EGYPT: The development of class struggle
Article from 1977
In-depth analysis of the development of capitalism and class struggle in Egypt, from the 1940s until the 1970s. Contains interesting information about mass wildcat strikes and the 1977 food riots as well as their relationship to national liberation movements in the region.
The development of class struggle in Egypt*
There are people who lose sight of two important points about Egypt, and so find it extremely difficult to grasp what has happened and what could happen in the country. These two points are: the failure of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, from the time of Mohammad Ali to Nasser, to overcome the crisis of primitive accumulation of capital; and the process of emancipation within the consciousness of the Egyptian proletariat from the ideology and dominance of this bourgeoisie. In this article we try to throw light on the history and potentialities of these two phenomena.
Downfall of the old bourgeoisie
From the very beginning, the Arab stalinist leaders have been linked with Russian diplomacy, thus breaking with every real involvement in social and political issues – which had become acute, especially in the aftermath of the second world war. Immediately after the Kremlin changed its policy on the Palestine question, this disconnection was crowned when they accepted the partition of Palestine, although these leaders had been fighting against it until the last minute, demagogically and nationalistically, thus concealing the nationalistic religious delirium of the bourgeois leaders. In this way the stalinists left the leadership of the mass movement to the national bourgeois leaders, – a movement whose base was mainly in the young, rising urban proletariat, the rural proletariat and the downtrodden peasants.
Al Wafd in Egypt, the Neo Destur in Tunisia, the People’s Party and then the FLN in Algeria, Al Istiqlal Party in Morocco – all these parties had bourgeois leaderships and proletarian cum petty bourgeois bases. So the Arab urban and rural proletariat did not form a class for itself, an autonomous movement with its own aims and the means to fulfil them. It merely formed an army fighting for the benefit of the bourgeoisie, which then used it both to exert pressure on the colonial authorities and to bargain with, in order to gain access to the existing apparatus of the state. ‘National independence’ was achieved. But with the rigid international division of labour between the dominant industrial bourgeoisies and the backward, dependent bourgeoisies, this ‘independence’ was nothing but independence from the proletarian masses, who had achieved it at the cost of their own blood, and fundamental dependency on the western bourgeoisies.
Workers in the cities and in the country were hoping against hope that independence would mean the end of their exploitation. But – as irrefutable proof of their retarded class consciousness – they authorised ‘their’ bourgeois leadership to fulfil this aspiration. It was natural for this leadership not only not to realise the workers’ desire, but even to betray such modest promises as the right to work, education and medical treatment. These were promises which it had made to the masses, 84 per cent of whom are illiterate, for whom meat is a luxury and staple food (bread and broad beans) usually inadequate. Since the times of the pharaohs they have suffered from endemic diseases. Half the Egyptian peasants suffer from bilharzia, and 100,000 of them die of it every year because they go barefoot and bathe in the canals.
The disappointment of the masses, and the fact that the bourgeoisie betrayed its promises, provided an opportunity for the proletariat to sever itself immediately from the bourgeoisie which had become a dominant class. But this did not happen, because the consciousness of the young, rising proletariat (which had not waged its struggle against the colonial bourgeoisie in its own interest) was still colonised by the nationalistic-religious ideology of the bourgeoisie. The proletariat had been persuaded that its worst, or rather its only enemy was the foreigner: imperialism or zionism. At home all were ‘brothers in God and the Fatherland’.
Islam, that deep-rooted, popular alienation, which considers solidarity between believers a precondition for sincere belief, strengthened and supported this paralysing ideology.
In this context, Al Wafd, the dominant party in Egypt, was able to manipulate the feelings of the wronged masses, sending them from time to time into futile battles against British occupation, in order to distract their attention from their day-to-day problems of survival, and to continue to delude them with its pretended anti-colonialism.
The incapability of the ruling bourgeoisie to overcome the problem of primitive accumulation of capital forced the workers and unemployed, for whom the crisis had become unbearable after the second world war, to broach their own problems. But the intrinsic incapability of the bourgeoisie prevented the solution of these problems. Thus the proletarian masses found themselves forced to strike and demonstrate, to ensure their physical survival. In fact, the socioeconomic crisis in the period 1945–52 gnawed at the already tottering pillars of Egyptian society, threatening it with protracted civil war in the cities, and endemic uprisings in the rural areas like those that shook the European countryside during the great crisis of feudalism, until its final collapse in 1789.
As I have written previously: ‘Despite the easy and huge profits made possible by World War II, when prices reached a record high in comparison with wages, the Egyptian bourgeoisie did not renew its
productive equipment, its methods of working and its administrative systems, in order not to reduce the rate of profit by investing in heavy or advanced industries. Because of that, the craft and manufacturing industries remained more predominant in number and production than the mechanised industries, which only accounted for 15 per cent of the national income, and could not employ more than 10 per cent of the labour force. As its main interest was making quick profits and not developing the productive forces, it invested the lion’s share of its profits in agriculture and the building sector until 1952.’1
The defeat of the Arab bourgeoisie under the leadership of the Egyptian bourgeoisie in 1948 by zionism, which realised its project of a separate state, aggravated the crisis of the Egyptian bourgeoisie and caused its last fig leaf to fall, exposing its nudity to the masses, and making its downfall imminent and inevitable.
Under the rule of the latifundia-owning and comprador bourgeoisie, with an industrial bourgeoisie that was weak and unable to gain power, the crisis spread daily. The more the crisis expanded, the less the ruling class was able to check the ever-growing conflict in the cities and in the country: the revolts of the wretched peasants and agricultural workers, the industrial workers’ strikes in Shubra El Khaima, Kafr El Dawwar, Elmahalla Elkubra – and the demonstrations of the police themselves against the regime. In 1952 Cairo burned. But the opposing class forces were equally balanced, so that the continuation of the struggle could only have led to a long civil war which would have left all possibilities open.
Faced with that twofold inability: the inability of the bourgeoisie to keep social peace and the inability of the popular masses – in which the urban proletariat was a negligible minority – to bring down the regime immediately, the army, the only relatively coherent, armed and organised power, moved to depose the king from the throne, which in any case was only half-occupied. The emergence of Nasserist Bonapartism through the coup d’etat in 1952, was not essentially a historical transformation from a regressive social class to a progressive one. Rather it was a slight renovation of the same fatigued social class, by deposing its leadership, without any historical interruption.
The new bourgeoisie
When the Arab Mashreq (East), at Egypt’s initiative and under its leadership, began in 1952 to drop the old bourgeoisie – the alliance of the absentee latifundia-owning and comprador bourgeoisie – in favour of the ‘new’ bureaucratic bourgeoisie, this did not mean the initiation of a new epoch, but rather dissatisfaction with the old social epoch. The region was entering – or more exactly re-entering through the back door – the age of non-industrial state capitalism that had characterised its history since Omar Ibn El Khattab (the second Caliph) took over in Iraq. There had been only one relatively short break: the appearance of European imperialism in the region, and the recognition of private ownership in the western sense.
Since the proletarian revolution of 1917 in Russia was put down, and the counter-revolution was established on its ruins in 1918, it became clear that state/boss capitalism is the last form of capitalism in crisis. This was when the Bolshevist authority returned tyrannical power to appointed directors in the factories, gave the bourgeois cadres back their privileges and paid the workers by piecework, which is the worst form of exploitation.
The bureaucratic parties, under the leadership of dynamic intellectuals, were the historical agent that established state capitalism in eastern Europe and in part of Asia by means of bureaucratic revolutions. There were many countries that missed the wave of liberal bourgeois revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the totalitarian bureaucratic revolution in the first half of the twentieth century. They did not have a militant bureaucratic party to organise the oppressed classes into an army which could change the catastrophic balance between the old, weak ruling bourgeoisie and these class forces in their own favour, as a nucleus and melting pot for a new class, that could catch up with the industrial bourgeoisie. In these countries, the military was the only social force able to intervene in order to decide the struggle in favour of the old bourgeoisie, after removing its leadership and ‘fertilising’ it with numerous military cadres, to run the nationalised economy, but monopolising for itself the political authority.
State capitalism in the ‘socialist’ countries may have achieved a horizontal, capitalist development for a certain historical period, but backward, military state capitalism merely signaled the death throes of a deteriorating mode of production, and was an obvious expression of the failure of the capitalist mode of development in both state and liberal capitalism. This is the sign that a historical epoch had come to an end, as one can see quite dearly by critically examining the Nasserist and analogous experiments in the Third World.
The ‘new’ Egyptian bourgeoisie began its senescence by virtue of, and during the second world war, which interrupted trade and commerce between Egypt and Britain. This meant that the needs of the British occupation army and the Egyptian consumers had to be met locally. This led to the initial appearance of the industrial bourgeoisie in Egypt, after a delay caused by the historical inclination of the Arab bourgeoisie to reinvest in agriculture and real estate, and by consular privileges.
The fact that the Egyptian bourgeoisie put in a late appearance, and the fact that it was senile made it aware of its own fragility. It tended to refrain from being adventurous – which the rising bourgeoisie usually is. And it made short-term investments, refusing to renew the fixed capital necessary to modernise industry and increase productivity. It was greedy for quick and easy profits, and it refused to save. Saving was one of the most important things that differentiated the rising European bourgeoisie from the declining nobility. These inherent flaws, along with world market conditions, made solving the accumulation crisis, that is, achieving development, merely wishful thinking.
The main criterion of successful industrial development is an economic growth rate which is clearly faster than population growth rate. The Egyptian bourgeoisie did not achieve this either before or after 1952. From 1913 to 1955 the rates of production were equivalent to the birth rate: 1.7 per cent per annum. From 1956 to 1965 – the period of short-lived economic boom, which was essentially due to the accumulation resulting from the confiscation of foreigners’ property after the Suez war, the 1962 nationalisations, the as yet unmatured Russian loans and the militarisation of salaried work – the development rate was higher than the birth rate; at 4.6 per cent per annum. From 1965 to 1967 the rates of development decreased in comparison with the population: 1 per cent per annum. From 1967 till now, the Egyptian economy has not undergone any development but its problems have increased. The severe crisis began once again to wear down the proletarian masses and to weaken the body of a perennially sick economy. The reasons: local sources of capital accumulation were running dry, due to the inability of the Nasserite bureaucracy – just like its predecessors – to change the stagnant, traditional society; the high interest on foreign loans, especially the short-term ones; the high rate of emigration among skilled workers – 500,023 between 1956 and 1976 – and the astonishing increase in the costs of the swollen, unproductive and corrupt bureaucratic apparatus, in a nation in which the average real income per head is not more than $240 a year.
It is important to examine the underlying reasons for the failure of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie to find a way out of the accumulation crisis.
Crisis of agriculture
The modernisation of agriculture by means of rationalisation, in order to increase its productivity and to enlarge it in area, was one of the most important initial steps towards industrial development taken by the industrial bourgeoisie in the last century; especially towards growth in the iron and steel industry, fertilisers, building materials and agricultural machines, and towards the creation of a solvent internal market. However, the Nasserite bureaucracy neglected the rationalisation of agriculture, the initial step towards the creation of an active local market. The modernisation of agriculture is of vital importance in Egypt due to the catastrophic scarcity of arable land. In the last hundred years arable land increased by only 2,250,000 acres – 900,000 of this in the last 25 years. One can add a possible 500,000 acres that might be cultivated in the coming years. Therefore the arable land will amount to 8,500,000 acres. The population increased in the same period from five million to more than 39 million.
Just rationalising agriculture would have been enough to increase the productivity of the land and to reduce the deadly physical strain on the three million agricultural wage-earners or self-employed workers, to diminish working hours and therefore to absorb the starving unemployed millions in the rural areas. But the credit that the bureaucracy allocated in 12 years (1955–67) to modernising the agricultural sector was less than a quarter of the amount allocated to industry. In fact the first serious step towards solving the crisis of the Egyptian countryside would have required, among other things, doubling the agricultural credits at the very least.
However, ‘the free officers were aware from the beginning that their task was to solve the crisis of the old bourgeoisie and not the crisis of Egyptian society, and that their function was not to modernise Egyptian society, but to try to renew the outward appearance of the ruling class, by realising agrarian reforms from above in a desperate attempt to stimulate the stagnant local market for the industrial stratum of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, and to enlarge this stratum by changing a part of the latifundia-owning bourgeoisie (through compensation) into value-producing urban bourgeoisie. They were not concerned with solving the problems of the fellahin but with easing the latent civil war. Thus, they did not deal with the real crisis in the countryside, which could not have been solved without the initiative of the agricultural workers themselves, and without making a concentrated effort to transform the confiscated big farms into modern-equipped co-operatives, administrated by elected soviets, which could be voted out at any time.’2
Instead of this elementary project, the Nasserite bureaucracy introduced an agrarian reform which was in fact agrarian destruction. But they did not put this reform into the hands of the agrarian workers and poor peasants. They assigned the task to corrupt officials from the absentee latifundia-owning bourgeoisie, which has a blind hatred of the peasantry. Nasserite bureaucracy divided the large irrigated farms into small, primitively farmed fragments, thus inflicting a heavy blow on land productivity. Furthermore, it kept up the Moslem inheritance law which in turn helped to atomise the cultivated land. This did not help to mechanise agriculture or to alternate the crops. Even the ruling bureaucracy did not expect that. Agriculture cannot be rationalised without the establishment of industries to modernise it: industries to produce, or at least to assemble tractors, to produce fertilisers, insecticides etc. However, the first concern of the military bureaucracy was to establish military factories.
‘Nothing encourages the peasant to produce: neither the heavy taxes nor the bribes he has to pay to representatives of the state and the Socialist Union Party in order to get the least important document or paper, nor the price policy which is a robbery of the surplus labour of millions of peasants. This has been the invariable policy of the Egyptian bureaucracy for ages: just as the Mamluk sultans used to buy the products of the free peasants for a song, and speculate with them on the local market, or with Venetian merchants, and then sell the peasants the imported goods at set prices; just as the state of Mohammad Ali used to fix the prices of cotton and cereals arbitrarily and monopolise their purchase in order to sell them on the world market at more than twice the cost price, so too the bureaucracy of Nasser – the historical sequel of a decrepit bureaucratic class – fed on the countryside, paralysing its development. The bureaucracy bought a kantar of cotton from the peasant for 18 pounds, and sold it raw on the world market for 33.4 pounds; it bought an ardeb of broad beans for 8.7 pounds, and sold it on the world market for 51.3 pounds. This means a forced commission of 42.6 pounds (statistics of the Central Bank of Egypt).’3
The failure of the agrarian reform to improve the financial situation, the educational standard of the agrarian proletariat and the poor peasants made the rural areas into a reservoir of unemployed people: 25 per cent of their work force. Instead of becoming a market, enlivening Egyptian industry, the rural areas became a burden on the crisis-ridden Egyptian economy. Of course this crisis differs qualitatively from the crisis of a developed economy. It is a crisis of under-production and the inability to accumulate capital. The Egyptian economy has not yet – and probably never will – reach the stage of a crisis of over-production and over-accumulation of capital.
The decline of agriculture caused a breach in peasant/land relations and a massive exodus to the towns, especially in Cairo, where class privileges are concentrated: half of the universities, 60 per cent of the doctors etc. Thus, the population of Cairo increased to nine million (about 19 per cent of the whole population) with a further one million people passing through Cairo every day. The population density, especially in the slums, reaches 150,000 people per square kilometer, and in its densely crowded streets, 317,000 cars, lorries, buses and horse-drawn carriages are on the move every day. Of the 800 industrial enterprises in Egypt, 260 are in Cairo. Most of the rest are scattered throughout other towns.
The bureaucratic bourgeoisie could not mobilise this enormous army of sub-proletariat from the countryside, to fight the proletarian revolts, as the bourgeoisie of the nineteenth century had done in France and Italy. As the revolt of 18–19 January 1977 showed, the sub-proletariat was the ally of the revolutionary proletariat, which made the most radical demands of all the oppressed groups in Egyptian society.
Failure of industry
In a society like that of Egypt, industrialisation could not gain a strong foothold without modernising agriculture to widen and diversify the needs of the home market. This, in turn, could meet the needs of a series of basic industries, such as fertilizers, iron and steel, textiles, and shoes. These are the initial industries of a bourgeoisie that is aiming to enter the industrial age, because they can solve the unemployment problem to a certain extent, as they can absorb large numbers of workers and do not demand high technical qualifications. However, the Nasserite bureaucracy, like any oriental, non-industrial bureaucracy, was more attached to the oriental principle of authority than to the western principle of profitability.4 It did not lay down the aims of its industrial plan according to the priority of real economic needs – not to mention production for the real needs of the toiling masses – such as realising accumulation, cutting imports to reduce dependency on the world market, and rationalising administration relative to productivity. It laid down its plan according to the needs of a consumer bourgeoisie craving luxury consumer goods: stressing the service sector at the expense of production, attaching importance to the production of consumer durables such as cars, refrigerators and television sets, instead of producing means of production and the necessities of life.
One could talk endlessly about the corruption within the economic administration: retired servicemen and those of doubtful loyalty were sent to manage the factories, while unemployed graduates were sent arbitrarily to factories and institutions, to form within them an octopus-like bureaucracy, whose only function was to organise the process of exploitation. The economic administration with its proverbial corruption helped to retard the productivity of industry in the state sector by selling spare parts and raw materials to the private sector on the black market. This led to a fall in industrial productivity and a rise in costs.
Under such circumstances there was no positive interaction between the Nasserite development of industry and agriculture. Industrialisation did not help to modernise agriculture but was rather one of the factors that held it back, for more than 25 per cent of Egyptian cotton sales were allocated to settle the industrial and military debts with the Eastern bloc alone.
A bloated, benighted bureaucracy
A series of internal factors foiled the Nasserite attempt to solve the crisis of primitive capital accumulation, the most important of which was the bloated bureaucracy that shamelessly consumes the largest part of social production. According to the most reliable estimates, the state bureaucracy absorbs more than 60 per cent of the budget. This is an incredible sum. If it had been invested in production to meet the needs of the people, it would have been enough to solve the problem of malnutrition. However, there is no way of doing this except by dissolving the state bureaucracy in favour of a self-run communal organisation on a large scale. Otherwise, the state bureaucrat and the bourgeois of the private sector will continue to imitate – or even surpass – a wasteful western consumption while the people are heading towards a general famine in a state of blatant inequality: in the USA, 20 per cent of the population consume 32 per cent of all consumer goods; in Egypt, 2.3 per cent of the population consume 25 per cent of all consumer goods, 7.7 per cent consume 19 per cent, and 90 per cent consume the remaining 56 per cent of goods. The maintenance of the army, 30 per cent of the national income, presents a serious obstacle to ensuring ‘food for every mouth’ as the good, but very anachronic playwright, Tawfiq EI Hakim, put it, setting himself up as a simple-minded economist.
The sums that were squandered on war between 1967 and 1973 amounted to many billions of US dollars. As was proved by the wars of June 1967 and October 1973, the army was incapable of defending the country against zionist occupation. In the hands of the ruling class, the army became a force for suppressing the revolts of the proletariat at home and for intervening outside Egypt, to defend the Arab regimes, as was the case in Sudan in 1971, or might be the case in the future in Saudi Arabia or in one of the oil emirates. Furthermore, it became a centre for American intelligence, which is on the lookout for another Nasser to replace the present gang when it has served its purpose, in the hope that such a leader might be more able to prevent the rising proletariat from gaining a foothold.
The only indispensable army for Egypt is its workers, liberated from any sort of class domination, and armed in order to confront the aggression of the world counter-revolution that will threaten their new way of life.
As it did not sever itself from its shady past, the Arab bureaucratic bourgeoisie remained orthodox to the core. In none of its stages of quantitative development did it show either the daring of the rising western bourgeoisie in opposing religion and tradition, or the courage of the Bolshevist bureaucracy in settling accounts with the precapitalist past. This explains its total inability – in the second half of this century – to meet the real requirements of capitalist development, so dear to it.
This development requires among other things the radical destruction of the way in which Arab-Islamic society is organised – a way which is unadaptable and hostile to any sort of development; the laws of the Koran that, 14 centuries later, still paralyse half the Arab nation – the women, who have been condemned by the laws to stay at home and wear a veil; the oriental religious rituals that Christianity rid itself of in the third century, when it became Europeanised and rationalised, five prayers along with five religious ablutions a day, polygamy, the fast of Ramadan,5 the wasteful destruction of cattle during the feast of Al Adha and the pilgrimage to Mecca: these barbaric rituals are still eating away not only the physical and psychological health but also the incomes of the people, as they sink deeper and deeper into abject poverty.
In search of ‘Lebensraum’
In the situation of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, it would be difficult to surmount completely the crisis of the primitive accumulation of capital, even if it overcame the previous obstacles, without having recourse to looting external sources for value. However, outside the Arab world’s markets, this was impossible for a bourgeoisie that appeared after the spheres of influence on the world market had already been divided. That is why the Egyptian bourgeoisie, that had geological and geographical disadvantages – shortage of arable land, oil and minerals – was always looking for Lebensraum outside the borders of Egypt. This had been its constant aim from the time of Mohammad Ali’s armed invasion of the Sudan at the beginning of the nineteenth century. He invaded in search of slaves for unpaid labour in his agricultural and industrial projects and his wars abroad for illicit value and in search of gold, an important resource for the European bourgeoisie during the phases of its primitive accumulation of capital. It has continued to be the aim of the bourgeoisie down to the unification of Egypt and Syria in 1958 by Nasser, who hoped to unify the Arab East and its oil emirates. With the early secession of the Sudan from Nasser’s Egypt, the latter lost its only agricultural Lebensraum beyond its borders.
Egyptian-Syrian unity, especially if it had extended to Iraq, could have provided Egypt with a relatively wide and solvent market, and oil. However, the separation of Syria in 1961 doomed to failure the last attempt of the Egyptian bourgeoisie to overcome its severe crisis.
The Egyptian bourgeoisie’s attempt to unite the provincial Arab markets into one national market could have started the process of capital accumulation at the level of the Arab world. Its failure forced it to withdraw in despair to its own extremely limited market.
This failure was not only due to the struggle of world capitalism (western and Russian capitalism) against Arab unity, but also to the nature of the provincial markets of the other Arab bourgeoisies. These markets did not supplement the Egyptian market but were an extension of the world market. The few perishable consumer articles produced by the provincial bourgeoisies to meet the needs of the limited regional consumption were identical, not complementary. That compelled each Arab bourgeoisie to levy heavy customs duties in order to fortify its own market against the other markets, especially the Egyptian. As long as the economies of the Arab bourgeoisies do not complement one another, every attempt to establish even merely a common Arab market will be impossible. The best confirmation of this is the competition, or rather the animosity between the two Baathist bourgeoisies – the Syrian and the Iraqi – despite their geographical proximity and ideological similarity.
The open door policy
Under these circumstances, voluntary Arab unity was impossible. As to unifying the markets of the Arab world by employing Bismarck’s methods – imposing economic complementarity on all Arab markets, opening the provincial borders by force to Egyptian products or at least limiting provincial sovereignties – world capitalism (western and Russian) – which was hostile to any attempt to be relatively independent of it – did not tolerate that.
The failure of the Egyptian bourgeoisie to modernise its market, the secession of the Sudan and then of Syria, the failure of the 1962 Egyptian military intervention in Yemen – the gate to Saudi oil – and finally its humiliating defeat in 1967, all these things made the Egyptian state bourgeoisie give up all hope of overcoming its historical crisis by opening the Arab markets to its industrial and agricultural exports so as to finance development projects with the returns.6 In an uncertain attempt to avoid collapse, the Egyptian bourgeoisie had to choose the lesser of two evils: first, the unconditional integration with the Russian market, under worse conditions than those laid down for Cuba and the East European bureaucracies, in order to have access to its technology, experts and usurious loans. There were hindrances at home: deep religious alienation and the historical stagnation of the non-industrial Arab bureaucracy; and abroad: the domination of Russia over Egypt logically means having access to the Arab world and its oil. That meant a violation of the ‘peaceful’ co-existence treaty and of the division of labour on the world market, which would not have been tolerated by western imperialism. These hindrances reduced the chances of reaching this solution. The second option was to throw the doors of the Egyptian market unconditionally open to the multinational companies and oil capitalism – which the Egyptian bourgeoisie called the open door policy. This is what needs to be examined in order to see its possibilities and effects on the crisis of the Egyptian bourgeoisie.
In October 1973, the only hard currency there was in the Egyptian treasury amounted to £30,000. In Sadat’s words, the Egyptian economy was ‘one degree below zero’ and in his opinion that was one of the most important reasons for waging the stage-managed October war. Taking advantage of this war, the oil bourgeoisie greatly increased the price of oil. Thus within a short time it agglomerated enormous capital which it could not invest locally.
The ‘nomadic’ oil capital began to wander back and forth between the American banks and their branches in Europe, subject to inflation and the official devaluation of currencies – whims of the monetary crisis. Attempts to avoid this by buying gold and real estate did not succeed because the American bourgeoisie can change its prices as it pleases, and real estate is not the ideal field of investment for capital trying to become industrial capital as quickly as possible – having been until then rentier capital deposited in the banks.
Thus, investing in international industry meant Lebensraum for the oil capital: the American and French petrochemical industries (especially for Saudi capital), Mercedes and the Rumanian petrochemical industries (Kuwaiti capital), Fiat (Libyan capital) and so on. It is the beginning of a process of thorough integration of the oil capital with international monetary capital, within the framework of multi-national companies.
This integration does not leave the oil bourgeoisie a margin to become really independent of world capital, whose support is vital for its very existence. The other Lebensraum – and perhaps the most important from the point of view of profitability for the oil capital – remains the Arab world, especially Egypt, where manpower is dirt cheap (the average wages are $18 a month), where there are skilled workers, a relatively wide market and a strategic trade position between Asia, Europe and Africa. Investing in the Arab world, strictly speaking in Egypt – of course, in co-ordination with the multinational companies and the World Bank, which is one of the instruments used by the American bourgeoisie to dominate the world – will give the oil bourgeoisies, especially the Saudi bourgeoisie, the chance to have an enormous influence on the domestic and foreign policies of the non-oil Arab bourgeoisies. This influence could amount to tutelage.
Aid, but no investments
The oil bourgeoisie, which is characterised by being tribally separatist, is still hesitating about making long-term or large-scale investments in Egypt. This hesitation is explained by ever present fears: the fear that through large-scale investment in Egypt it might enable the Egyptian bourgeoisie – which from the very beginning wanted to annex the countries of the Mashreq, including the underpopulated oil emirates – to stand on its own feet, and under propitious international conditions, after achieving peace with the Israeli bourgeoisie, to send its troops once again to the oil wells.
The more immediate fear, however, is that by helping Egypt to become an economic power in the region it might create a bourgeoisie able to compete with it on the neighbouring markets in the event of a probable exchange crisis, which is one of the symptoms of an international crisis. This is due to the fact that the oil bourgeoisie, with its great capital, is in a mad hurry to modernise its traditional seminomadic societies, spending fantastic sums – to a considerable extent in vain. The five-year plan in Saudi Arabia, for example, envisages spending more than $40 billion to construct 900 new factories – in addition to the existing 620 factories – to build 18,000 km of modern roads, and to establish whole industrial cities such as Jubaiel and Yanbu’ on the Gulf. The final terrifying fear is the escalation of class struggle in Egypt, which is incompatible with what capital desires – stability and social peace. On the other hand if Egypt is abandoned, the oil bourgeoisie is also afraid of an outbreak of dangerous social strife and of its aftermath. Tawfiq EI-Hakim, writing in the semi-official Al Ahram, warned that ‘the gold springs might become springs of flames’. A Shakespearean tragedy.
Until now the oil and world bourgeoisie have tried to solve this difficult equation by giving Egypt aid of a political rather than economic nature, condemning the Egyptian bourgeoisie to being a satellite of Saudi Arabia within the Arab world, and internationally a US satellite, especially with regard to strategy for solving the Israeli-Arab conflict, and for drawing a new socio-economic map of the Arab world and the Middle East.
The oil and world bourgeoisies are aiming, at least at this stage, to help the Egyptian bourgeoisie to ease its problems – especially to pay back the $1 billion in short-term loans plus the high interest, which is 18 per cent on average, to finance the import of wheat and raw material for factories – but not to solve its crisis. (Sadat imagines that this can be achieved by getting $12 billion a year and by achieving a development rate of not less than 10 per cent a year.) The reason: to prevent Egypt regaining the leadership of the Arab world from the Saudi bourgeoisie, whose only claim on it is through oil and its historical friendship with the American bourgeoisie.
The aid given by world and oil capital since the proletarian uprising on 18 and 19 January 1977 reflects its strategy in relation to the Egyptian bourgeoisie. The Gulf Organization for Development (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar) gave Egypt all the capital – $2 billion – immediately, instead of paying it over five years at an interest rate of 4 per cent with a moratory agreement of five years. This debt has to be paid back to the organisation’s fund, not to the creditors, to be reinvested in Egypt for a period of 25 years. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait decided to postpone withdrawing their $2 billion deposits in Egypt for another year, with the option of renewal. World capital (western and Iranian bourgeoisies) gave Egypt nearly $2.5 billion. Thus the amount that the Egyptian bourgeoisie has received in 1977 is $5 billion. This is in order to meet its immediate needs, including the settlement of its short-term debts for 1977, which amount to $5 billion. The aid given to Egypt is less than half of what it needs and much less than it was promised by King Feisal after the 1973 war.
Sadat, who has every reason to sing tearfully: I am rich, but my wealth is all promises, ‘accuses Saudi Arabia, in private, of being miserly’ (Al Hawadith 15 May 1977). The oil bourgeoisie replies through its mouthpieces that the volume of credits it granted to the Egyptian bourgeoisie has reached a stage where caution is an absolute necessity. It justifies this caution by saying that Sadat’s Egypt is like a bottomless pitcher, due to the corruption and inefficiency of its bureaucracy (Al-Rai Al ‘Aam of Kuwait). The ‘miserliness’ of oil capital is not really miserliness in the moral sense which Sadat meant, but rather political calculations in line with the plans of the multinational companies: wishing to invest in Egypt but refraining from doing so, owing to contradictory factors which could only be eliminated after achieving ‘peace’ with the Israeli bourgeoisie – the key to the open-door policy – and after emerging from the current world crisis.
Capital dictates its terms
The open door policy means safety and security for capital, which presupposes, among other things, ruling out war with the state of Israel and unilateral nationalisation, and requires the drawing up of an Egyptian economic plan in line with the strategy of the oil capital and the multi-national companies.
‘Peace’ with the Israeli bourgeoisie has not yet been realised, but it is the most important pre-condition for achieving the rest. This explains the fact that limited investments have been made in Egypt’s tourist sector only: hotel companies, insurance, banks and the subcontracting industries. There is no need to go into detail about local capital. Not only is there very little of it, but it cannot be invested except in the non-productive sectors which offer quick profits: tourism, building, services and commerce, and especially the trade in luxury commodities and commissions. Thus, in less than three years, 50 export-import companies have been established, 22 of which are under the management of former ministers. Between 1974 and 1976, agents made a profit of more than two billion Egyptian pounds. The commission on one transaction alone was three million pounds.
In the absence of a reconciliation between the Arab and Israeli bourgeoisies, the open door policy has failed until now to bring in capital for investment in industry aimed at flooding the neighbouring markets with low cost goods, but it has opened the door to the import of manufactured commodities.
Biding their time until an Arab-Israeli reconciliation, both oil capital, through the Gulf Organization for Development, and world capital, through the World Bank, demand from Egypt a series of steps, a number of which seem to be unrealisable within the foreseeable future: they demand the rationalisation of an octopoid, and extremely conformist bureaucracy, in which sometimes four civil servants do the very same job with almost zero productivity; they demand the modernisation of the obsolete methods of administration that leave no room for initiative. These steps seem to be necessary to pave the way for the penetration of capital into all aspects of social life. However, these demands are difficult to meet because this bureaucracy is stagnant and entrenched. For generations it has been a formidable obstacle to the release of productive forces. The Egyptian leadership, which has the same class origin as its bureaucracy, does not have a magic wand it can wave, to change its bureaucracy into a modern state bureaucracy overnight. This is what capital is demanding from a state which is in a period of senility. Oil and world capital insists on a number of immediate steps, such as the export of profits, devaluation of the Egyptian pound, removal of customs barriers, reducing or even abolishing taxes, eliminating import restrictions, putting an end to administrative red tape, and raising the standard of services. This insistence is like a single man demanding that a widow become a virgin as a precondition to marrying her.
Realising the other preconditions is not difficult from a practical point of view: re-introducing the arbitrary dismissal of wage earners, which was abolished by law in 1962; canceling the commitment to employ all graduates; abolishing the subsidies paid by the state ($1.3 billion) to keep down the prices of some essential goods such as bread, sugar, tea, textiles and fertilizers. But this could endanger the Egyptian bourgeoisie, as demonstrated by the revolt of 18 and 19 January 1977. The Egyptian bourgeois press is still a long way from being able to mislead the workers by praising the wisdom of the ‘communist’, Fidel Castro, in restricting the workers’ food consumption! The workers of Egypt, in their struggle for survival and total liberation from wage labour, like all workers of the world, do not recognise the authority of anyone, whether ‘red’ or white.
Historical context of the crisis
To understand the inefficiency of the circumstantial and conditional aid given or promised by the oil and world bourgeoisies to bridle the growing class struggle in Egypt, we have to examine in its historical context the crisis of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, of which the economic crisis is only one aspect. It is a bourgeoisie that is unable to remain in power without the financial support – and probably the military support in future – of world capital. In the underdeveloped part of the capitalist world, the situation of the Egyptian bourgeoisie is a glaring expression of the accelerated decay of the present world capitalist system.
The industrial bourgeoisie may have been able, without any decisive proletarian intervention, for an entire historical period, to transform its deadlocked crisis into a painful period of adaptation, thanks to the destruction of war and the penetration of capital into all aspects of society, especially in the rural areas after the crisis of 1929. But the under-developed bourgeoisie could find no way out, despite all its attempts at adaptation. Today, it is falling apart as a result of the crisis of capitalism in the East and the West. In this sense, the current crisis is the final one, which leaves proletarian humanity only one alternative: revolution or war.
The failure of the Egyptian bourgeoisie to find a way out of the crisis of the primitive accumulation of capital is not, as its leaders claim today, due to unfavourable circumstances, such as the enormous cost of four wars with Israel. They forget that the existence of Israel enabled them to manipulate and mislead the proletariat for a long time. This failure can be imputed to the special historical situation of the Egyptian bourgeoisie within the context of the general history of world bourgeoisie. The history of modern Egypt, beginning with Napoleon’s campaign in 1797, which made Egypt a province of the First Republic for three years, cannot be viewed in isolation from the penetration of the European bourgeoisie into Egypt, and then into the Arab world. This penetration was in the form of the import of manufactured commodities.
From the middle of the nineteenth century, money capital began to invade the region, accompanied or followed by military invasion. The aim of this penetration was to unify the world market and to force the old Arab bourgeoisie to become part of the European bourgeoisie, as an unautonomous agricultural bourgeoisie and as an industrial bourgeoisie, dependent on the slightest fluctuation of this world market. Thus a certain role was assigned to them: to produce cheap raw materials (cotton) by means of the cheap, super-exploited and permanently suppressed labour force. In addition to that, the bourgeoisie was forced to maintain an open door policy towards European goods and capitals.
The Egyptian bourgeoisie made four hopeless attempts to stand on its own two feet as a relatively autonomous capitalist force, in order to overcome its crisis. The first attempt was carried out by Mohammad Ali, who was the first in the Arab East to attempt an industrial bureaucratic revolution. But in 1840 he was forced by the Western bourgeoisie, in the holy name of free trade, to close down his factories, to stop monopolising trade, to disband his army, to forget all about his dreams of industry and of establishing an empire, and finally to open the Egyptian market to European goods. The second attempt was made by Orabi. But the British fleet foiled the attempt, and buried it under the destroyed defenses of Alexandria on 12 July 1882. The third attempt was led by the Wafd Party in 1919. However, the absentee latifundia-owning bourgeoisie was incapable of leading a revolution to victory. Nasser made the last attempt from 1952, but it ended in total failure, from which the Egyptian bourgeoisie is still suffering today. After the failure of militarised semi-industrial state capitalism,7 the Egyptian bourgeoisie, in a last uncertain attempt to avoid collapse, had to become a mere sub-contractor of industrial capitalism, which is itself in crisis.
The global contest
It is impossible, in fact, to grasp the dimensions and more especially, the horizons of the Egyptian bourgeoisie’s crisis, except by viewing it within the context of the world-wide crisis.
The world-wide crisis can be attributed to the real fall in the average rate of profit, due to the intensification of technological competition, which forces the big companies, trying to open up new channels for trade, to invest considerable amounts of capital in improving their technology at a faster rate than the development of the mode of consumption. Thereby they get into debt in order to buy new productive machinery as quickly as possible. This is one of the most important causes of the nightmares of galloping inflation and unemployment, which, according to all prognoses, will become chronic. Thus, the inefficiency of the technical renovation which requires radical re-structuring, the growth of the non-productive sector – particularly advertising, the refusal of the proletariat to accept the deterioration of its material circumstances and the decrease of productivity of the proletariat, caused by an increase in absenteeism – the expression of the proletariat’s rejection of the slavery of wage labour.
All these things contribute to the exchange crisis: saturation of the industrial markets and the inability of the agricultural markets to consume on a large scale. The logical way out of the exchange crisis is to abolish exchange by concentrating the productive activity on producing use-values only, instead of exchange-values. Producing use-values only is inseparable from the ability of each person to produce his daily life by and for himself. However, it goes without saying that the economists suggest other possible ways of surmounting the crisis, whose common denominator is the absolute necessity to globalise totalitarian state capitalism.
In Egypt the very same state capitalism is declaring itself bankrupt today: in fact, the Egyptian working people are suffering from the misfortunes of two crises at once: the local crisis of the low level of accumulation and the world-wide crisis of the surplus of accumulation. This is because the world market situation has been globalised. Thus, whenever the developed part of the world market begins to sneeze, the underdeveloped part gets pneumonia.
The crisis has had a disquieting effect on developed capitalism, but a catastrophic effect on underdeveloped capitalism. Inflation, that growth which ravages the body of world economy in the West and the East, reached a record high in Italy, at 26 per cent a year. In Egypt however, where the average income of the majority of toilers is a record low, the inflation rate is 51 per cent a year. Part of this inflation is ‘imported’ from the industrial bourgeoisie – from whom the underdeveloped bourgeoisies import everything, from needles to aeroplanes. Another part is due to the arbitrary increase in prices by the local bourgeoisie of imported and exported goods. The rest can be attributed to the oil prices, which have quadrupled since the war of 1973. Devaluing the Egyptian pound, as required by the International Monetary Fund and oil capitalism, will increase the rate of inflation, which is now eating away 60 to 65 per cent of salaries. The devaluation of the Egyptian pound will not encourage exports, as the case may be in those countries that produce their means of production themselves, but will lead to abject poverty for the proletarian masses and more social polarisation.
Unemployment, inflation, starvation
The proletarian masses in Egypt are not only the victims of inflation but also of unemployment. From the very beginning, the Egyptian bourgeoisie has been incapable of finding work for the unemployed, and this situation has gone from bad to worse. The statistics of 1969 indicate that in the towns 9 per cent of those fit to work, and in the country 25 per cent, are unemployed. It is estimated that this rate has doubled, especially in Cairo, which now has an enormous demographic concentration and has a great number of starving and unemployed people. The failure of the Egyptian bourgeoisie to give work to the unemployed and to make use of the material and human resources of the country forced it to have recourse to usurious credits from Russia and the West, in order to finance its economic projects, its bureaucracy and army. Today it is deeply in debt.
In 1976 the rulers of Egypt said that their debts abroad amounted to $7 billion. At the beginning of 1977 they increased to $10 billion. Recently the Minister of Finance and Economy (Alqaisouni) declared that Egypt’s foreign debts totalled $13 billion, $4 billion of which were military debts to Russia.8
He seems to be behaving like a criminal trying to trick his judges into believing that he has finally decided to confess. It seems that the debts abroad amount to $18 billion. But the total debts are according to the former finance minister, Ahmad Abu Ismail – $32 billion. Egypt pays $4 million weekly in interest on the short-term loans (the rates of interest: 16 per cent, 19 per cent and 20 per cent) which is a heavy burden on a collapsing economy. The total debts abroad consume 35 per cent of the annual exports. In 1976 the deficit in the balance of payments amounted to $3,250 million, in a country where annual GNP is only $11 billion. Food imports alone – including 3.3 million tons of American wheat – amounted to $1,150 million. For a long time, Egypt has been doubly dependent: on international capital, and on foreign aid that represents more than 13 per cent of the accumulation of national capital.
Waiting for the ‘release’ of reconciliation with the Israeli bourgeoisie, and for oil and world capitalism to lay down their final policy regarding investment in Egypt, and waiting for the year 1980, when ‘the Egyptian economy will escape from its bottleneck’ as Sadat put it, ‘and the age of prosperity and Egyptian oil will begin’, the Egyptian bourgeoisie intensifies, day by day, its exploitation of the proletariat. It extends working hours from 8 to 10 hours a day. It increases indirect taxes – one of the means by which the state steals a part of the wages, which in 1976 amounted to 700 million pounds. And finally it increases prices and forbids strikes. With strikes a crime punishable by life imprisonment, the extraction of the absolute surplus-value is the direct aim of the despotic exploitation policy of the Egyptian bourgeoisie.
Prices have increased drastically: during the first 11 months of 1974, the prices of local foodstuffs increased at a rate of 24 per cent. In 1976, the increase was 41 per cent. The annual report of the Egyptian Chamber of Commerce admitted that the prices of some fruits and vegetables had increased by 300 per cent. The price of bread, which is 77 per cent of the daily food consumption of the proletariat, increased by 50 per cent; sugar by 25 per cent, tea and rice by 35 per cent, meat by 60 per cent, cigarettes by 80 per cent (nearly all the workers smoke), and gas by 40 per cent. Generally, prices have increased by 120 per cent since 1973.
The rule is: from the workers’ pockets to the merchants’ safes. The profits of the merchants, especially from selling imported goods, reached a record high: the rate of profit from selling beans and electrical appliances reached 100 per cent, from tinned foodstuffs, 105 per cent and from clothes 120 per cent.
Price inflation is not the only plague. One can add to it at least two others: the astonishing rise in house-rent, and bribery. It is impossible to get any sort of service from the state apparatus without paying baksheesh, which increases in proportion to the importance of the service required.
One can describe the condition of the proletariat in today’s Egypt in one word: starvation. This condition is not new, as the Stalinist and Nasserist manipulators claim. What is new is that the proletariat is aware of it and rejects it. The majority of the workers in the private sector9 worked under Nasser’s rule, and are still working, under the conditions of almost corvée labour. The average wages of the workers in this sector varied in 1967, for example, between l.3 and 3.6 Egyptian pounds a month (one Egyptian pound = $2 approximately). Children – so-called apprentices – who are employed especially in the leather, shoe and textile industries get as a ‘wage’ two bowls of broad beans daily, just as in the Middle Ages. That is why in the same year this sector was able to achieve a high profit margin: 10.5 per cent in the furniture industry, 20.6 per cent in the foodstuffs sector and 24.4 per cent in the textile and leather branches. The average wage of the ‘privileged’ workers of the public sector varied, in the same period, between a minimum of nine pounds and a maximum of 25 pounds a month.
Because of the increasing gravity of unemployment and inflation, along with the frantic rise in prices today, the situation of the workers in both private and public sectors has deteriorated. The proletarian masses are unable to buy vegetables and meat more than twice a month. On the other hand, the bourgeoisie provocatively flaunts its wealth and its life of luxury: in the first eleven months of 1976, it imported durable consumer goods (refrigerators, television sets etc) to the value of 69 million pounds, private cars to the value of 32 million pounds, mineral water and liquor to the value of 7 million pounds, while ‘Egyptians have to drink polluted water because there is no hard currency to buy purification materials’ (Al Hawadith 4 May 1977).
Owing to its tragic state, its misery and its daily struggles, the proletariat has begun to realise more and more the necessity of organising a counter-attack on a broad social level, which is the only suitable way of waging a revolutionary class struggle to end the slavery of wage-labour and to construct a classless society.
The events of 1971–72
In 1966, the period of conjunctural progress was over. And in 1967, military defeat deepened the economic crisis and gave it a political dimension. The conjunction of the open political crisis with the chronic economic one exposed not only the unlimited national and social ‘achievements’ of Nasserite Egypt, but also its myths. The antagonism towards Arab reaction was refuted by Nasser himself, when he reconciled himself with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, during the Khartoum Conference in August 1967. ‘Anti-Imperialism’ was ended when Nasser asked President Nixon, in his pathetic call, to impose a peaceful settlement upon the Arab-Israeli struggle. And the ‘profundity of socialist construction’ was terminated by the encouragement of the private sector, which multiplied the value of its exports fourfold between 1966 and 1969.
Nasser died in September 1970, and the Palestinian Resistance, the last radical Arab nationalist movement which captured the attention of the downtrodden Arab masses, shaken strongly by the 1967 defeat, was itself defeated. On 13 May 1971 a political crisis erupted in the leadership, between the two factions struggling for power. The one pro-Soviet, under the leadership of Ali Sabri, and the other pro-American, with Sadat at its head.
The problem was how to solve the political and economic crisis. Was it by depending upon the Soviets and the public sector, or was it by leaving it to the US and the encouragement of the private sector, and following an open-door policy towards oil and international capital?
The pro-American and pro-private sector faction won. The rationalisation of the public sector, by liberating the economy from the obstacles of omnipresent state capitalism, was started.
In fact, Sadat’s liberal policy was an invitation to the local and international bourgeoisie to help him, after the state bourgeoisie failed to find a way out of its economic crisis, and also in view of the fact that dependence on Soviet military and political aid foiled any attempt to come to an agreement with Israel.
All these events, from June 1967 to May 1971, formed the beginning of the end of the national illusions that had for a long time colonised the consciousness of the Arab proletariat, and encouraged the process of emancipating proletarian awareness, while starting simultaneously the organisation of its counter-offensive.
On 21 August 1971, 10,000 workers at the Hilwan Steel Factory organised a wildcat strike that soon turned into an occupation of the whole factory. The strikers arrested their managers, the delegates of the Ministry of Industry, the representatives of the governing party, as well as the secretary general of the trade unions, who was sent by Sadat personally to persuade the workers to end their strike. The workers’ answer at the time of the latter’s arrest was: you are not our delegate to the state, but the delegate of the state here. The workers had one condition for ending their strike: to satisfy their demands, which aimed at stopping the deterioration of their material conditions. They threatened to extinguish the tall furnaces if the police tried to occupy the steel factory by force.
At the same time, 200,000 workers from other factories in Hilwan started a strike of solidarity. They even threatened to occupy their factories if the state rejected the demands of their comrades of the steel mill. After 32 hours the state gave in and accepted the demands. A few weeks later it launched a campaign of repression against the more militant workers. Sadat mentioned this strike in one of his speeches, where he accused the workers of ‘playing the game of the enemy who occupies our land’.
The strike and the occupation of the steel factory was the crowning point of an intense current of class struggle, breaking the chains of twenty years of Bonapartist dictatorship that imposed on the proletariat a ‘sacred national unity’ by means of brutal oppression, physical and ideological.
Ever since this event, Sadat and his mass media have waged a war against the renaissance of class struggle, after a long period of hibernation; they used anachronistic slogans such as ‘return to village values’, ‘respect for the family’, and ‘national solidarity against foreign occupation’. Not only that, but the mass media launched a vast campaign to praise the ‘spirit of sacrifice’, of ‘asceticism’, and to propagate the virtues of contentment; in fact, going back to the sanctity of deprivation imposed by Islam upon the poor and the weak. Also, a widespread campaign was organised against ‘class resentment, which is destructive instead of being constructive’.
This campaign was of no benefit to the Egyptian bourgeoisie, frightened by the intensification of class struggle. The ‘regrettable’ events continued; that is the daily confrontation with the police, on both individual and group levels. The workers continued the struggle inside the factories against the arbitrary acts of their superiors, the fall of wages as working hours increased. They demanded the election of delegate committees which could be recalled at any moment. The workers used various means, ranging from boycotting union elections to taking hostages. In October 1972, workers on strike at Alexandria airport seized as hostage the Minister of Transport – who had come to persuade them to end the strike – until all their demands were met.
‘O, Hero of the Crossing, where is our breakfast?’
The Egyptian and Arab bourgeoisies in general recognised the profundity and danger of this growing proletarian movement. This is the reason why the Saudi bourgeoisie, traditional enemy of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, moved quickly to co-ordinate with the latter, in order to stage a grotesque war with the aim of arriving at a settlement with Israel, while at the same time kindling national mystification among the workers, thus bringing them back to a stage which historically they had already passed. That is how the October war took place. The Egyptian and Arab bourgeoisies danced to the tune of ‘Victory achieved for the first time in 500 years’. All the Arab writers, whether nationalists, Stalinists or Trotskyists, were beating the drum for the official party of the ‘Glorious October War’. But their drums were pierced. The total crisis was a daily reminder for the proletariat of the need to get rid of the national illusions, and to be totally immersed in the social struggle.
Within a few months – a relatively short time – the power of delusive and fallacious words fell against the harsh conditions of the proletariat. When the Minister of Military Production tried in 1974 to play the same tune about the 6 October victory, the striking workers of Military Factory 36 replied: ‘No 6, No 7, we want an increase, the minimum wage should be 20’. For the workers, the national war they had heavily paid for with their blood and money, was looking more and more like an act of madness. The social war appeared to be their only weapon to save their living conditions and their lives from the savagery of capital.
Until then the workers had waged the struggle by means of petitions, boycott of the elections to the administration council, boycott of trade union elections, strikes and sit-ins; that is, they had tried all the means of sectorial struggle. They had to pass onto full struggle: leaving the factories for the streets and turning the wildcat strikes into full occupations of factories and cities.
On 1 January 1975, the Hilwan workers occupied their factories. Their general assemblies (which had become the only place for discussing and taking revolutionary decisions, replacing the unions and parties) met and elected their representatives to co-ordinate the occupation of Cairo factories and streets. Spontaneously, the proletarianised unemployed workers and students joined the struggle, for they too were resentful and had radical aspirations.
The demonstrators turned the buses upside down; destroyed and sacked the big stores, including a Soviet record shop. They also destroyed company offices and burned the building of the Socialist Union – the official Egyptian party.
The demonstrators had economic demands: against any increase in indirect taxes, against the differences in salaries between workers and managers, against dismissal without notice, against price increases and wage cuts. They shouted: ‘Anwar Bey, one pair of shoes for 6’ [Egyptian pounds]; and ‘where is our breakfast, O “Hero of the Crossing”?’ They raised political banners such as ‘Free press and a better life’. They demanded the dismissal of Hedjazi (the prime minister) because of his anti-worker economic policy. And he was in fact pushed into resigning.
For the first time, the workers had reformist political demands in addition to their economic ones. For the resignation of a prime minister, or another high official, is an easy matter in a system which is under severe pressure, and looking for a scapegoat to justify its anti-worker policy.
The process of social dynamics of a class which has started, for the first time in its history, to struggle for itself, will definitely make it understand that its sole revolutionary demand is not the resignation of the prime minister, but the abolition of the bourgeois class as a whole, and the abolition of all forms of exploitation.
On 1 January 1975, the central police forces (formed by Nasser in 1968 to suppress the workers’ struggles) surrounded Shabra alKhaima to prevent textile workers from joining the Hilwan workers’ demonstration in Cairo. But in March of the same year, 27,000 textile workers went on strike and held sit-ins in the factories of Shabra alKhaima. They even elected their representative councils and arrested the managers and threw out all the organisers of the exploitation process inside the factories.
The army broke in with tanks and planes. Fifty were killed and 200 injured, all of them workers. Neither the intensive ideological oppression widely practised by the mass media, which accused the workers of ‘national treason’ and published headlines such as ‘Dayan and Rabin are glad to witness the destruction of Cairo’, nor the bloody physical oppression succeeded in preventing the proletariat from fighting the attempt to make it foot the bill of the crisis, and seeking its own revolutionary way out.
A ‘herd of sheep’?
Thus the struggle of the workers against their employers continued. In April 1975, the sugar factory workers of Naja Hamadi went on strike, because of the cancellation of their rest hour, which, according to the manager, affected the rate of production and caused losses to the factory. The workers replied that if there was a deficit, then the causes were the thefts by the director and his partners, and not the hour of rest. In December 1975, the naval arsenal workers of Port Said went on strike against the cut in their real wages. In April 1976, the workers of the United Arab Textile Company started a strike, with a sit-in, for the same reason.
On 29 June 1976, the Nasr Automobile Factory workers went on strike. The administration refused to pay them their agreed share of the profits, and the chairman of the board of directors shouted in front of the workers’ representatives: ‘They are a herd of sheep; the workers shall return to the factory as soon as they hear the whistle ending the rest period.’ When the workers heard this, they turned their strike into a sit-in and, confronting the chairman, the board of directors and the minister of industry, asserted: ‘Profits are 100 per cent, and they go to the thieves.’ The workers’ general assembly drafted new demands: no bonuses for directors, payment for the weekly day off, re-evaluation of compensation linked to the type of work, as well as re-evaluation of compensation for dangerous work, payment of a meal, increased social security benefits and transport allowances, and a campaign against the corruption of the administration. The police intervened and asked the workers to form a committee to meet the prime minister, with assurances of safe conduct for the delegation. The workers formed this committee, but all its members were arrested inside the prime minister’s office. As usual. The sit-in continued, but the police penetrated the plant disguised as workers and arrested dozens of them. Finally, one demand, the payment of profit bonuses, was satisfied.
In a society where crisis has become a daily phenomenon, any incident, or demand, or struggle fought out in a factory or on the street, turns very quickly into a fierce confrontation with the state institutions. We might give as an example what happened on 5 September 1976, when the 240,000 inhabitants of the popular quarter of Darb al-Ahmar heard of the murder of Hussein Mohamed Hussein, after he had been tortured by the police. They gathered spontaneously, attacked and burnt the police station, and prevented the fire brigade from fighting the flames. The news spread quickly and demonstrations took place everywhere: in Bab el-Halk, in Midan alAtbah and Fouad Street. Their class slogans were: ‘Sadat, collect your dogs, where is freedom?’, ‘Freedom, Freedom, where are you?’, ‘Ministers live in palaces, the poor live in graves’, ‘We are not frightened, and shall continue to support the right to strike!’, ‘Our autonomous organisations are against the exploiters’.
Another example: in October 1976, on the day following Sadat’s ‘victory’ in the presidential elections – he stood unopposed, and there were only 500 votes against him – the official party organised a celebration of the historic event. The workers of the Public Transportation Company celebrated the event in their own way. Through their ‘wildcat delegates’ they put forward the following demands to the administration:
1. Dissolution of the trade union.
2. Limitation of working day to seven hours.
3. Bonus payments to compensate for the cost of living, which had increased by 40 per cent.
4. Payment for vacations (56 days annually).
5. Payment for the ten days of the Al Fitr holiday.
6. Security for bus drivers and collectors from acts of aggression by passengers.
7. Payment of traffic violation fines.
8. Improvement of medical and health services.
The administration refused these demands, and the workers went on strike the following day. All the efforts of the administration and the police to break it, by accepting some demands and by threatening, failed. The central police forces attacked the workers, using internationally prohibited nerve gas bombs. The workers counterattacked with water hoses.
In the Amira quarter, the inhabitants joined the garage workers and fought the police, using stones. The result: 200 workers injured, some of them seriously. But the workers did not end their strike until their demands were accepted. The first demand, in spite of the solidarity shown by some of the unions, was the dissolution of the trade union. It expressed the workers’ awareness of the role of the trade union as a principal oppressor hindering the development and generalisation of the social struggle among all the sectors of the economy, and its overflowing from factories to the street, from one city to every city, and from one district to another.
Each strike in the series of strikes that followed was a sort of uprising, and a kind of preliminary exercise for the series of confrontations to come, which actually started on 18 and 19 January 1977.
The uprising of January 1977
On Monday, 17 January, the government cancelled the subsidies for essential foodstuffs, resulting in a substantial increase of prices. This government decision gave the signal for an uprising.
On Tuesday the 18th, ‘the workers started their movement from the Hilwan factories area, where the workers of the Artificial Silk Company and Factory 45 refused to work and went on a demonstration. Police forces were awaiting them, and the bystanders threw stones …’ (Al Ahram, 19 January 1977).
As soon as the news reached Cairo, the masses started flowing towards Maidan al-Tahrir, shouting: ‘With our blood, with our souls, we shall bring down the prices.’ The demonstration moved towards parliament, shouted against it and urged parliament, including the President of the Republic, to resign. They even quoted a previous speech of Sadat in which he mentioned that the dictatorship of the proletariat is coming soon.
On the same day the students of Cairo and ‘Ain Shams universities went out in a demonstration, joined later by secondary school students. On that day the police forces succeeded generally in being effective. But on the 19th, the day that entered into the annals of the Egyptian bourgeoisie as Black Wednesday, the demonstrations started at 8:30 in the morning at the Hilwan underground station in Maidan Louk and Maidan al-Atbah.
At noon, Cairo turned into a battlefield. The masses used stones and bricks from all over the place, and the proletariat penetrated into state institutions, sacking and burning in ministries, administrative buildings and the parliament. The masses attacked the different police stations simultaneously, in order to prevent one station from rescuing the other. They also set fire to the general secretariat of the ruling party, and destroyed railway trains and buses, popularly known as ‘sardine cans’. They looted commercial centres and smashed the decorated windows of shops, whose owners hid any contents they managed to save in order to sell them later on the black market. Nightclubs, which represented western luxury life to people who were on the edge of starvation, were equally submitted to looting. ‘The Egyptian or Gulf state bourgeois spends in a single night at one of those clubs as much as the ordinary Egyptian earns in four months’ (Rose al-Yusuf). The ‘Night Casino’ had made 15,000 dollars on the eve of its burning. The workers who sacked these places were drinking whiskey for the first time in their lives. Al Ahram published a picture of a poor woman with a crate of whiskey on her head, looking very happy.
The uprising occurred in Cairo and in the eight other cities. From Alexandria to Aswan, people looted shops and took commodities they were accustomed to see the bourgeoisie use every day. They set fire to big hotels, like Shepeards and the Sheraton, they burnt the big private cars which often hit them while being driven at a crazy speed, noisy and polluting. They even set fire to the publishing houses which produce the filthy newspapers that propagate all kinds of lies against them. They were against commercial art as well, burning the car of the singer Fuad al-Mohanders, and gave this comedian a beating as a reward for his nightly jokes on TV, where he tried to divert their attention from their daily misery.
It was only natural that Sadat could not understand the reason why these workers display so much class resentment against institutions and material goods. Thus he asked: does the destruction of commercial centres and shops in these communist riots solve the food and price problem? Does the destruction of public transport facilities solve the transport crisis? Will freedom take over if they burn the newspaper buildings? Quotation from the speech of Sadat: ‘If a deputy had come to parliament, they would have hit him and set fire to his car… as they had done to all cars that showed up in the streets the other day. This is not a national uprising, it’s a communist one, it’s an uprising of thieves.’ He does not know that looting is a spontaneous way of taking away private property, which the proletariat uses as a reaction to the violence inherent in capitalist production. Thousands of workers are injured and killed each year at work, others lose their lives in a civil and social battle. Class relations throw thousands of workers a year into prison, while commodity relations break up real relations between human beings into relations between things. In poor housing, people are buried daily, and the nation is divided into two parts, a minority that lives in luxury and a majority that languishes in misery, unbearable misery. Finally, there is the exploitation of man by man. Is not this an order of violence against workers? What is so strange about workers destroying whatever keeps them in chains and whatever ruins their lives? Their violence was but practical criticism of a bestial society. It is a communal manifestation of regained human solidarity which cannot, under the present class society, affirm itself unless practised by the proletariat against the domination of production over producers, and against those who dominate or organise the domination. As the masses were more violent in their latest uprising, so were their banners and songs:
Anwar Bey, a kilo of meat costs three poundsAnwar Bey, son of a bitch, our daily life is shit
Anwar Bey, we despise you, because you stuck us every day into a deeper crisis
The increase of prices is 100 percent, but our wages are frozen
Anwar, you dress fashionably, while we live ten in a room
Anwar, you have got your winter palace, while we live in humiliation
Anwar, you get 1,000 pounds, we only ten
Anwar, the whole people stands for the workers against injustice and exploitation
Sadat, we don’t want you any longer, Resign, Resign!
Against the Prime Minister:
Mamdouh Salem, son of a bitch, you brought misery to our lives.
Against the President of Parliament:
Who is Syad Marai? He is the fellah’s enemy.
Against the economic open door policy (Infitah):
Under the slogan of the Infitah, they’ve robbed the worker and the fellah!
The same was heard and repeated in Cairo, Hilwan, Alexandria, at the Naval Arsenal, in the School of Engineering of Alexandria, on the Maidan and all over.
This time, unlike the events of 1975, the workers raised no nationalist slogans, only class slogans of varying degrees of radicalism. The name of Nasser was raised by some (not all) of the students.
Workers, unemployed, students and youth
Historically, in every proletarian uprising all the downtrodden social strata surface to express their demands; but the decisive force is the one that gives the uprising its name. On the 18/19 January, the decisive force was the industrial proletariat; but it was not – and in a society like Egypt it could not be – alone. Its allies on those days were the down-and-out proletarianised urban masses.
According to some deputies and to Al-Ahram, four million people came out to the streets on the 18/19 – workers, unemployed, proletarian and educated youth. The industrial workers numbered one million, and formed the spearhead of the uprising. The unemployed proletarian masses represent a large and subversive force in Egypt, and they had already proved in the uprisings of 1975 and in the Darb al-Ahmar uprising of 1976 that they are an organic ally of the industrial proletariat.
After the World Bank demanded the repeal of the law providing guaranteed employment to all graduates, the 200,000 university students as well as the million or so high-school students realised that they are going to be forced into unemployment. Each year, 40,000 of them enter the labour market, and their material condition (even after they graduate and obtain employment) is close to misery. They begin with a weekly salary of $15 and in some cases as little as $10. And when a graduate reaches his sixties his weekly salary would not be more than $76. But the rent for an unfurnished flat is about $50 a month, and an initial lump sum of $5,000 to $12,000 must be paid as key money. On top of this, the cost of furnishing a flat is around $2,000. This is why the majority of married graduates have to live separate from their wives, meeting them one or two nights a week. Some graduates have to do manual jobs, below their level of qualification, and some take on extra work after office hours, such as driving a taxi for up to ten hours a day. These are the luckier ones. As for the others, they have nothing but bribes to supplement their income, or else they must remain at their rock bottom standard of living.
This social predicament is what drove them into the arena of struggle. Of course, in isolation from the proletariat, their struggle must remain confined within the horizon of capitalism, with demands such as the right to work and a rise in salary. The only way for them to break out of this is to flow into the same current with the struggle of the proletariat – for the abolition of wage labour.
About one third of the insurgents were youths, 10 to 16 years old. Their participation was marked by severe violence, which caused the bourgeoisie considerable anxiety. This is why Al-Ahram called upon the sociologists to explain ‘the disquieting phenomenon of children being involved in subversive activity’. Jamal Abu al-Ghara’im, Director of the Health Service, expressed the view that ‘the enthusiasm which some children show towards subversive activities… has a social and economic background, though this does not excuse their elders who spoil them with all this talk about social, economic and psychological problems. This encourages in these children a feeling of hostility towards public property and generally towards responsible people.’ (Al-Ahram, 24 January 1977). Clearly, the ‘elders’ referred to are proletarians.
It is only natural that the sociologists pass in silence over the desires of the downtrodden and over the accumulation of daily violence to which proletarian youths are subjected – those proletarian youths who on 18/19 January took to the streets, to express in word and in deed their raging desire to be the grave-diggers of the old world.
Fear of the bourgeoisie
The radicalism of the uprising and its self-organisation10 scared the bourgeoisie. ‘What happened on the 18/19 threatens the national unity. Many citizens were extremely frightened.’ (Sadat). The uprising has left not only the Egyptian but also the Arab bourgeoisie in a state of dizziness, from which it has still not emerged.
Out of fear of escalation, the regime capitulated, for the first time in its history. Three hours after the uprising, the price rises were cancelled and the Minister of the Interior was dismissed. There is some evidence that the police were close to defeat. In several neighbourhoods the masses were in total control. ‘On Al-Harem Street, not a single policeman was to be seen during the riots,’ complains one night-club owner (Rose a-Yusuf). And in some localities the insurgents took over police arsenals. Sadat himself indirectly admitted to the defeat of his police force: ‘In the defence of state institutions,’ he said, ‘the armed forces did their duty. This doesn’t mean that the police force did not do its duty… not at all… it shouldered a great load, without comparison to any other force… The instigators [of the uprising] wanted to exhaust the police to the point at which the country would have been defenceless, so that they might leap into power. The men of the police force sacrificed themselves.’
In fact, in the afternoon of the 19th, the regime was reduced to dragging religion on to the battle field. The shaikh of the theological university of Al-Azhar declared that the insurgents were God’s enemies. And the army was put back on to its main job – defending the regime against the internal enemy.11 At 16:00 hours the troops came out: units of commandos and military police. A curfew was announced; any gathering would be shot at on sight, without warning. But one million insurgents stayed out fighting the regime’s troops until a late hour. The casualties, according to an official statement, were 79 dead and 566 wounded.
This time, the whole of Egypt’s urban proletariat joined in fierce and relatively organised activity. The movement was not only more extended geographically, but also essentially on a higher level of revolutionary preparation, consciousness and organisation than in previous uprisings. The proletarian masses will realise its weaknesses: failure to take the initiative to occupy the radio and TV stations in order to coordinate the uprising, lack of agitation among the soldiers to join in and lack of calls for international proletarian support, failure to concentrate the attack on arsenals and, finally, the absence of a clear communist perspective, which meant that the activity was still only negative.
The bourgeoisie is facing an exacerbation of the crisis and an upsurge of the social struggle, and it does not have the benefit of those safety valves which are available to the western bourgeoisie – the unions and the ‘labour left’. Egypt’s only official union works openly as the state’s police inside the factory, and is therefore incapable of fooling the workers. And, yes, they do realise that the official party of the left is part of the regime. This is why, when they burnt down the branches of the ruling party, they also threw in some Left Party branches into the bargain. The bourgeoisie confronts the future without any safeguards.12
Even the ‘government of national unity’, including the right and left oppositions, which Sadat considered immediately after the uprising, would not be able to solve the insoluble crisis. Because the bourgeoisie as a whole is no longer capable of offering real reforms. The arsenal of its concessions is all spent, and it has nothing left with which to face the proletariat’s response to the crisis, but an arsenal of repression.
After the failure of a ‘government of national unity’, the bourgeoisie may once more resort to a military coup in order to block the road for the revolutionary option. Even the waging of another theatrical war with the Israeli bourgeoisie will not deceive anybody this time; because this sort of confidence trick which is used in the thick of the class struggle has lost its efficacy in Egypt. For the Egyptian proletariat no longer has any national tasks; its only mission now is social.
On the agenda: a socialist revolution
True, the struggle of the working class has so far remained more or less inside the terrain of capitalism; a struggle for the improvement of the conditions of exploitation. However, the inability of the bourgeoisie to grant this, coupled with the proletariat’s own dynamic, is sure to impel the latter towards its own terrain: the elimination of exploitation and of the instruments which safeguard it. This dynamic is what the clandestine opposition groups try to dampen; because, as a result of their statist aspirations, which are divorced from the revolutionary perspective of the proletariat, they are incapable of transcending the limits of inquisitorial state capitalism of the Russian or Chinese variety, and of perceiving the new content of the international proletarian movement.
The slogans which these groups belch out all revolve around the ‘national democratic revolution’. These slogans used to have a certain sense in the rising phase of capitalism, in the nineteenth century, when the proletariat was in fact unable to affirm itself except on the terrain of wage labour, and the bourgeoisie was still to some extent engaged in struggle against the remnants of feudalism and attacking absolute ground rent. But today – in the very depth of the permanent (not cyclic!) crisis of world capitalism, when the proletariat can solve the crisis only by dissolving itself as proletariat and dissolving class society as a whole – these slogans are not merely more backward than the slogans of the old workers’ movement, but are openly reactionary.
Just as the goals of these groups, which they would like to impose on the proletarian movement, are reactionary, so also the means which they advocate for the realisation of these goals are no less reactionary. For they, as heirs of the most decadent bolshevik traditions, demand from the proletarians to rally around ‘the minimal national and social programme’, and in particular to be organised in ‘independent’ unions which would be all the better able to do the job of overseers for capital, as unions do in the West, and in a legal ‘communist’ party which would be more adept than the present ruling party and the parties of the official right and left opposition at containing the proletariat, just like the ‘communist’ party of Syria or Iraq. They would like the proletariat to tame its savage movement, so it could be used in an attempt to set up a more modern capitalist formation.
The fact that Egypt’s proletariat has so far passively resisted the creation of a ‘workers’ party that would organise it as a class for capital – which is the principle of the trade-unionist and bolshevist mode of organisation – is not only an indication of the wildcat form of direct democracy of its previous strikes and uprisings; it also indicates that the proletariat is beginning to become conscious of the possibility of self-organisation as a class for itself. In its conference on 2–3 November 1975, the council of delegates of coke manufacture workers stressed ‘the right of workers to form their councils, and the right of every section to recall its delegate when he no longer expresses their viewpoint’. This clear rejection of long-term or permanent delegation of power to the general council of the factory’s workers heralds a lucid conception among proletarians of the right sort of workers’ organisation. Thus, at the lower level of class struggle one would have autonomous workers’ groupings which assume the task of disseminating among the workers factual information about their international struggle and of spreading revolutionary theory in general, and in particular those elements of theory which are not immediately grasped by the average worker’s consciousness, weighed down as it is with the prevailing ideology, such as criticism of religion, family, patriotism and similar widespread illusions.
These workers’ groupings are revolutionary to the extent that they lay emphasis on the need to dissolve themselves, as soon as the class struggle explodes into a civil war, in the self-organisation of the proletariat as a whole: in the delegate councils of factory, workplace and neighbourhood – a single and unshared power, elected and revokable at any moment. In this way, all decisions concerning the issues of the ongoing struggle would be taken by the class as a whole rather than by one section of it, or from the outside.
The organisations of the clandestine left, when they go on talking in their inane literature of the need for a ‘broad anti-imperialist front’ for achieving the ‘betrayed national tasks’, are trying to take the real movement of the proletariat back to a phase which it has superseded since the 1975 uprising, if not earlier.
In the conditions of real control by international capital, movements of national liberation have become incapable of really achieving any national task. The fate of the Palestinian resistance and the results of the Lebanese war are significant in this respect. The liberation of the Arab world from all aspects of imperialist control can only be achieved by a socialist revolution which will overthrow all aspects of the domination of national and international capital; nowadays the two are one and the same. As for the prattle about a ‘patriotic’, ‘democratic’ or ‘ambivalent’ revolution, here there and everywhere – this is nothing but bureaucratic mystification of proletarian consciousness, which obscures from it the present central task: the establishment of a new society, in which production is not for profit but for the satisfaction of real collective needs and free individual desires; a society which caters for the deep desire of each individual to be the real maker of his or her own daily life and history.
* This article has been translated from the Arabic manuscript. The author was unable to check the accuracy of the translation which is therefore published on the sole responsibility of the editors.
- 1. Cf ‘The origin of the Arab bourgeoisie’ in my book: The dictionary of the Communist Manifesto, (Arabic) Beirut, Kar Ibn-Khaldun, 1975.
- 2. See ‘The origin of the Arab bourgeoisie’, ibid.
- 3. ibid.
- 4. ibid.
- 5. In 1969 Al Ahram admitted that Egypt had lost a total of one million working days due to Ramadan that year.
- 6. We shall deal with Arab unity in detail some other time.
- 7. The army is the historical agent of these attempts, because class crystallisation in Egypt is weak. In Europe, on the other hand, nations and modern classes were created as a result of the break-up of estates, especially the third estate. However, where these estates had not existed, there was no difference between the concept of nation and the concept of community (in the religious sense). Both are ‘ummah’ in Arabic, and therefore the classes were intermingled, which paralysed them historically.
- 8. In 1976 Sadat admitted that he did not know the size of the foreign debts, as he had misunderstood his prime minister (Hijazi). When Hijazi had been referring to pounds sterling all along, Sadat had understood that the amount was in $US. This is not the only thing he does not know. He is even ignorant of the history of his own class. In June 1977, while he was giving the workers a history lesson, he said that Nubar had formed the ‘save what you can’ government in 1919, whereas in fact Nubar had died in 1899, and had formed his government in 1879 when the Khedive Ismail declared Egypt’s bankruptcy. History repeats itself. Even Yousuf El Siba’i, the chairman of the Organisation of Afro-Asian Writers, and the chief editor of Al Ahram, published the speech without correcting it. The Egyptian people were right when they said: ‘Knowledge is light and ignorance is Anwar’ (light = nur in Arabic. Anwar = comparative form of ‘nur’ in Arabic).
- 9. Under Nasser, 23.6 per cent of the food production, 13.4 per cent of the chemical industry, 24 per cent of the mechanical industry and 86 per cent of the wood and furniture industry were in the private sector.
- 10. The regime accused four communist parties and the Russian embassy of having organised the uprising. These four groups are small and exist in the universities only. These groups, who were accused of organising the uprising and leading the sabotage, have in fact concurred that the ‘weak point’ of the uprising was its spontaneity. They have pleaded innocence of the sabotage and some of them even consider it to have been police provocation!
- 11. All Arab armies are by now specialised in repressing the proletariat. In Algeria, the army stamps out strikes and butchers the workers. In May 1977 Boumedienne brought out his troops to break the strike of the capital’s dockers. Result: four killed, more than twenty wounded!
- 12. In search of reassuring myths, the insecure bourgeoisie has taken to imbecilities and superstitions. For weeks there was a long discussion in Cairo’s biggest daily paper on ‘the curative virtue of flies’, which is mentioned in the Prophet’s oral tradition (Hadith). Apparently, ‘it has been scientifically proved that they carry antibodies against many diseases, from dysentery… down to opthalmia and TB.’ The minister for religious affairs is among the supporters of this view. The Cairo correspondent of Al-Hawadith wrote on 11 April 1977: ‘There is a new phenomenon in Cairo… fear of the unknown has penetrated some bourgeois circles; in many instances it touches the rich, especially the new rich…. A large number of Egyptians arrange their lives according to astrology and horoscopes.’ He goes on to mention businessmen who avoid making deals on certain days because the ‘genius astrologer’, Mr Shamsi, has told them those days are unpropitious. And there are some doctors who, upon the advice of the astrologers, do not go out to see patients on certain days.