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The revolt in Egypt

category north africa | miscellaneous | news report author Wednesday February 02, 2011 20:11author by Various - WSM Report this post to the editors

Collection of reports and video from the last week

A collection of articles looking at the mass revolt against the regime of Mubarak that has taken place in Egypt over the last week written by members of the WSM in Ireland for the WSM web site. The most recent article on yesterday's demonstration is first.

Around two million demonstrate in Cairo demanding that Mubarak go - general strike declared

After a week of popular revolt two million people are demonstrating in Cairo today demanding that president Mubarak and his son leave the country and that the regime be changed. An indefinite general strike has also been called by organisers of the movement.

The revolt which started last Tuesday with small groups in their hundreds marching and meeting up has now engulfed all of Egyptian society, resulting in the collapse of the police force and the deployment of the army. Ordinary Egyptians formed Neighboorhood Defence Committees to patrol their streets and a new Federation of Unions has been declared.  In the streets today the mass of people are debating what the next steps are as opposition groups struggle to be seen as the leadership of this essentially leaderless movement.

Train services have been shut down in an attempt to stop people joining the demonstrations in Cairo but according to Egyptian sources on Facebook this has helped build demonstrations all over the country.  It is said that there are "300 thousand in Suez. 250 thousand in Mahalla. 250 thousand in Mansoura. 500 thousand in Alexandria. Protesters in every single city/town in Egypt now (approx 4 Million all over Egypt)."

A coalition of opposition groups are attempting to steer the movement but it is far from clear that the mass of the people accept their direction either. A protest organiser in Tahir square interviewed like on Al Jazeera made it clear that ElBaradel is not accepted as a leader of the revolt, that "he is not even a good politician" and have accused the 'official opposition' of trying to hijack the movement.  

The Guardian's Correspondent Jack Shenker reported from the demonstration that "There is no one leader; it has been a leaderless movement from the start and it still a leaderless movement here in the square. A huge amount of energy but not much of an outlet at the moment as to where it should be taken next."  Al Jazerra is reporting that debates are taking place in the square as to what is the next step, to stay in the square or to march the 10k to the Presidential palace.

Heba Morayef, of Human Rights Watch reported that even senior judges have joined the demonstration carrying a banner which reads "The Judges and the People are one Hand together." The Egyptian ruling class is now fragmented, the role of the army on the streets has not only been unclear but there have been scenes of individual soldiers and even an officer abandoning their posts in a show of solidarity with the people.

A new Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions has been announced reflecting the role that thousands of strikes, sit ins and protests by Egyptian workers played in creating the on the ground organisation that provided part of the bed rock that this revolt is built on. Today's mobilization has been aided by the strikes called in support of it which are even affecting the ports of the Suez canal used by perhaps half of the ships that use it.  Even rumors that the canal had closed on Friday were enough to push the shares of the largest global oil taker company up 8.5% as dealers speculated on the significant rise in coast of oil transport that would come about if the tankers had to go around Africa.  Today the price of a barrel of oil broke 101 dollars.  This economic pressure is probably behind the more critical rhetoric that is emerging from those who rule the USA and the UK as it becomes clear that their man cannot stay in power through making a few minor reforms.

The strike spread from workers at a factory in the canal city of Suez who struck on Sunday night. Watching the protests the Guardian's Middle East expert Brian Whitaker declared that "perhaps we're focusing too much on Tahrir Square. There are things happening in other cities too, plus industrial action. In the end, it may be the shutdown of economic activity as a result of the protests that forces Mubarak out."

Yet the question remains - will this massive movement for democratic reform expand to become a movement that struggles around the need for economic democracy and equality that the mass of Egyptian workers and poor need. And if it does what will be the role of the army in that situation, an army whose soldiers are drawn from the proletarian classes but whose command represents the interests of the Eqyptian elite.

For those watching events unfold all over the world the revolt in Egypt is a demonstration of the power people have when they organise and stand up to those who claim to rule us.  Mubaraks' police state with its enormous secret police force and its US supplied crowd control weapons has been driven off the streets by the sheer size of the movement.  This is an example that can and is being copied elsewhere, setting fear into the hearts of the ruling minorities that control every country.

Words: Andrew Flood

Al Jazerra video showing early scenes from the protest in Tahir square

Interview with women in Tahir square on eve of two million strong protest

Video from Friday's battles with the riot police in Cairo

Egypt: One Million to march in Cairo, Trade Unions Federate

As protests continue in Egypt the people are becoming more organised and creating their own structures. After a few days of unsuccessfully trying to smash the movement for change through violent repression, the police were withdrawn from the streets and the army ordered in. The largely conscript army however was unwilling to use violence against the population, whom the majority of soldiers clearly sympathise with.

The government gambled that the resulting breakdown of law and order and looting, chaos and violence on the streets from criminals and the desperate as well as covert state elements would result in people rushing back into the arms of the state for protection. But something else happened; people began organising, policing their own neighbourhoods, directing traffic, caring for neighbours. The best elements of humanity co-existed with the worst and the people began to claim their city from the state and those who were taking advantage of the chaos.  The regime's gamble did not pay off, and the people feel more empowered.

The Trade union movement has also begun to take action with a new Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions formed and the announcement of a decision to set a date for a general strike. (See statement below)

The April 6th youth movement has called for a million person demonstartion in Cairo for Tuesday to topple the regime. The pressure on the regime is massive, it's end is neigh, but the question now is what comes next? The formation of the Union Federation is a positive development and hopefully a general strike will help both put the final nail in Mubarak's coffin and also give the working class a sense of what is possible.

Press Release from Egyptian Trade Unionists - Date: Sunday, 30 January 2011

"Today, representatives of the of the Egyptian labor movement, made up of the independent Egyptian trade unions of workers in real estate tax collection, the retirees, the technical health professionals and representatives of the important industrial areas in Egypt: Helwan, Mahalla al-Kubra, the tenth of Ramadan city, Sadat City and workers from the various industrial and economic sectors such as: garment & textiles, metals industry, pharmaceuticals, chemical industry, government employees, iron and steel, automotive, etc… And they agreed to hold a press conference at 3:30pm this afternoon in Tahrir Square next to Omar Effendi Company store in downtown Cairo to announce the organization of the new Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions and to announce the formation of committees in all factories and enterprises to protect, defend them and to set a date for a general strike. And to emphasize that the labor movement is in the heart and soul of the Egyptian Peoples’ revolution and its emphasis on the support for the six requirements as demanded by the Egyptian People's Revolution. To emphasize the economic and democratic demands voiced by the independent labor movement through thousands of strikes, sit-ins and protests by Egyptian workers in the past years."


WORDS: James McBarron

Mubarak’s Egypt - ‘End this Corrupt Regime’

‘End this Corrupt Regime’   - That’s what one young man screams into a camera as thousands of people clash with cops on the streets of Cairo. Just how corrupt is this regime.  Mubarak may have started his career commanding an air force against Israel, but in the 30 years in power, he has become another champion of enterprise and the neo-liberal open economy.  Democracy occasionally held up like some beacon has constantly been promised but never really acted upon.  2011 is the year that has scheduled Presidential Elections, but obviously the Egyptian masses aren’t happy with the promises of something better to come.

Hosni Mubarak came to power after Anwar al-Sadat was assassinated in 1981.  Mubarak was the commander in chief of the air force which launched the surprise attack in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, and by 1975 he was the unlikely vice president to Sadat.

Open economies tend to suit those in power, and so it comes as no surprise to know that the rich and powerful are friendly with Mubarak.  The co-owner of Easter Mediterranean Gas Company, Hussein Salem, is a good friend of President Mubarak.  When not selling Egypt’s natural gas to Israel (Gas started flowing in 2008) he also happens to be a hotel magnate and  arms-dealer.

The estimates run that Mubarak regime has over 17,000 political prisoners.  Unemployment runs at about 26.3 per cent, globalisation has lead to inflation.  $62 billion dollars has flown into Egypt since 1977 from the US in aid.  Most Egyptians get by on $2 a day.

Like all rulers, everything is submissive to survival.  Relations with Israel appear to be quite friendly in the background, up to and including gassing people in tunnels leading out of Gaza, and keeping the border firmly shut at Rafah, even when Israel goes to war against the Palestinians.

Egypt is building a wall 18 meters underground made from super-strength steel in order to seal off all tunnels that lead into Gaza.  The Mubarak regime first of all kept this a secret and now refers to this as ‘engineering installations.’

As Adam Shatz wrote in his excellent report ‘Mubarak’s Last Breath’ in the London Review of Books –

                “Mubarak’s Egypt is often compared to Iran in the last days of the Shah: a middle class squeezed by inflation; anger at the regime’s alliances with the US and Israel; a profound sense of humiliation that is increasingly expressed in Islamic fervour; near universal contempt for the country’s ruling class; a state whose legitimacy has almost entirely eroded.”

Mubarak does not have an enemy in Israel, he has a market.  His enemies are at home.  They are internal and are leftist, human rights activists and above all, Islamists.   This has lead to regular torture of people in police stations and to the establishment of the Ministry of the Interior (MOI)_.  Not much happens with their approval.  It is also estimated that one in forty Egyptians are employed as informers to the MOI.

Mubarak had to come up with some sort of democratic front- to give the veneer that people were being listened too, but because the Muslim Brotherhood won 88 of 160 seats in Legislative elections in 2005.  Since then they’ve been put back in their box.  They were refused the right to run in elections to the upper house, polling stations were attacked and arrests followed. An Emergency law exists which conveniently for Mubarak does not allow freedom of assembly, which curtails the possibility of any political movement or party getting off the ground.

Gamal – son of Mubarak has flown out of the country. He was obviously being groomed as the successor – a man versed in private equity firms, he was a man who could sell off state assets for a profit.  But the recent unrest saw he flea.

US foreign policy is neatly reflected in Egypt.  Recently the US forked over $260 million in what was called ‘supplementary security assistance’ and Egypt also bought 24 F-16 fighter jets plus other equipment worth a reported $3.2billon.  A cosy relationship exists and whilst it would be nice to have a democracy in Egypt – it may not be as easily controlled or bought off as the Mubarak Regime is.  One hand rubs the other and business is good.

All data quoted from the longer article found in London Review of Books – ‘Mubarak’s Last Breath’ Vol. 32 No. 10 27th May 2010


Egyptians take to the Streets to oppose Mubarak dictatorship

Tens of thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to demand an end to the dicatorship of Hosni Mubarak. The protests echo the recent overthrow of the dictator in Tunisia. Today is a national holiday in Egypt to celebrate the police, a brutal force and a key component in keeping Mubarak in power.

Protests have been taking place in Cairo, Alexandria, Mansura and Tanta in the Nile delta and in Aeewan and Asiut in the south. The demonstrations are being organised largely online by groups representing the young and poor, motivated by economic issues as much as politics. Interestingly, the Muslim Brotherhood, for long recognised as Egypt's largest opposition group, have played no role in organising or encouraging the demonstrations. As in Tunisia, we are witnessing something new, something more spontaneous and something with at least an aspect of class anger about it.

It is illegal to demonstrate in Egypt without official permission and marching is rarely if ever allowed. The police  are historically ruthless in implementing the law which empowers them to arrest anyone defying these stipulations.  That makes the large turnout at these demos all the more inspiring as they are not legal and not stationary.

Police have thus far reacted with teargas, batons and some arrests.

Mubarak is a firm favourite of the West and an ally of Israel, helping to secure the neighbouring Gaza strip as an open-air prison. How loudly will western governments call for democracy in Egypt?

WORDS: James McBarron

Protest in Tahir square, central Cario

Mubarak portrait being destroyed in Mansoura

Mubarak portraits being pulled down in Raml station, Alexandria

Protesters attack riot police

Marching to Tahir square

More from the WSM on the Revolt in Egypt

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