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(Updated Feb. 13) Mubarak toppled! `We will ... celebrate, then start building our new Egypt!' + analysis by Tariq Ali

Tahrir Square. Photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy.

[Click HERE for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal's full coverage of the Egyptian revolution.]

By Hossam el-Hamalawy

February 12, 2011 -- Jadaliyya -- Since February 11, and actually earlier, middle-class activists have been urging Egyptians to suspend the protests and return to work, in the name of patriotism, singing some of the most ridiculous lullabies about "let's build new Egypt". "Let's work harder than even before", ... In case you didn't know, actually Egyptians are among the hardest working people around the globe already.

Those activists want us to trust Mubarak’s generals with the transition to democracy – the same junta that has provided the backbone of his dictatorship over the past 30 years. And while I believe the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which receives $1.3 billion annually from the US, will eventually engineer the transition to a “civilian” government, I have no doubt it will be a government that will guarantee the continuation of a system that will never touch the army’s privileges, keep the armed forces as the institution that will have the final say in politics (like for example Turkey), guarantee Egypt will continue to follow the US foreign policy whether it’s the undesired peace with apartheid State of Israel, safe passage for the US navy in the Suez Canal, the continuation of the Gaza siege and exports of natural gas to Israel at subsidized rates. The “civilian” government is not about cabinet members who do not wear military uniforms. A civilian government means a government that fully represents the Egyptian people’s demands and desires without any intervention from the brass. And I see this hard to be accomplished or allowed by the junta.

The military has been the ruling institution in this country since 1952. Its leaders are part of the establishment. And while the young officers and soldiers are our allies, we cannot for one second lend our trust and confidence to the generals. Moreover, those army leaders need to be investigated. I want to know more about their involvement in the business sector.

All classes in Egypt took part in the uprising. In Tahrir Square you found sons and daughters of the Egyptian elite, together with the workers, middle-class citizens and the urban poor. Mubarak has managed to alienate all social classes in society including wide section of the bourgeoisie. But remember that it’s only when the mass strikes started three days ago that’s when the regime started crumbling and the army had to force Mubarak to resign because the system was about to collapse.

Some have been surprised that the workers started striking. I really don’t know what to say. This is completely idiotic. The workers have been staging the longest and most sustained strike wave in Egypt’s history since 1946, triggered by the Mahalla strike in December 2006. It’s not the workers’ fault that you were not paying attention to their news. Every single day over the past three years there was a strike in some factory whether it’s in Cairo or the provinces. These strikes were not just economic, they were also political in nature.

From day 1 of our uprising, the working class has been taking part in the protests. Who do you think were the protesters in Mahalla, Suez and Kafr el-Dawwar for example? However, the workers were taking part as “demonstrators” and not necessarily as “workers” – meaning, they were not moving independently. The government had brought the economy to halt, not the protesters by its curfew, shutting down of banks and business. It was a capitalist strike, aiming at terrorising the Egyptian people. Only when the government tried to bring the country back to “normal” that workers returned to their factories, discussed the current situation, and started to organise en masse, moving as a block.

The strikes waged by the workers this week were both economic and political fused together. In some of the locations the workers did not list the regime’s fall among their demands, but they used the same slogans as those protesting in Tahrir and in many cases, at least those I managed to learn about and I’m sure there are others, the workers put forward a list of political demands in solidarity with the revolution.

These workers are not going home anytime soon. They started strikes because they couldn’t feed their families anymore. They have been emboldened by Mubarak’s overthrow, and cannot go back to their children and tell them the army has promised to bring them food and their rights in I don’t know how many months. Many of the strikers have already started raising additional demands of establishing free trade unions away from the corrupt, state backed Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions.

Today, I’ve already started receiving news that thousands of public transport workers are staging protests in el-Gabal el-Ahmar. The temporary workers at Helwan Steel Mills are also protesting. The railway technicians continue to bring trains to halt. Thousands of el-Hawamdiya sugar factory workers are protesting and oil workers will start a strike tomorrow over economic demands and also to impeach Minister Sameh Fahmy and halt gas exports to Israel. And more reports are coming from other industrial centres.

At this point, the Tahrir Square occupation is likely to be suspended. But we have to take Tahrir to the factories now. As the revolution proceeds an inevitable class polarisation is to happen. We have to be vigilant. We shouldn’t stop here… We hold the keys to the liberation of the entire region, not just Egypt… Onwards with a permanent revolution that will empower the people of this country with direct democracy from below…

[A socialist activist in Egypt, Hossam El-Hamalawy blogs at www.Arabawy.org.]

 


February 12, 2011 -- Russia Today -- Tariq Ali analyses the fall of Mubarak and the next stages in the struggle in Egypt.

 

The revolution continues after Mubarak's fall 

Egyptians protest at Tahrir Square on the day Mubarak left office, February 11, 2011. Photo by Matthew Cassel.

By Ali Abunimah

February 12, 2011-- Electronic Intifada -- Yesterday evening, after it was announced that Hosni Mubarak had met the first demand of the revolution and left office, I headed toward the Egyptian embassy in Amman, Jordan. The joy on the streets was something I had never experienced before.

From all directions people came, pouring out of cars stuck in gridlocked traffic on Zahran Street and into the side street where the embassy sits. They were young and old and families with children. Egyptian laborers -- the unacknowledged back bone of much of the Jordanian economy -- sang, carried each other on their shoulders and played drums. Egyptian flags waved and signs were held high.

The chants were as varied and lively as the crowd which grew to thousands: "Long Live Egypt!", "The people overthrew the regime!", "Who's next?", "Tomorrow Abbas!". Some people showered the crowd with sweets, as fireworks burst overhead. Everyone took pictures, recording a moment of victory they felt was made by the Egyptian people on behalf of all of us.

After Tunisia, a second great pillar of oppression has been knocked down, at such great cost to hundreds who gave their lives, and many millions who saw their lives destroyed for so many years. It was a night for joy, and the celebrations continue today.

After the celebrations are over, the revolution too must go on, because it will not be complete until the Egyptian people rebuild their country as they wish it to be.

Region

But standing in the streets of Amman there was no mistaking that the Egyptian revolution will have a profound impact on the whole region. Arab people everywhere now imagine themselves as Tunisians or Egyptians. And every Arab ruler imagines himself as Ben Ali or Mubarak.

The revolution has reawakened a sense of a common destiny for the Arab world many thought had been lost, that seemed naive when our mothers and fathers told us about it from their youth, and that Arab leaders had certainly tried to kill. The Arab dictators, who are as dead inside as Mubarak showed himself to be in his awful televised speeches, thought their peoples' spirits were dead too. The revolutions have restored a sense of limitless possibility and a desire that change should spread from country to country.

Whatever happens next, the Egyptian revolution will also have a profound effect on the regional balance of power. Undoubtedly the United States, Israel and their allies are already weaker as a result. First they lost Tunisia, and then suffered a severe setback with the collapse of the US-backed Lebanese government of Rafiq Hariri, and now Mubarak and Omar Suleiman, the closest and most enthusiastic collaborators with Israel except perhaps for [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies in Ramallah.

On many minds -- especially Israeli and US ones -- has been the question of whether a new democratic Egyptian government will tear up the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. That of course, is up to the Egyptian people, although the transitional military government confirmed in its fourth statement Egypt's adherence to "all international and regional treaties".

Relations with Israel

But the treaty is not really the issue. Even if democratic Egypt maintains the treaty, the treaty never required Egypt to join Israeli and US conspiracies against other Arabs. It never required Egypt to become the keystone in an US-led alliance with Israel and Saudi Arabia against an allegedly expansionist Iran. It never required Egypt to adopt and disseminate the vile "Sunni vs. Shia" sectarian rhetoric that was deliberately used to try to shore up this narrative of confrontation. It never required Egypt to participate in Israel's cruel siege of Gaza or collaborate closely with its intelligence services against Palestinians. It never required Egypt to become a world centre of torture for the United States in its so-called "War on Terror". The treaty did not require Egypt to shoot dead migrants crossing Sinai from other parts of Africa just to spare Israelis from seeing black people in Tel Aviv. No treaty required or requires Egypt to carry on with these and so many more shameful policies that earned Hosni Mubarak and his regime the hatred of millions of Arabs and others far beyond Egypt's borders.

There is no doubt that the United States will not give up its hegemony in Egypt easily, and will do all it can to frustrate any Egyptian move toward an independent regional policy, using as leverage its deep ties and enormous aid to the Egyptian military that now rules the country. The regional ambitions of the United States remain the main external threat to the success of Egypt's revolution.

Whatever break or continuity there is with Egypt's past policies, the calculations have changed for remaining members of the so-called "alliance of moderates," particularly Saudi Arabia -- which allegedly offered to prop Mubarak up financially if the US withdrew its aid -- Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

For many years, these regimes, like Egypt, bet their security and survival on a virtually unconditional alliance with the United States: they abandoned all dignified, independent and principled positions and adopted Washington's hegemonic aspirations as their own, in exchange for assistance, and what they hoped was a guarantee that the US would come to their rescue if they got in trouble.

What the revolutions demonstrate to all Arab regimes is that the United States cannot rescue you in the end. No amount of "security assistance" (training, tear gas, weapons), financial aid, or intelligence cooperation from the United States or France can withstand a population that has decided it has had enough. These regimes' room for maneuver has shrunk even if the sorts of uprisings seen in Egypt and Tunisia are not imminent elsewhere.

After the revolutions, people's expectations have been raised and their tolerance for the old ways diminished. Whether things go on as they have for a few weeks, a few months, or even a few more years in this or that country, the pressures and demands for change will be irresistible. The remaining Arab regimes must now ask not if change will happen but how.

Will regimes that relied for so long on repression, fear and the docility of their people wait for revolution, or will they give up unearned power and undertake real democratisation willingly, speedily and honestly? This will require not just a dramatic change of internal policies which regimes may or may not be capable of making voluntarily, but also a deep reexamination of external alliances and commitments that have primarily served Israel, the United States and the regimes at the expense of their people.

Jordan

Jordan is now a prime case where such a reexamination is urgently due. Regardless of whether or not (and I think almost certainly not) the newly appointed cabinet will be able to meet public expectations for democratisation, fighting corruption, and ending the worst neoliberal policies that have put so many of the country's resources and companies in unaccountable private hands, the country's foreign policy must undergo a full review.

This includes the overly dependent relationship on the United States, relations with Israel, participation in the sham "peace process," the training of the security forces used by Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank against other Palestinians, and the deeply unpopular involvement in the NATO war and occupation in Afghanistan. Up until now, these matters have all been decided without any regard to public opinion.

Palestinian Authority

And in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority (PA) of Mahmoud Abbas is in a more precarious situation than ever. Its loss of legitimacy is so thorough -- especially after the revelations in the Palestine Papers -- that it exists only thanks to the protection of the Israeli occupation, US and EU training of its repressive security forces, and massive EU funding to pay the salaries of its bloated bureaucracy.

The PA's leaders are as dead to the just cause and aspirations for liberation of the Palestinian people for which so much has been sacrificed, as Mubarak was to the Egyptian people's rights and hopes. No wonder the PA relies more and more on the thuggery and police state tactics so reminiscent of Mubarak and Ben Ali.

The revolutions in the Arab have lifted our horizons. More people can now see that the liberation of Palestine from Zionist colonialism and US- and EU-funded oppression, to make it a safe, humane place for all who live in it to exist in equality, is not just a utopian slogan but is in our hands if we struggle for it and stick to our principles.

Like the people power, against which the Egyptian and Tunisian police states were powerless in the end, Palestinians and their allies (particularly those supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement) have the power to transform reality within the next few years.

In whatever form the revolution continues, the people are saying to their rulers: our countries, our futures, don't belong to you any more. They belong to us.

[Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and is a contributor to The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict (Nation Books).]

 

Egypt: ‘Our ability to resist is our guarantee’

By Jane Slaughter

February 12, 2011 -- Labor Notes -- Shortly after the news came that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had resigned on February 11, 2011, Labor Notes talked with teacher and trade unionist Abdel Hafiz in Cairo, amid sounds of joyous celebration. The regime's collapse came amid a massive series of strikes.

Asked what will happen next, Hafiz said, “What will happen next is people are going to take five minutes and celebrate, and then we will start building our new Egypt."

“Everyone wants to be in control now. We know tomorrow there will be a big debate in Egypt about the future, about how in our new Egypt we will have democracy and civil rights.”

 What about the military being in charge—is this a good thing or dangerous?

“The military promised to be in charge for the foundational period and to guard the democracy. They know that from the first day the military, the army, came to the streets, people are celebrating the military coming. They were shouting every day, every day, ‘The army and the people is one hand!’

“The military got the message. They know the requirements of the new Egypt—freedom and democracy. They promised and we believe them. Of course, everyone will be very careful.

“[The people] now just feeling they have their own ability to resist and that is the most important guarantee.”

Strikes broke the camel's back

As Egyptian citizens celebrate their first victory on the way to democracy, some are asking whether the fast-spreading strikes of February 9-11 were the straw that broke Mubarak’s back.

More than 20,000 workers walked out on February 9. Kamal Abbas, director of the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers Services in Cairo, told Labor Notes, "This day in the revolution could be named for the labour unions."

On the morning of February 11, the day Mubarak stepped down, the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center reported, based on local reports from Egypt that in Mahallah 24,000 textile workers walked out demanding raises and calling for solidarity with the protesters in Tahrir Square. Some military equipment factories, owned by the military, were struck over wages and benefits.

Subway workers walked out. Postal workers walked out. Workers at Egypt Air headquarters walked out. Laid-off workers from the famous Alexandria Library demanded to be rehired. The main shipping agencies in the ports saw walk-outs. Al Azhar, the oldest university in the world, saw strikes at all the hospitals it operates.

And employers rushed to meet the demands of workers. Public and private employers were all caving on the major demand that temp/contract workers be made permanent. The government began studying budgets to figure out how to make temps permanent throughout the government sector.

Leaders of the official government-controlled union federation, the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, were not involved in the strikes and negotiations. Workers were ignoring the existing structures and forming their own committees to negotiate.

They had ample precedents. Though invisible outside the country, more than 2 million Egyptian workers had struck, sat down and protested for higher pay since 2004, when a neoliberal government stepped up privatisation.

[This article first appeared at the US-based Labor Notes.]

 

From day of challenge to day of victory

SocialistWorker.org reports on the fall of the Mubarak regime

February 11, 2011 -- Hosni Mubarak is gone. Hours after a televised speech in which he defied the mass uprising against him and declared he would remain as Egypt's dictator, Mubarak stepped down. His newly appointed vice-president, Omar Suleiman, appeared on state television on February 11 to announce that authority had been transferred to a council of military leaders.

The streets of Cairo and every city in Egypt, filled with protesters furious about Mubarak's speech the night before, erupted in jubilation. News channels with their cameras trained on Tahrir Square gave up trying to make themselves heard over the joyous demonstration. Reporters described deafening chants of "Egypt is free!" and "You're an Egyptian, lift your head".

Many questions remain about the shape of the new regime under the military -- and what role, if any, Suleiman, who infuriated Egyptians over the past several weeks with his defence of Mubarak's continued reign, will play.

The military has been at the centre of the Mubarak dictatorship for 30 years and also bears responsibility for the regime's crimes. In fact, military police have been involved in arresting key activists. Now the struggle will have to continue to make sure that the military establishment -- which is also deeply involved in the country's business affairs -- doesn't consolidate power in the hands of the armed forces.

But it's already clear that the people of Egypt have changed the course of history in the Middle East -- and the world beyond. They have overcome the violence of police and thugs, the regime's attempts to co-opt parts of the opposition, and the double-dealing of Western leaders who put "stability" ahead of Egyptians' demands for democracy.

The emergency laws that enabled Mubarak's police state to rule for 30 years are still on the books. But the millions of people who engaged in this revolutionary struggle -- with the sacrifice of at least 300 lives, with thousands more injured and arrested -- weren't intimidated. They will continue to press for genuine democracy. And workers -- whose strikes pushed the regime to the breaking point-- will continue to press for wages that can put food on the table, as well as the right to organise independent trade unions.

Egypt's revolution has taken a giant leap ahead, opening the way for a struggle that can reshape all of Egyptian society. And the monarchs, dictators and US stooges who hold power across the Middle East are terrified that they -- following Mubarak and the ousted Tunisian autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali -- could be next.

Friday, February 11, 2011

As Friday began, it was clear that the demonstrations would be bigger than ever -- and so was the level of anger.

Already furious at Mubarak's refusal to announce his resignation the previous night, the mass of people were now upset at Communique #2 of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which backed vice-president Omar Suleiman's line that constitutional changes would come -- but only after the protests end. The statement said that the armed forces "confirm the need to resume orderly work in the government installations and a return to normal life, preserve the interests and property of our great people".

If the regime thought this would quiet people's anger, they were wrong. By midday February 11, thousands had already surrounded the state television building and smaller numbers were outside the presidential palace. And Tahrir Square was packed as tightly as it had ever been in the course of the revolution.

As SocialistWorker.org contributor Mostafa Omar reported from the long line to enter Tahrir Square at midday:

The army's statement says nothing concrete. They are trying to back up the vice president's promise that will lift the emergency laws -- but they said they would do so only at the end of the current crisis.

This is leading to the first serious rift between the demonstrators and the army. People are entering into heated debate with officers, accusing them of taking the side of the regime, and not the revolution. Already, three officers have quit the army and joined the protests -- one of them has given a lengthy interview to Al Jazeera.

And while thousands are camping outside the state TV building, about 2000 workers in state TV and radio are on strike -- the people who produce the regime's version of the news.

Already, there are an estimated 10,000 people camped outside the presidential palace in Heliopolis. People are coming to Tahrir with the expectation of marching there. But it's a long march -- miles and miles.

What effect the mass discontent on the streets had on the maneuvers behind the scenes will probably become known in the days to come, but the morning and afternoon mobilisations were a clear rejection of the attempt to maintain Mubarak in power, while emphasising that his powers had been transferred to Suleiman.

Furious, the crowds continued to swell as the evening hours approached, and demonstrators reportedly overcame the military's attempt to defend the state television building.

When Suleiman finally appeared on television to make his brief statement that Mubarak had stepped down, the streets erupted again, but this time with joyous celebrations.

[This article first appeared at Socialist Worker, newspaper and web site of the International Socialist Organization (USA).]

 

Scenes from a revolution

SocialistWorker.org contributor Mostafa Omar reports from Cairo on the joyous celebrations that greeted the fall of a U.-backed dictator.

February 11, 2011 -- When the announcement came that Hosni Mubarak was no longer president, I was in midtown Cairo. Suddenly, tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands -- probably, around Cairo as a whole, millions -- of people poured into the streets to join those who were already demonstrating.

Around Tahrir Square, I estimate around 2 million people were celebrating the downfall of Mubarak. It was so crowded that it took an hour to walk about 50 or 75 feet.

The atmosphere was indescribable. There are fireworks everywhere in Tahrir Square. It looked like an Egyptian wedding -- except multiplied by a million. It's not just young people involved in this movement, as the media have claimed. It's all of Egypt--people of all ages dancing and singing, coming up with chants.

My companions and I talked to a number of people. I asked many if they ever had thought such a thing could happen. Some said no -- at least not in their lifetime. Others said they knew it would happen, such was the hatred for the Mubarak dictatorship.

While people are celebrating Mubarak's ouster, they are also watching the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has taken power. One man, a lawyer, said that perhaps people will go home tonight from Tahrir Square feeling victorious. But they will closely monitor what kind of steps the army will take in terms of constitutional and legislative change, he said.

When we asked what will happen if the army doesn't fulfill its promises, he said, "Tahrir Square is not going anywhere -- we have already won once. It will be easier for us to regroup and remobilise. We can take it back at any minute."

Many others we spoke with also made it clear that the struggle won't end with Mubarak's ouster. There was a group of two accountants, two teachers and some university students from the Qalyubia governorate north of Cairo. They had been camping in Tahrir Square for a week. They all said this was the happiest day of their life. One of the accountants said, "We will not leave until the dictator goes on trial."

There was also more fraternisation with army officers and soldiers who came out of their tanks. At first, the officers didn't want to let people on the tanks, but eventually they did.

One tank commander I saw, a first lieutenant, is a young man in his 20s. You could see in his eyes and on the face of the soldiers the tremendous amount of relief they felt that they did not have to fire on the protesters. For two weeks, they faced the possibility of having to fire on their brothers and sisters -- something they did not want to do.

This commander picked up the Egyptian flag and kissed it. I think he was showing that he was glad that he was serving the whole nation, and not one person or the regime.

Victory chants

The chants in Tahrir Square following news of Mubarak's ouster were amazing to hear. They reflected both a sense of accomplishment and also the anticipation of more struggle to come.

Instead of "The people want to bring down the regime", the chant became, "The people brought down the regime." Instead of "The people want to bring down the president," it became "The people want the president's money." There were a lot of chants for the martyrs: "Martyrs, rest in peace, your blood was not spilled in vain."

The big chant that many took up was "Freedom!"

There were also women's contingents leading chants -- reminding the ex-president's wife how miserable and poor they were, and how much they struggled just to put food on the table.

They also chanted, "We want Egypt based on freedom and social justice." So you can tell that people are not just concerned about free elections -- there are wider and deeper questions on everyone's mind that they see as linked to the democratic demands.

There is an internationalist feeling reflected in the chants as well. One of them went: "Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria." In other words, people know the importance of the January revolution in Tunisia in inspiring further action in Egypt, and they are keeping a close eye on developments in Yemen, Jordan, Algeria and other countries. On February 12, there is a national day of protest in Algiers in solidarity with the revolution in Egypt and Tunisia.

Many people spoke about the need to prosecute Mubarak and his family. One young woman, an administrative clerk, told us that the rest of the regime should be on trial.

Continued mass movement necessary

Many believe that to obtain justice, a continued mass movement is necessary. That's the perspective of pharmacist Mohamed Rashin, the father of five college-educated children. "I feel I have been in limbo between earth and sky", he said of the 18 days of struggle to oust the dictator. "I believe that we have the support of god, but I also believe in the power of the Egyptian people."

We talked to a middle-aged man who said, "The Egyptian people are giants." He added: "I love the American people, but I hate the American government. We are against any U.S. or foreign intervention. We will stay in Tahrir Square, because this is not about Mubarak. We have other demands -- for political freedom, the end of the emergency laws. Demands that have to be met."

From the victory chants, you can tell that in the back of their minds, people are still thinking about what happens next. They say, "We brought down the regime", but what a lot of people really mean by that is: "We have broken part of the regime, so it's possible to go after the rest." The vast majority knows that it isn't about bringing down one person -- that Mubarak represented the whole social and economic system.

And while there's a massive celebration, many people are concerned about reports that the US Sixth Fleet is on its way to Suez Canal. The sentiment is that we won't stay silent if there is any foreign intervention in Egyptian affairs.

Differences

If there is widespread agreement in the revolutionary movement that the struggle must continue, there are differences on how far to go.

On the left, for example, the April 6 Youth Movement and the Revolutionary Socialists play a key role in leading chants. The chants aren't just propaganda -- they are agitational, with obvious organisational consequences. Thousands of young people are rallying around the April 6 Youth Movement and the Youth Coalition for the Revolution of Anger.

Before the vice-president's speech, we met Mohammad Abdel Aziz, one of the founders of the April 6 Youth Movement and a leader of the January 25 Youth Movement -- the groups that helped to organise much of the activity in Tahrir Square, and one of the most radical. As he said:

It is very important that if we bring down Mubarak today, it will not be the end, but the beginning of the revolution. The regime is not just one person, but an entire ruling elite around Mubarak. Our revolution started as a youth revolution, but now it has developed into a people's revolution.

One key focus of the next few days will be on working-class struggles. The strikes were one of the two decisive factors in forcing Mubarak out.

In the previous 48 hours before Mubarak's resignation, a growing number of workers had gone on strike. By Friday, February 11, there was the expectation that the strikes would spread the next day, Saturday -- a workday in Egypt. The country was becoming ungovernable -- not just politically, but also economically.

The second crucial development was that on February 11, there were masses of people surrounding the presidential palace in Alexandria, and more and more people were pouring toward the presidential palace in Cairo, which was a no-go zone as far as the army was concerned.

Role of army

When the army didn't fire on people, protesters were further emboldened. By 4 or 5 pm, with large numbers of protesters also outside the state television building, the army was in no position to fire on people. And at the presidential palace, the tanks turned their barrels away from the people.

At this point, people want a role for the armed forces in ensuring that the remnants of the old regime will be dismantled and figuring out a transition. But they don't want a military dictatorship. And the army is issuing statements that it will protect the freedoms of the people and the wealth of the country, a hint that the army will pursue those who are trying to smuggle money out of the country and pursue those who are corrupt -- that was an announcement on state TV.

There will be mass pressure on the army to live up to those promises. Before Mubarak stepped down, we talked to a young man in Tahrir Square and asked him who he wanted to replace Mubarak. He said, "I want someone who is as poor as I am, who has eaten beans all his life" -- the staple of the poor in Egypt -- "so he will be able to understand the anger of the people".

You get the feeling from experiences like talking to him that this isn't just a movement for democracy. It's a movement for social justice and the redistribution of wealth.

[This article first appeared at Socialist Worker, newspaper and web site of the International Socialist Organization (USA).]

 

The unfolding revolution

International Socialist Review editor Ahmed Shawki comments on the dynamics of the struggle in Egypt--and the challenges for those who want to see a real transformation.

February 11, 2011 -- Socialist Worker -- The Russian revolutionary Lenin wrote that for a revolution to occur, it's necessary both that the lower classes refuse to endure their situation any longer, but also that the upper classes are unable to rule in the old way.

In Egypt, masses of people have shown that they will no longer endure the conditions they have put up with under Mubarak -- the police-state repression, the stifling of dissent, the neoliberal economic measures that have consigned half the population to living on US$2 a day.

But with his speech on February 10, Hosni Mubarak made it clear that he didn't want to not rule in the old way, no matter what the consequences.

It was one of the strangest days of the revolution so far, and we probably won't know for a long time what was going on behind the scenes. The day started out with the military sending the message to protesters that "all your demands will be met" and, in Washington, CIA chief Leon Panetta testifying in US Congress that Mubarak would be gone by the end of the day. And it ended with Mubarak saying he wasn't going anywhere.

Whatever happened, it puts the question of power squarely at the centre of things -- Mubarak's power as president, the power of the military and whether it will follow Mubarak's orders, the power of the mass struggle.

But these are questions that have been in play already. The questions that have been raised as the struggle has spread and deepened in Egypt are the kind that emerge in every revolution.

Democracy

Thinking back about the great revolutions of the past, one is reminded of the writings of Karl Marx in 1848, in which he describes the revolutionary wave that swept across Europe that year. He described those revolutions as having a mass popular content, both in terms of participation, but also their profoundly democratic aspect. They raised demands for the right of assembly and free association, the free expression of ideas, freedom of religion -- all questions that are present in Egypt today.

This aspect of the 1848 revolutions led Marx to begin to think about the way that a future working-class revolution would be the essence of any true struggle for liberation. Marx spoke at the time about socialists being the most extreme democrats -- extreme not only in the sense that we carry the battle through to the end, but that we stand for a program and a goal of the complete liberation of all humanity, based on the working-class struggle.

Clearly, we aren't to that point in Egypt, but it's important to understand how far we've come. This is a country that has been ruled by a dictatorship for 30 years, with arrests, detentions and torture a constant occurrence. And now an uprising of two-and-a-half weeks thus far has spread to every part of the country and completely transformed Egyptian society.

Most of the attention has been devoted to the struggle around Tahrir Square -- this is the symbol of revolution. But in the past few days, groups of workers have taken strike action. I noticed in newspaper reports that the health ministry workers I'd seen picketing two weeks ago are now formally part of the Tahrir demonstrations -- since the demonstrators have now moved to the parliament building, which is right across from the health ministry.

So even with the mass mobilisation at Tahrir being maintained, there has been an enormous spread of the revolution, with larger and larger waves of people becoming involved in the struggle in a way that's astounding to behold.

The process hasn't just moved in one direction. The last two weeks have been a see-saw back and forth -- with the situation favouring the government on some days, and then the momentum swinging back in favour of the movement on others.

When I came home from Egypt on February 8, the headline of Britain's Independent newspaper was "Will the revolution wane?" -- the article was illustrated with a picture from the day before with Tahrir Square almost empty, and one from the previous week when it was packed. Little did the Independent know that the day it published that story, every major media outlet concluded that the mobilisations were bigger than anything that came before.

The swings back and forth have been extreme. For example, a week ago, on February 2 and 3, Mubarak's regime unleashed its baltagi -- an Arabic word for thug that deserves to be introduced into the English language. After the attacks on the square, nobody was certain whether the movement would reappear in strength.

But it did. In large part, this was because public opinion swung very sharply in favor of the demonstrators. On Friday, February 4, among the people who came to Tahrir Square in their thousands and thousands were many who weren't previously committed to the democracy movement or the overthrow of Mubarak, but who came to show their support for the victims of the baltagi.

People came bringing medical help and supplies and food. This was another stage of the process -- it became seen as the duty of any proud Egyptian to support the demonstrators.

That raises another subject that hasn't been commented on much in the media, but that is present for anyone in Egypt. We're talking about a society where the feeling of any kind of pride in being an Arab or an Egyptian is something that was lost a very long time ago. It was crushed out of people as a result of the peace with Israel on the one hand, neoliberalism on the other hand, the servile relationship of the Mubarak regime to the US on a third.

So this is one of the most spectacular aspects of what's happened in Egypt, as in Tunisia and as in democratic revolutions historically -- the return of a sense of pride. This also comes, remember, after September 11 and the war on terror, which brought with it the demonisation of Arabs and Muslims around the world.

You can see just in the way people comport themselves that people have new expectations for their future. So that's to underline, if not fully explain, some of the dynamic elements that aren't so clearly evident from the outside, but continue to drive this struggle to new heights.

New challenges

Now the revolution is faced with a new challenge following Mubarak's speech, and people have been further transformed by the experience. Obviously, no one had any illusions about Mubarak staying on as president, but now Mubarak's vice-president Omar Suleiman has become more and more exposed for what he represents.

It was a factor that was already at work last weekend, when Suleiman organised talks with select figures in the opposition. So you have the government offering negotiations, but the chief negotiator is the chief assassin of the Mubarak regime. Everyone knows they're negotiating with the head of military intelligence who must have ordered the torture or killing of thousands of people.

So there are consequences for those forces in the opposition that agree to talks under those circumstances. For example, I read a report on February 9 that in the town of Suez, the negotiations with Suleiman produced mass resignations from three parties who were involved -- the Tagammu, the Wafd and the Nasserists.

According to the Daily News Egypt, those who resigned met with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and others to "set up a coalition named 'The Council to Protect the Revolution' in Al-Arish, which is mandated to support the demands of the protesters".

That's just one of the incidents in this unfolding situation, which is very exciting, but which has very real dangers. At the end of the day the problem of power remains -- how the masses of people can exercise power, and how they can defend themselves against power, including the power of the security forces and the army. That's the spectre that Suleiman and Mubarak both raised in their speeches on February 10, and it immediately raises the question of the defence of the revolution.

[This article first appeared at Socialist Worker, newspaper and web site of the International Socialist Organization (USA).]

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