Egypt: The April 6 Youth Movement strikes on Facebook

Recently there was an attempt to organise a so-called Facebook strike in Egypt. The attempt failed abysmally as it had no connection to the real movement of the working class, such as what we witnessed last year. There is no alternative to real life organisation on the ground, at the factory gates, in the working class neighbourhoods.
Last year workers struck in Malhalla sparking a powerful movement of the workers--a far cry from this years Facebook protests.
Last year workers struck in Malhalla, sparking a powerful movement of the workers.

On Monday, April 6, an Egyptian Facebook group, the "April 6th Youth Movement", called for a "general strike" and a "day of anger". This quite ambitious Facebook event was organized in commemoration of a strike that happened exactly one year ago and was the culmination of a powerful workers' movement with the workers of the Misr Spinning and Weaving company in Mahalla al Kubra at its heart. The movement was heavily repressed by the security forces, which shot and killed three youth and wounded dozens of protesters. Trade-union leaders and political activists were arrested, intimidated and tortured. National and international campaigns of solidarity demanded the release of the detained and denounced the dictatorial nature of the regime.

As one of the solidarity networks which sprang up after the repression of the mass movement, the April 6th Youth Movement claims to have more than 70,000 "members", mostly urban youth, discontented with the regime for various reasons. Not surprisingly, their call for action on Monday resonated most clearly in the universities. 1,500 students took to the streets in Mansura, 800 in Helwan and 300 in Cairo University. Students of Ain Shams University clashed with the police and some of them were arrested and detained. From the perspective of a student movement, the April 6th group seems to have done a rather good job in mobilizing its members. Of course, one should realise that the protest of the students was less a consequence of the online call for a "day of anger", than of the efforts of grassroot student groups such as Haqqi to patiently organise and carefully direct the students' sit-ins and demonstrations.

The protest organised outside the trade union federation.
Yesterday's protest outside the trade union federation.

The April 6th group did not only call for students' actions, however. In a statement it explicitly called upon all working people to strike and protest either at their work, or in a mass demonstration at noon at the headquarters of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation in Cairo. I was there at noon, and except for hundreds of policemen in uniforms, plainclothes thugs and secret services, and a handful of disappointed journalists, there was no one to been seen. According to a poll organized by the Youth Movement, 90% of the people in Downtown Cairo were willing to participate in the strike. On Monday, however—throughout the city—it was business as usual, and the man in the street didn't seem to know or to care about any protest going on. Only at the journalists' and lawyers' unions, there were limited protests attended by a few dozen demonstrators. The majority of those were representatives of the various small democratic opposition parties and groups. Salwa A., a twenty year old woman and member of the liberal Democratic Front Party, claimed that the rally at the journalists' union was a success: "look at all the police!" According to her, Facebook nowadays connects everyone, and things will change if they only call enough of these demonstrations. When asked why the workers did not heed the call for a general strike, she stated that they had been "bought off" by the government and were too afraid to participate in any action. The memory of the 6th of April seemed far away at that point.

Police watching the protest.
Police watching the protest.

From the beginning, groups and individuals within the Egyptian left have been sceptical about the whole undertaking. The Tadamon solidarity network doubted that the opposition forces were capable of organising anything remotely resembling a general strike. Without the workers' movement of Mahalla, which constituted the backbone of the strike last year, the call would go largely unnoticed. Socialist blogger Hossam al-Hamalawy had already criticized the Youth Movement group's first attempt to organise a "general strike" in solidarity with detained Mahalla workers on the 4th of May in 2008, which utterly failed. Facebook is a tool for propaganda, networking and communication, and should be used as such by activists, but it can never form a substitute for genuine political work with and within the masses. Ahmed Belal, a member of the Central Committee of the socialist Tagammu-party and a resident of Mahalla al-Kubra, pointed out that when the workers of Mahalla go on strike, not only they themselves (27,000 workers) are on protest, but also their families, their neighbours, their friends, their whole social network, i.e. the city of Mahalla itself. The middle-class leaders, activists and intellectuals of the opposition are separated and alienated from the masses of ordinary Egyptian workers, small shop-keepers and poor peasants. On the same day as the "general strike" yet another broad democratic coalition was announced: the Egyptian Coalition for Change, which lack any real base among the masses. Then there is the urban youth which isangry with the regime, and rightly so, and ready for action, but it is also politically unorganised and prone to voluntaristic ideas. The combination of these two elements led to the unfortunate "April fool's joke".

The real strategic challenge for the Egyptian Marxists is not fighting the dictatorship or overcoming underdevelopment. It is to go to the masses, and patiently raise their political consciousness, by participating in their collective class experiences, like the strike movements we witnessed between 2006 and 2008. 

See also: