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EGYPTIAN

ThE EGYPTIAN REVOLUTION A politicAl AnAlysis And eyewitness Account by Sameh Naguib

REVOLUTION

ThE EGYPTIAN REVOLUTION A politicAl AnAlysis And eyewitness Account by Sameh Naguib

A politicAl AnAlysis And eyewitness Account by Sameh Naguib

The Egyptian Revolution

Introduction

events of world historical significance are taking place in the Arab world.

A series of revolutions that began in tunisia and spread to egypt, yemen,

libya, bahrain and syria are without doubt one of the most serious chal-

lenges facing us imperialism and world capitalism in the last four decades.

if we place these events in the context of the world capitalist crisis that

broke out in 2008 and continues to reverberate around the world and the growing mass resistance to austerity measures throughout europe, then we are clearly entering a period of extraordinary opportunities and challenges for revolutionary socialists internationally. the egyptian revolution that began on 25 January 2011 and was able to overthrow Mubarak in 18 days, is by far the most significant of the Arab revolutions. egypt is not only the most populous of the Arab countries, it also has the largest, most militant and experienced working class in the region. the fate of the ongoing egyptian revolution will play a major role in determining the future, not only of the wider Arab revolution but also the ability or inability of us imperialism and world capitalism to contain this unprecedented challenge. At the time of writing (early June 2011), the battles of the egyptian revolu- tion are far from over. we are experiencing a protracted revolutionary proc- ess with advances and retreats, with periods of reactionary attacks followed by periods of mass strikes and demonstrations. Reactionary forces both in- ternationally (the us, eu, saudi Arabia and israel) and locally (the egyptian ruling class, the army generals, the remnants of the security apparatus) are all uniting to reverse or at least contain the revolution. it is the duty of revolutionaries worldwide to build the largest and most militant solidarity movement with the egyptian and Arab revolutions, and just as importantly to build revolutionary movements and organisations in

their own countries to fight their own ruling classes.

what follows is a rough guide to the causes, developments and prospects

of the egyptian revolution in its first few months.

Sameh Naguib, cairo, June 2011 the author is a leading member of the Revolutionary socialists in egypt

The Egyptian Revolution

Mubarak’s turbulent last decade

the egyptian revolution did not come out of thin air. Although no one could predict the event itself, during the last decade of Hosni Mubarak’s rule so- cial, economic and political tensions were reaching levels hard to sustain. Mubarak’s rule relied on three interrelated policies. the first was a neoliberal economics which further integrated the egyptian economy in an uneven way into the world capitalist economy and internally impoverished the vast major- ity of the population. the aim was to pump in more profit into the coffers of the multinationals and a small group of egyptian capitalists. the second policy was to entrench the regime and its army as a strategic

ally, or rather satellite state, in the service of us imperialism and israel. the third policy was to maintain a ruthless police state that would crush any chal- lenge to the regime’s power and the capitalists’ wealth. A central plank of us imperialist policy in the region, as elsewhere in the world, was to open up economies for investment and exploitation by multi- national corporations. Military and strategic control of this vital oil produc- ing region would go hand in hand with the liberalisation of its economies. this did not need to be forced on the regimes of the region, since it coin- cided with the interests of the local ruling classes. these ruling classes used

a combination of neoliberalism, an alliance with the us, and the regional

backing for israel to gain access to world markets and to become partners with major multinationals. they also secured the support of the us for their brutal and anti-democratic regimes, such as Mubarak’s. Antonio Gramsci, the great italian revolutionary, argued that to remain in power any ruling class requires a combination of coercion and consent. the regime of Gamal Abdel nasser, which came to power after the overthrow of the monarchy by junior army officers in 1952, did use coercion. but it also made

concessions to sections of the working class and peasantry. nasser also played

a role as a champion of anti-imperialism. His support for the palestinian cause

allowed him to maintain his monopoly of political power and minimised oppo- sition both from the left and from political islamism until the 1967 war. the policies of nasser’s successor, Anwar sadat, and those of Mubarak who came to power following sadat’s assassination in 1981, gradually erod- ed the relative consent created by the nasserist social contract. particularly during Mubarak’s 30 year rule, the regime more and more relied on brutal repression alone to maintain its grip on power.

The Egyptian Revolution

Neoliberalism and revolution

Although sadat began to implement policies to liberalize and deregulate the egyptian economy, known as infitah, in the mid 1970s, the measures them-

selves were limited to trade liberalisation and facilitating a greater role for foreign and local private capital. but the economy continued to be domi- nated by the state and public sector well into the 1980s.

it is in the 1990s that the frontal attack on the working class and urban

poor and on the poorer sectors of the peasantry began. in the following two decades a new class of multi-billionaires organically linked to the state came to dominate the egyptian economy and polity. in cooperation with the international Monetary Fund (iMF) the regime be- gan implementation of a structural adjustment programme in 1991. the programme involved rolling back all the nasserist laws that gave the poorer sections of the peasantry some protection from the ravages of the free market. the pricing of agricultural products was liberalised, and subsi- dies on seeds, fertilisers and agricultural machinery removed. in 1992, a law

let agricultural rents soar, and allowed the eviction of tenants after a five year transitional period. thus in the period after 1997 tens of thousands of tenant farmers and their families were evicted from lands they had tilled for genera- tions. the lands returned to the original, mostly absentee landlords.

A massive programme of privatisation began in 1996. by 2005 over 200 out

of the 314 major public sector industrial and service companies had been ei- ther totally or partially privatised. the number of workers in the public sector was reduced by nearly 50 percent from the mid 1990s to 2005. some 20 per- cent of the banking sector was transferred from public control to the private sector. the net result of these policies was an unprecedented worsening of working conditions, a rapid rise in unemployment, and the further impoverish- ment of wide sectors of the egyptian population. this was coupled as usual with the accumulation of massive wealth among top generals, bureaucrats

and businessmen who bought, sold and speculated throughout the process. in fact since the Mubarak regime started implementing its neoliberal poli- cies the percentage of egyptians living at or under the poverty line ($2 a day) has risen from 20 percent to 44 percent. And in Mubarak’s last decade when Gdp growth rate was at its highest, those in absolute poverty (less than $1 a day) increased from about 16 percent to nearly 20 percent. neoliberal doctrine calls in theory for the shrinking of the public sector. in fact, “real-existing” neoliberalism was about reallocating public resources

The Egyptian Revolution

for the benefit of a tiny minority. those well connected (and billionaires are as a rule well-connected) could buy state owned assets for a tiny fraction of their market value. companies supplying basic construction materials like steel and cement through government contracts made huge profits. According to Ahmed el-naggar, director of the economic studies unit at Al-Ahram centre for political and strategic studies, government officials sold state-owned land to politically connected families for low prices. they also allowed foreign conglomerates to buy state-owned companies for small amounts, receiving kickbacks in exchange. in 2004 Mubarak appointed a new government made up of top business- men and so-called “phd technocrats” who were actually highly ideological neoliberals, mainly british educated thatcherites and American educated Reaganites. the new government opted for an acceleration of the neoliberal programme. everything would be put up for sale, including factories, desert land, agricultural land, airports and public transport. the new government reduced the top rate of tax from 42 percent to 20 percent, leaving billion- aires and multinational companies paying exactly the same proportion of their income in tax as small shop owners. during the period 2005-8 the egyptian government was highly praised by international financial institutions, particularly the iMF and the world bank, for achieving Gdp growth rates averaging 7 percent. but one of the main features of neoliberal growth rates is that they hide the unequal distribution of that growth. it is generally assumed that these high growth rates produce trickle down effects which eventually improve the lives of the poor. but this does not materialise. in egypt high growth rates produced unprecedented wealth for a tiny minority but rapidly growing poverty and unemployment for the majority. After Mubarak’s fall, investigators discovered the astronomical size of the fortunes made by the Mubarak family, ministers and other top state and party officials. sections of the egyptian and western bourgeois press con- cluded that this was a result, not of neoliberal policies or free market capi- talism, but rather of “crony capitalism”. Accordingly, they argued, it is the corruption of those running the state and their integration of political and economic power that prevent the liberalisation policies from improving the lives of the poor. there are two problems with this argument. the first is that the intimate relationship between political power and economic power is as old as capitalism itself. the second is that the policies of neoliberalism were never about dismantling or even reducing the role of the state in the economy but rather about increasing the role of the state as a facilitator of capitalist profit-making at the expense of the working class. this created an even more intimate relation between state and capital. it is precisely in this

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intimate relationship that corruption and cronyism flourish. to paraphrase a cliché, one could say that capitalism corrupts and neoliberal capitalism corrupts absolutely.

US imperialism and Mubarak’s regime

ever since egypt’s peace treaty with israel in 1979, the us-egyptian alliance has been one of the main pillars of us strategic hegemony in the region. in every American and israeli war and aggression in the region, the egyp- tian regime played the role of loyal servant to its strategic allies. From the israeli war on lebanon in 1982, and its murderous siege of beirut and mas- sacres in the sabra and shatila palestinian refugee camps, to the barbaric war on Gaza in 2008-9, the Mubarak regime continued its role as a major facilitator and broker in the region. As noam chomsky puts it, alliance with the us meant that “crucially, egyptian military forces were excluded from the Arab-israeli conflict, so that israel could concentrate its attention (and its military forces) on the occu- pied territories and the northern border”. in the first Gulf war in 1991 egyp- tian forces took part under us command in the massive military attack on iraq euphemistically called “the liberation of Kuwait”. the general in com- mand of egyptian forces during that war was none other than General Mo- hamed Hussein tantawi, Mubarak’s defence Minister ever since, and current de facto ruler of egypt after his master’s fall from power. After 11 september 2001, the Mubarak regime played a central role in aid- ing and facilitating the us programme of outsourcing torture, the so-called “extraordinary renditions”. in 2005, the bbc reported that both the us and britain sent “terrorist suspects” to egypt for detention. in that report, egypt’s prime minister acknowledged that since 2001, the us had transferred more than 60 detainees to egypt as part of the “war on terror.” during the inva- sion of iraq in 2003, egypt kept the suez canal open to the us warships that were to devastate iraq. Mubarak also played a major role in helping to try to legitimise the successive puppet regimes enforced on the iraqi people by the us occupation. in israel’s 2006 war on lebanon, the egyptian regime was a staunch sup- porter of israel’s plan to destroy Hezbollah and orchestrated an intensive media campaign demonising shiites and fuelling sunni-shiite sectarian ten-

The Egyptian Revolution

sion. the israeli war against Gaza in 2008-9 was fully endorsed by Mubarak, who met top israeli officials hours before the bombing started. egypt played a major role in the suffocating siege of Gaza helping deprive 1.5 million pal- estinians of their basic livelihood by blockading the Rafah crossing. of course, Mubarak’s services were well paid for by consecutive us ad- ministrations. the us provided Mubarak’s regime with almost $2 billion an- nually, the second largest foreign aid recipient after israel. According to the congressional Research Report submitted to congress in september 2009, the us had subsidised the egyptian regime with over $64 billion since it signed the peace treaty with israel in 1979, including $40 billion in military hardware and security gear. it also rewarded the regime with $7 billion debt relief in April 1991 for its support of the Gulf war earlier that year. Furthermore, it intervened with the paris club to forgive half of egypt’s $20 billion debt to western governments. the us continued to support the Mubarak regime until the very end. when president barack obama was asked by the bbc during his celebrated visit to egypt in June 2009, whether he regarded president Mubarak as an au- thoritarian ruler, obama answered with an emphatic “no.” even during the revolution itself when the regime was beating, arresting and killing the egyptian people by the thousands, secretary of state Hillary clinton said, “our assessment is that the egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the egyptian people.” when white House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked whether the us believed the egyptian government was stable, he re- plied without hesitation: “yes.”

The fight back: the Second Palestinian Intifada and the Iraq invasion

the outbreak of the second palestinian intifada in september 2000 had two major effects in egypt. the first was the collapse of the us-led peace process in which the egyptian regime had played such a central role. that process, which had begun with the oslo Accords between israeli and pales- tinian negotiators in 1993, reached a dead end with the pro-us leadership of the palestinian liberation organisation giving in to nearly all the israeli

The Egyptian Revolution

demands. Meanwhile the israelis continued their encroachment and occu- pation of more palestinian land while refusing to give any concessions on the central questions of the return of the palestinian refugees forced from their homes in 1948 and after, the final status of Jerusalem and the sover- eignty of any future palestinian state. throughout this process the egyptian regime maintained extreme pressure on the palestinian side to make more and more concessions, with great praise from us and israeli leaders for Mu- barak’s “wise leadership”. the outbreak of the second intifada not only exposed the peace process as a façade for further israeli aggression and occupation but also revealed the complete complicity of the egyptian regime as an ally of israel and an enemy of the palestinian people and their aspirations. the intifada had an electrifying effect in egypt. the shameful role of the regime on the one hand and the bravery and resilience of the palestinian people and their armed resistance movements had a radicalising effect on hundreds of thousands of young egyptians. Mass demonstrations took place throughout the country. both university and school students organised dem- onstrations that were to be their very first participation in politics. nasserists, islamists and socialists collaborated in organising protests and collecting do- nations, food and medicine for convoys to the besieged palestinians. this political awakening became wider and deeper with the us war on iraq. on 20 March 2003 activists organized an anti-war demonstration in tahrir square which drew 40,000 people. protesters burned posters of Mu- barak and occupied the square for 24 hours in what turned out to be a re- hearsal for the 2011 revolutionary occupation.

The democracy movement

the violence and repression used by the regime to crush these waves of protest forced the question of democracy to the fore. the suffocating au- thoritarianism and dictatorship of the regime, police brutality, torture, mass arrests and military trials of civilians, came together with the growing signs that Mubarak was preparing his son Gamal to succeed him as president. these factors formed the background to the rise of a democratic movement calling for an end to emergency rule, democratic elections and an end to the Mubarak presidency (father or son).

The Egyptian Revolution

on 12 december 2004 a coalition of political opposition forces including nasserists, socialists, islamists and liberal democrats organised the first of a series of demonstrations under the title Kifaya (enough). the demonstra- tions were small, attracting a few thousand at their peak. but their political effects were much larger than their numbers would suggest. taboos were broken with the call for the end of Mubarak’s rule, the explicit demand for putting police generals on trial for torture and illegal arrests. the exposure of the corruption of the ruling family and top state officials resonated strongly with a much wider audience. However, the movement was unable to mobilise wider sections of the masses or connect their political demands with the economic and social demands that were boiling beneath the surface and were about to explode. when in 2005 the regime not only was able to renew Mubarak’s presidency for a fifth term but also renew the repressive emergency laws for another two year period, there was a lull in the movement.

Trade unionists shout at leaders of corrupt state unions
Trade unionists shout at leaders of
corrupt state unions

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The workers’ movement

by far the largest and most dangerous challenge to the regime came in the form of the unprecedented workers’ strike wave that began in 2006 and con- tinues to widen and deepen even after the fall of Mubarak. there had been a slow rise in strikes and protests starting in 2004 and accelerating after the installation of the government of Ahmed nazif in July that year. in 2005 there were 202 collective actions by workers, 222 in 2006, and an unprecedented 614 in 2007. in december 2006 workers of the Misr spinning and weaving company in Mahalla al-Kubra, where more than a quarter of egypt’s public sector textile workers are employed, began a strike that would become a major turning point in the workers’ movement. the government had promised to increase significantly the annual bonus for public sector workers. when the Mahalla workers discovered in december that the promise had been broken, anger rapidly developed into the preparation for a strike. leading workers started distributing leaflets and making speeches calling for a strike. on 7 december thousands of workers gathered at one of the main en- trances to the factory. A demonstration of 3,000 female garment workers marching through the spinning and weaving sections called on workers to join the strike. production was totally halted in all sectors of the giant textile mill. some 24,000 workers struck and occupied the mill with a sit-in that continued for three days. strikers called for the full bonuses promised in March and a set of other demands on transport, medical care, nurseries, working conditions and mismanagement. by the fourth day the government conceded to most of the demands, and the strike was halted with threats of resumption if the rest of the demands were not met. the strike movement that began at Mahalla in december 2006 spread in an unprecedented manner. it went from the public sector to the private, to the civil service, from the old industrial areas to the new towns, in all provinces. it went from the textile sector to engineering, to chemicals, to building and construction, to transport and to services. the strikes reached sectors that do not have a culture of protest, such as teachers, doctors and civil servants, and even to slum dwellers. the strike wave succeeded in gen- eralizing a culture of protest. even in sectors where strikes were banned by special laws, workers were able to organise mass strikes challenging those laws and challenging the authorities to take action against them. this happened in the railways, the

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cairo Metro, hospitals, ambulances, the postal system, public transport and very significantly, in industries owned by the armed forces. in september 2007, the Mahalla textile workers organised their second mass strike and again occupied the factory. the government had not ful- filled its promises. this time the strike was even more militant than the first. After a six day strike and occupation the workers won a bonus and the much hated chief executive was forced to resign. the workers regarded this not only as an economic victory but a political one. despite the laws, despite the repression, despite the threats and intimidations, the workers had won through collective action against a ruthless regime. this was a victory for democracy, specifically for workers’ democracy. the workers had shown the democracy movement of the previous years that only they had the real col- lective power to challenge the dictatorship. At the end of 2007 some 55,000 property tax collectors went on strike, with mass sit-ins at the gates of the Finance Ministry. their demand was for wage parity with their counterparts employed directly by the Ministry of Finance. the strike lasted for three months, during which property tax collection dropped by 90 percent in egypt. Victory was achieved with an 11 day sit-in in downtown cairo, in front of the Finance Ministry. the tax collectors won a 325 percent increase in pay and more significantly transformed their demo- cratically elected strike committee into the executive of the first independ- ent trade union in egypt since 1957. Mass strikes and social protests continued to spread throughout the coun- try, slowing down in some months only to resume more powerfully in oth- ers. the working class had entered the battle against the regime. the revolt against neoliberalism and dictatorship had begun in earnest.

The world economic crisis

the great recession that shook the globe in 2008 accelerated the crisis in egypt and continues to create conditions of instability. there are three main factors involved. Firstly, egypt is highly dependent upon exports to europe and these fell rapidly due to the drop in demand that followed economic contraction. world bank figures show that egypt’s year-on-year growth rates of merchandise exports to the eu dropped from 33 percent in 2008 to mi- nus 15 percent by July 2009.

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secondly, the situation was worsened by the advent of the draconian aus- terity policies in europe. Remittances from emigrants fell by 17 percent com- pared to 2008, tourism revenues also went from a rise of 24 percent in 2008 to a fall of 1.1 percent in 2009 and the suez canal revenues fell by 7.2 per- cent compared to 2008. A third factor has been the sharp rises in the costs of basic foods. egypt’s dependence on imported food, particularly wheat, makes it difficult for the government to shield the economy from the effect of global food price rises. in egypt annual food price inflation accelerated to 18.9 per cent in January 2011 from 17.2 per cent in december 2010. neoliberalism had made the country much more vulnerable to the crisis it- self – massively widening the levels of inequality and, simultaneously, under- mining potential mechanisms of social support. thus the effects of the crisis were sharply concentrated on the most vulnerable layers of egyptian society. the world crisis could not have come at a worse time for the regime. the rising workers’ movement and the slow revival of the democracy movement as the 2010 parliamentary and presidential elections approached meant that the regime had to have a clear strategy to deal with the deepening challenges.

Towards revolution

splits and cracks began to appear amongst the ruling circles. should they continue with their accelerated neoliberal programme and crush workers’ resistance or should they slow down and try to contain the movement? should they go ahead with the planned succession plan for Gamal Mubarak or should they choose a more acceptable figure, perhaps from the military, as egypt’s next president and thus appease the growing opposition to the ruling family? Massive coercion or attempted containment? containment would be seen as a concession to the growing movements from below and might embolden them even more against the regime. coercion could risk an uncontrollable explosion. neither side of the ruling circles had any real confidence that their strategy would save the regime. the confusion at the top became apparent during the 2005 parliamentary elections, which were carried out in three stages. in the first stage it seemed that the containment faction had the upper hand. ballot rigging was mini-

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mal and the Muslim brotherhood, the largest opposition force was able to get 88 seats (20 percent). this frightened the coercion faction and the next two stages were violently rigged, maintaining a large majority for the ruling national democratic party (ndp). by 2010, the coercion faction had gained the upper hand completely. in the face of the massive strike and protest movement and the growing confi- dence of the Muslim brotherhood, particularly after Hamas won the pales- tinian elections in 2007, the decision was taken to proceed with the succes- sion plan and purge the parliament of all opposition in the 2010 elections, with clear signs of approval from the us administration. yet the move was carried out with shaking hands and with serious disagreements amongst the ruling army generals, ndp leaders and top businessmen. thus locally we had all the classical prerequisites of a revolution. the rul- ing classes were unable to rule in the old ways and the working classes were unable to live under the old conditions. Globally, an unprecedented crisis of capitalism was calling the whole sys- tem into question, again producing splits and confusion among and between the different states, banks and multinationals. At the same time, and related to the crisis, there was the long term decline of us imperialist hegemony exposed by the quagmires of iraq and Afghanistan. these global and local conditions set the stage for the egyptian revolution.

Eighteen days

“there are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when dec- ades happen.” Vladimir lenin For years, bloggers, political activists, and more recently Facebook activ- ists, would plan a day of protest, send thousands of text messages, get tens of thousands of virtual supporters and on the planned day a few hundred of the usual suspects would show up, sometimes reaching the magical number of one thousand. we would be surrounded by three to four thousand riot police and after chanting and speeches and a few confrontations with the police the planned day would end. Activists were more optimistic about 25 January, not only because of the numbers that signed up for it but because of the tunisian spark that had electrified the streets of cairo and Alexandria and other major urban and

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working class towns. the small groups of democratic youth coalitions, liber- als, socialists and nasserists were optimistic. this time we might get several thousand people, at least in two or three of the main centres. perhaps we could even reach ten thousand! but none of the activists, in their wildest dreams could have imagined what actually took place that day. the Muslim brotherhood leadership had announced that they would not participate in the event, but still the idea of having a number of demonstra- tions starting from different working class districts and attempting to con- verge on the main city centres—tahrir square in the case of cairo—seemed to be worth the attempt. this was especially because the chosen date was national police day (which commemorates the massacre of police by the british that sparked off riots that burned down portions of cairo in January 1952). the growing hatred and anger at decades of police brutality, torture and humiliation coupled with the tunisian miracle would at least resonate with people, even if only a few of them would actually join the protests. the planned protests were to have several main demands: social justice and a minimum wage, an end to the state of emergency, upholding judicial independence, the resignation of the interior minister General Habib Al-Adly who was notorious for his record of torture and human rights violations. we were also calling for political reforms such as dissolving parliament and the holding of new elections after the scandalous november 2010 elections which were marked by massive fraud and removed almost all opposition Mps from parliament. on the morning of 25 January, activists began gathering at the main start- ing points in the working class districts. the day was a holiday in celebration of the police. but the police were definitely not on holiday! tens of thousands of riot police were waiting for us everywhere. there was a sense of tension among the police and the hundreds of plain-clothes officers with their guns and their usual sunglasses. it seems they were better at understanding and predicting the mood of the masses than the activists. the whole of the po- lice force was fully mobilized across the country’s cities and towns. the demonstrations started with the usual slogans against Al-Adly, Mu- barak and the ndp, against price increases and unemployment, against cor- ruption and the hated Gamal Mubarak and the steel tycoon and ndp strong- man Ahmed ezz. but as soon as the by now famous tunisian chant was shouted—“the people want the downfall of the regime”—something seemed to have changed, both in the mood of the activists and in the rapidly increas- ing numbers of people joining the protest marches. More and more people came down from their houses and started shout- ing the slogan with overwhelming passion. Men and women, young and old,

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Women in Tahir Square
Women in Tahir Square

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christians and Muslims took part— the vast majority poor egyptians. the louder they shouted that magical slogan, the more it echoed in the poor al- ley ways, the more people joined. what started with a few hundred activists turned into mass demonstrations of tens of thousands. the fear and confusion of the police was palpable. in some cases they charged towards the demonstrators only to retreat as the masses charged back with a power, confidence and unity that clearly baffled the sunglass- wearing officers and the rank-and-file policemen, all poor peasant young- sters conscripted for three years to do the dirty work of protecting the egyp- tian ruling class. the police were ordered to retreat to the major junctions in an attempt to prevent the demonstrators from reaching the city centres. it is there that the major battles on that historical day took place. water cannons, rubber bul- lets and endless rounds of teargas canisters were used to beat back the pro- testers. by far, the most difficult obstacle was the choking teargas. but the more seasoned demonstrators started organising the distribution of clini- cal masks, cola cans and onions—provided freely by housewives, pharmacy workers and coffee-shops—to help survive the white clouds of teargas. tens of thousands of demonstrators were able to break through many of the police barriers and reach the city centres including, of course, tahrir square. but the battles continued. there were tens of martyrs and thou- sands of injured at the end of that day of liberation, the day that ignited the egyptian revolution. demonstrations and battles continued during the following two days, but the main focus was on organising the “Friday of Rage”, 28 January. the or- ganisers were no longer just the “usual suspects” of political activists, Face- bookers and bloggers, but thousands of new leaders, mostly working class youth who were better educated by days of actual revolution than years of political education. this time the Muslim brotherhood decided to participate in the Friday of Rage. A curfew was announced from 6pm to 6am in the main battlefields of cairo, Alexandria, suez and Mahalla, and hundreds of brotherhood leaders and activists were arrested. the regime was facing something it could not understand. the masses had gone mad. they demanded justice and freedom and were prepared to die for it in their hundreds of thousands. the fear of torture, prison and even death had evaporated together with the fumes of teargas that had filled the streets of egypt’s cities. in fact the masses had not gone mad, they were fighting the most rational battle possible for freedom, social justice and dignity. it was the regime that was going mad, panicking and seemingly less and less attached

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to reality. the government decided to shut down the internet and mobile net- works completely on the assumption that this desperate move would prevent the supposed organisers from using these crucial tools of communication and thus weaken their ability to mobilise for the Friday demonstrations. it was a terrible miscalculation. the regime seemed to believe its own propaganda about this being a middle class “Facebook Revolution”. the ac- tion had no visible effect, as the vast majority of leaders and organizers at this stage had nothing to do with Facebook and could easily use more tra- ditional forms of communication. in fact it emboldened the demonstrators even more by proving the regime was desperate and weak. After Friday prayers hundreds of thousands started their marches from all the major mosques and squares towards the city centres. the police again concentrated their forces in major junctions in a last attempt to break the unstoppable wave and prevent millions reaching the main city squares. in cairo, major battles took place at all major roads and bridges leading to tahrir. similar battles were taking place on the main streets in suez, Ma- halla, Alexandria and tens of other cities and towns. the bravery and resolve of the mass demonstrators has been recorded for posterity in thousands of youtube videos and personal accounts that will be a treasure for future historians of the egyptian revolution and more impor- tantly for future revolutionaries across the world. the police used the usual teargas, rubber bullets and water cannons and in desperation added live ammunition, snipers and even armoured vehicles to crush demonstrators. Hundreds were killed and thousands injured. but the police were defeated decisively across the country and retreated rap- idly. thousands of police cars, armoured vehicles, police stations were burnt down, with police officers, once the main source of fear on egyptian streets fleeing for lives. ndp buildings were torched and every sign, portrait or pic- ture of the hated dictator was burnt down. Hundreds of thousands reached tahrir square and began their famous occupation of the square that only ended with Mubarak’s fall on 11 February. people marched in from all walks of life, mostly poor working class, but also many young middle class people, women in the niqab alongside women in jeans, bearded islamists alongside christians: all with a fierce determina- tion to overthrow the regime. by nightfall the police had all but vanished with the exception of those still protecting the notorious interior Ministry, for decades the central head- quarters for the torture of civilians. naturally, many of the demonstrators attempted to storm the building. well-positioned snipers shot to kill. over a dozen protesters died and hundreds were injured.

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As they withdrew from the streets, the police officers had opened up the prisons and let out thousands of seasoned criminals in order to create a sense of fear and chaos among the population. yet their plan to create cha- os and mayhem failed. popular committees sprung up all over the country to defend their neighbourhoods, to organise traffic and even to clean the streets. the president ordered the army into the cities to crush the uprising and to return to “order” after the police had been vanquished. on the night of that Friday of Rage, Mubarak made his first speech blam- ing the government as inept and promising to appoint a new cabinet. there were no apologies for the dead and injured, no mention of the people’s de- mands. there was a cold detachment in his tone, as if he were talking about another country and another people. As with many dictators before him, he obviously could not believe or understand what was happening. He despised the people and was already part of the past already. the masses reacted with anger to the speech, but also seemed to see through his posturing. He both looked and sounded like an ancient relic. by the following day he had appointed the chief of intelligence General omar suleiman as his first ever Vice-president and General Ahmad shafiq as prime Minister. these two men were both hated figures from Mubarak’s immediate en- tourage. suleiman was known as dr torture for his leading role in the us- led extraordinary renditions programme of exporting prisoners to egypt and other Arab countries for torture. He was also known as a particularly close ally of israel in its war on Gaza. by Monday the new cabinet was sworn in, retaining most of the hated min- isters of the previous government including those running the strategic posts of defence, communications, justice, oil and foreign affairs. the hated Habib Al-Adly was removed, together with several of the group of business minis- ters that were part of his son Gamal’s group of extreme neoliberal crooks. the superficial concessions were seen as insulting and only added fuel to the anger and determination of the masses. the entry of the army tanks onto the main streets and entrances of tahrir square and other city centres, were met at first with anger, but very quickly and with remarkable spontaneity large numbers of people rushed towards the soldiers embracing them, climbing on the tanks, waving the egyptian flag and chanting loudly “the army and the people are one hand”. soon youngsters had painted anti-Mubarak slogans all over the tanks. this was not as many people remarked, simply confusion among the masses about the real role of the army, although such confusion existed. it was rather a bril- liant and rapid neutralisation of the armed forces in the squares and streets,

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making it near impossible for the soldiers and young officers to shoot at the people even if they were ordered to. previous revolutions had seen similar mass tactics aimed at fraternising with the soldiers and young officers. the protesters called for million-strong marches on tuesday 1 February in all major cities. the reaction of the army generals was one of the major turning points in the revolution. Military spokesman General ismail othman, declared on national television that the army recognised the legitimate de- mands of the people and would not shoot at them. the army generals understood that ordering a crackdown by the troops would split the forces and turn thousands of soldiers and young officers against them. the army leaders were prepared to sacrifice Mubarak to save the regime that ultimately rested on their ability to keep their power over their troops. on Monday 31 January, the new vice-president suleiman addressed the nation saying that he was asked by Mubarak to open a dialogue with all op- position groups and to ask the judiciary to overturn the disputed elections results of last november. it was a tactical retreat by the regime in order to gain time and exhaust the protesters.

Tuesday 1 February

the regime’s tactics were not working. Millions participated in the protests of that day including two million in tahrir square in cairo, one million in Martyrs’ square in Alexandria, 750,000 in Mansoura, and a quarter of a mil- lion in suez. it was an unprecedented show of strength. this time, protesters demanded not only the immediate removal of Mubarak but also the ouster of the whole regime. tahrir square was turning into a massive commune of resistance and a “festival of the oppressed”. people felt they were winning this historical bat- tle. An explosion of individual and group creativity was taking place. thou- sands of banners and placards with the people’s demands expressed with poetry, jokes and personal stories filled the square. Graffiti, murals and slo- gans covered every building wall. the space in tahrir was not simply occupied physically but spiritually. Harassment against women disappeared, tensions between copts and Mus- lims evaporated. people shared food, water, cigarettes. songs, music, poetry and chants filled the air. A new egypt was being created.

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The Egyptian Revolution

However, the enemy would not give up that easily. the ruling class was carefully conspiring and strategising to bury this new egypt. by tuesday evening, Mubarak gave his second speech in response to the massive dem- onstrations of the day. He pledged to complete his term and that he would not leave under pressure. this time he seemed to have been better advised as he recalled his service to his country for over six decades while pledging to oversee major reforms. in the speech, he promised not to seek re-elec- tion, to leave in september and die in egypt. the speech had a confusing effect on sections of the less politicised mass- es, some people started arguing for an end of the demonstrations. the man was old, he was leaving power in a few months. However the regime was us- ing a parallel tactic of an intense media campaign about conspiracies to cre- ate chaos, that there were food shortages, that the economy was collapsing, that banks were running out of money, that the demonstrators were being paid by foreign agencies, that tahrir square was turning into an orgy of sex, drugs and alcohol and so on. All the filth that has been thrown at revolution- aries throughout history by the ruling classes filled the television networks, the government papers and was spread by thousands of agents. the splits and confusion amongst the masses were temporary however. the regime was planning a diabolical and violent counter-revolution for the next day.

Battle of the Camel: Wed 2 February

A number of prominent billionaires, ndp leaders and secret police officers, led by Gamal Mubarak devised a plan for a full blown attack on the demonstrators. each businessman pledged to recruit as many people from their businesses and industries as well as hoodlums, lumpen proletarians that were prepared to do anything for money (known as the baltagiyya in Arabic). Meanwhile, the interior Minister reconstituted some of the most notorious officers of his secret police to join the counter-revolutionary demonstrations planned for wednes- day, with a specific plan of attack on the pro-democracy protesters. About a dozen security officers, who were to supervise the plan in the field, also recruited former dangerous ex-prisoners who had escaped the previous saturday, promising them money and presidential pardons for their convic- tions. this plan was to be executed in cairo, Alexandria, suez, port said, damanhour, Asyout, among other cities.

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this kind of mobilisation of the lumpen proletariat for counter-revolution is not new. Karl Marx famously described how the same tactic was used by louis bonaparte after the 1848 revolution in France:

“on the pretext of founding a benevolent society, the lumpen proletariat of paris had been organised into secret sections, each section led by bonapar- tist agents, with a bonapartist general at the head of the whole. Alongside de- cayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, along- side ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars — in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French call la bohème; from this kindred element bonaparte formed the core of the society of december 10.” the use of such elements was also not new in egypt either. the same tac- tic was used to rig elections, to intimidate voters, to attack demonstrators and strikers, particularly during Mubarak’s last decade in power. Around 2pm on wednesday 2 February, the plan of attack was executed. over 3,000 baltagiyya attacked from two entrances to tahrir square. they threw thousands of rocks and stones at the tens of thousands of peace- ful demonstrators gathered in the square, while most attackers had shields to defend themselves against the returning rocks. while a few were armed with guns, all baltagiyya were armed with clubs, machetes, razors, knives or other sharp objects. After about an hour of throwing stones, the attackers moved on the sec- ond stage of the plan, as dozens of horses and camels came charging at the demonstrators in a scene reminiscent of the battles of the Middle Ages. con- fused and bewildered at first, the demonstrators fought back with their bare hands, throwing their bodies at the horse and camel-riding thugs. battles took place at all the entrances to the square. the demonstrators quickly organized themselves into thick defence lines and stones and bricks were gathered from all over the square for the fightback. blood flowed eve- rywhere. those injured at the frontlines would immediately be replaced and the injured carried to the make-shift field hospitals organised by volunteer doctors and nurses. the thugs were pushed back, but everyone knew that this was only the beginning. At incredible speed barricades were set up at all the entrances to the square in preparation for the coming battles. the more organised groups, particularly the Muslim brotherhood youth, played a central role in preparing, organising and fighting the thugs.

The Egyptian Revolution

the expected next attack came in the evening when thousands of thugs,

plainclothes policemen and snipers started gathering, particularly at the en- trance closest to the egyptian Museum and at the tops of several buildings.

A nearby bridge gave the thugs an elevated position and therefore a tactical

advantage at that entrance. the barricades were reinforced with burnt-out police cars and trucks and thousands of fighters prepared for battle. An elaborate division of labour was devised. the young and strong, par-

ticularly the working class youth would take the front lines as stone throwers. others would break pavements to provide a steady flow of stones to the front- lines. yet other groups would carry the stones to the frontlines. young women brought water to the fighters throughout that terrible but heroic night. the thugs began an intensive campaign of throwing stones, empty soda bottles and Molotov cocktails. part of the plan seemed to be to start fires in the egyptian Museum, in an apparent attempt to burn it down and blame

it on the demonstrators—another fine example of how barbaric the ruling

bourgeoisie can become when under threat. burn the old pharaohs to save the modern pharaohs! Groups were organised for the protection of the mu- seum, putting out fires as they arose. Hundreds of frontline fighters charged towards Mubarak’s thugs, crossing

the barricades and becoming completely exposed but using all their strength to bombard them with stones. dozens would be wounded, rapidly carried away and another stone-throwing attack at the thugs would ensue. the idea

of these raids beyond the barricades, despite the exposure and despite the

tactical elevation of the thugs, turned to be a strike of collective genius. it was part of a psychological offensive to disarm the thugs. the idea was to make clear that the revolutionaries were prepared to die for their cause. no mercenary force can face such a challenge in the long term. snipers started aiming their laser pointers at the demonstrators. tens of young demonstrators would climb the barricades and let the pointers aim at their chests. these were fearless fighters, with a clear aim and a clear mes- sage: either death or victory! over a dozen young fighters were martyred during that night, their bod-

ies carried with pride and determination by their comrades to the makeshift hospitals. thousands were injured, doctors and nurses worked all night to stitch up there wounds and comfort them. Hundreds of the injured would return immediately to the frontlines to continue the battle. there was another battle taking place at the top of buildings, some oc- cupied by the thugs and others by the revolutionaries, fires were burning all over the place. A small but efficient Molotov cocktail factory was estab- lished on our side of the barricades to fight fire with fire. some would bring

The Egyptian Revolution

Confronting the regime’s camel-riding thugs
Confronting the regime’s
camel-riding thugs

The Egyptian Revolution

the gasoline, others would bring the crates of empty bottles and yet others would prepare them filling crate after crate of bombs and others would carry them both to the frontlines and to the liberated building tops. by dawn the battle had been won. the thugs and police were fleeing. they were running for their lives as the revolutionaries had reached the bridge and intersections outside the square and ran after the thugs, arresting hun- dreds. the murderers were pulled into the square, beaten up, but protected from the many demonstrators that wanted them executed on the spot. A makeshift prison was used to hold them. the majority turned out to hold either police or ndp identity cards. the battles and the victory gave a huge boost to the revolution. those that were confused the night before became infuriated. the president’s speech was exposed as a ploy in preparation for the murderous attacks of the next day. the role of the army was also exposed to many as hypocritical. the talk of protecting the revolution seemed particularly hollow now. one hour before the planned assault the army announced to the demon- strators on national tV that the government “got the message” and then im- plored the protesters to end the demonstrations and “go home.” but when the protesters begged the army units to interfere during the brutal attacks that persisted for 16 hours, the army declared that it was neutral and partial- ly withdrew from some entrances despite its promise to protect the peaceful and unarmed demonstrators. by daybreak, hundreds of thousands of egyptians joined their fellow dem- onstrators in order to show support and solidarity. the leaders of the pro- tests had already called for massive demonstrations on Friday across egypt after congregational prayers, calling the event “departure day,” in a refer- ence to their hopes to force Mubarak to resign or leave the country. omar suleiman had earlier called for a national dialogue with the op- position. Amazingly a dialogue actually took place on sunday 6 February. it included not only the tame and loyal opposition of discredited figures from the supposedly left-wing tagammu party and the liberal wafd party but also several key leaders of the Muslim brotherhood, naguib sawiris, head of the richest family in egypt and some members of youth coalitions. Most of the latter no one had seen or heard from before, but there were a few that were lured into suleiman’s trap. the meetings took place in a major government hall with a huge portrait of Mubarak hanging on the wall. the official media of course made a huge deal of the dialogue. but the streets and squares of egypt had far surpassed any new tricks by the regime. there was furious anger at those opposition figures that took part in the talks. the Muslim brotherhood youth openly at-

The Egyptian Revolution

tacked their leadership on a decision they saw, rightly, as a betrayal of the revolution and its martyrs. At the end of the meeting the regime issued a communiqué that thanked Mubarak, and reiterated the regime’s perspective and interpretation of events. it claimed, inaccurately, that all participants agreed on the road map towards finding a solution to the “crisis”. this was supposedly based on limited re- forms to the constitution and elections, while maintaining all state institu- tions and characters including the fraudulent parliament. it did not promise the immediate lifting of the emergency law. ironically, a day after the dialogue suleiman declared on national tV that “egypt is not ready for democracy.” under pressure from their youth the brotherhood leadership announced that the talks had failed, and that suleiman had not offered anything sub- stantial. but their image was already tainted and an increasing sense of mis- trust towards their leadership animated the brotherhood youth. pressure was building amongst the demonstrators to use new tactics. on tuesday 8 February, hundreds of thousands held huge demonstrations around the prime minister’s building, preventing him from reaching his of- fice. they also blocked the parliament, preventing any member from going in or out. they vowed that soon the presidential palace would be surrounded. similar mass sieges were held around government buildings in Alexandria.

Workers in the uprising

throughout these momentous events, ordinary working class people domi- nated the battlefields, increasingly so with every passing week. they partici- pated, not in an organised way as unions or workplace representatives but as individuals. of course the media version of events would give an opposite view. the star “revolutionary” interviewees were all middle class university- educated youth of one coalition or the other, all beaming with pride at being considered heroes of the revolution. in the last week of the uprising a wave of mass strikes and demonstrations by workers in key sectors of the economy spread like wildfire, with both eco- nomic demands and the main revolutionary demand of removing Mubarak. suez, scene of some of the fiercest battles against the police on the Friday of Rage, led the way. on 8 February 6,000 suez canal workers went on strike, joining textile workers and steel workers. petroleum workers held protests

The Egyptian Revolution

the following day demanding better pay and job security. but strikes were spreading rapidly now in all the big cities and many smaller towns, drawing in transport workers, textile workers, civil servants and health workers. on thursday 10 February, the wave had spread from Alexandria in the north to Aswan in the south. even the generals’ own factories, where workers live under harsh military discipline, were alight with strikes. in most of these workplaces, strikers had been emboldened by the upris- ing and again raised economic demands. but in some key sectors, they went further, by directly confronting the dictatorship and demanding the fall of the regime. cairo public transport workers brought out a statement on 9 February in full solidarity with the aims of the uprising which they distributed in tahrir square. the following day, strikers shut down bus garages across the city. even the new york times had to admit to the important role this interven- tion by the working class played in changing the shape of egypt after Mu- barak, writing a few days after the dictator’s fall:

“the labour unrest this week at textile mills, pharmaceutical plants, chem- ical industries, the cairo airport, the transportation sector and banks has emerged as one of the most powerful dynamics in a country navigating the military-led transition that followed an 18-day popular uprising and the end of Mr. Mubarak’s three decades of rule.”

The end of Mubarak

it was obvious to the army generals, the us administration and egypt’s ruling

capitalists that they had to speed up the process and get rid of Mubarak. the media announced that Mubarak would be giving a third speech that night. people waited for hours as the speech was delayed. Announcements from army officers, leaders of the Muslim brotherhood and the us administration

all seemed to indicate that the game was over and that Mubarak would an- nounce his resignation. but the masses were on full alert. three decades of treachery and lies made them sceptical. And they were right. Mubarak made

a short speech that night declaring that he would stay till the election time, delegating his powers to suleiman. the fury that was unleashed by that ar- rogant speech was unprecedented. Hundreds of thousands hurried to raise their shoes in the air to signal that the struggle would continue. the demonstrations on Friday 11 February were the largest ever. over 15

The Egyptian Revolution

million people were estimated to have taken part in demonstrations all over the country. workers came out this time in organised demonstrations from their workplaces, signalling that they would paralyse the country if Mubarak did not back down. the same evening, that demand was finally met in a 20-second address by suleiman. Appearing on state television, he declared that Mubarak had re- signed from his 30-year position, transferring his authority to a military coun- cil called the supreme council of the Armed Forces (scAF). the first stage of the egyptian revolution had triumphed. nearly a thousand were martyred, tens of thousands injured, but Mubarak was history. the mass celebrations that continued through the night and the whole of the next day were the largest and most festive in egypt’s modern history.

Generals in power and the transition

“An army is always a copy of the society it serves—with this difference, that it gives social relations a concentrated character, carrying both their positive and negative features to an extreme.” leon trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution. the generals and field marshals of any army are obviously an essential part of the ruling class and egypt is no exception. the army lead- ers are connected by thousands of golden threads to the billionaires and other state officials who have ruled the country for decades. the military rulers of post-Mubarak egypt, the scAF, are all hand-picked by the former dictator. Field Marshal tantawi, who heads the council, had been Mubarak’s defence minister since 1991. His loyalty to Mubarak was un- surpassed and he was a central figure among Mubarak’s circle of advisers. the egyptian army is also an economic empire that accounts for nearly 20 percent of the egyptian economy. the military establishment owns vast amounts of agricultural and real estate, an industrial complex producing everything from ammunition to washing machines, tourist companies, trad- ing companies and much more. this economic empire is not immune to the corruption that has been the main feature of all major state institutions during the Mubarak era. indeed the secrecy that protects the army budget and finances makes it probably one of the most corrupt of these institutions. the army is also intimately linked to the us military. it receives a yearly

The Egyptian Revolution

aid package of $1.3 billion and has regular joint military exercises with the us army and navy. All special training of officers takes place in the us, and all high-tech weaponry purchased by the egyptian army is us-made. the majority of soldiers and young officers are conscripts, mainly from work- ing class, peasant and lower middle class backgrounds. the generals control this army through severe and archaic discipline involving harsh punishments, humiliation and complete segregation between the professional officer caste and the conscript soldiers in terms of food, accommodation and even toilets. As was mentioned earlier, the decision of the army leadership not to order an attack on the demonstrators during the revolution was not a sign that the army actually supported the revolution in any way but rather that they knew such orders would split the army. they sacrificed Mubarak to save the system. when they were forced to remove Mubarak from the scene and take over power directly the scAF knew that they had to tread very carefully between concessions to the people and protecting the interests of the ruling class that were still intact at the core of the regime. this would not be an easy task.

Concessions, coercion and pressure

on 13 February scAF dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution, but it kept the hated Mubarak-appointed government in place. it promised to investigate the police crimes against the people and the conspiracies and corruption of the old regime. on 17 February Habib Al-Adly, minister of the interior, and his aides were arrested. Also arrested that day were the three billionaire ministers Ahmed Maghraby, Zoheir Garana and Ahmed ezz, the steel tycoon and organisational head of the ndp. but the scAF continued to stall in regards to Mubarak and his family and the real “president’s men”; the circle of ministers and top officials that he relied on for most of his years in power. Massive demonstrations were again to take place on Friday 18 February both as a celebration of the great achievement of ousting Mubarak and to call for the change of government and trials for the president and his men. the scAF appointed a panel of judges to prepare a set of constitutional amendments to prepare organize parliamentary elections,

a constitutional assembly and presidential elections, these would be put to

a referendum on 19 March. the panel was headed by a Muslim brotherhood (Mb) sympathiser and had another Mb conservative member on its board.

The Egyptian Revolution

The revolution split the military
The revolution split the military

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The Egyptian Revolution

The new government

‘“the policies of a revolutionary government ought never to offend anybody unnecessarily.” that was, at bottom, the guiding principle of the whole provi- sional Government, which feared most of all to offend anybody from the circles of the possessing classes.’ leon trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution As far as the most threatening problems of the people’s existence were concerned, the revolution had apparently been achieved only in order to make the announcement: everything remains as before. A major demand of the continuing weekly Friday demonstrations was the dismissal of the Mubarak-appointed government of Ahmed shafiq. on 3 March the scAF conceded and appointed essam sharaf to form a new tran- sitional government. but sharaf not only held on to some of Mubarak’s ap- pointees, but added others that were either big businessmen or connected in one way or another to the old regime. yet major revolutionary initiatives continued. on 4 and 5 March angry young protesters stormed the hated state security offices, for decades cen- tres for torture, illegal detention and murder. the movement started in Al- exandria and within hours dozens of these ugly, blood-stained buildings had been stormed all over the country. what the protesters found in these hastily-abandoned buildings was astonishing: tons of documents, videos and recordings of “interrogations”, and reports on the every move of tens of thousands of political activists. Although the officers had tried to destroy the evidence by shredding and burning, they did not have the time to com- plete the job. Many of the protesters had previously entered these buildings as blindfold- ed prisoners, suffering torture, humiliation, electric shocks and rape while listening to the terrifying sounds of the screams of others. now they were entering as liberators. their torturers had fled and had left behind them a trail of their crimes against the egyptian people and against humanity. on 15 March scAF was forced to concede to the mass demand of disbanding the criminal state security agency. one of the first announcements by the new transitional government was that there would be no change in the free market economic policies of the government. scAF had already emphasised in a previous announcement that the government remained committed to its international treaties and would remain an ally and friend of the us. on 23 March the government put forward a law criminalising strikes and

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protests that disrupt the normal function of institutions or services, whether private or public. the sentences for breaking this new law were one year in jail and a fine of 500,000 egyptian pounds (£50,000). but strikes continued to spread, obviously and intentionally “disrupting the normal function of institutions…” yet the government and scAF did not

at first make any attempts to actually enforce the law. However the scAF, the government, bourgeois and state press and media,

liberal and islamist writers and commentators joined in what seemed to be

a coordinated propaganda campaign against workers’ strikes. they labelled

strikes as selfish “sectional actions” which did not take into account the inter- ests of the nation as a whole. they were damaging to the economy and there- fore to the project of building the new egypt. this was a revolution of all honest egyptians, capitalists and workers, poor and rich and even if the poor have rightful demands they should be patient. they should wait until the transition. An anti-working class consensus was emerging between this new bour- geois alliance. the striking workers were causing chaos and threatening the orderly transition of power. in fact many went so far as to call workers’ strikes counter-revolutionary actions that must be stopped immediately. in one of essam sharaf’s announcements he compared them to attacks by thugs. the propaganda campaign continues, with barrages of articles, tV shows, army announcements and interviews with ministers all talking about the new stage of the revolution relying on restarting the “wheel of production” that the workers seemed crazy enough to want to interfere with. “thank you very much, you helped us get rid of Mubarak, but now go back to work and shut up”, that seemed to be the message to the egyptian working class from the bourgeoisie and its intellectuals. yet the workers and the poor in general did not seem to get the message. strikes, sit-ins, the blocking of railway lines and demonstrations in front of ministries continued unabated. of course, this message was not only meant as a threat to the workers but also as a rallying cry for the middle classes. constant talk of chaos and economic collapse at a time of real economic crisis truly frightened large

numbers of small businessmen, the traditional petty bourgeoisie, artisans and peasants owning medium-sized farms who could not sell their products. by shifting the blame from the capitalist crisis and neoliberal policies that were the real cause of their misery, to the workers, they were trying not only to deflect anger that could have been directed by these sectors towards the government and its policies but also to prepare the necessary alliances for a future confrontation with the working class. April was a month of mounting pressure from below, significant conces-

The Egyptian Revolution

sions from the ruling scAF, but also growing repression by the military po- lice. the stalling by the scAF on the arrest and trial of the president and his entourage was becoming both threatening and unacceptable to the revolu- tionary masses. the role of the scAF and its relation to the revolution was being questioned after a short “honeymoon” during which large sections of the masses had trusted the army leaders as “protectors” of the revolution. on Friday 1 April, new mass demonstrations took place in tahrir square, Alexandria, suez and other major cities in what was called the “Friday to save the Revolution”. the protesters called for the banning of the ndp, speeding up the process of investigating corruption and putting Mubarak, his sons and other top officials on trial. on 8 April hundreds of thousands gathered in tahrir square for a “Friday of cleansing and trial.” this was to turn into the first major confrontation be- tween demonstrators and the military police. several army officers took part in the demonstrations in their uniforms. they chanted slogans against field marshal tantawi and against corruption in the army. several thousand dem- onstrators, including the officers, staged a sit-in at the centre of the square, deciding to continue the demonstration through the night. this fraternisation between protesters and uniformed officers and the new tone of anger against the scAF became intolerable for the army leadership. Military police were ordered to break up the sit-in. they shot into the crowds killing at least one person and injuring dozens. All the protesting officers were arrested. the army was using more and more coercion in attempting to contain the protest movements. At cairo university military police broke up a student occupation. Hundreds of activists throughout the country were arrested and tortured. the number of civilians in military jails reached 10,000 prisoners. but perhaps most bizarrely, female activists arrested were forced to have their virginity tested. this was a gruesome reminder that the military police officers had the same brutal mindset of the state security police officers. yet the scAF had to make serious concessions in order to keep control of the situation. thus on 7 April, Zakariya Azmi, Mubarak’s chief of staff and most trusted aide, was arrested. this was followed by the arrests of Ahmed nazif, Mubarak’s last prime minister (10 April), safwat el-sherif; the president of the shura council and ndp general secretary (11 April); and Fathi soroor, the parliamentary speaker (13 April). the arrest of Mubarak and his two sons, Gamal and Alaa was ordered on 13 April. the two sons were transferred to tora prison in cairo while Mubarak was transferred to a hospital in sharm el sheikh as he allegedly suffered a heart attack.

The Egyptian Revolution

Counter-revolutionary dangers

As in any revolution, those who lose power are prepared to do anything to regain it. the remnants of the ndp, the security police and billionaire busi- nessmen connected to the old regime continued to make attempts at roll- ing back the revolution. the use of thugs to intimidate people and create a sense of fear and insecurity continued unabated. the police continued with

what amounted to an informal strike, partly out of fear but also to add to the absence of security on egypt’s streets. perhaps most dangerously was the rapid rise of the salafi groups (ultra-religious conservative Muslims) who began targeting the christian minority. As Mustafa omar describes in one of his excellent articles about the revolution:

“First, in early March, in the village of Atfih, south of cairo, a mob of salafists, along with disenfranchised urban poor, burned a coptic church to the ground because of an alleged relationship between a christian man and

a Muslim woman. in April, in the southern governate of Qena—which has

a large number of christian residents—salafists organised civil disobedi-

ence to oppose a new governor for the province on the basis of his christian identity. in fact, many christians and Muslims opposed the appointment of emad Mikhael because he was a notoriously brutal general in the secret police under Mubarak. but the salafists directed their wrath on the appoint- ed governor’s religious faith. More recently, in early May, in the impover- ished neighbourhood of imbaba in cairo, another Muslim mob attacked and burned a coptic church. salafists had been agitating against christians for some time, and claimed that priests were holding a christian woman mar- ried to a Muslim man in the church against her will. As army and police of- ficers stood by, gunfights between Muslims and christians broke out. they lasted for hours and left at least 11 people dead. Fortunately, a public outcry by a sizeable majority of ordinary Muslims and christians against church burning temporarily slowed down the salafists.”

Attempts at counter-revolution thus far have not been able to demobilise or demoralise the revolution. However, revolutionary vigilance is necessary. those that want revenge on the revolution will keep trying. what they failed to do with camels and horses on 3 February, they will try again with bombs, machine guns and sectarian violence.

The Egyptian Revolution

Islamists, liberals and a struggle for power

the Muslim brotherhood was not able to participate in the revolution with- out vacillations and splits. what moved the Mb leadership was pressure from various trends within the organisation rather than participation in the revolution on the basis of principle. in particular it was the result of the in- tense pressure from the brotherhood’s youth base which had merged with the masses in the streets during the revolution. this vacillation and contradiction are not new to the brotherhood. the organisation’s entire history is witness to this tendency from the time of the brotherhood’s founder, imam Hassan al-banna, until today. At the end of the 1940s the monarchy was able to destroy the heart of the organisa- tion, despite its power and half a million members, by exploiting the sharp disagreements within the organisation and the indecision of its leadership in confronting the regime. the group saw a similar crisis during the first years after the revolution of July 1952, when internal divisions and wavering lead- ership allowed the nasserist regime to destroy it. this permanent fluctuation between opposition and compromise, be- tween escalation and calm, is a result of the nature of the brotherhood as a popular religious group which comprises sections of the urban bourgeoisie side by side with sections of the traditional and modern petty bourgeoisie (drawn from students and university graduates), the unemployed and large sections of the poor. this structure remains stable at times of political and social calm, but turns into a time bomb at moments of great transformation, when it becomes almost impossible to reconcile the various contradictory social interests under a broad and vague message. day and night the brotherhood has parroted the same lines about the army’s patriotism and its leadership, about how there is a “red line” around the army, about its work “protecting” the revolution and that any movement against the army is a betrayal of the revolution. in a statement on the broth- erhood’s website we find the following section: “the army is trying to pre- serve a degree of discipline among its ranks, and it is right to do so, for if it cannot maintain its own discipline it cannot protect the people. “At present the army is the only organised force in egypt, and it is not in our interests to weaken it, nor will we let anyone else weaken it. we know who is working in this way, and what their goals and intentions are. the Muslim brotherhood wants to see the success of the revolution, and we are fully aware that the position of our great army in relation to the revolution

The Egyptian Revolution

Revolutionary graffiti is everywhere in Cairo
Revolutionary graffiti is
everywhere in Cairo

The Egyptian Revolution

is one of the principal factors in its success. For the army has said to the people since the first moment ‘you can express your views freely and dem- onstrate during the day, but not during the night-time curfews, which have been reduced more than once to only 3 hours’.” in relation to the social deepening of the revolution with the great wave of strikes which were triggered by the uprising, the brotherhood took the same position as the government and the Military c ouncil, demanding, “A return to work to save the egyptian economy. the Muslim brotherhood calls on all sections of the egyptian people to keep the wheels of production and development turning. demonstrations for sectional demands, albeit a fun- damental right, are detrimental to production and damage the economy, particularly as the revolution is linked to keeping the motor of the economy turning. citizens must feel that their sacrifices in the search for a dignified life were not just empty talk, so that the egyptian people can prove that they are capable of a further achievement beyond the revolution, in other words, to lift egypt out of its economic crisis.” these positions are, of course, not restricted to the brotherhood. liberal forces are also participating with great enthusiasm in the same double cam- paign—absolute support for the military council and a hysterical campaign against workers’ strikes under the banner of “Keep the wheel of production turning”. Amr Hamzawy, one of the stars of liberalism, even called for the formation of groups of young people and public personalities in order to spread propaganda against strikes among the workers. A wide range of in- tellectuals and revolutionaries of yesterday are inciting for smashing strikes with the cooperation of the army, as part of these campaigns against the second phase of the revolution. both islamists and liberals formed a number of political parties in ex- pectation that elections would be held in september. Although superficially debates between secular liberals and islamists over the details of the consti- tution and over the place of islamic sharia law in a future democratic egypt suggest that their differences are irreconcilable, when it comes to the class struggle and to the limits of the revolution they turn out to be close allies. both forces fully support the scAF and strongly condemn any criticism of the army. both sides support free market capitalism, both are strongly op- posed to the continuing strike movement and both will probably end up in an alliance to help save capitalism and crush the workers.

The Egyptian Revolution

The workers’ revolt

the strike wave that had begun on the third week of the revolution and which delivered the final blow to Mubarak’s rule did not end with the fall of the dic- tator. in fact the political victory of ousting the dictator gave a huge drive to thousands of both economic and political strikes throughout the coun- try. during the two months after Mubarak’s fall more strikes took place and more workers participated than throughout the whole 2006-9 strike wave, the largest in modern egyptian history. in fact the new post-Mubarak strike wave was both a continuation and deepening of the previous one. thus dozens of new independent unions were formed in the heat of the struggle, democratically electing leaders from the strike committees. the strike wave spread between industries, among white collar workers and throughout the private sector. demands involve both im- mediate economic issues, national demands such as a minimum wage and anti-corruption demands. the levels of generalisation and radicalisation are unprecedented. those who wished for an orderly, purely political democratic revolution, an engineered transition from dictatorship to democracy led by liberal bour- geois democrats and moderate islamists, a transition that would be passive- ly supported by the working class and the poor, had clearly not understood what they were getting themselves into. during the early days of the revolution, when the common aim was mainly the ousting of Mubarak and the establishment of a parliamentary democracy, there seemed to be a sense of cross-class unity, perhaps most symbolised by the egyptian flag. the poorest unemployed, the richest corporate execu- tive and everyone in between waved the flag proudly. those who fought at the barricades and those who showed up later when conditions became safe enough, all felt this to be their united revolution: a revolution of the whole egyptian people, with all its social classes against a hated dictatorship. but this sense of unity was both superficial and temporary. the seemingly vague democratic slogans of freedom, social justice and dignity meant completely different things to the different classes participat- ing. Freedom for the worker did not only mean freedom to vote or freedom of expression, it also meant freedom from hunger, insecurity and the constant threat of unemployment. social justice meant equality and redistribution of wealth, better wages, healthcare, housing, education and public services. dig- nity was a meaningless notion unless it meant an end to poverty and need.

The Egyptian Revolution

the bourgeois democrat had, of course a different understanding of these slogans. Freedom for him meant a western-style parliamentary system. so- cial justice meant a slight improvement in the conditions of the poor as long as this did not frighten off investors and as long as the demands were realistic and did not threaten the survival of capitalism. dignity meant an end to po- lice brutality but had very little to do in his mind with any social questions. other sections of the population would translate these slogans into more and more varied notions. the ousting of Mubarak began to force these differ- ences to the surface. this brings us to the question of the relationship between politics and eco- nomics and more specifically between a democratic revolution and a social revolution. A democratic revolution in which the working class plays a major

role is in itself already implicitly and potentially a social revolution. From the very first moments of the revolution, the future class struggles of the later phases of the revolution are already immanent. in the case of egypt, where the revolution was carried out against not only a brutal dictatorship, but also a neoliberal capitalist one, and where the revolution was preceded by years of workers’ struggles against neoliberal policies, it could not be otherwise. there could not be an outcome similar to the “colour revolutions” this time. the interaction between political and economic protests during a revolu- tion was brilliantly described by Rosa luxemburg in her analysis of the Rus- sian revolution of 1905:

“but the movement on the whole does not proceed from the economic to the political struggle, nor even the reverse. every great political mass ac- tion, after it has attained its political highest point, breaks up into a mass of

every new onset and every fresh victory of the political

economic strikes

struggle is transformed into a powerful impetus for the economic struggle, extending at the same time its external possibilities and intensifying the in- ner urge of the workers to better their position and their desire to struggle. After every foaming wave of political action a fructifying deposit remains behind from which a thousand stalks of economic struggle shoot forth. And conversely. the workers’ condition of ceaseless economic struggle with the

capitalists keeps their fighting energy alive in every political interval.” this interaction between political and economic demands is a central fea- ture of the egyptian revolution. one of the factors that intensifies this interaction in the egyptian case is the extent to which the institutions of the state, the ndp and big business were, and continue to be, deeply connected to each other at all levels of society. one of the main slogans of the revolution, particularly after the removal

The Egyptian Revolution

of Mubarak was that of “cleansing the system”. what this meant was that the revolution would not succeed unless there was a thorough purge of all ndp and corrupt officials from all institutions. thus, in nearly all the major strikes taking place since the revolution, a major demand was to remove corrupt and ndp -inked managers and to put them on trial. this clearly political demand was integrated with the economic demands of minimum wage, permanent contracts for temporary workers, better working condi- tions and so on. A similar situation arose during the portuguese revolution of 1974. As tony cliff explained in an important analysis of the revolution:

“saneamento (purging) meant much more than simply locking up the se- cret policemen. effectively and thoroughly carried out, it means to virtually destroy the structure of the bourgeois state. because the corporate state meant control over every level of social life, banks, churches, schools, uni- versities, offices and factory managements, a complete saneamento would mean the destruction of the entire social hierarchy from board of directors right down to foremen.” thus what started in egypt on 25 January as a seemingly purely demo- cratic political revolution can develop into a revolution challenging the very basis of capitalist society.

Rising expectations and economic crisis

Another important factor pushing the egyptian revolution beyond the limits of bourgeois democratic transition is the deepening contradiction between rising expectations among workers and the poor, and the economic crisis of capitalism. people expect higher wages, a reduction of unemployment, bet- ter housing, education and healthcare. but within the confines of the capital- ist system, all these things are expected to get worse. the egyptian economy was already in crisis before the revolution. but things have become much worse since. perhaps the most visible problem is inflation. Food prices for example were up by 20 percent in April 2011 compared to the same month the previous year. unemployment has risen sharply, compounded by the return of hundreds of thousands of workers from libya. there were 1.5 million egyptian workers in libya. the revolu- tion and civil war there caused a sharp decline in workers’ remittances, an

0

The Egyptian Revolution

important source of foreign currency. tourism revenues, which account for 11 percent of Gdp, also fell sharply adding hundreds of thousands to the mil- lions of unemployed youth. to try to stabilise the economy, the government has deployed foreign reserves, propping up the egyptian pound. the reserves have fallen from $34bn to $28bn in the last three months. but the egyptian pound still fell. the longer term threat is a rapid further decline in reserves followed by speculation on the pound and a complete collapse in its value. the budget deficit in 2011 is estimated at over 9 percent and Gdp growth has shrunk by 4.2 percent in the first quarter. what all this means is either that egyptian capitalism is about to collapse, or the working class and poor of egypt will be made to pay the price of the crisis. but the working class and poor in egypt revolted and are continuing to revolt precisely because they have been paying the price for neoliberal- ism and its failures for decades. what they expect is an end to poverty, un- employment and the humiliation and indignity they have suffered. the generals and capitalists and their transitional government cannot make any substantial concessions to the workers without breaking, not only with neoliberalism but with the very structure of the capitalist economy. For them that would not only be irrational but suicidal. they will fight tooth and nail to save the system and make the poor pay the price. but the poor will also fight tooth and nail to save their revolution. A new and fierce clash is brewing.

Enter world capitalism

egyptian capitalism is an integral part of the world capitalist system. its sur- vival depends on the vital links that connect it to the us, eu and Gulf states economies. it is therefore to these that the transitional government has run for help. And indeed, as would be expected, the fact that the scAF and the transitional government have pledged to continue the same economic and foreign policies of the previous regime has made the us, the eu and their financial institutions, the iMF and world bank, all eager to help. the G8 summit held on 26 and 27 May (attended by essam sharaf) an- nounced that up to $20 billion would be offered to egypt and tunisia. when support from the Gulf Arab states is added to these figures egypt alone ap- pears to be on the verge of receiving around $15 billion in loans, investment

The Egyptian Revolution

1

Standing up to the police
Standing up to the police

The Egyptian Revolution

and aid from governments and the key international financial institutions (iFi). However, this money comes with conditions. the packages are prem- ised upon the continuation of neoliberal policies of privatisation, deregula- tion and encouragement of foreign investment. on 24 May this conditionality was set out following an announcement by the world bank and iMF that they would provide $4.5 billion to egypt over two years. noting that “reforms were as important as money”, the iMF made clear during the G8 summit what was to be required if the money would start flowing to egypt:

“overcoming high unemployment will require a substantial increase in the pace of economic growth … Achieving such growth rates will entail both additional investment and improved productivity. while some increases in public investment may be required, for instance to improve the quality of infrastructure and services in less developed rural areas, the key role will have to be played by the private sector, including by attracting foreign direct investment. thus, government policies should support an enabling environ- ment in which the private sector flourishes.” therefore the main thrust of the international financial intervention in post-Mubarak egypt is an acceleration of the neoliberal policies followed by the Mubarak regime. those same policies that led to the impoverishment of the majority of the population, the massive concentration of wealth amongst a tiny minority and a facilitating state in bed with the billionaires. that is exactly the egypt we revolted against and it is exactly the egypt being offered us again with only the slightest of change in the packaging.

Preparing for the second revolution

As we saw above, the revolution involves a complex interaction between po- litical and economic demands, between its democratic and its social phases. there are no clearly demarcated and separate stages in the revolution. the achievement of the main political democratic demands of the revolution, which has only just begun, can only be completed and maintained by the mass participation of the egyptian working class. this necessarily trans- forms the revolution from its narrow bourgeois democratic demands and puts to the fore social demands that cannot be achieved within the confines of capitalism and its endless crises.

The Egyptian Revolution

the threat to capitalism unites all kinds of disparate forces against the working class and the poor. plans of containment on the one hand and con- spiracies for counterrevolution on the other hand fill the air. For many liber- als and islamists, the threats posed by the political awakening of the working class and the poor become much more menacing than the slow and limited pace of political and democratic reform on offer from the generals. thus the true completion of the democratic revolution requires that the working class take the lead pulling behind them the poor peasants, the ur- ban poor, the oppressed sections of society, the poor copts, nubians and sinai bedouins. this is needed to save the revolution from containment, reaction and counter-revolution and then to prepare for a new uprising that would complete the overthrow of the regime, to complete the “cleansing” process by destroying the old regime state structures. then to begin the task of building the “social republic”, through the conquest of political pow- er by the working class with the support of the poor peasantry, the urban poor and all sections of society oppressed by the old regime—and by the so-called transitional regime and its generals. these tasks cannot be achieved solely by the organisation of independent trade unions and popular committees, however vital those tasks will be in the future insurrection. there is a vital need for the building of a revolution- ary workers’ party. A party whose task will be not only to unite the most ad- vanced elements of the working class, but to pull towards it the less organ- ised and isolated sectors of the class. this party must become a “tribune of the oppressed”, winning the argument among all the victims of exploitation and oppression that only under the leadership of the working class can their suffering truly end. clarity and honesty is of utmost importance regarding the coming insur- rection. the enemy will fight us viciously. the army will play the major role in trying to smash, not only the insurrection itself but also every vestige of independent workers’ organisations. it is therefore of vital importance in the coming battles to win over soldiers and young conscript officers to the side of the revolution in order to expose, isolate and eventually defeat the army leadership. our enemies are organised. they have the full backing of bourgeois me- dia. only an organised revolutionary party that is strong enough in numbers and that is capable of propagating its ideas and agitating for revolutionary action among the masses can hope to win this battle. the gap between the current size and forces of the revolutionary left in egypt and the tasks mentioned above is huge. yet we know that our argu- ments can make a real difference and shape the struggles to come. those

The Egyptian Revolution

of us in tahrir square during the uprising who believed that workers could finish off Mubarak didn’t simply wait for strikes to happen. we went and argued with leading activists in the workplaces that workers could use their organised collective power against the regime. the revolutionary crisis in egypt and in the wider Arab world is of a scale and depth – magnified by the context of world economic crisis – that means our enemies will find it difficult to resolve in the near future. the crisis will probably be one of years rather than months. this gives revolutionary so- cialists a window of opportunity that is truly historical. if we get it right on the essential questions of revolutionary strategy and tactics, if we learn the right lessons from both the failures and successes of our international revo- lutionary tradition, then a historic victory for the working class in egypt and internationally could be within our grasp. Another crucial factor that can make the difference between victory and defeat is the question of revolutionary internationalism. the world capitalist class is uniting and organising to contain and suffocate the egyptian revolu- tion. yet world capitalism is in a long and protracted crisis. All over the world ruling classes are attempting to make the working classes pay the price for that crisis. Resistance to these attempts are growing and deepening all over the world. the mass strikes and demonstrations in Greece and spain are both inspired by and inspiring to the egyptian revolution. the revolutions in yemen and syria, although facing unimaginable repression are still con- tinuing. every victory for the working classes and masses in one region or country will give a tremendous boost to all the rest. yet we cannot just rely on the relatively spontaneous interactions between these revolutions and movements. we need to organise international solidarity and use this his- torical moment to build our organisations all over the globe. For the first time in decades, we literally have a world to win.

The Egyptian Revolution

The Egyptian Revolution

The Egyptian Revolution

 The Egyptian Revolution

The Egyptian Revolution

The Egyptian Revolution

The Egyptian Revolution

 The Egyptian Revolution