Communism falls on hard times in Egypt

Communism is facing a difficult period in Egypt. Egypt's four underground communist parties are small, disorganized, and fragmented. When riots broke out throughout Egypt four years ago, President Anwar Sadat pointed an accusing finger at communists. But actually, Egypt's communist parties, rather than exhibiting strength, serve as convenient scapegoats on which the government can blame social unrest.

Thougy many social conditions may favor the growth of communism -- including growing unemployment, rising prices, and a widening gap between the rich and the poor -- the parties remain small. For example, a member of the Egyptian Communist Party noted with pride that one of its big accomplishments during 1980 was the recruitment of three peasants. That says as much as anything how weak the parties are.

For obvious reasons, communists will not give membership numbers, but none of the parties is thought to number over several hundred.

The Islamic revival has also hurt. While leftists could boast of considerable support during nationwide university demonstrations in 1972, now university demonstrations are in favor of the Islamic groups -- bitter opponents of what they consider to be atheistic communism.

The division of communists into four competing parties is often blamed by leftists on Egypt's secret police. "They encourage splits by promoting personal differences and unimportant ideological arguments," says one leftist Egyptian journalist.

But a member of the Egyptian Communist Party thinks that is unlikely. "To prevent police discovery, we divided the group into smaller cells. That minimizes damage from police arrests, by restricting knowledge of party membership."

The communists tend to draw their membership primarily from professional classes such as lawyers and journalists. They include some workers from Egypt's larger industrial centers.

The vigilance of the police in continually discovering and rounding up communists has kept the parties small. But more than anything else, the charge that communists are atheists has inhibited the growth of communism in devoutly Muslim Egypt. Even the most worldly Muslim would not want to be considered an atheist.

As a result, Egyptian communism has relied heavily on foreign minorities such as Jews and Greeks for its leadership. But during former President Nasser's tenure, large numbers of t hose minorities left Egypt.

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