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Latest Country Blogs: Egypt
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Egypt's sham referendum

Referendums by themselves are not necessarily a sign of democracy at work. In fact, the one taking place in Egypt today is precisely the opposite because it is aimed at creating an autocracy with the country’s notorious army leadership firmly in control.

Not only is the draft constitution anti-democratic in its nature; people trying to campaign against the proposals have been arrested and the opposition effectively banned from the referendum process.

So where are the howls of protest from Washington and the European Union, from London and Paris about a  fake referendum that effectively legitimises the army coup d’état that removed the country’s first elected president in July?

Hypocrisy rules supreme in Western capitals when it comes to real democracy, as we are all too aware. So EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton could issue a statement backing the referendum. Unbelievably she claimed that it could lead to “democratic elections” and “accountability for the government and state institutions”.

Yet the constitution contains nothing of the sort. The new constitution exempts the army, police and intelligence services from civilian control and allows them to prosecute in military courts anyone they deem threatening. Workers rights are curtailed at a time when frequent strikes are taking place as living standards fall.

Little wonder that General Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who led the coup against the Islamist government of Mohamed Morsi – who is currently in jail awaiting trial for a litany of “offences” – has hinted that he will take a “Yes” vote as a mandate to become Egypt’s next president.

Egypt remains Washington’s key ally in the region and the Obama administration performed linguistic somersaults to avoid labelling the overthrow of Morsi and the banning of his Muslim Brotherhood party a coup. Now its getting ready to resume large-scale aid once the referendum is out of the way.

Hidden in the massive budget bill heading for Congress is a measure that would exempt Egypt from a law requiring a cut off in aid in the event of a military coup. It would allow $1 billion in annual aid to resume if the administration certifies that Egypt “has held a constitutional referendum and is supporting a democratic transition.” More money is promised once the country implements “economic reforms”.

Yet an authoritarian regime now rules Egypt and the referendum won’t change that one jot. Activists who have tried to campaign for a no vote have been arrested and prosecuted on absurd charges. Public demonstrations are banned, and police have killed 27 people and arrested 703 who tried to protest on the past three Fridays, according to Human Rights Watch.

Four of the most famous secular leaders of the 2011 revolution against the Mubarak regime have been jailed on charges of participating in unauthorised demonstrations. Opposition media have been shut down, and journalists from Al Jazeera imprisoned without charge.
Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members have been killed in protests and most of the group’s leaders have been arrested. Last month, the army-backed cabinet designated it as a terror group and said anyone who “promotes it by speech, writing or any other means and all who fund its activities” would be prosecuted.

The three years since the revolution that overthrew Mubarak, and placed Egypt firmly in the centre of the Arab Spring, have seen increasingly desperate attempts by the ruling class to hold on to power. The army, which owns and controls a large part of the economy, is historically an integral part of these capitalist structures and kept Mubarak in power.

When that façade was broken by the 2011 revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood, with its deep roots amongst the downtrodden masses, stepped into the breach. When it began to threaten the military’s privileges, and failed to deliver on promises to improve living standards, it too was removed in order to head off a popular uprising.  

The anger expressed in the Arab Spring has not disappeared. But what has been found wanting is a secular vision and organisation to complete the revolutionary process and transform the existing state. So let’s support those in jail in Egypt who have courageously opposed military rule and the millions who will boycott today’s referendum.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
14 January 2014

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Your Say

Mick Blakey says:

Thailands recent history and immediate conditions reflect these same contradictions. The Democrats, led by Suthep and his crony Abhisit, the butcher of red shirts, is hoping that their fascistic version of events will justify a coup, the army is not playing ball. Charges of corruption against Yingluck and even Thaksin are laughable from the democrats who are the representatives of the Bangkok elite Suthep wants a coup, there is no other solution, the Democrats will lose any election as they have never lifted a finger for the rural or any other poor. Thaksin did. At this juncture they are crossing the path of Pheu Thai who at least gave them lives, education, sewage, so extreme is the greed and corruption of these people the Monty Pyton script from Life of Brian serves a purpose, Thaksin did make the harvests pay.

Thailand must be the most developed corrupt nation on earth, a huge proportion of income is derived from illegal activities, diesel oil, human trafficking, prostitution, drugs, casinos, illegal lotteries and sundry corruption fill the coffers of ministers, bureaucrats, officials of all kinds, police and even the forces.

Thee are sections of the military who went to college with Thaksin who are sick of it. They cannot hold their heads high in Asia as ASEAN comes into being, and they back Pheu Thai, thus far no intervention or coup has taken place despite the lenient treatment of Suthep and the Democrats as they want a peaceful solution, a change from 3 years ago when Abhisit unleashed the army on the red shirts. Conditions are appearing for the advent of civil war, as they are in Egypt. A deep split has emerged not only in the corrupted ruling class but in the military tops too. At this time the backward peasants of the north, Isaan and Udon Thani, hold the key to the developing revolution in Bangkok, they would quadruple the numbers of the yellow shirts in a day if summoned to do so.

It has to be Bourne in mind that both sides love the King and claim his office for their purpose, his intervention is unlikely without a coup, a coup not really on the cards when most of the military chiefs are colonel Thaksins old military college mates now as opposed to the Generals who deposed him who were of an older generation.
They are retired but wield considerable influence still. However there is no precedent in a country of so many coups and so few elected governments, albeit bourgeoise democracy, for removing an elected PM who has withstood parliamentary no confidence votes and who would undoubtedly be reflected on the nonsensical demands of the Democrats and the super corrupt Bangkok elite and their middle class shopkeeper and above support base.

The relatively young working class in the car factories of Bangkoks environs are yet to speak. Still in its infancy in many respects the trades unions are trained in the US, Germany , India and Japan in amelioration and compromise, the Thai people are not so good at this and react very badly to loss of face. In other words these skirmishes concern every class but the proletariat at present, this will not remain the case for long.

The factory workers are of course related to peasants in the north and shopkeepers and labourers of all sorts in the south. They will identify their own class interests very soon, and when they speak the voice will be precise and clear, there will be no tolerance for the corrupt, the unjust or the brutal. There are sections of the Thai military who will identify with this very readily.

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