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Vol. 75/No. 15      April 18, 2011

(front page)
Cairo: Workers, youth
rally for political rights
Militant/Paul Mailhot
Tens of thousands of workers and youth demonstrate in Cairo’s Tahrir Square April 1, demanding political rights and prosecution of hated government figures

CAIRO, April 1—Tens of thousands of workers and youth today descended on Tahrir Square, birthplace of what Egyptians call the January 25 Revolution.

Demonstrators raised demands to defend political rights and bring to trial ousted president Hosni Mubarak and key figures of his regime, many of whom still hold office. Workers, students, and others participating in the protest spoke out against the state of emergency laws, called for release of political prisoners, and demanded a halt to military prosecutions of civilians, which have continued since the officer corps pushed the hated dictator aside in February.

The action also opposed a draft law making it a crime, punishable by jail and stiff fines, to carry out strikes or protests that interrupt business or affect the economy (see last week’s issue).

In addition to the protest here in Cairo, which some newspapers estimated at 50,000, there were actions involving thousands in Alexandria, Suez, and other cities.

“This is a demonstration to save the revolution,” Mabrou Sahry told the Militant. Sahry is a member of the April 6 Youth Movement, one of the groups organizing today’s action. April 6 is the date in 2008 when the Egyptian regime brutally suppressed a strike and protest of thousands of textile workers in the industrial city of Mahalla.

“We want the right to free speech and demonstration,” Sahry said. “We want the return of national property stolen by the Mubarak family.”

The Supreme Military Council, which holds the reins of power here, says it is ruling on an interim basis until elections are held. The officers caution those pressing to defend and extend workers rights today that their actions can be used to help a “counterrevolution” that will benefit Mubarak.

“Many in the military and others who continue to hold high government positions are fighting to stop the revolution,” Sahry said. “The people are aware of this, which is why we are mobilizing today. The revolution is ongoing, because we have not yet succeeded in changing the situation,”

Workers at the action explained that both national and local government councils appointed by the old regime are still in place. The same has been true of editors of the main newspapers, who were put in place by Mubarak’s government, backed it, and reported falsely on the January and February mobilizations. Shortly before the April 1 demonstration, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf announced some changes, replacing the board chairmen at the main news services and appointing 14 new editors at state-run publications.

Mubarak cronies still control vast state enterprises, and many workers unions are run by appointees of the former dictator.

Workers at the rally told the Militant stories of family members or friends being held by the military on false charges. Among the demonstrators was the father of Sharif Hosanmedi, who was killed by a sniper outside a police station while demanding the release of political prisoners.

“I have asked the government for accountability for my son’s death,” he said. “I have sent them legal documents. I have eyewitnesses to what happened. But they will give me no answers. No one is being made to pay for this crime.”

Bringing to justice those responsible for such murders was a major demand of the protest. Young people told the Militant that more than 600 were killed by government forces during the January and February mobilizations.

Khaled El Masry, another activist in the April 6 Youth Movement, wanted people in the United States to know that the struggle for political freedoms and better living conditions has been a long fight. “What began January 25 is the product of many mobilizations, especially since 2008,” he said. “The first public demonstration I was part of last year in Cairo had fewer than 2,000 people, and we were surrounded by 10,000 police.”

During the youth movement that started in 2008 to support workers strikes in Mahalla, Masry said, “We used the Internet to communicate, make statements, and help us organize. But how we built the movement is through joining with workers at the factories and in the neighborhoods.

“We want to change the regime,” he said. “Mubarak is gone, but we have not yet changed the regime.”

At the protest, a curator at a Cairo museum described the deplorable living conditions for workers. His job, considered a good one, pays the equivalent of $100 a month. A garment factory worker told us she receives the equivalent of $60 a month for a six-day workweek.

Especially since some soldiers sympathized with the protests in Tahrir Square earlier this year, there is wide-ranging debate in Egypt about the armed forces. Many workers and young people have illusions in the officer corps, which finally removed Mubarak when mobilizations against the regime did not abate. A number have told the Militant the military needs to be given time to usher in democratic reforms.

This view was contested at the April 1 action by Abdul Hamid Kamal, a private school instructor, who argued with several young people being interviewed by the Militant. “From the first day the military has taken orders from the Mubarak regime,” he said. “Even after forcing Mubarak out, they still take their orders from the same forces. The military pretends it is for the revolution, but they are in fact very much opposed. They try to undermine it through pretending to support it.”

“Mubarak should be in prison, not in a palace in Sharm el Sheikh,” said Kamal. “Thousands have been killed here by the regime, not just the 600 who died in January and February.”

Open debate on this and other questions was widespread in Tahrir Square April 1. Workers and young people who have been at the forefront of the fight here are using the political space they’ve won to formulate their demands and positions and strengthen their organization.

“I am optimistic we will advance in Egypt,” said Hanan El Wakeel, a hospital medical technician, speaking to the Militant earlier in the day. “Before we could not even have this conversation,” she said. “You did not express what you really thought. There was fear. Now we speak more freely.”

Supporters of the Militant were well received by most workers and youth in Tahrir Square. Many crowded around to get copies or subscriptions to the paper, to buy books and pamphlets about the class struggle in the United States and the world, and to learn why socialist workers from abroad had come to Egypt to find out about their struggle.

Some Islamist forces, however, told us that socialists and communists had no place in Egypt, and that we should leave the square and go back to the United States. After every such encounter, others nearby demonstratively let us know we were welcome here.
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