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Arab Spring leads to winter revolution

The prospect of Egypt’s second uprising inside a year is more than a challenge to continuing military rule; it also poses the transformation of the democratic into the social revolution.

Many had hoped, wrongly, that the army which facilitated the removal of Hosni Mubarak by standing aside from the January revolution, would step aside once parliamentary elections had been held. "The army and the people are one hand," many chanted when Mubarak quit.

But there was too much at stake for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) to allow that to happen. They are part of the Egyptian ruling class in the most literal sense, owning large chunks of the economy.

As much as one-third of Egypt's economy is under military control through a host of government-owned service and manufacturing companies, at least 14 of them under the auspices of the Military Production Ministry. El Nasr Co. for Services and Maintenance, for instance, has 7,750 employees in such sectors as child care, car repair, and hotel administration.

In a secret cable dated September 2008 signed by US Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey, the embassy in Cairo told Washington that the Egyptian military was "becoming a “quasi-commercial” enterprise itself.

Other military companies produce small arms, tank shells, and explosives — as well as exercise equipment and fire engines. These companies add up to "a very large, unaccountable, non-transparent Military Inc.," says Robert Springborg, author of Mubarak's Egypt: Fragmentation of the Political Order.

The generals "will try to massage the new order so that it does not seek to impose civilian control on the armed forces," he said in February. "It's not just a question of preserving the institution of the army. It's a question of preserving the financial base of its members."

And that is just what has happened. Next Sunday’s scheduled elections would result in a powerless parliament and a military that is exempt from political oversight and control, according to a protocol that the generals got the interim government to sign up to.

The army has been tightening its grip on power since Mubarak was overthrown. They have processed 12,000 civilians through military tribunals, more in 10 months than the former president managed in his 30 years of rule.

Outspoken critics are in jail while blogger Maikel Nabil has been on hunger strike for almost three months in protest against military trials. There are official bans on strikes and demonstrations and the army provoked sectarian violence against Coptic Christians as part of its divide and rule strategy.

Some activists now realise that the euphoria of January masked the tasks that still lay out ahead. “We handed power to the military on a silver platter," said Ahmed Imam, a 33-year-old activist, of the January uprising. "The revolutionaries went home too soon. We collected the spoils and left before the battle was over."

The removal of the army from power will require a strategy that goes beyond the creation of a parliamentary democracy. In itself, that would not be able to deliver on the needs of the Egyptian people in terms of jobs and a better standard of living.

A parliament that leaves economic relations unchanged would be at the mercy of global banks and the International Monetary Fund, as is patently the case already in countries like Greece, Italy and Spain.

As the November revolution gets under way in Egypt, it can inspire the rest of the world by going beyond capitalist-army economic ownership and hand over the productive resources to people in the cities, towns and countryside. That is something the Egyptian people could unite around and the people’s assemblies created in January can take on the job of achieving this transformation.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
21 November 2011

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