Egypt Poised for Tahrir III

If the elections of May 23/24 would have been for a proportional parliament the pro-Tahrir forces with some 40% of the electorate behind them had emerged as the strongest force. Actually that is a big step ahead compared to the parliamentary elections of last autumn. The run off will be, nevertheless, between the two other players of the power triangle: namely the old regime backed by the army and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The Tahrir will have to rely on taking to the street. The recent acquittal of Mubarak sons and police generals poor fresh fuel into the fire. Huge popular mobilisations are possible.
Leftist candidate shooting star

The surprise of the first round of the presidential elections was the result scored by the leftist Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi. He became third with 20.7% and some 4.8m votes. In most of the urban centres Sabbahi won, in the two largest cities, the capital Cairo and in Alexandria, even with about one third of the votes leaving his contenders far behind.

Emblematic is the case of the Cairo slum quarter Imbaba which used to be a Salafi Jihadi stronghold in the 90s and later was taken over by the MB. Following the results: Sabbahi in the first place (32.2%) followed by Shafiq (23.2%); Mursi (18.3%); Abul-Fotouh (14.7%).

Abul-Fotouh, the more liberal pro-Tahrir Islamist, who had been expelled from the MB, scored 17.1% which equates with roughly 4.1m votes. All this shows a very clear turn to the revolutionary forces, the left and to the democratic milieu at large. In the urban centres the pro-Tahrir forces can be regarded as the absolute majority of the electorate. (One has to take into account that there remains a large passive sector as the turnout was only about 46%.) Certainly Fotouh gathered also some Salafi votes (the Salafis used to support Mubarak against the democratic movement). But also this very fact can be interpreted as a turn to the left. Actually these people voted for a candidate who wants to co-operate with the Tahrir, something unheard of for Salafis.

The pole position for the MB’s candidate, Mursi, was not at all something to be predicted. Actually the results indicate a tremendous decline. From 10.1m they lost nearly the half to come down to 5.8m or 24.8%. If one takes into account that the Salafi candidate was excluded and some from the Salafi milieu will have cast their ballots for Mursi the result for the MB is even worse as the Salafi bloc at the parliamentary elections had scored another 7.5m. On one hand it shows the disappointment of the popular masses with the alliance the MB has forged with the SCAF. On the other hand it displays that the MB’s apparatus and core electorate is intact and still powerful. They represent the Islamic bourgeoisie with important popular roots. But their original hubris is gone or out of place as they now have to court the Tahrir and sections of the liberal milieu against Shafiq and the old regime. But the repudiation they face is paramount given their record of the refusal of the Tahrir’s demand. And this refusal continues as they seem unwilling to substantially meet the Tahrir’s proposals.

The second placed, Shafiq, with 5.5m votes or 23.6% is clearly the candidate of the military and the old regime. Under the slogan of security and stability they could reorganise. Shafiq announced that he would end the revolution. This openly counter-revolutionary position is new as in the aftermath of the overthrow of Mubarak the remnants of the old regime tried to appear as pro-revolutionary. This turn seems to be a reason for the failure of Amr Mousso who represented the democratic camouflage. Those who support the old regime want to voice their demand for a new strong man. Shafiq relies beside the military and the old state apparatus on the business elites, some of the secularist middle classes and a section of the Copts. There has been even a kind of small campaign denouncing the Christians to be supporters of the old dictatorship. But the reality is that a big section of the Copts both from lower and middle classes voted massively for Sabbahi. However, given the fact that the state apparatus, large chunks of the media etc. is with them, Shafiq result remains poor.

Elections unfair

First of all it should not be forgotten that from a democratic constitutional point of view the elections are absurd. People are called to the polls under the rule of a military junta deciding over a function whose prerogatives remain undefined. Actually the Mubarak constitution is still valid as the military and MB commonly votes in a referendum right after the fall of Mubarak to maintain it with only minor changes. The drafting of a new constitution was delegated to a constitutional committee to be nominated by the parliament which is controlled by the Islamist forces. After the withdrawal of all other forces from the commission the judiciary has declared the body not to be representative. So the common attempt by the MB and the SCAF to avoid a constituent assembly chosen by the people came into a deadlock. It is again the junta to engineer a constituent assembly suiting their interests.

The MB fell victim to their own policy. It was on the ground of this old constitution that their frontrunner, el Shater, was excluded from running as he had been a political prisoner before and thus had a criminal record. Also the Salafi hopeful Abu Ismail was excluded along with Suleiman who was designated by Mubarak as his successor only to send Shafiq into the race. These conditions alone render the elections unfair.

But there were massive problems in the conduct of the elections as well. The main defeated contenders filed substantiated complaints: About half a million eligible individuals were added to the voters’ lists without explanation by the electoral commission. Access of observers to the counting process was not secured. Dumped ballot boxes were found. But all addresses cases irregularities were turned down without serious investigation. Recourse is not possible. Thus the old apparatus remains in control of the electoral fabric. Therefore the results of Sabbahi and Fotouh appear even in a better light and it is quite possible that Sabbahi would have made it into the run off.

Exclude Shafiq

Right after the elections the Tahrir was back to the streets. There are two central demands:

Firstly, the junta must immediately cede power to a civil transition council composed of the major presidential candidates sometimes also including El Baradei. More radical forces want to base that council entirely on the popular movement represented by the leaders of the Tahrir. The run off elections should be postponed until the SCAF has withdrawn and a new constitution is drafted. This approach is in full continuity with the core demand for the end of the military rule that has been raised by revolutionary democratic movement since Mubarak’s fall. The MB continues to oppose both a civil transitional council even if they are included let alone the postponement the run off elections. They insist on avoiding the conflict with the old regime, something practical experience already belied.

Secondly, Shafiq must be excluded form the elections according to a law passed by the parliament but only arbitrarily by the executive under the SCAF’s tutelage.

It is difficult to imagine that Shafiq will emerge as the victor without fraud. In case that happens, a Tahrir III is likely to erupt. (Tahrir I toppled Mubarak. Tahrir II tried to end the military rule before the parliamentary elections of last autumn.) Such an attempt by the old regime to regenerate itself by using a democratic mask might lead to another popular explosion further strengthening the revolutionary forces.

Mubarak trial

Then came the acquittal of Mubarak’s sons and high ranking police generals. Knowing that Mubarak has to be victimized the old apparatus still in charge exculpated itself. What a provocation! Immediately a third demand has been added by the Tahrir: Popular trials for Mubarak and his henchmen. Both Sabbahi and Fotouh joined the crowd on the Tahrir and even Morsi showed up to woo the movement which support he needs against Shafiq.

Out of the frying pan into the fire?

Compared to Shafiq, Mursi is certainly the lesser evil. There have been many proposals also emerging from the popular movement how to secure the defeat of Shafiq. Mursi was requested to step back and leave the field to Sabbahi to compete with Shafiq. It was argued that for a whole year the MB claimed as the strongest force to not field a candidate in order not to impose themselves on society. Now they should stand to their promises – an idea which was refused by Mursi and declared unconstitutional by the authorities. Then there came the proposal that Mursi should nominate Sabbahi and Futouh as his vices. There is no constitutional clause which regulates such things. So far Mursi has avoided to express himself on the matter. Others asked for guarantees on democratic rights he should commit to. For the time being Mursi has not been too responsive to the popular pressure. Regarding the MB’s political record of last year not much can be expected.

Most of the Tahrir and the left movement seem to opt for a boycott or to invalidate their ballots with the aim to discredit both Shafiq and Mursi. There is very few trust in Mursi given the MB’s systematic denial of the Tahrir’s demand to immediately end the SCAF’s rule. Others like for example the influential journalist and former leader of opposition movement Kifaya, Abdulhalim Qandil, call for a vote for Mursi in order to defeat Shafiq regarded as the main danger. Regardless of the choice the general line is clear. Defeat Shafiq. Pressurise Mursi to not violate and destroy the democratic achievements of the movement by not giving him a carte blanche. And eventually put the entire run off election into question for the doubtable conditions and constitutional shortcomings postponing the important decisions to a period after the withdrawal of the military junta.


Any step of the SCAF to preserve their rule and the connivance of the MB, which has been painfully experienced during the last year, will be confronted by the Tahrir mass movement. More than before the Tahrir knows that its strength is on the street being able to halt the uneven and shaky alliance between SCAF and MB. The popular consensus of the Tahrir has decisively grown during the last year. The trust in the void institutions imposed by the SCAF with the help of the MB disguised as democratic has been vanishing. The popular masses are poised to explode in a Tahrir III if the SCAF launches a major attack like for example imposing Shafiq. This could possibly result in a further advance of the revolutionary forces.

So Egypt remains in the centre of the revolutionary democratic movement in the Arab world. The Tahrir was so far successful to avert a reconstruction of the imperialist order and regime in Egypt and renders it very costly for the MB to head towards this direction. It is thus setting an example for the entire region which can have an important impact.

But what is clear that the process in Egypt and in the region will not be a steady and continuous. The US and imperialism at large will not endlessly watch a serious and deep loss of control of the region and its central country Egypt. Sooner or later, if the Tahrir managed to continue its rise, it will be faced with a major attack backed by imperialism. The moment will come when the wooing of the “Arab spring” will be over and the arms will speak.

Wilhelm (Willi) Langthaler is a Global March to Jerusalem organiser in Austria and spokesman for the far Leftist Anti-Imperialist Coordination (AIK) – mainly active in Austria and Italy – which courted controversy with its 2003 "10 Euros for the Iraqi resistance" campaign. Read other articles by Wilhelm, or visit Wilhelm's website.