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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 75/No. 6      February 14, 2011


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(lead article)
Mass protests shake
dictatorship in Egypt
Economic, social crisis fuels upheaval
Sipa via AP Images
More than 100,000 demonstrate January 29 in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square demanding resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, hours after he fired cabinet but refused to step down.

February 2—Fueled by unemployment and high prices resulting from the world capitalist crisis, and a long history of police brutality and suppression of rights, massive antigovernment demonstrations have exploded in Egypt demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

The power of these mobilizations is bringing down Washington’s most valued ally in its exploitation of working people in the Middle East, outside of the government of Israel. At the same time, space is opening up for Egyptian workers and farmers to organize and enter into politics in their own class interests.

Egypt is the fourth largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the world, after Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Israel. It is also of strategic importance both in military and economic terms, since Cairo controls the Suez Canal, through which 8 percent of the world’s ships pass, bearing much of the oil fueling the imperialist world.

The Egyptian population is the largest of any Arabic-speaking country. Although it is rich in oil, natural gas, cotton, and other resources, not to mention the revenues from the Suez Canal, 40 percent of Egyptians subsist on about $2 a day. Official unemployment reached 9.4 percent in 2009.

The Hosni Mubarak regime has ruled Egypt with an iron grip for 30 years. In 1981 the government imposed an emergency law that empowers the police to detain people indefinitely without charges, keeps a tight control over freedom of the press and assembly, and sets up “security” courts for trials. The only trade union federation permitted is one dominated by the government.

Hatred for the repressive conditions, particularly among youth, and determination by workers to halt their declining standard of living has been building up in recent years. From 2004 to 2008 about 1.7 million workers went on strike or carried out some other protest, particularly in the textile industry, according to the New York Times.

The massive demonstrations in nearby Tunisia that forced that country’s president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, to flee gave an impetus to the revolt in Egypt. A call for a mass demonstration against Mubarak January 25 in Tahrir Square in Cairo, turned out tens of thousands, who were attacked by the security police. Despite a curfew, people from many walks of life continued to pour into the streets.

In the face of police bullets, water cannons, and tear gas, demonstrators continued to protest. “In one of many astonishing scenes Friday [January 28], thousands of anti-government protesters wielding rocks, glass, and sticks chased hundreds of riot police away from the main square in downtown Cairo,” reported Associated Press.

In the port city of Suez, a center for steel mills and textile plants, some of the most combative fighting with the cops took place. In a two-hour battle demonstrators took over the police station, destroyed cop vehicles, seized weapons, and set free prisoners in jail. Police fled.

“The protests have been distinctly secular,” the Washington Post noted, saying, “Those involved in organizing the protests say they hope their movement to oust Mubarak is not overtaken by a group that has said it wants to bring Islamic law to Egypt but is widely suspected of occasional complicity with the government,” a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The largest Islamist organization in the country, the Muslim Brotherhood refused to join the first demonstrations calling for Mubarak to resign. Secular bourgeois parties were likewise slow to join the actions.

When opposition parties organize protests, university student Mohammad Hassan told the Post, “they ask for a change to the constitution or a new minimum wage. We’re asking for something different: We want the regime to leave.”  
History of recent strikes
Many involved in the protests point to struggles in recent years, including the April 2008 strike of more than 27,000 textile workers in the city of Mahalla al-Kubra where cops killed three strikers, and protests against the police killing of a young Egyptian, Khaled Said, this past August. One group leading the current demonstrations calls itself the April 6 Youth Movement, marking the date the Egyptian government crushed the textile workers’ strike. The group has remained active in fighting for democratic rights.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Amal Sharaf, a founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, said her group’s goals were an end to emergency rule, a transition to a new president who is neither Mubarak nor his son, and steps to combat low wages and rising prices. The group organized a welcome for capitalist politician Mohamed ElBaradei in February 2010 when he returned to Egypt after many year abroad.

ElBaradei, who served in the Egyptian diplomatic corps and most recently headed the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, has been putting himself forward as an alternative to Mubarak.

On the evening of January 28, the government took the police off the streets of major cities, replacing them with the army. Mubarak announced he was firing his cabinet and appointing a new one. Crowds responded by burning down the Cairo headquarters of his National Democratic Party. Today in Cairo’s central square stands a burned-out police car topped with a sign reading, “New Headquarters of the New Democratic Party.”

The next day Mubarak appointed the long-time head of the secret police, Omar Suleiman, vice president and Ahmed Shafiq, a former Air Force commander, prime minister. Meanwhile, Mubarak’s son Gamal, considered to be his successor, fled to London.

Demonstrators January 30 chanted, “Hosni Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, both of you are agents of the Americans.”

The press has given a lot of attention to acts of vandalism and break-ins at cultural institutions and homes of wealthy Egyptians. In the absence of the police, protesters began organizing popular committees to maintain order, apprehend the thugs, protect hospitals, and direct traffic. They also checked IDs at Tahrir Square to make sure plainclothes cops did not get in. As they captured some of the hooligans, they discovered a large number of them to be in the employ of the Interior Ministry.  
Role of army
In some cases the popular committees have worked directly with the army. The Egyptian army is a draftee one heavily reliant on recruits from workers and farmers. Many soldiers are sympathetic to the demonstrators, allowing them to scrawl anti-Mubarak slogans on their tanks.

Late on February 1, after the largest demonstrations to date demanding his removal, Mubarak announced that he would remain in office, offering only the concession that he would not run for president again. The army high command made clear where it stood on February 2 when it declared, “The armed forces call on the protesters to go home for the sake of bringing back stability.”

That same day thousands of pro-Mubarak thugs, some brandishing whips, were unleashed on the anti-Mubarak demonstrators in Tahrir Square. Antigovernment protesters stood their ground chanting “Down with Mubarak!” The many soldiers stationed in the square did not move to restrain the thugs, the Washington Post reported.

The U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, telephoned ElBaradei to urge him to “engage in meaningful dialogue” with the Egyptian government.

ElBaradei had called the White House proposal for a transition in power with September elections a “farce.” “The American government cannot ask the Egyptian people to believe that a dictator who has been in power for 30 years will be the one to implement democracy,” he said January 30. Several bourgeois opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, announced that day that they favor ElBaradei leading an interim government.
Related articles:
Tunisian gov’t fails to quell protests
Solidarity with workers of Egypt
Actions across the globe back struggle in Egypt
Washington has backed Mubarak for decades

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