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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
[This article first appeared at the US-based Labor Notes.]
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
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
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,
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.
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."
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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).]
CAIRO (AP) — He organized his first demonstration while still a student in 1998, then got arrested and tortured by Egyptian police two years later at age 23. Now he has seen the fall of the president he spent his adult life struggling against.
For 33-year-old activist Hossam el-Hamalawy, though, Egypt’s
three-week youth revolution is by no means over — there remains a
repressive state to be dismantled and workers who need to get their
“The job is unfinished, we got rid of (Hosni) Mubarak but we didn’t get rid of his dictatorship, we didn’t get rid of the state security
police,” he told The Associated Press while sipping strong Arabic
coffee in a traditional downtown cafe that weeks before had been the
scene of street battles.
The activism career of el-Hamalawy typifies the long, and highly
improbable, trajectory of the mass revolt that ousted Mubarak, Egypt’s
long-entrenched leader. Once a dreamer organizing more or less on his
own, el-Hamalawy’s dreams suddenly hardened into reality. The next step,
he says, is the Egyptian people must press their advantage.
“This is phase two of the revolution,” said el-Hamalawy, who works as a journalist for an English-language online
Egyptian paper and runs the Arabawy blog, a clearing house for
information on the country’s fledgling independent labor movement — a
campaign that has become increasingly assertive since the fall of the
For years, activists in Egypt planted seeds — sometimes separately,
sometimes in coordination — building networks and pushing campaigns on
specific causes. They fought lonely fights: anti-war protests here,
labor strikes there, an effort to raise awareness about police abuse,
another to organize “Keep Our City Clean” trash collection.
Then one day in late January, it all came together for them. They were part of a movement, hundreds of thousands strong.
For three weeks, el-Hamalawy fought regime supporters and manned the
barricades in Tahrir Square, but unlike the youth leaders who have come
to prominence in the aftermath of the uprising, he refuses to talk to
the generals now ruling Egypt and fears the uprising’s momentum is being
lost as everyone waits for the military to transition the country to a
“Activists can take some rest from the protest and go back to their
well-paying jobs for six months, waiting for the military to give us
salvation, but the worker can’t go back to his factory and still get
paid 250 pounds,” he said, referring to the wave of labor unrest
sweeping the country as workers protest their abysmal wages.
“The strikes now will continue, that’s our only hope at the moment,
the mission is not accomplished,” el-Hamalawy said, sardonically echoing
the triumphant tweet of one youth leader when Mubarak stepped down.
Only a few years ago, activists
could hardly dream that their actions might bring down the president
and they rarely dared say it out loud. Those that did, like el-Hamalawy,
were mocked as crazy dreamers.
When he went to interview for his first job after graduate school,
about a decade ago at a local English-language magazine, he told the
editor this was just a side show to his main goal of overthrowing the
The editor laughed but hired him anyway, often ridiculing his idealism and notions of popular revolution in the newsroom.
Now, however, el-Hamalawy’s vision of a vibrant labor movement
shaking the country seems to be coming to pass — at least temporarily.
Despite increasingly severe warnings from the generals running the show,
factory workers and government employees across the country are hitting
Egypt’s long-suppressed labor movement found a voice in December
2006, when the 26,000 workers at Mahalla Spinning and Weaving, north of
Cairo, went on strike. The government acquiesced to their demands, but
soon flurries of copy cat strikes were erupting across the country at
other public and private sector factories.
El-Hamalawy was first covering the disturbances as a journalist, then helping to mobilize them as an activist, working with veteran
shop floor leaders at the factories to help organize the laborers and,
most importantly, get their message out to the rest of the world.
In the ensuing years, workers took up the mantle of challenging the
status quo, after the crushing security presence in the big cities had
largely suffocated the street protests that were once active in the
first half of the decade.
“Because of my involvement in the labor movement I was playing the
role of their international spokesperson in cases,” he said, speaking
the fluent English he gained from an education at the elite American
University in Cairo. “The tax collectors were joking that I was their
strike’s foreign minister.”
Raised in the middle class suburb of Nasr City by an academic father
and an artist mother, el-Hamalawy is a long way from working class, but
he says labor organizers have welcomed his advice and help in their
El-Hamalawy maintains that it was the eruption of strikes in the
final days of the Tahrir Square uprising that prompted the generals to
finally push out Mubarak after the protest seemed to have degenerated
into a waiting game.
Those strikes are certainly a long way from his modest first protest,
which was groundbreaking in its own way. El-Hamalawy convinced a few
hundred AUC students to protest the 1998 U.S. bombing of Iraq by
marching off campus, something students hadn’t done in decades. They
were greeted by baton-wielding riot police.
It was hard to say who was more surprised — the police that the elite
students would leave the safety of their campus or the students
themselves when security forces had the temerity to hit them.
In those early days, protests could only be about foreign policy
issues, and denouncing Mubarak was still a long way off. Over the next
10 years there was a gradual shift to from foreign to domestic issues.
“I still remember I would be chanting against Mubarak and there would
be people silencing me, (saying) ‘Don’t get us in trouble,’”
His activism finally brought him to the attention of the country’s
dreaded State Security, and one night in 2000 while was driving with his
girlfriend, el-Hamalawy was cut off by two cars and snatched.
Agents blindfolded him with his own Palestinian protest scarf, tied
his hands behind his back and took him to their downtown headquarters
where he remained for four days.
He refused to answer their questions, and like so many activists
before him, he was tortured and threatened with rape, electric shocks
and deprived of sleep.
“I would say I’m not going to speak and they would keep on beating
me. Then they stripped off my clothes completely and they said I’m going
to bring a gay soldier to rape you now,” he recalled.
El-Hamalawy said he never did talk and was eventually released. He
was taken twice more in the ensuing years, including in 2003 while
walking with two American journalists in the aftermath of the anti-war
“The whole thing just damages you,” he said. “I couldn’t go to bed
from three to five in the morning for years,” because that’s when the
police raids would come.
Rather than discourage him, though, the beatings solidified his
resolve that the regime had to be brought down, and over the years even
as he drifted from job to job, the late night blogging and labor
His gaunt frame shows the effects of a sustained diet of coffee,
cigarettes and no sleep. He looks much older than his years with gray
shooting through his close-cropped curly hair and dark circles under his
His handsome face, however, still splits into a brilliant smile,
energized by what’s at least a partial victory against a regime that had
“It’s easy to talk about (the beatings) now because I feel I
partially took my revenge against those police officers,” he said.
“Since the police withdrew on that Friday, my mother has been saying,
‘Now I have revenge for my son.’”
El-Hamalawy’s zeal has mellowed little over the years, and just like
when he was talking about overthrowing the regime 10 years before it
happened, his demands today seem a bit unrealistic — like investigating
the now-ruling generals for their own links to corruption in the Mubarak
But then a decade ago, no one would have thought Egypt’s quiescent workers and civil servants would be taking to the streets.
“There is a revolutionary mood in the country and you need to push
for those strikes,” he said. “If you hold them back now we are actually
screwed — those who carry out half a revolution dig their own graves.”
El-Hamalawy was quoting Louis Antoine Saint Just of the French
Revolution, a choice that carries an historical warning of its own.
Together with Robespierre, Saint Juste was executed in 1794 in the
conservative backlash against the revolutionary reign of terror they