In my estimation, the Tahrir Square demonstration was even bigger
today than it was February 1, when across Egypt, between 6 million and
8 million people protested, according to estimates. As the hour for
curfew came and went tonight, thousands of people were still arriving to
demonstrate. In Alexandria, an estimated 1 million people also turned
Everywhere, people were united around the slogan that Mubarak must go
now. In Tahrir Square, there was an echo of the old civil rights slogan
in the US "We shall not be moved" -- hundreds of thousands of people
were chanting, "He should go! We will not move." Then there was my
favourite slogan of the day: Ya Mubarak, sahi el noum, inaharda akher
youm! It sounds better in Arabic because it rhymes, but it translates
roughly into English as: "Wakey, wakey, Mubarak, today is the last day!"
February 4, 2011 -- Democracy Now! -- "Day of Departure": Massive demonstrations across Egypt aim to oust Mubarak. Sharif Abdel Kouddous Reports live from Cairo.
To understand the importance of the massive February 4 turnout, you only
have to remember what happened on February 2 and 3, which can only
be described as the unleashing of the hounds of hell -- thugs of the
regime sent out in a coordinated assault on the demonstrators at Tahrir
Square and the whole of the pro-democracy movement.
The scale of violence was seen by millions of people around the
world. They threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, and they wielded knives
and all kinds of other weapons in an attempt to intimidate, injure and
drive out the demonstrators from Tahrir Square.
They also made a particular point to beat up journalists and drive
them out of the square, and they raided hotels where news organisations
like Al Jazeera and CNN were headquartered, trashing their operations.
They also attempted to incite fear against foreigners -- anything that
would drive a wedge among the demonstrators and that would intimidate
people from coming out on Friday.
The violence was so bad that Omar Suleiman -- the newly appointed vice-president, whose previous position was head of the army intelligence
services, someone who must have overseen the arrest and torture of
thousands in that post -- came on television on the night of February 3 to deny any
involvement on the part of the National Democratic Party, Mubarak's
Suleiman claimed that no one had any idea who organised the
onslaught -- despite the fact that several of the thugs were captured, and
their police or government employment IDs were shown in the media. So
the hollowness of his claims weren't lost on the Egyptian people.
There was even a moment of bizarre other-worldliness when
Suleiman -- this organiser of repression and torture -- appealed for
prisoners, who according to many reports had been released from jail by
the regime's thugs to help in the violence, to show up at the prisons
again and turn themselves in.
That's the context of today's demonstrations -- after two days of
systematic violence against the anti-Mubarak protestors, people turned
out in the hundreds of thousands, and it turned the balance back
again in the favour of the demonstrators.
Ebb and flow
As in every revolutionary situation, there has been a dramatic ebb and flow to the events in Egypt.
The demonstrations began on January 25 -- ironically, on "Police Day",
which was previously a celebration of the regime's strength. On that
first day, the movement broke through a kind of psychological barrier by
moving into the streets in huge numbers, something that didn't happen
under the Egyptian police state.
The demonstrations continued through January 28, when there were
huge battles with the police that pushed the security forces off the
streets. The government's response was to deploy the army, which is seen
as "above politics" -- but to allow Cairo to descend into a kind of
chaos, with gangs of thugs roaming through neighbourhoods, many of them
organised by the regime. The mass of Egyptians responded to this by
organising neighbourhood defence committees to protect the people.
On February 1, the demonstrations were the biggest yet. Mubarak spoke
on television that night, declaring that he wouldn't run for reelection,
but had no intention of stepping down. The thugs were unleashed the
next day to show what Mubarak had in mind as a transition.
But Friday, February 4 represents a new stage following the two days of violence
that came before it. In the preceding two days, not only was the
anti-Mubarak demonstration in Tahrir maintained -- that is, the heart of
the uprising and its best-known expression was defended from forces
determined to drive the protesters out -- but the manner of its defence
produced a response in support of it that could be seen throughout the
Early on Friday morning, there were literally thousands of people
lined up to go into the square. The army had taken up positions after
the two days of sustained violence, not wanting to appear helpless, but
what was phenomenal was that it wasn't the army guarding the entrances,
but lines and lines of stewards from the demonstration. They searched
people as they came in, making sure no one had the kind of weapons that
the pro-government gangs had used against them. I've never been frisked
so often, and with as many apologies for being frisked.
The army is continuing to maintain its role as a force supposedly
above politics. Unlike the last two days of uncontrolled violence
against the protesters, which the army didn't intervene decisively to
stop, today, it helped create a buffer zone around Tahrir Square. So
once the attack on Tahrir Square failed, there was barbed wire and tanks
in all the pivotal positions around Cairo.
I got to Tahrir in the morning, before the end of prayers, when even
larger numbers came to the demonstration. But already, the crowd
numbered half a million, if not more, by my estimate.
Once inside Tahrir, you could see a level of organisation and solidarity unlike anything I've seen before.
The first thing that struck me was the makeshift clinics set up all
over the place, with dozens and dozens of nurses and doctors -- many of
whom said they were unemployed -- stitching up people's legs or arms or
faces. These injuries were the result of the pro-government thugs -- there
were dozens of people walking around who had been patched up.
In addition to that, people had brought medical supplies with them.
Others were circulating through the square with bags of bread, with
water, with candy.
One of the aims of the pro-Mubarak forces had been to drive out all
journalists -- they focused in particular on foreign journalists to try to
raise anger at a supposed foreign plot against Egypt. So it was good to
see that journalists were operating freely and quite welcome in the
Probably the most significant sign of the health of the protest was
the continued political discussion and debate within the square. I also
saw dozens and dozens of people who were calling friends and relatives,
and encouraging them to come to the square -- trying to convince them of
the fallacy of the government's claims about chaos and violence.
According to press reports, the US government is lobbying hard to get officials around Mubarak to pressure him to step down.
The US manoeuvres around this question must, as always, be taken
with a grain of salt. No one will say it in the mainstream media, but US President Barack
Obama could have held a press conference in which he simply declared
that aid to Egypt is cut off, that this kind of violence will not be
tolerated, and that the US now stands squarely with the protesters.
But of course, he won't say that because that's not how diplomacy
works. And the reason it doesn't work that way is you can't send that
signal about a dictator the US has been supporting for 30 years. Not
because Mubarak isn't finished, but because of how his downfall on those
terms would affect other relationships and the whole Middle East.
So the US is scrambling to find an alternative, and there are
plenty of options. Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, showed up to
the demonstration today to be among the protesters. He's clearly thrown
his hat in the ring to be the next president. There's also Mohamed
ElBaradai. There's the Muslim Brotherhood. Even the current defence
minister, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, made the rounds through Tahrir
Square, under protection of soldiers, without much opposition to
But there are still plenty of difficulties and contradictions for the
US and for the rulers in Egypt, because there are significant
problems from trying to gently step back from a military dictatorship. Egypt is still that, in many respects.
Raids on labour groups
I should add that a couple
offices of human rights and labour organisations were raided on February 3
and closed down. It's still very gingerly that people produce any public
literature that's against the regime. So it was quite an exercise, for
example, to get leaflets into Tahrir Square today.
One problem for the US government is that Omar Suleiman figures prominently in its plans for a post-Mubarak transition. Many of the demonstrators
were dismayed by Suleiman's speech last night. But of course, most know
the history of the man -- that he was involved integrally in the
repression that took place under Mubarak's regime.
In general, most demonstrators still agree that their central demand
is for the removal of Mubarak. That's not to say that the rest of the
regime should get off scot-free. But Mubarak's downfall is what the
movement has focused on so far, and when that's accomplished, that
significant victory will then open the process.
My own view is that it's virtually impossible to imagine the
departure of Mubarak without the cabinet and the government he's put
into place then becoming the central question for the movement. That's
the underlying dynamic.
Mubarak is the lightning rod that has brought all the forces
together. Those forces don't necessarily agree on the same outcome, but
they're at least agreed on the central necessity of seeing him go, and
that will become the practical measure of what's been accomplished.
One of the most interesting conversations I heard was one man trying
to explain on the phone to someone the profoundly democratic thrust of
He said to the person he was talking to that people see demonstrators
chanting "Allah Akbar", and they conclude these protests must be
organised by the Muslim Brotherhood. Then they see many famous actors
and musicians showing up to Tahrir Square, and they think it's
just a middle-class protest of the intelligentsia.
But it's not the Muslim Brotherhood behind all this. It's not the
middle class. It's not, as this man went on to say, only socialists and
Marxists talking about workers' rights, and it's not people talking
about just women's rights. This is really a protest of all Egypt united
in a profound movement for democracy.
I think that's the first thing that has to be grasped about the
uprising -- that this is a movement that seeks fundamental democratic
rights. As a friend of mine put it a few days ago, it's the 1789 of
Egypt -- similar to the opening of the French Revolution in that way.
I think the second aspect that became certain today is that this is
no longer the Egypt that existed prior to January 25, 2011 -- and there's no
turning back, however much violence the regime tries to organise. A
tipping point has been reached in terms of the willingness of masses of
people to put themselves on the line and defy the existing order, and
that's a genie that will be very difficult to put back in the bottle.
The third aspect apparent today was, as I described earlier, the
enormous self-organisation of the movement in the face of horrendous
violence and repression -- most especially, the attacks that took place
over the past few days.
The fourth point is broader -- about what happens next. You now have a
movement that has emerged in a most explosive fashion and is present in
every Egyptian town and city, which is the product of many, many years
of injustice, including around economic questions of unemployment and
dispossession. But it's also an expression of the rise of a number of
social struggles in Egypt, including the strikes of the last few years
and the riots over rising food prices.
Right now, the movement is united around the political aim of getting
rid of Hosni Mubarak. But hopefully, once Mubarak is unseated, the
political questions will then mesh with social questions that still
If that happens, there will be a really explosive mix of political
and social issues that represents the possibility of political and
I think that's the key to understanding why Mubarak hasn't left yet.
It's not just a question of his own stubbornness, but how the regime can
continue and the status quo can be maintained, not just for the
Egyptian elite, but for Israel, the US, its European allies and so on.
Their interest is in preventing this process from triggering an even
greater change. That's what these demonstrations are heralding, and we
hope it's a process that will continue.
One last story from today: When Mubarak spoke on television on the night of February 2 and said that he wouldn't run for reelection, he vowed
that he was going to die on Egypt's soil. One Socialist Worker
reporter quipped at the time, "We should tell him that the soil is ready
for him." I translated that today at Tahrir Square, and I can report
that it was greeted with wild applause and cheers -- it's another part of
the ongoing Egyptian revolution.
[Ahmed Shawki is a leading member of the United States International Socialist Organization. This article first appeared in the ISO's Socialist Worker website.]
Statement from the protesters at Cairo's Tahrir square to the Egyptian people
The president's promises and the bloody events of Wednesday, February 2
By The Youth of the Tahrir Square sit-in
We the protesters who have currently been in a sit-in at Tahrir
(Liberation) Square in Cairo since January 25, 2011 strongly condemn the
brutal attack carried out by the governing National Democratic Party's
(NDP) mercenaries at our location on Wednesday, February 2, under the
guise of a "rally" in support of President Mubarak. This attack has
continued on Thursday, February 3. We regret that some young people have
joined these thugs and criminals, whom the NDP is accustomed to hiring
during elections, to march them off after spreading several falsehoods
circulated by the regime’s media about us and our goals. These goals
that aim at changing the political system into one that guarantees
freedom, dignity and social justice to all citizens are also the goals
of the youth. Therefore we want to clarify the following.
Firstly, we are a group of young Muslim and Christian
Egyptians; the overwhelming majority of us does not belong to political
parties and have no previous political activism. Our movement involves
the elderly and children, peasants, workers, professionals, students and
pensioners. Our movement cannot be classified as "paid for" or
"directed by" a limited few because it has attracted millions who
responded to its call of removing the regime. People joined us last
Tuesday in Cairo and other governorates in a scene that witnessed not
one case of violence, assault on property or harassment of anyone.
Secondly, our movement is accused of being funded from
abroad, supported by the United States, as being instigated by Hamas, as
under the leadership of the president of the National Assembly for
change (Mohamed El-Baradei) and, last but not least, as directed by the
Muslim Brotherhood. Many accusations like these prove to be false. The
protesters are all Egyptians who have clear and specific national
objectives. The protesters have no weapons or foreign equipment as
claimed by instigators. The broad positive response of the people to our
movement's goals reveals that these are the goals of the Egyptian
masses in general, not any internal or external faction or entity.
Thirdly, the regime and its paid media falsely blame us,
young demonstrators, for the tension and instability in the streets of
Egypt in recent days and therefore damaging our nation's interests and
security. Our answer to them is: It is not the peaceful protesters who
released the criminal offenders from prison onto the unguarded streets
to practice looting and plundering. It is not the peaceful protesters
who have imposed a curfew starting at 3 o'clock PM. It is not the
peaceful protesters who have stopped the work in banks, bakeries and gas
stations. When the protesters organized the one-million demonstration
it came up in the most magnificent and organized form and ended
peacefully. It is not the protestors who killed 300 people, some with
live ammunition, and wounding more than 2,000 people in the last few
Fourthly, President Mubarak came out on Tuesday to announce
that he will not stand in the upcoming presidential election and that he
will modify two articles in the Constitution, and engage in dialogue
with the opposition. However, the State media has attacked us when we
refused his "concession" and decided to go on with our movement. Our
demand that Mubarak steps down immediately is not a personal matter, but
we have clear reasons for it which include:
- His promise not to run again is not new. He promised when he came to
power in 1981 that he will not run for more than two legislatures but
he continued for more than 30 years.
- His speech did not put any collateral for not nominating his son
"Gamal", who remains until now a member of the ruling party, and can
stand for election that will not be under judicial supervision since he
ignored any reference to the amendment of Article 88 of the
- He also considered our movement a "plot directed by a force" that
works against the interests of the nation as if responding to the
demands of the public is a "shame" or "humiliation".
- As regards to his promise of conducting a dialogue with the
opposition, we know how many times over the past years the regime
claimed this and ended up with enforcing the narrow interests of the
Mubarak State and the few people who control it.
And the events of Wednesday proved our stand is vindicated. While the
President was giving his promises, the leaders of his regime were
organizing (along with paid thugs and wanted criminals equipped with
swords, knives and Molotov cocktails) a brutal plot to attack us in
Tahrir Square. Those thugs and criminals were accompanied by NDP members
who fired machine guns on unarmed protesters who were trapped on the
square, killing at least 7 and wounding hundreds of us critically. This
was done in order to end our peaceful national popular movement and
preserve the status quo.
Our movement is Egyptian -- Our movement is legitimate 0- Our movement is continuing
The Youth of the Tahrir Square sit-in
[Available in Arabic. Text from In Defence of Marxism.]