Tue Jun 18, 2024
June 18, 2024

Egypt: The Impact of the Situation in Gaza

Elections will be held in Egypt next December. The current president, General Abdelfatah al-Sisi (in power since 2013 when he overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi), has announced that he will run for a third term. He is doing so in the midst of a deep economic and social crisis in the country and great popular discontent. In this context, his government is affected by the situation in the Gaza Strip (bordering Egypt) and the genocidal attack of the Israeli government to “wipe it off the map”.

By Alejandro Iturbe

Egypt is located in the extreme northeast of Africa, with a small part in Asia (the Sinai Peninsula). With a population of 113 million people, it has always been the most populous and powerful country in the Arab world. Historically, it has played a central role in the dynamics of these countries, their regimes, and their governments.

To this objective weight was added a layer of great geopolitical importance, starting with the construction and opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, which was carried out by France (which politically dominated the country), in the strait that until then connected Africa and Asia.

French political domination was replaced by British imperialism in 1904. In 1925, in the context of a  process of national struggle, Britain granted Egypt independence, but it installed a puppet regime (the monarchy of King Farouq) and maintained control of the Suez Canal by conceding its exploitation to an Anglo-French company.

In 1952, a core of second-line officers led by then-Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew King Farouq and installed a republic with the army as the central institution and Nasser as president. In addition to the Suez Canal issue, another factor that led to this coup was deep popular dissatisfaction with the very poor military performance of the Egyptian army in the war waged by several Arab countries against Israel after the creation of that state in 1948, which ended with Israel’s victory in 1949.

The government’s first measure was to nationalize the Suez Canal under the monopoly control of the Egyptian state. As a result of this measure, the country was attacked in 1956 by a military coalition formed by the United Kingdom, France, and Israel, which occupied the Sinai Peninsula. The Egyptian military resistance, supported by most of the Arab League countries, forced the aggressors to sign an armistice and return the peninsula to Egypt. This triumph made Nasser the main leader of the Arab peoples and gave rise to an international trend that found expression in other countries such as Syria and Iraq.

Nasserism

This movement was part of what we have called bourgeois nationalism. That is, movements of bourgeois leadership and programs of countries who are subordinated to imperialism, and whose national bourgeoisies aspire to have greater space for their development. For this reason, such a movement promoted and led the resistance against imperialism and imperialism attacked it as a result. We have always defended these movements against these attacks. At the same time, in addition to Nasserism, there was the Mexican Cardenism and the Argentinean Peronism.

Their bourgeois conception and program had severe limits, because the aim was not to advance towards the construction of a workers’ state and an economy of transition to socialism in those countries, but to remain within the limits of the capitalist system. In their progressive anti-imperialist measures, they relied on the mobilization of workers and masses (to whom they also made other concessions).

At the same time, they had to keep a tight control on these mobilizations in order to prevent them from spilling over and threatening the capitalist system and the bourgeois state. For this reason, Nasserism installed a type of regime that Trotsky, in studying Mexican Cardenism, called “Bonapartism sui generis”[1]. In Egypt, the central institutions of this regime were Nasser himself (as “Supreme Leader”) and the army.

These were progressive regimes in that they resisted and confronted the pressures of imperialism. At the same time, they were deeply reactionary because they put a dictatorial brake on the independent and self-determined mobilization of the masses. For this reason, they harshly repressed any dissidence. They also harshly repressed workers’ strikes[2].

The international policy of Nasserism

The second limitation of these movements was that their resistance against imperialism did not have as a strategic goal the end and defeat imperialism at the international level. Their goal was to negotiate imperialist “acceptance” in order to have “peace of mind” in the domination of their countries.

 The above objectives of Nasserism were made mainfest in the ideology and policy of “Pan-Arabism”: the union of all Arab countries. It was even expressed in the ephemeral existence of the United Arab Republic (UAR), which was dissolved between 1958 and 1961 because of a coup d’état in Syria by sectors opposed to this union.

Nasserism, which led several Arab countries, maintained its defense of the Palestinian people and its military confrontation with Israel. This was expressed in the 1967 war (the “Six Day War”), in which the Arab sector was defeated. Israel took the Gaza Strip (under Egyptian control since 1959), the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank (under Jordanian administration since 1950) and Golan Heights, a small Syrian territory bordering Israel.

In October 1973, a new attack was launched against Israel. Although the war meant another Israeli victory, its military development was much more balanced than in the previous ones. Israel maintained control of Golan Heights, but began to withdraw from Sinai after the agreed cease-fire (the full return of Egyptian sovereignty would be formalized with the Camp David Accords in 1978)[3]. 

Camp David: Nasserism’s betrayal

An old Marxist premise is that those who are not willing to fight imperialism to the end will first capitulate to it and then, sooner or later, become its agents.

This is what happened to the Egyptian regime in the Camp David Accords. In it, Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, with the support of U.S. imperialism, recognized the legitimacy of the existence of the Zionist state and signed “peace” with it. In reality, it was a real betrayal of the struggle of the Palestinian people and of the Arab peoples as a whole. It was a betrayal that opened the door to others in the Arab world.

In 1994, the Palestine Liberation Organization, represented by Yasser Arafat, signed the ill-fated Oslo Accords [4] with Israel. Through these agreements, the PLO and its main organization (Fatah) became agents of Israeli colonial rule over the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, through the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

In the same year, the Jordanian monarchical regime signed a similar agreement that established the Jordan River as the border between the two countries. Thus, on the one hand, it handed over the West Bank to the Israeli occupation. On the other hand, it became the “external guardian” of the Israeli borders and the “dam of containment and oppression” of the three million Palestinian refugees living in Jordan.

The Egyptian regime became a key part of the geographical, political and military apparatus of imperialism against the Palestinian people. On the one hand, it helped to suffocate the Gaza Strip and curb the struggle of its people. For example, when Hamas took control of this territory and kept it autonomous from Israel, the Egyptian regime “pressured” Hamas to withdraw [6]. This is also the case when it opens or closes the Rafah border crossing according to Israel’s needs. On the other hand, in the West Bank, it helped train the repressive forces of the PNA.

In payment for these “favors”, US imperialism “militarily assists” the Egyptian regime to the tune of 1.3 billion dollars a year (second only to the “aid” it gives to Israel)[7]. 

“The worst of all worlds”

Anwar Sadat was assassinated in November 1981. He was succeeded by Hosni Mubarak, who became the “eternal president” through successive elections as the only candidate.

With Mubarak, the Egyptian military regime became what the Brazilians call “the worst of all worlds.” It had lost any progressive character, not only not opposing imperialism and Israel, but becoming their agents.

Internally, it was a capitalist dictatorship that sought to resolve the effects of the international economic crises in the country through adjustments and attacks on the living standards of the workers and the masses, and through repression of opponents and workers’ struggles. All of this occurred in the midst of intense corruption and enrichment of the military leadership.

This situation reached its limit in 2011, when Egypt joined the wave of revolutionary processes against the dictatorial regimes spreading throughout the region, which the Western press superficially called “Arab Spring”[8].

Tahrir Square and the military’s maneuvering

In Egypt, this process was centralized in the massive camp that permanently occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo, which brought together a wide range of sectors: trade unions and workers, those seeking democratic change, those fighting against the oppression of women, and a strong sector led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Similar mobilizations took place in other cities across the country. A strong wave of strikes also spread in the country’s main state-owned industries. The aim of this process was to change the political regime and was expressed in the slogan “Out with the Military Junta”.

The military regime tried to break it with repression, but it did not succeed. Within this context, in order to survive, it made a “three-way” move, as they say in billiards: in 2011, Mubarak resigned as president and presidential elections were called, which were won by the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi (he took office in April 2012).

Mubarak’s resignation was a great triumph of the Tahrir Square struggle, but it was a partial triumph because the military regime survived, albeit badly beaten. In this context, the presidential elections were a maneuver for the Muslim Brotherhood government to serve as a “shield” between the anger of the masses and the regime.

Because of its bourgeois conception, the Muslim Brotherhood was not able to take the necessary measures to reverse the terrible socio-economic situation workers and the masses found themselves in. At the same time, an important part of the Egyptian people opposed its orientation of “Islamizing” the government and its policies. In this context, workers and popular mobilizations began to develop demanding Morsi’s resignation.

The military high command “rode” this process and in July 2013, General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, President of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, staged a coup, overthrew the Morsi government and assumed the presidency of the country. A harsh persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood began, which was used to repress all opposition sectors. The “breach” opened by the revolutionary process of Tahrir Square was thus closed, and the military regime resumed the “normalcy” it had under Mubarak.

From then until now

We have extended this historical summary to clearly show the character of the regime led by al-Sisi (heir and reconstructor of the one led by Mubarak) and the many problems it faces.

In addition to the policy of attacking the living standards of workers and the masses, he has also added the policy of privatizing the large state enterprises created by Nasserism [9]. In the context of a world economic crisis, the consequence of all this is a strong and constant deterioration of the socio-economic the masses’ socio-economic situation.

Inflation is very high and Egyptian currency has lost 50% of its value in the last year. The price of food such as meat has increased by 90% [10]. According to the NGO Oxfam, 30% of the Egyptian population lives below the “poverty line”, a percentage that is increasing [11].

In the absence of any prospect of reversing this situation and its dynamics, many Egyptians have chosen to emigrate: in 2020 there were more than 3.6 million who left the country, and the numbers are increasing annually [12]. Two thirds are men who go abroad to look for work. For example, nearly one million Egyptians were working in Saudi Arabia as oil and construction workers [13]. A similar number went to the United Arab Emirates. 

This emigration represents a kind of “partial decompression valve” for the Egyptian regime. On the one hand, millions of young workers do not oppose the regime because they are outside the country. On the other hand, these workers send monthly remittances in foreign currency to their families. In 2021, Egypt was among the five countries in the world that received the most money in this way. The Middle East and North Africa region as a whole accumulated 61 billion dollars that year, and this is considered “the main source of external resources” [15]. It can be estimated that 10% of the Egyptian population survives on these remittances, which at the same time represent a “breath of fresh air” in the deep economic crisis that the country is going through.

In any case, the Egyptian people’s dissatisfaction with the regime and with al-Sisi is growing, as the steady deterioration of their economic and social conditions has been compounded by the harsh repression of anyone who expresses opposition. “Thousands of human rights defenders, journalists, protesters and other real or perceived critics and dissidents of the government continue to be arbitrarily detained for exercising their human rights,” denounced Elizabeth Rghebi, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director [16].

In this context of deep socio-economic crisis and popular discontent, the Egyptian regime has called presidential elections every five years in order to disguise its dictatorial character. Al-Sisi has already officially announced his candidacy for a third term as president with a speech in which he spoke of his “ten years of success”[17].

Certainly, al-Sisi will win this “election.” This is not because of his “great successes,” but because of the tight control that the Egyptian regime has over them, preventing any electoral expression of popular dissatisfaction. In his previous postulations, he “won” with 96% of the votes (2014) and 97% (2018).

The only opponent who has been encouraged to announce his candidacy is Ahmed al-Tantawy, a 44-year-old former MP who claims to have gathered the necessary support of 20 MPs and is now trying to collect 25,000 signatures from citizens in support of him. His campaign has “rule of law” at its core. Al-Tantawy’s supporters have already reported receiving threats and assaults. He himself has warned that it is possible that “in the end they will tell us: ‘Sorry, you don’t have enough signatures.’”

It is very clear that it will not be through these sham presidential elections that the Egyptian people will be able to “get rid of” al-Sisi and the military dictatorship as a whole. In order to do so, it will be necessary to resume and advance on the path of Tahrir Square. 

The Israeli attack on Gaza

We have seen that the Egyptian regime is part of the apparatus that imperialism and Israel have built against the Palestinian people. On this point, it has also been confronted with the majority sentiment of the Egyptian people who support the Palestinians in this struggle.

That is to say that, despite the fact that demonstrations are forbidden in the country, there have been mobilizations in Egypt in support of the Palestinians and against the Israeli attack. An article in the Spanish daily El País reports that “in the face of the lukewarm response of the governments of the region, tens of thousands of citizens from Egypt to Yemen and from Jordan to Iraq are protesting in favor of the Palestinian people and against the Israeli blockade and offensive.”

In this context, Israeli’s attack and policy towards the population of the Gaza Strip pose a new and acute contradiction for the Egyptian regime. Because Israel wants to expel one million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip and one of the alternatives is to transfer them to the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.

This is, in fact, an update of a plan drawn up between 2004 and 2006 by General Giora Eiland when he was head of the Israeli National Security Council [19]. If the Egyptian regime does not accept this solution, Israel says that the other alternative is that the Palestinians expelled from the Gaza Strip will be transferred to the Negev desert (on Israeli territory), where a gigantic concentration camp will be built without any possibility of survival. The “Eiland Plan” means “outsourcing” the problem of the current inhabitants of the Gaza Strip to Egypt, just as it has been done with Jordan and its three million Palestinian refugees expelled from their lands since 1948.

So far, the Egyptian regime has refused to accept this proposal. Al-Sisi has said that the Egyptian people would not agree to it. But his main concern is different: “Any such move would turn the peninsula into a base for attacks against Israel.” He then added that he was “suggesting that Israel transfer Palestinian civilians to the Nakab (Negev) desert.”[20] The bottom line is that “The Egyptian government has been unable to do anything about the situation in the Nakab desert. The bottom line is that “the peace we have achieved [with Israel] would slip through our fingers.”[21]

With this position, al-Sisi does not show even a minimum of humanitarian solidarity to help the survival of the Palestinians, who may be expelled from the Gaza Strip in a new episode of the Nakba initiated by Zionism in 1948.

However, being an agent of US imperialism, he is already being pressured by the latter to accept such a project. An independent Arab media organization has reported that this was one of the points discussed in the meetings between US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and al-Sisi during the latter’s recent trip to the region [22].

The same press reported that prior to the current situation in Gaza, the Egyptian regime was investing in the north of the Sinai Peninsula to build an area suitable for industrial projects “where Palestinians from Gaza could come and work.” According to their media analysis, if the current situation in Gaza continues or worsens over time, a sector of the Palestinians “would eventually leave and move to where they have job opportunities.” The Egyptian regime, in another demonstration of its repulsive character, wants to take advantage of this new Nakba that Israel wants to carry out and would negotiate imperialist investments to develop this project.

Today, in addition to the heroic and desperate struggle of the Palestinians in Gaza, millions are mobilizing in Arab countries and throughout the world in solidarity with them, and to prevent Israel from carrying out this new Nakba. The IWL promotes and participates with all its strength in these mobilizations.

In several articles, we have said that the only way for the Palestinian people to regain their territory is to defeat and destroy the State of Israel. And in addition, for this objective to be possible, it is necessary that the Palestinian struggle be the spark that “sets fire” to the region with a revolutionary process wherein the Arab peoples resume the path of military struggle against this stat[23].

In the case of Egypt and Jordan, whose regimes and governments are accomplices and agents of imperialism and Israel, this means that their people must struggle to overthrow them. In Egypt, as we have already expressed in the same article: “it is necessary to retake and advance on the road of Tahrir Square.”

Notes:

[1] See Leon Trotsky’s article “Nationalized Industry and Workers’ Administration” (1938) in La industria nacionalizada y la administración obrera (ceip.org.ar).

[2] On this point, we recommend reading La lutte de classes en Egypte de 1945 a 1968, Mahmoud Hussei, Cahiers libres, ed. François Maspero, 1969, pp. 158-169.

[3] The Camp David Accords – History Today

[4] Oslo, the peace of the cemeteries for the continuing Nakba – International Workers’ League (litci.org)

[5] Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty – Wikiwand

[6] Egypt articulates a negotiation for Hamas to withdraw – International Workers League (litci.org)

[7] https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2011/02/110131_egipto_poder_palanca_eeuu_en

[8] See among other articles published on this site: Ten years of revolutions in the Arab world – International Workers League (litci.org)

[9] Egypt: Privatizations to survive the consequences of the war in Ukraine? – Pia Global (noticiaspia.com)

[10] Ten years of Al Sisi: Egypt’s three crises: International (elmundo.es)

[11] https://www.oxfam.org/es/que-hacemos/donde-trabajamos/paises/egipto#:~:text=The%20classification%20of%20Egypt%20as,de%20a%20d%20d%C3%B3lar%20al%20d%C3%ADa.

[12] Egypt – Total Emigrants 2020 | Datosmacro.com (expansion.com)

[13] https://datosmacro.expansion.com/demografia/migracion/inmigracion/arabia-saudita#:~:text=In%20Arabia%20Saudi%20Saudi%20live%2C%20sec%C3%BAn,%2C%20which%20are%20the%2031.36%25.

[14] https://datosmacro.expansion.com/demografia/migracion/inmigracion/emiratos-arabes-unidos#:~:text=The%20immigrants%20in%20the%20Emirates%20%20C3%81Arab,%2C%20a%209%2C02%25.

[15] https://www.bancomundial.org/es/news/press-release/2022/05/11/remittances-to-reach-630-billion-in-2022-with-record-flows-into-ukraine

[16] Ten years of Al Sisi: Egypt’s three crises [16] Ten years of Al Sisi: Egypt’s three crises [16] International (elmundo.es)

[17] Ibid

[18] https://elpais.com/internacional/2023-10-13/la-calle-arabe-se-moviliza-en-solidaridad-con-gaza-ante-la-tibieza-de-los-gobiernos-de-la-region.html

[19] https://www.madamasr.com/en/2023/10/25/feature/politics/the-sinai-solution-reimagining-gaza-in-the-post-oslo-period/

[20] https://www.cnnbrasil.com.br/internacional/egito-sugere-que-palestinos-em-gaza-sejam-deslocados-para-deserto-em-israel-durante-guerra/

[21] https://www.latimes.com/espanol/internacional/articulo/2023-10-20/por-que-egipto-y-otros-paises-arabes-no-estan-dispuestos-a-recibir-a-refugiados-palestinos-de-gaza

[22] https://www.madamasr.com/en/2023/10/25/feature/politics/the-sinai-solution-reimagining-gaza-in-the-post-oslo-period/

[23] See debate with Gilbert Achcar on Palestine: Stones versus Tanks and Rockets? – International Workers League (litci.org) and The “Palestinian Question”: Central Point of the Arab Revolution – International Workers League (litci.org).

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