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Fourth International, July 1946


J. Damien

Social and Political Conditions
in Egypt Today


From Fourth International, July 1946, Vol.7 No.7, pp.222-223.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


Cairo, April – During the past ten years Egyptian society has been affected by a succession of very decisive changes. In short these changes took the following aspects:

  1. economically, the rapid expansion of local industries;
  2. socially, the growth of the working class;
  3. politically, the disintegration of the WAFD, the traditional nationalist party.

In the economic field Egyptian industries were confronted with a considerable task. They had to supply an immense demand during the six years of war. Textile plants were expanded and a number of new companies were formed, which payed huge profits a year or two after they were founded. The sugar industry gave to its maximum. Oil refineries had to supply the whole of the Mediterranean fleet and worked on a very impressive scale. Furthermore, the British army workshops employed no less than 300,000 workers.

Egypt has not even begun to exhaust its industrial potential; it is only at the beginning of the road. The more farsighted among the Egyptian capitalists are aware of the dangers arising from the reconversion of the world economy. Home made articles cannot compete, either in price or quality, with their American, English, French or Czech equivalents. But yet, enterprising millionaires like Ahmed Abbud Pasha and Ali Emine Yehia Pasha are seeking new ways for reinvesting their huge profits. It is probable that a major crisis will be averted and that within four or five years Egypt’s economic structure will be strengthened by new plants, new oil refineries and chemical industries. Such a growth of the productive forces has brought with it a prosperity which is artificial – since Egypt is tied to Britain’s economic system. Measured in terms of gold, Egypt’s credit is very high – but the gold is in London.

In 1935 there were 250,000 workers in Egypt. The working class number now over a million. A fitter, whose salary before the war varied between 12 and 15 piastres a day (1 piastre = 4 cents), earns now between 40 and 50 piastres a day. Whatever the corresponding rise in the cost of living, there is no doubt that the Egyptian worker lives better than before the war. And living better he has time and money to educate himself, to participate in union activity, to buy magazines, etc. This growing consciousness of the working class has a direct bearing upon the tactics of the Egyptian political parties. On the one hand, they endeavor to win the confidence of the workers and to collect their votes; on the other hand they attempt to stem the natural trend of the working class towards independent class action.

Of the first aspect we can give many examples: for instance, all bourgeois parties are intriguing and double-crossing each other in order to have one of their leading personalities (generally a lawyer) designated as a “legal counsellor” in every important union. This “legal counsellor” when elected to parliament is supposed to represent the interests of the workers. His only function, in fact, is to persuade the workers that the “social laws” passed by his Party are the most progressive legislation they could dream of. The Wafd, presenting itself as the “Party of the People” has been far ahead of the other parties in this peculiar competition. It even succeeded in 1943 in having its “number 2” leader, Fuad Serag el Dine Pasha (one of the richest landowners) elected as “honorary president” ad perpetuum of all existing unions. But the farce was too obvious to last. The day following the Wafdist Cabinet’s fall, Fuad Serag el Dine was unanimously dismissed from his ephemeral dignity.

Objectively speaking, it is clear that the period of bourgeois infiltration in the upper cadres of the workers’ unions has come to an end. This conclusion leads us to the second aspect of the situation: the action of the working class as a new and independent force.

As early as April 1942, when the Wafd came to power and organized general elections, different unions expressed their will to see the working class constituencies represented no longer by lawyers or bourgeois candidates, but by real workers. Delegates were sent to the Wafd for the purpose of negotiating so that three seats, at least, would be left to the workers candidates. But at the time the pressure of the ruling class was still too great and the unions had to retreat. It was not the same in the General Elections of January“1945.Then the workers didn’t seek anyone’s permission. They presented two independent working class candidates: Fadaly (from the textile union) and Mohamed Mustafa (from the truck-drivers union). The whole machine of repression and slander was mobilized against these two candidates. If it had not been for the terroristic intervention of the authorities both of them would have triumphed. Nevertheless, Fadaly got 820 votes and Mustafa 906, a result, felt by the Left groups, to be very promising indeed. An important consequence of the electoral campaign was that all advanced workers began to discuss the need of building a proletarian party. The danger of this was in 1945-46, one of the major reasons why the ruling class decided to switch the energies of the nation towards the struggle for independence and to call for a truce between the parties and classes. But still in December and January the textile workers of Shubra-el-Kheima, whose union was dissolved for its militant stand, formed a semi-illegal “Workers’ Committee for National Liberation” which issued a series of daring appeals. During the wave of strikes in the textile industry all the proclamations of the strike committees included firm demands of a political character – democratic rights for the workers, etc.

The dynamic element, therefore, of Egypt’s political future is the proletariat. Let us add that the static element is none other than the Court, which acts as a political party, or more correctly, as the compass and regulator of all political parties except the Wafd, The Court has its semi-official political organs (the Arabic weekly Akhbar el Yom, the French daily paper Le Journal d’Egypte, its own secret police, its widespread demagogic slogans (“Let’s go to the people,” “Rescue the Fellah,” etc.). Its one concrete aim is to fight Bolshevism. In this respect it is probable that the Court will, one day or another, find the existing parties too inconsistent and unreliable and will play the card of the Moslem Brotherhood.

What is the Moslem Brotherhood? It is the most backward organization in Egypt. It is supposed to group together about 300,000 disillusioned, very fanatical petty-bourgeois. It has no program except to overthrow the Constitution and replace it with the Koran. It has no political experience so that, for the time being, it can be maneuvered by the Court’s agents. The American and the Russian propagandists in the Middle East have shown great interest in the Moslem Brotherhood and seem to consider it as a possible winning horse. The Russians have made a fuss of their Islamic policy in their Moslem Republics. But there are no indications for the moment that the youth and the proletariat are ready to follow the MB, which is definitely too backward even for the British. Apparently the MB will be used as a sort of pending menace and instrument of blackmail in the hands of the Court’s politicians. Whether it will free itself from such hands or not is a question that cannot be answered now.

The forces of the left are in the making. Since 1940 the Socialist idea has been successfully infused into the proletariat. One advantage of the situation is that there is no such thing as a social-democratic party in Egypt. Trotskyism and Stalinism face each other without intermediate parties. Numerically the Stalinists are stronger, but extraordinary as it may seem, they are not united. There are three Stalinist movements, one of them on the verge of an open split with Stalinism (the Trotskyists have repeatedly offered the Stalinists to form a “Left Front” against the Moslem Brotherhood and the imperialists). A regrouping of the forces of the Left – one of the Stalinist groups detaching itself and collaborating with the Trotskyists – is not excluded for the near future.

The task of the Left in Egypt is immense. Its cadres are still tiny. Even if the Left is too weak to guide the Egyptian workers to victory within the next few years, it is already strong enough to shake the actual instruments of the people’s servitude; religious prejudice and political ignorance.

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