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Egypt: Struggle enters new a phase

November 19, 2011
Sunday, February 20, 2011
By Tim Dobson
Egyptian transport workers on strike, February 14. Photo: 3arabawy.

The Egyptian people’s revolution has entered a new phase after the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak on February 11.

The first reaction to Mubarak’s resignation after 18 days of continuous protests was one of celebration.

Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the centre of the uprising, turned into the scene of a giant party for days afterwards in celebration of the exit of Mubarak, who had ruled Egypt for three decades.

Undoubtedly, the widespread feeling was that it was time to begin building a “new Egypt”.

However, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which assumed power after Mubarak’s resignation, has made a series of decisions that have put it at odds with popular aspirations.

The armed forces have long been a central power in Egyptian politics. The top generals, who often have important business interests, have close ties to Mubarak and the United States.

The council released its fifth communique on February 13 that outlined its plans in key areas.

It announced a plan to suspend the hated constitution, dissolve both houses of the fraudulently-elected parliament and oversee a “transition period” of six months before fresh elections.

The council will also have the power to decree laws. Mubarak’s cabinet will also be kept in place, as will all existing peace treaties.

The constitution and parliament were not mourned, as they were associated with the old regime. The Egyptian constitution was the legal basis for the “state of emergency” that has been kept in place ever since Mubarak assumed the presidency in 1981.

This has allowed for the brutal crackdown against any opposition to his rule. An end to the emergency rule was a key demand of the mass movement.

However, despite the suspension of the parliament, the emergency law is being kept in place. Also, many of the protesters were disappointed that the constitution was only suspended rather than abolished.

The February 14 Washington Post quoted Egyptian novelist and democracy activist Alaa al Aswany, who said: “By no means can [the military heads] concentrate on fixing the problems and investigating what happened under the former regime, because they are the ones responsible.”

The fact that the new government has guaranteed its agreements with Israel, including the 1979 peace treaty, shows the ongoing influence the US wields over the Egyptian government.

The US gives US$1.3 billion a year in military aid to Egypt, a November 10 US State Department report said.

The US is seeking to continue its influence. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on February 17 that the US would offer up to $150 million in immediate aid for Egypt.

On February 12, the military unsuccessfully tried to clear Tahrir Square of all protesters.

On February 13, Reuters said the military council had issued a decree banning “meetings by labour unions or professional syndicates, effectively forbidding strikes, and tell all Egyptians to get back to work after the unrest that toppled Hosni Mubarak”.

The council issued a warning against anyone who creates “chaos and disorder”, widely seen as a threat against protesters still occupying Tahrir Square, Reuters said.

In the dying days of Mubarak’s rule, Egypt was hit by a strike wave, in which thousands of workers combined calls for Mubarak’s resignation with their own economic demands.

There are signs the ban is being widely ignored and many workers are continuing to strike.

On February 16, 10,000 textile workers went on strike. The February 17 EurasiaReview.com said: “Work stoppages have also closed banks and stalled buses in Cairo. Police officers, airport employees, ambulance drivers and electrical engineers have carried out protests.”

The February 17 New York Times said: “The labor unrest this week at textile mills, pharmaceutical plants, chemical 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.

“Banks reopened last week, but amid a wave of protests over salaries and management abuses promptly shut again this week.

“The opening of schools was delayed another week, and a date has yet to be set for opening the stock market, which some fear may plummet over the economic reverberations and anxiety about the political transition.”

The strikes have struck fear into the rich.

On February 18, TheNational.ae quoted Hisham Ezz al Arab, the chairperson of Egypt’s largest private financial institution, saying: “If the strikes keep spreading, people don’t understand they are going to spoil the 25th of January [the date the anti-Mubarak protests started] because they are selfish.”

Ibrahim Aziz, a merchant in downtown Cairo, complained to the NYT: “For 30 years, there were no protests at all — well, not really — and now that’s all there is.”

Despite the calls for strikes to end, industrial action is winning concessions.

TheNational.ae said: “The central bank said it would sit down with tens of thousands of workers from bank branches, while Egyptian railways has promised permanent contracts to several thousand workers.

“Arafa Holding, a major private textile company, announced yesterday that it had reached ‘satisfactory agreement’ with striking workers and would resume operations next Sunday.”

Many of the activists at the centre of the movement that toppled Mubarak have criticised the military council’s anti-democratic measures.

Almasryalyoum.com reported that the Coalition of the Revolution Youth, which includes the April 6 youth movement and some supporters of moderate opposition leader Mohamed el-Naradei and the Muslim Brotherhood, issued a statement that day that said: “We demand the government be headed by a civilian popular figure that is credible for the public.”

Initial calls by some moderates, such as Baradei, to give the military time to make change have mostly fallen by the wayside. A February 18 Associated Press article quoted Baradei as saying: “To prolong the transitional period without popular participation threatens to throw it back in the arms of dictatorship.”

Mohammed Abbas, a member of the Coalition of the Revolution Youth and the Muslim Brotherhood, told AP: “Remains of the old system are still operating in society. They are trying to wage a counterrevolution.”

AP said the coalition held a press conference on February 14 to release its manifesto, called “The Political Paper”.

AP said the document was “their vision for transition to democracy — the annulment of the 1971 constitution; dissolving Mubarak’s ruling party and the caretaker government he appointed; scrapping emergency laws in place for decades; dismantling regime-dominated municipal councils and scrapping regulations that stifled the formation of political parties, unions and free media.

“It said the new constitution must establish a parliamentary system that reduces the authorities of the president, a radical change for Egypt aimed at ensuring no autocrat can monopolize power again.”

Coalition members met the military government to discuss the implementation of these demands. However, when it became clear the governing military council would not agree, the coalition said it would seek to organise further mass mobilisations.

It called for a demonstration on February 18, named “Friday of Victory and Continuation”, to mark one week since Mubarak’s fall and push its democratic demands.

It was widely seen as a litmus test to see whether there is still a widespread willingness to mobilise against the military government.

PressTV.ir reported on that day that about 3 million people took to the streets of Cairo. Tens of thousands marched in Alexandria.

In response to the pressure, the military government announced the arrest of former interior minister Habib el-Adly, former tourism minister Zuheir Garana, former housing minister Ahmed al-Maghrabi and steel tycoon Ahmad Ezz for corruption.

Abdel-Rahman Samir, a coalition activist, told AP: “We shouldn’t let them take the initiative. We need to keep up the pressure and form a wide front to present itself to negotiate in the name of the revolution — to have our voice heard as partners and not only recipient of the military communiques.”

From GLW issue 869

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