Egyptian elections: "The Three-Minute Freedom"*

The recent elections in Egypt were in no way democratic. What they reflect is the pressure of imperialism that wishes somehow to stop the unstoppable, that is the inevitable movement of the masses from below. But the change is only cosmetic and the masses can see through this.

O people!
I am the first and the just
And the most beautiful among all the rulers
I am the moon of darkness and the white of jasmine
I am the inventor of the first scaffold and the best messenger…
Whenever I think to give up power, my conscience restrains me
Who will rule over these kind people?
Who will heal the crippled, the leprous, and the blind?

And who will revive the dead?
Who will take out from his coat moon’s light?
Who will drop the rain?
Who will lash people 90 lashes?
Who will crucify them on the trees?
Who will compel them to live like cows?
And die like cows?

Whenever I think of leaving them
I shed tears
And I rely on Allah
And decide to rule over the people

From now till the Judgement Day…

Nizar Kabani
From “Biography of an Arab Executioner”

On the website of the US journal Post Gazette we read an interesting opinion about the election and so-called democracy in Egypt: “Democratisation in Egypt can wait another day, when the Gaza situation has stabilized, when the Middle East has cooled down - if it ever does.” (www.post-gazette.com/forum).

Similar arguments have been propagated by other Arab rulers and media. We often hear such comments as, ‘The Arabs are not ready for democracy’, ‘It takes time, you know, in a society dominated by religion’, ‘after all we’re in a much better situation than other people’, ‘what alternative do you have: socialism? Well, we had Nasser before and look at what happened.’

This is the view of many who are influenced by bourgeois political thinking. They argue that we can achieve democracy peacefully, step by step. They say we did not have this Infitah (‘Opening’) before, and now we have more candidates running for the presidency, more freedom, etc. And they add that in spite of the imperialist occupation of Iraq, etc., the West is still democratic.

All these arguments are used to make us believe that Egypt today has had the first democratic and multi-party elections and everyone should welcome this as a tremendous step forward. Many other Egyptians, especially among the middle class layers, in the last few years have been calling for a real Infitah. But to the surprise of the right wing press in the West the present wave of ‘movements for change in Egypt’ have expressed ‘anti-western’ sentiments.

What will these new elections bring to the 44% of the Egyptians who, according to World Bank development indicators of 2003, live on less than $2 a day? Let us suppose for one moment that these elections have been free and fair. How will three minutes at the ballot box, unlike previous occasions, such as in Morocco, for example, affect the lives of the millions of poor Egyptians and bring about a real change?

The present dictator Hosni Mubarak has ruled Egypt since 1981 when he succeeded Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated because of his policies towards Israel. Back in November 1981, in a speech to the People's Assembly, Mubarak highlighted his policy and the future he wanted for Egypt: no return to the restrictive days of Nasser, a production that would benefit all of society, food subsidies would remain, and imports of unnecessary luxury goods would be curtailed and opposition parties would be allowed.

These words of the ruling class in Egypt were an attempt to appease the masses. They were desperately trying to avoid another uprising. It was only a few years since they had had a taste of the wrath of the Egyptian masses. On January 18 and 19, 1977, and in an effort to reduce the cost of subsidies, the government had increased the prices of a number of commodities by as much as 21 per cent. As a result, the first ‘riots’ since 1952 broke out. The uprising took place while Anwar Sadat was in Aswan, in the south of the country, on holiday. “Power”, as an observer of the time put it, “was lying in the street”, but no organisation was there to take it. After two days, and when the poor had retreated, Sadat unleashed his army and tanks on the streets.

What has changed since then? Has Mubarak miraculously found Moses’ stick to open up the Red Sea with? Let us look at the record so that we can get a picture of what is to come in the next period.

Less than five years after Mubarak’s speech to the People’s Assembly, in February 1986, an uprising of hundreds of conscripts of the Central Security Forces in Cairo and other cities broke out. The conscripts, who were living in squalid tent encampments in Giza (on the outskirts of Cairo), reacted with fury when they heard of the government’s intention to extend their enlistments. For several days, they burnt tourist hotels, video stores, nightclubs and discos. Mubarak deployed the army to control the situation.

As Mustafa Kamel El-Sayed, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Countries, rightly concluded in his article What have we done with US aid?: “The economic development of Egypt was not the primary goal, but rather the stability of the Egyptian regime, which had faced a popular revolt in January 1977…” (Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 21-27 June 2001, Issue No.539) Egypt is the largest recipient in the world of American aid after Israel. The US has given Egypt $117 billion and Jordan $22 billion in foreign aid as a reward for signing a peace deal with Israel.

In fact, military assistance has exceeded economic assistance by nearly half. This fact alone, however, is quite revealing of the order of priorities of US policy-makers when it comes to aid given to Egypt. Egypt receives about $1.8 billion in yearly American military and economic assistance.

In 1991, Egypt started implementing the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in return for a $300 million loan, a $28 billion loan from the Paris Club and $15 billion in debt restructuring.

Egypt is now being called on to speed up the privatisation of its large public sector, which accounts for about 70 per cent of the country’s GDP, although this had previously been rejected by Egyptian officials throughout the 1980s. In addition, a Social Fund for Development (SFD) was established at the beginning of the 1990s with support from the Bretton Woods Institutions and other donors. The Fund’s primary task was to abate the effects of structural adjustment by creating jobs through small scale and so-called micro enterprise development.

What has been achieved?

Egypt's national debt currently hovers between 120 and 130 percent of GDP. The annual Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) of 2000 ranked Egypt as 119 on the HDI (Human Development Index). In the 2005 report we find Egypt in the same position. (http://hdr.undp.org/reports/global/2005/pdf/HDR05_HDI.pdf)

The majority of Egypt’s 70.5 million (36.5 million in 1974) inhabitants are concentrated on about 5% of the country’s land area. This mostly agrarian land is concentrated in the narrow Nile Valley and Delta. The high population density puts a heavy burden on Egypt's infrastructure and services, and has caused massive migration to Cairo and Alexandria, resulting in urban overcrowding.

The government puts the unemployment rate at 9.3 percent, but independent sources put the figure at over 20 percent. Mubarak’s party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), has promised to create 4.5 million jobs. Karima Korayem, professor of economics at Al-Azhar University, believes that this falls into the realm of wishful thinking. Korayem has pointed out that “the experience of the Social Fund for Development(SDF) has not proven successful. Many of the individuals who took out loans defaulted on them or quit their projects. It is not just an issue of financing,” argues Korayem (Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 1 - 7 September 2005) who refers to the lack of technical support and follow-up. But why has Mubarak not created all these jobs during the 24 years he has already spent in power?

On the ground, people have to resort to other means: bribing the entourage of MPs in order to find a job. “‘Nepotism is everywhere, you have to pay 10,000 and 15,000 to get a job’, deplored 29-year-old Samia Ali, who found a small job in a stationery shop after failing to enter the civil service.” (Agence France Press and Daily Star, 05 September 05)

With illiteracy levels still prevailing at 45%, women are particularly hit by unemployment (60% of adult females and 36% of adult males are illiterate). “Many poor women do not have ID cards, which makes it difficult for them to access services. Although women are granted full constitutional rights on an equal basis with men, they still have difficulties in participating in the economic life, accessing education and health services, while their active participation in politics is severely limited.” (http://www.undp.org.eg/profile/egypt.htm).

World Bank data suggests that almost 50% of Egypt's GDP in 2000 was generated by the service sector. Tourism, which accounted for 4% of GDP in 2000 and is overall the country’s largest revenue earner, employing 2.2 million people, was severely affected by the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001. According to official sources, Egypt's real economic growth has declined from approximately 5% to 2.1% per annum.

In January 2003 Mubarak’s government decided to devaluate the Egyptian pound. As a consequence, this has dealt a further blow to the already meagre purchasing power of the working class. Because 72 per cent of consumer goods, foodstuffs, and industrial imports are imported, prices for tea, cooking oil, sugar, transportation and utilities soared. Officially, 6.8 million government and public sector employees have lost half the value of their salaries.

“Pensioners learned that higher delivery fees would be taken out of their meagre checks. Traditional garbage collectors saw their livelihood being taken over by private European sanitation companies, while households were suddenly informed that sanitation fees would be calculated according to their electricity consumption. Citizens sued, but the court ruled in favour of the incomprehensible new system.” (Mona El-Ghobashy, Egypt’s Summer of Discontent, a report published by Middle East Report, 18 September 2003).

With the invasion of Afghanistan and especially of Iraq, Egypt has suffered more blows to her economy; the economy lost between $1.2 and 2 billion worth of exports to Iraq under the ‘Oil for Food Programme’. Then came the latest terrorist attacks that have badly affected the country’s tourist sector, a pillar of the Egyptian economy.

A Repressive Regime

 
“The Egyptian armed forces produce the leaders, keep them in office, are used to exert Egyptian-Western influence on neighbouring countries and provide the managerial talent for the industries of the country. The economy of Egypt is controlled and run by the pro-West officer class, which uses the wealth of the country to maintain its power base… The West likes the policies of this regime to the extent of helping to equip and maintain the army and the security forces and, in the process, sanctions the misuse of the country’s wealth.” (Saïd K. Aburish, Brutal Friendship – The West and the Arab Elite, Ed. Indigo, 1998, p. 72).

For decades the Egyptian ruling elite (since the Free Officers’ coup of 1952) has been accustomed to ruling over the population with an iron fist. Mubarak had made his career in the armed forces, but, significantly, was never a member of the Free Officers' movement. That made him a good candidate to govern over the process of dismantling the reforms of the Nasser period, of privatisation and opening up to the West.

This, however in no way makes him a “democrat”. He remains a military man (like his predecessors Sadat and Nasser) who also has many enemies. He has escaped assassination at least six times. Only Muammar Qadhafi of Libya has been in power for longer than Mubarak.

The Executive power in Egypt is vested in the Head of State, the President of the Republic, who also acts as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Mubarak introduced a state of emergency on the eve of Anwar Sadat’s assassination. And recently, Mubarak highly praised Ariel Sharon as a peace partner, in spite of the fact that he is seen as a war criminal in the Arab world. This shows how far Mubarak is prepared to go to appease the West.

According to Amnesty International’s report of 2004, prisoners of conscience in Egypt continued to be sentenced to prison terms. “Thousands of suspected supporters of banned Islamist groups, including possible prisoners of conscience, remained in detention without charge or trial; some had been held for years. Others were serving sentences imposed after grossly unfair trials before exceptional courts. Torture and ill-treatment of detainees continued to be systematic. Death sentences continued to be passed and carried out.” (http://web.amnesty.org/report2004/egy-summary-eng).

The Muslim Brotherhood remains Egypt's strongest opposition political force by far. It has been outlawed since 1954 when its leaders tried to kill Gamal abd Al-Naser. The regime sees the Brotherhood as a threat to democracy and security. In the 1950s and 1970s the Egyptian state directed its police machine against the communist movement. Then turned to crush the Islamists, but following the crackdown on the movement in the 1990s, the Islamists have been ‘quite and relatively cooperative with the government’.

However, repression is also aimed at weak, small groups on the left. So when the police arrested and detained five communists in April 2003, the State Security officer Sherif Mahdy Ibrahim Mahmood described them as members of an underground communist organisation that aims to overthrow the existing ruling regime! A thirty-five year old engineer, Ashraf Ibrahim, was detained and charged with the ‘crime’ of leading an illegal organisation. On Ashraf’s computer the police found e-books entitled Bolshevism, the road to revolution, History of British Trotskyism, and Lenin and Trotsky: What they Really Stood for, (works of Alan Woods and Ted Grant taken from this web site).

This kind of reaction reflects not the strength of the regime, but its weakness. How can five people pose a threat? “It sounds like a joke” as the deputy director of Egypt’s Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies described the event. In fact, there is a recurring pattern. It is the same as what happened in Tunisia and Algeria. The state, after ‘finishing’ with the Islamists, stretches its hand further to include an attack on trade union activists, left wing activists, human rights activists, students, journalists, lawyers, etc. The level of repression has escalated during the anti-war and Intifada solidarity movements.

The West is promoting Democracy!

Lord Cromer’s statement at the time when Britain was ruling Egypt, “We do not govern Egypt, we only govern the governors of Egypt” (Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism, Vintage, Great Britain, 1994, p.239) is still valid today. The only difference is that the USA is the major player in moving the pawns helped by the American-dominated international institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank.

The main argument given by George W Bush and Tony Blair to justify the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction. The warmongers and oil barons in Washington and Blair and his clique in London have hailed that bringing ‘democracy’ to the Middle East is now their main objective. All this is a cover for what they are really doing. Hence we have the new constitution in Iraq, the elections in Afghanistan, the municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, and now the elections in Egypt.

Since the creation of most of the Middle Eastern countries by the imperialist powers after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of World War One, the leadership of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, and now the Palestinian Authority, as well as of the countries of North Africa offer stability to the Western ruling classes.

“Stability” means governments that prevent the emergence of any forces that oppose Imperialism. Stability means dictatorship and repression. Stability also means maintaining the status quo in order to perpetuate the imperialist hegemony and economic control of the area. So today when the Western powers, especially the USA and Britain, argue that they are striving for ‘democracy’ in the region, they are - unlike some of their predecessors who did it openly - indirectly admitting that they have supported undemocratic regimes for decades.

We have been told for the last few months that ‘Iraq has become a democracy’. Democracy is achieved when there are ‘free and fair elections’. But of course, not any elections, only those sanctified by the USA’s rubber stamp! Fifteen out of sixteen candidates who ran in the last elections in Afghanistan declared that the elections were not fair. In spite of this, because the US government said it was a ‘fair and democratic election’, we are meant to believe that Afghanistan today is a democracy and we are expected to exonerate any entanglements of power and wealth in any society with the fact that elections have taken place. Thus we are supposed to ignore the essence and concentrate on the superficial!

With the occupation of Iraq, and the continuous daily suffering of the Palestinians, the Arab regimes have become more unstable than ever and they have to do something to survive. Imperialism views with trepidation the anger of the masses on the streets. They are seeking a way to contain it. That is why they are pushing for an improvement in the human rights records of these regimes, or at least it must be seen to be changing. And, of course, ‘democracy’ should be encouraged. The USA in its dealings with some Arab regimes, especially the Egyptian, the Saudi and the Syrian, are facing a real dilemma.

“Western powers,” argues The Economist, “ need to sustain the very Arab governments they hope to reform, to stave off more immediate dangers.” (The Economist, Democracy for Arabs, 10 June 2004). But here lies the crux of the matter. Reform may open the door for a radical movement that threatens the real existence of those regimes. Not to carry out reform may radicalise the street more than it is now and make the US allies more unstable than ever. All this, combined with the deteriorating living conditions of the working people and the fear of a new revolt, is the context of the so-called reform including the ‘first multi-party elections in Egypt’.

In a recent article published by the right-wing magazine The Economist there is a good account of the reality of this so-called democracy preached by the USA and her allies. “Not surprisingly, many Arabs suspect that reforms in Egypt and elsewhere are cosmetic, intended mainly to appease the Bush administration, which actively preaches democratisation as a foil to terrorism.”

“True enough, American pressure for democratisation has been inconsistent. The much-routed American aid programme meant to promote reform, the Middle East Partnership Initiative, gets less cash in a year than what America spends in Iraq in a day…

“Many Arabs view its [Iraq] constitution as the outcome of an American plot to divide and rule. Most Arab reformers warm much more to the caustic critiques of American filmmaker Michael Moore than to George Bush’s ‘forward strategy of freedom’. Most believe that when push comes to shove, American thirst for oil will exceed its democratic principles.”

The Economist concludes with a quote by an Egyptian official: “This election was just a drill, which the government would never have accepted without foreign badgering.” (The Economist, 09 September 2005).

In fact - not as The Economist apologetically argues - the American policy has been consistent. It is a policy of a capitalist class that cares only about its interests whether locally or internationally. The USA’s aid to the victims of the tsunami that struck south East Asia a few months ago was the equivalent of three days expenditure in Iraq. The behaviour of the American ruling class towards the New Orleans disaster and the kind of treatment it meted out to ‘its own people’ has ripped the mask from this vile callous system.

The Elections or the ‘three-minute freedom’

In spite of the nature of the regime in Egypt, widespread human rights abuse, corruption, suppression of freedoms, collaboration with the imperialist state in Israel, The Times newspaper in Britain, for example, still finds it useful to propagate the same old deception. “Nevertheless,” The Times, on the eve of election day, comments, “the elections mark a new chapter in Egypt’s history, and that in the long term may yet lead to a greater democracy…” (The Times, UK, 06 September 2005).

According to Human Rights Watch in a report published prior to the elections, “Egypt’s first-ever multi-party presidential election on September 7 has helped to open up public debate in the country… But the main features of decades-long authoritarian rule remain in place, making a truly free and fair election at this moment beyond reach…”

In a 13-page briefing paper, Human Rights Watch said that “the ruling National Democratic Party’s monopoly on political life in the country, its vast patronage network, state control of major media, and an absurdly short three-week window for campaigning have made it impossible for this election to reflect the free choice of the electorate.” (http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/09/02/egypt11682.htm).

In most of the Middle East countries, the ruling party, backed by the wealthy, controls and dominates the media all year long, pictures of the ruler are everywhere: in the shops, in the streets, on the buses, on the trains… with all manpower and resources at its disposal to do so. In the words of the Syrian poet Nizar Kabbani: ‘Antara is everywhere, even in our bedrooms and toilets. He is the omnipresent and the omnipotent.’

When the election campaign is announced the ‘opposition’ parties are given a few minutes to air their voices, and some space to hang up pictures of their parties’ leaders. And if one of these parties goes beyond that space, say giving out leaflets in a suburb where the party has no permission to campaign, they can be fined or even arrested. Thugs, hired by the police from poor areas, are given 20 Egyptian pounds (£2 pounds sterling) in return for their services to terrify opponents; others are employed to bribe and intimidate voters; a show of power and a waste of resources on a grand scale.

Tamer Said, an Egyptian from Alexandria, had his opinion published on Have Your Say on the BBC Website and summed up the electoral game by saying: “Let’s face it, there was no real competition. It was a criminal waste of precious resources, which represents an example of how you can add to the suffering of an economy that has been beaten to death by ignorance and corruption.”

Here are just some instances of this in the last elections in Egypt. Mubarak, or the pharaoh as Al-Quds Arabi newspaper dubbed him, although he is 77, looked pretty young and colourful in all pictures. Mr Sahabi, a fortune-teller and head of the religious Umma party, said that if he won the elections he would hand back the presidency to Mubarak ‘who is wiser than all of us.’ Noman Gomma, the veteran leader of the Wafd party, was believed to have stood at official request to spoil Mr Noor’s chances.

As expected, the pharaoh won with the notorious percentage that Arab rulers always get. However, this time the turnout seems to have escaped the rigging procedure. In fact, for the 77 per cent of the eligible voters who did not bother to vote, it was certain that they did not believe that the so-called reforms introduced by the regime would make these elections different from the previous ones or affect their conditions, so some of them stayed at home and some others followed the boycott called for by the ‘Kefaya’ movement and some leftist parties. The Muslim Brotherhood urged its supporters to vote without specifying for whom.

‘Kefaya’ and democracy

The generalised picture of the Arab World portrayed by Albert Hourani seems gloomy but it is accurate. “The link between the regime and the dominant social groups,” writes Hourani, “might also turn out to be fragile. What could be observed was a recurrent pattern in Middle Eastern history. The classes which dominated the structure of wealth and social power in the cities wanted peace, order and freedom of economic activity, and would support a regime as long as it seemed to be giving them what they wanted; but they would not lift a finger to save it, and would accept its successor if it seemed likely to follow a similar policy.” (Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples, Faber and Faber Ltd, United Kingdom, 1991, p 454).

Kefaya (‘Enough’) is a very new movement created by a group of Egyptian intellectuals, including poet Ahmed Fouad Nejm and novelist Bahaa Taher. Kefaya was behind a number of public street protests over the past few months. In its Statement to the Nation the Kefaya movement underlines its demands as:

“Real elections that open the door to democratic change, peaceful circulation of power between all political powers and parties, as well as achieving the people’s interests and save Egypt from corruption and political and economic subordination… justice of distribution of the national wealth, the right to employment, the right to free education and free medical treatment, the right to housing and the right to a free, dignified life.

“Security of individual freedom is achieved by guaranteeing individual civil human freedom, foremost among which encompass the freedom of choice, the freedom of thought, the free exchange of information, free organisation, freedom of expression… the elimination of all forms of oppression…” (Published on www.harakmasria.net).

The Kefaya movement demands the end of all imposed monopoly of wealth and power. This will be achieved through re-adapting the presidential institution, i.e., the constitutional circulation of power, free and direct election, accountability, etc, correcting the legal and judicial situation in Egypt (repealing the state of emergency and its laws, and all special laws and special courts) to guarantee the independence of the judiciary, and guaranteeing the separation of powers.

The movement’s demands are obviously bourgeois democratic ones. Kefaya is a movement of some layers of the middle class. One of the consequences of the neo-liberal economic policies in Egypt has in fact been the whittling away of the middle classes. These are people, mainly professionals, white-collar workers and students, who have seen their living standards falling dramatically, and have thus become very discontented with their government’s position regarding the invasion and the occupation of Iraq, as well as the long suffering of their brothers in the Occupied Territories. Some of them had already left Egypt looking for better jobs. It should be mentioned as well that the Muslim Brotherhood is represented in Kefaya as individuals.

Kefaya’s objectives are legitimate demands that all the Arab people aspire to achieve. However, the force that was historically supposed to carry out this programme of democratic bourgeois tasks, the progressive bourgeoisie, left the stage of history a long time ago. The forces that have the interest and are able to bring about such social and political change in Egypt, and in the whole of the Middle East and North Africa, are the poor peasants and the youth led by the working class.

Nowadays democracy in capitalist societies has assumed a shallow meaning. The main decisions that affect people’s daily lives are not taken during the three minutes at the ballot box, but by the international institutions, big business, the landlords and the banks. Democracy in a bourgeois society remains, in effect, a democracy for the minority, only for the propertied classes. The separation of executive and legislative powers which the Kefaya movement advocates - i.e., one class of people decide what should be done, while another class of people do it - is the form of democracy in a class society.

Real democracy means that the majority decides not only in the parliament, but also in the workplace, the factories and offices, in the army, in the schools and universities. But this is possible only when the working people themselves own the means of production. The Kefaya movement does not have such a programme for the whole of the Middle East, but socialists have an interest in working with such a movement because to achieve those democratic objectives some layers of the middle classes will have to unite with the workers in the struggle to change society or participate in other forms of struggle (anti-war movement, human rights and labour movement, etc).

The last 50 years or so of Egyptian history demonstrate quite clearly that ‘Arab Nationalism’ has proved incapable of unifying the Arab people and achieving a real change in the power structure of society. The official communist movement, dominated by Stalinist ideas and having collaborated with the so-called progressive bourgeoisie betrayed the working class throughout the region. For example, in 1965 the right wing in the Communist Party of Egypt dissolved the party and integrated in Nasser’s regime to serve as a propaganda tool. The Islamist movement, apart from having a reactionary programme, is in fact a bourgeois movement ready to compromise with the rulers in the region, or, once betrayed by the local regimes and the imperialists, to pursue counter-productive methods.

The labour movement

Egypt has a large and growing working class. According to the 2004 estimates, 68 per cent of the total 20.71 million work force is in the industry and the service sectors.

Middle East Times recently reported that about 450, 000 workers lost their jobs from the beginning of the privatisation programme in 1991 until mid 2002. The same programme included early retirement schemes that have so far resulted in massive layoffs.(Middle East Times, 19 August 2005-09-05).

Legally, the Egyptian workers have the right to strike. In practice, however, to take industrial action is severely hampered by the Unified Labour Law (Law 12 of 2003), which states that workers or unionists only have the right to go on strike, stage a sit-in, or protest if they get approval from the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU). Workers in both the public and private sectors say it is practically impossible to obtain the Union’s permission to go on strike.

In spite of that, the labour movement is defiant. According to the annual report of the Land Center for Human Rights (LCHR), Egypt witnessed 743 worker protests from 1998 to 2003. In 2004, that number rose to 267, a 200 percent increase. The Ora Misr case is the latest in a rising number of labour protests in recent years. "The workers here have no other options but to strike without legal approval, as we're dealing with a law that denies workers one of their simplest rights," a trade union activist told the Middle East Times. "In the entire history of the Centre [LCHR], we have not recorded one single case in which GFTU approved a strike.” (Middle East Times, 19 August 2005-09-05).

In another case, that of the Egyptian Lighting Company whose boss fled abroad leaving huge losses and debts, the company's workers organized demonstrations, then occupied the factory and have been running the company themselves for the past six months.

Militant unionists regularly face repression at the hands of the so-called security forces of the Interior Ministry. On Saturday, 30 July 2005, for example, the general coordinator of the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) Kamal Abbas was subjected to a brutal attack in Cairo.

Kefaya has attracted the support of professional workers. However, ordinary workers, who make up the bulk of the country's strong labour force, have remained absent from the movement. So here there is an urgent need to establish a genuinely independent trade union movement.

“The government is privatising the entire public sector at lightening speed and there is even talk of privatising the Suez Canal... I propose we launch our own independent federation of trade unions in July, to coincide with events commemorating the Egyptian Revolution," says Tagammu MP, El-Badry Farghali. (Al-Ahram Weekly, 16-22 June 2005-09-05).

‘Old habits die hard’ as they say, but through learning from past experiences, linking with the emerging new militant labour movement, the new generation of angry youth opposing capitalism and imperialism, the labour movement will find its way and leaders to seize the opportunities of the coming period.

The present unrest revealed around the recent elections is merely a reflection of a deeper process taking place in Egyptian society. They will not be able to hold back the masses with some token, cosmetic elections. The suffering of the masses will not go away simply because a few more candidates stood in the presidential elections. Therefore the masses will ask for more. At some stage the mighty Egyptian working class will put its stamp on events

* An expression used by the Egyptian poet Abdel-Rahman El-Abnoudi