We received this report from Cairo, written last week just after the big November 27th demonstration. While it was being written, several thousands of demonstrators were still in Tahrir Square after the big demonstration of 27th. Hundreds of thousands had gathered in this square, the symbol of the Egyptian Revolution, shouting “Revolution”, “Oust the murshid government” (murshid is the supreme leader of the Muslim Brotherhood).
A demonstrator in the square told us: “Shoes are ready to fly for the president”. This was a reference to the Middle Eastern custom of taking off one's shoes and throwing them to display disapproval and disdain, in the same manner that protestors threw shoes when Mubarak announced he would not resign. The banners welcoming us in the square read: “The Muslim Brotherhood are traitors”, “Entry forbidden to Ikhawan” (Arabic for “Brothers”) and “The president is pushing the people towards a general strike”.
Rallies numbering tens of thousands of people started out from every neighbourhood of Cairo to reach the square. The march from the working-class area of Shubra was particularly large. Almost all sectors of society got involved: there were marches of the lawyers' trade union, and the artists'. Even the judiciary has announced mass resignations to protest against the “tyranny” – this is how they define the Morsi government – which reveals the widespread malaise existing in society.
The protest erupted seven days ago against the decree presented by Morsi (November 22nd) by which the Egyptian president has concentrated wide powers in his hands. The justification put forward is the “defence of the revolution”. The opposite, of course, is true. But it is the usual excuse which is often used in this country to sanction an unpopular policy. The protests have included many clashes between the demonstrators (three dead so far) and the police who have used the same tear gas used by the SCAF, as a reminder of the real scent of this “democracy”.
The use of teargas was so heavy as to make it impossible to breathe even inside the Sadat metro station, the one in Midan Tahrir. Last night the clashes were particularly violent. The opposition's reaction to the decree was immediate, both by political parties (El Baradei and Sabbahi have both declared that they want to build a national front against the decree) and revolutionary movements that jointly called for tomorrow (November 30th) a new demonstration (under the slogan of “Repeal or resign”) with the aim of not leaving the square until the goal is reached, i.e. the decree is revoked.
Tension could build up even more if you take into account that the Muslim Brotherhood has called for a rally precisely in Tahrir Square (with the clear aim of provoking and triggering riots), in defence of the president – whom, in some slogans, the protestors call “Hosni Morsi”, to underline the continuum with the previous Egyptian president. Tonight it was announced that the Muslim Brotherhood is not going to rally in Tahrir, a clear sign that the MB movement feels weak, or at least they're not sure they can win the unavoidable battle if they march on Tahrir.
There have been demonstrations not only in Cairo, but throughout Egypt. The most important ones have been in Alexandria, Suez, Port Saiz, Damietta. In many cities regarded as strongholds of the Islamic movement, such as Alexandria and Port Said, the Brotherhood's offices were set on fire and the pro-Morsi marches have seen little participation. The Egyptian president has invited the citizens to stay united to save Egypt – a kind of unity that only serves the privileges of those in power.
Continuity or discontinuity?
The Muslim Brotherhood and their Freedom and Justice party have presented themselves as representatives of the Revolution but, as we have explained in many articles, they represent nothing but the interests of a group within the Egyptian bourgeoisie which was virtually excluded from power during the old regime.
Egypt is a country on the brink of economic collapse, with an economy on its knees with soaring poverty and illiteracy rates. To give an idea of the situation, the average income of an Egyptian household is 25,000 Egyptian pounds per year (but, for example, a kilo of meat costs over 40 Egyptian pounds) and one child in four lives below the poverty line (source: Egyptindipendent).
And what is the government doing? Absolutely nothing! The members of the party in power have repeatedly stated that the laissez faire economic policies of Mubarak were perfectly in line with the economic policies of the Muslim Brotherhood. The people feel that the dream of social justice that came with the Revolution has been betrayed. Many of those who voted for the MB in the last elections – because they naively believed this would change their living conditions – are now having to come to terms with reality. The truth is that the Muslim Brotherhood cannot and does not want to modify the conditions of the poorer layers of society.
On a side note, it was in the recent news that the Constituent Assembly has maintained the privileges granted to the military apparatus under the old regime. The government will not be able to change the budget reserved for the military and it will still be possible to try a civilian in a military court. There is a tight connection between the two sectors, the old and new apparatuses.
Meanwhile, the strikes continue. A few days ago, there was a strike of the tube workers. The strike of the doctors was militant. It started on October 1st and carried on for several days with a high rate of participation (in the city of Mansoura there was 93% participation). The medical staff was asking for an increase of state expenditure on healthcare to 15% of GDP (today it's only 5%), wage increases, and better safety in hospitals and medical centres. The workers have challenged the leadership given by the trade union controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. This trade union boycotted the strike and experienced a loss of 15,000 members among the medical staff. These are just two examples of countless industrial actions and workers' protests taking place in this period, showing the current trend of working class militancy.
Whither the Revolution?
Together with the courage and determination of the protestors there are come some questions in the movement that have prevented, at least so far, the development of its true potential. For instance, Sabbahi and El Baradei have extended their front against the decree to Amr Moussa, Mubarak's former Minister of Domestic Affairs, defining him “least worse” than many others in the old Establishment!
The logic of the lesser evil, often used by the Egyptian Left (for example when a part of it chose to support Morsi in the second ballot against Shafik), in a revolutionary situation is very dangerous. On the one hand it paves the way for MB propaganda that accuses the revolutionaries of protecting the felool (members of the former regime), and on the other hand it confuses the masses, failing to draw a sharp a line of demarcation between the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary camps. Partly, it was this lack of a clear demarcation that permitted the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in the latest elections. Why has Sabbahi, who came third in the elections by winning over 20% of the votes, not appealed to the workers to organise a general strike in support of the movement? This would clearly characterise the street protests, giving them more strength and allowing a firmer connection between the revolutionary movement and the labour movement – a connection that we have lacked so far in an organised fashion.
In order for the Egyptian Revolution to win, it must be understood that so-called democracy along the lines of the Western model is not enough to achieve justice, freedom and dignity, but a radical transformation of society is what is needed. The workers must draw the conclusion that it is absolutely necessary to unite and fight for long-lasting change in working conditions. It is necessary that working people and the youth understand that only by organising a struggle to reach a radical change in society, socialism, can one make the Revolution victorious. Any step in any another direction will either be an ephemeral conquest or even a point scored by reaction.
The supposedly left-wing leadership of the movement has failed many times to take this path to help the masses in becoming aware of this vital need. Howebver, the Egyptian Revolution is only writing its second page and the road ahead is still very long. The sight of Tahrir Square so full of people, that are so radical and militant, reminds us of the fact that nothing can stop the workers and youth once they decide to enter the arena of history and take their destiny in their own hands.
Thawra hatta al-nasr!
November 29, 2012