Gilbert Achcar Pt.1: Morsi removed by military coup but Egyptians should not expect improvements in socioeconomic conditions
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
In Egypt, President Mohamed Morsi has been taken out of power by the Egyptian military. The move comes 48 hours after the deadline the army had set for President Morsi either stepping aside or coming to a new power-sharing agreement with the millions of protesters who have taken to the streets since June 30.
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Now joining us to talk more about the latest is Gilbert Achcar. He grew up in Lebanon, is currently a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. His books include The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder, which is published in 13 languages; Perilous Power, the Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy, co-authored with Noam Chomsky; the critically acclaimed The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives; and most recently, The People Want a Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising.
Thank you so much for joining us.
PROF. GILBERT ACHCAR, SCHOOL OF ORIENTAL AND AFRICAN STUDIES, UNIV. OF LONDON: Thank you. Nice to talk to you.
NOOR: So can you give us your reaction to this breaking news that President Morsi, the democratically elected leader of Egypt, has been stripped of his power by the Egyptian army?
ACHCAR: Yeah. I mean, this is in some way a repetition of the same scenario of February 2011. And in both cases what you have is actually a coup, a military coup, on the background of a huge mass movement mobilization, except that the player or those who are in power are different, and the composition of the crowd, the mass mobilization, is different.
In January 2011, in January-February 2011, you had, you know, industry [incompr.] this huge protest movement, this big uprising, in which you had all shades of opposition to the regime of Mubarak. And that included liberals, left-wing movement, but also the Muslim Brotherhood. They were a major component of the mobilization at that time. And you had, you know, in this big mass mobilization the same kind of expectation towards the army, the idea that the army is with the people, can represent the interests of the people. And, I mean, it so happens that on 8 February 2011, just three days before the downfall of Mubarak, The Real News Network had recorded an interview with me in which I was warning against these kinds of illusions about the army, about the military.
And what we have now is just, you know, after a game of musical chairs, if you want. You have the Muslim Brotherhood in power and the partisans of the old regime, of the Mubarak regime, in the streets with the liberal, with the left, with the popular opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood. So in a sense it’s a repetition of the scenario with, okay, a key difference of the nature of the political force which is in power.
Now, of course, in both cases you had a huge mobilization. And this uprising is absolutely fascinating. It is something that actually went beyond the expectations of people, even people like me who rejected, you know, all these gloomy comments that you had ever since you had some elections bringing the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood to power. You had all kinds of comments on, you know, the spring turning into autumn or winter or–you know, and many–so in these events, a reason, if not a pretext, to just dismiss the whole uprising in the region. And there were others like me who were insisting on the fact that we are only at the beginning of a long-term revolutionary process and that actually–I was actually–I stated that I was quite happy to see the Muslim Brotherhood come to government because that was the best possible way to expose them and to, you know, put an end to their ability to mystify the people with very demagogic slogans like Islam is the solution.
NOOR: And can you talk about the varying interests that took part in this uprising in Egypt and what political interests they serve?
ACHCAR: Yeah. Well, as I just mentioned, I mean, you have a very heterogenous crowd, politically speaking. I’ve seen some–you know, on television some interviews with people in the street. And there are many of the people in coffee shops or things like that expressing their preference for Mubarak over Morsi. So you have, of course, a lot of partisans of the old regime, a lot of people who represent, how to say, a rather conservative mass who got [incompr.] the Muslim Brotherhood because of their absolute clumsiness in power. I mean, they behaved miserably, in the most stupid possible way, and so they managed to antagonize everybody else.
And so you have people who support the old regime, but at the same time you have–in this mobilization you have huge crowds of people who, you know, are motivated by class, if you want, feelings that the deterioration of their living conditions, a government which has only continued the economic and social policies of the previous regime, did not change anything in that regard, and so you have also the liberal opposition, which is against the Muslim Brotherhood for political reasons but not against their social-economic policies, because the liberals share basically the same views. Then you have the left. So it’s a very heterogenous crowd. They–as in the same way that in 2011 you had heterogenous forces, forces of a very different nature coming together with the only point in common being their opposition to Mubarak at that time, you have the same now with the opposition to Morsi.
But this of course won’t solve the problem, and any illusion that the army and whoever the army brings to power or who–because now the army is kingmaker again for the second time–the illusion that this would lead to an improvement in the social and economic conditions and then the conditions of living of the laborers in Egypt is just, I mean, completely baseless. All illusions of this kind are just illusions, pure illusions.
And here you have, you know, a contradiction between those who are supporting this takeover by the army because they want the restoration of law and order, they believe that the Muslim Brotherhood were not efficient in doing that, and they are longing for a return of the country to normality, which means basically stopping the strike movement, stopping all these social movement that have been with us for the last two years in a very intensive way. So you have these kind of people. And you have–on the other hand, you have those people who are revolting against Morsi because he is continuing the social policies of Mubarak.
So you are in full contradiction. And the problem is that there is little awareness of that except for fringe groups, but there’s little awareness of that. And that’s the tragedy here is the absence of a left-wing core with a real popular credibility, able to–with a clear strategic view of what is happening. This is badly missing.
NOOR: Now, you mentioned how this is–the revolutionary process which began on January 25 is evolving. So you’re saying you don’t see any leaders emerging from the revolutionary movement that may be able to challenge for the leadership in this next election the army has promised?
ACHCAR: Well, I mean, you had the emergence of a figure who could play the role of bringing together the aspirations of, let’s say, the social-progressive aspirations of the people. And that was the Nasserite candidate–a reference to Nasser, who ruled Egypt until 1970. And so it’s a kind of left-wing nationalism that this candidate represents. And he came third. That was the big surprise in the presidential election. In the first round of the presidential election, he came third. And he represents the only real popular figure in the broad spectrum of the Egyptian left.
But the problem is that he has completely shared the discourse, now the prevailing discourse about the army, about how the army are our friends, are with the people, and all that. And he is in alliance–he entered into an alliance with the liberal and with someone who is a remnant of the old regime, Amr Moussa. And he has made recently declarations saying that it was wrong in the previous periods before Morsi come to power, it was wrong for the popular movement to say, down with the military regime, when you had the supreme committee of the Armed Forces, the SCAF, ruling the country in a very terrible way. So all these statements are not reassuring at all, but, I mean, this is the only person who emerged as attracting the popular aspiration for a change on the left and not a change on the right or the–I mean, whether in the Islamic direction or the military, old-regime direction as you have.
So now the question is: if–and this is an if, of course–but if this program that the army put forward that includes holding early presidential elections, the question is: what will happen these elections, and how will this candidate precisely–because he’s the only one who is able to do something on the left–what kind of discourse, what kind of program, how would he approach these elections? We’ll have to see if–again, if these elections are held, and of course it’s too early now to see, because the Muslim Brotherhood for the time being rejected and denounced the coup for what it is, a coup. Well, it is indeed a coup. Even though it’s not a coup against a democratically elected government, period, it’s a coup against a democratically elected government, but a government which managed to bring against itself the broad majority of the Egyptian people. I mean, this mobilization against Morsi reached, you know, unprecedented scales. It was completely unprecedented.
NOOR: This concludes part one of our discussion. Thank you for joining us, Gilbert Achcar.
ACHCAR: Absolutely. You’re most welcome.
NOOR: And for our viewers, you can watch part two online at TheRealNews.com. Thank you for joining us.
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