives $2bn a year of American economic and military aid, more than anybody else save Israel.

Mubarak goes through the motions of holding elections, of course, albeit elections subject to ballot-rigging, intimidation, censorship and violence. Then he goes and jails the main opposition presidential candidate, simply for calling Mubarak a 'loser' at a campaign rally.

So much for US claims consistently to be promoting democracy in the Middle East. The hypocrisy of Washington's stance will be more than apparent to most politically-aware Arabs.

Surely the answer must be a free and fair vote, then? But there's a small snag here. There is little doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood would walk any properly democratic contest. And as the electoral victory of Hamas in Palestine underlines, many democrats don't like it when democracy produces the wrong results.

Will either the neoconservatives or the Euston Manifesto group have the courage of their convictions, and advocate putting their theoretical prescription to the test if the inevitable outcome is an anti-Israel Islamist regime in Cairo? We shall see.

And even if the likes of Ayman Nour could be built up into a serious contender, he would simply prove another corrupt third world bourgeois politician, interested chiefly in implementing neoliberal policies so long as they do not contradict the real imperative of lining the pockets of his family and associates.

The only consistent leftwing policy is to support the stuggles of Egyptian socialists as they seek to build themselves within the working class. I know of small groups bravely attempting to do just that, often in conditions of clandestinity and repression. Sadly, the dominant politics of the British left - in either SWP or Euston Manifesto variants - will be of no assistance to them whatsoever.

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