The masses have once again taken to the streets in the biggest demonstrations yet seen in Egypt. They call it the "Day of Departure". Already this morning Al Jazeera showed an immense crowd of people thronging Tahrir Square. The mood was neither tense nor fearful, but jubilant. The very instant Friday prayers finished the masses erupted in a deafening roar of “Mubarak out!” The few Mubarak supporters who were slinking on the streets outside the Square like impotent jackals could do nothing.
In Alexandria there was a massive anti-Mubarak demonstration of over a million. There were no pro-Mubarak people in sight and no police or security forces of any kind on the streets. There were demonstrations on Thursday in Suez and Ismailia, industrial cities where inflation and unemployment are rife, and although I have not yet seen any reports today, there can be no doubt that there will be very big demonstrations today all over Egypt. The Egyptian people have spoken and the message is unmistakable.
The class dynamics of the Revolution
Marx pointed out that the Revolution needs the whip of the counterrevolution. This is the case here. The brutal onslaught of the counterrevolutionaries yesterday created the conditions for a new advance of the Revolution today. A revolution is characterized by violent swings of public opinion. We have seen this in the last 24 hours. Yesterday the mood of the protesters was grim. Today the revolutionary masses scent victory in the air.
This represents a complete turnabout in a few hours. But how can this transformation be explained? To understand what has happened it is necessary to understand the class dynamics of the Revolution. Different classes move at different speeds. The advanced layers – especially the youth – are the first to move into action. They draw the most advanced conclusions. But they are a minority. The mass of the people lag behind. Their consciousness has been moulded by past defeats. They are weighed down by decades of routine, habit and tradition.
The father of modern physics, Isaac Newton, explained that objects at rest tend to stay at rest. The phenomenon of inertia applies not only to the physical world but to society. To overcome the resistance of inertia a powerful external force is necessary. The present epoch is preparing shocks that will shake the masses out of their inertia. But this does not happen all at once. Mubarak has tried to play on the innate conservatism of the population, the fear of sudden change and the danger of chaos.
Mubarak mobilized the forces of the counterrevolution in an attempt to crush the Revolution by force. At the same time he made soothing speeches offering peaceful reforms. This speech had an effect on the minds of the inert mass of the population, especially the middle class who are fearful of disorder. “If you remove me there will be chaos, like Iraq,” he tells them. Such arguments can have an effect on the more backward strata of the masses. They have not yet begun to move. They are not on the streets. They are watching events on the television and they are worried. By promising reform and a return to normality, the President was telling these people what they wanted to hear.
After the speech many of people who were initially sympathetic to the protesters were saying: “That is enough! You have got what you wanted. The old man is going to stand down in September. Why can’t you wait a few months? We are tired of all this. We want a peaceful life, with the shops and banks open and business as usual.” This was a dangerous moment for the Revolution. The mood of the middle classes was swinging towards the President. The counterrevolutionaries were gaining ground on the streets. The army was passive. At this point, the whole process could have begun to go into reverse.
At this critical point, the fate of the Revolution was determined by the courage and determination of the advanced guard. It is true that the active forces of the Revolution were a minority. But it is equally true that the shock troops of the counterrevolution were a minority. In order to defeat the Revolution, Mubarak summoned every last ounce of his support. He bussed in people from the provinces and they concentrated their strength outside Tahrir Square.
This was the decisive turning point. If they had succeeded in driving the protesters from the Square the whole process could have been thrown into reverse. But they failed. Not only were they driven back by the heroic resistance of the revolutionaries. After seven hours of fighting for every inch, the revolutionaries finally got Mubarak’s thugs on the run. This was a decisive turning point. This produced a change in the psychology of the wavering elements. The ferocious violence of the counterrevolutionaries produced a new swing in public opinion that may well prove fatal to Mabarak’s cause.
The battle was live on Al Jazeera, and millions of people could see what was happening. The scenes of a police van hurtling down the street at top speed, mowing down demonstrators said it all. The same people who had illusions in Mubarak’s promise of reform could now see they had been deceived. The smiling mask of the Father of the People slipped to reveal the ugly physiognomy of a cruel and despotic Pharaoh.
So it was all lies, after all! Mubarak’s warning of chaos if he stepped down was contradicted by these images. The chaos already exists, and the President is responsible. Down with the President! Al Jazeera reported one case that explains the process whereby the consciousness of the masses is transformed in a revolution. A man came to Tahrir Square and said: “I believed that the protesters were paid by foreign powers, but now I have come here and seen for myself I have understood that it is not true.” And this man, who only yesterday was supporting the counterrevolution, joined the demonstration.
Crisis of the regime
The defeat in Tahrir Square has provoked a crisis in the regime. In a clear expression of weakness the government is publicly apologising for bloodshed on Wednesday. There are signs of divisions at the top. Ahmed Shafiq, the new prime minister, said he did not know who was responsible for the bloodshed. That is exceedingly strange because everyone else in the world knows that it was the work of undercover police. He also said the Interior Minister should not obstruct Friday's peaceful marches. For his part, the Interior Minister denied that his men ordered their agents or officers to attack the demonstrators, although not even his own mother believes him.
There are indications that the 82 year old President, who remains hidden inside his heavily guarded palace, is tired and partly demoralized. Yesterday he told the American TV network ABC News.: "I am fed up. After 62 years in public service, I have had enough. I want to go." But he immediately added: "If I resign today, there will be chaos."
Speaking in the presidential palace, with his son Gamal at his side, Mubarak said: "I never intended to run [for president] again," Mr Mubarak said. "I never intended Gamal to be president after me." Since everybody in Egypt knows that these were precisely his intentions, this shows that the old man at least does not lack a sense of humour. He then repeated his long-held assertion that the Muslim Brotherhood would fill the power vacuum left by his absence.
The government gives the impression of struggling to regain control of events that are slipping out of its hands. It also does not seem to know what it is doing. While Mubarak utters dark warnings about the Muslim Brotherhood, his prime minister is inviting the Muslim Brotherhood to talks, a very kind offer which the latter have politely declined. They are not so stupid as to offer a hand to a drowning man who only wishes to pull them into the water to keep him company as he goes under.
The Americans are constantly repeating this argument that this is an Islamist movement led by the Muslim Brotherhood and that if Mubarak goes the jihadis will take over. That is a lie, although American diplomats and politicians are stupid enough to believe it. This movement has nothing to do with jihadi fundamentalism or Islamic politics. The New York Times correctly pointed out: “For many, the Brotherhood itself is a vestige of an older order that has failed to deliver.”
This great revolutionary movement was not organized by the Muslim Brotherhood or any of the bourgeois political parties. The Muslim Brotherhood is well organized and has a strong apparatus and money. Its leaders are manoeuvring behind the scenes. But the youth movement is the largest and most determined component of the revolution. It is they who have played the leading role from start to finish.
When these courageous young men and women went to the streets on 25th January, all the political parties including the Brotherhood were taken by surprise. The Muslim Brotherhood did not support them. The youth of 6 April are the ones calling for action. They are the ones who called today’s demonstration. And today, when the revolutionary people marched in their millions, every political party including the Brotherhood were negligible.
The revolutionary people are not fighting for Islam or any religion. They are fighting for their democratic rights and for national and social liberation. Under Mubarak Islamic extremists murdered Christians. But on the demonstrations Christians and Muslims march together. In Tahrir Square there are Muslims and Christians, believers and unbelievers – all united in the same struggle against the same oppressors. The Revolution has cut across all sectarian divisions. That constitutes its great strength.
A “meaningful transition” – to what?
The immediate threat of counterrevolution has been defeated by the courage and determination of the revolutionary people. But victory has not yet been won. The ruling class has many ways of defeating the people. When state violence fails, it can resort to trickery and deception. The situation is very clear. Mubarak cannot control Egypt. Either he will leave, or the Revolution will sweep all before it. This prospect is what fills the Americans with terror.
Washington has lost its grip on events. Taken by surprise at every stage, they lack even the semblance of a coherent policy. The CIA, Saudi Arabia and the Israelis want Mubarak to stand his ground, not out of any personal loyalty, but to prevent the Revolution from spreading to other Arab countries. But the Americans are playing a double game. Obama and the State Department can see that Mubarak’s days are numbered and are manoeuvring behind the scenes to maintain the old regime under another name.
It has emerged that the White House has been in talks with the Cairo government about how Egypt can begin making a "meaningful transition". US Vice-President Joe Biden spoke to his Egyptian counterpart on Thursday; one day after Suleiman had similar talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. According to the New York Times among the proposals was a plan for Mubarak to resign immediately and hand power to a military-backed interim government under Mr Suleiman.
Neither the White House nor the State Department have directly denied the report. But a spokesman for President Barack Obama's National Security Council said it was "time to begin a peaceful, orderly and meaningful transition, with credible, inclusive negotiations". However, the BBC's Mark Mardell in Washington says other reports suggest the US plan has already been rebuffed in Egypt, and that the administration has been “surprised” by the attitude of the military and Suleiman.
The Americans know very well that Suleiman was involved in the attacks on the opposition, and yet they consider that he is the right man to lead an interim government. Everybody knows Omar Suleiman is the man of the CIA and of Israel. This is just a means of maintaining the system while giving the impression of a change. It would be the negation of all the democratic aspirations of the people: a lie and a cynical deception.
What the people want
In Tahrir Square today there is a placard that reads: “THE PEOPLE WANT THE DOWNFALL OF THE SYSTEM” Note the exact wording: not just the downfall of Mubarak, but the downfall of the entire system upon which he rests. The people read out a list of all the present political leaders and after each name shouted out: “Illegitimate!” That is a warning to the politicians that they will not accept any deals that involve the inclusion of any figure from the old regime. This shows an absolutely correct political instinct.
The problem is one of leadership. The bourgeois liberals cannot be trusted. The men who are trying to usurp control are like merchants in a bazaar who will use the Revolution as a bargaining piece with which they can haggle with the regime to win positions and careers. They will always betray the people to further their own selfish interests. The Wafd party and other liberals immediately accepted Mubarak’s "concessions" and ended their participation in the revolution. Al-Baradei is a stooge of the Americans who Washington wishes to put in power as a replacement of Mubarak. How can we place any confidence in men like these?
The revolutionaries must be on their guard! The people of Egypt did not fight and die to allow the same old oligarchy and their imperialist backers to stay in power. The movement must not be demobilized. It must be stepped up. The Revolution must be carried on to the end! No deals with Suleiman or any other figure of the old regime! Not a single one must remain!
The revolutionary people must take a big broom in their hands and sweep out the entire political establishment. For a wholesale purge and the dismissal of all the old officials! Those guilty of corruption must be put on trial and their property confiscated and used for the benefit of the poor.
As long as the old apparatus of state repression remains in being the Revolution will never be safe. The people can accept nothing less than the complete dismantling of the old state apparatus. For the immediate disbanding of the repressive apparatus! For the establishment of popular tribunals to try and punish all those guilty of repressive acts against the people!
The Revolution must be organized. It needs structured, democratic, popular organizations and a fighting machine able to defend it against any aggression. For popular committees for the defence of the Revolution! For a people’s militia! Once the people are armed, no force on earth can oppress them.
The armed people are the only force that can guarantee the conquests of the Revolution, defend democratic rights and convene genuinely free elections to a Constituent Assembly.
A proud people awakes
The New York Times yesterday published interviews that reveal the real content of the Revolution:
“I tell the Arab world to stand with us until we win our freedom,” said Khaled Yusuf, a cleric from Al Azhar, a once esteemed institution of religious scholarship now beholden to the government. “Once we do, we’re going to free the Arab world.”
“For decades, the Arab world has waited for a saviour — be it Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the charismatic Egyptian president, or even, for a time, Saddam Hussein. No one was waiting for a saviour on Wednesday. Before nearly three decades of accumulated authority — the power of a state that can mobilize thousands to heed its whims — people had themselves.
“I’m fighting for my freedom,” Noha al-Ustaz said as she broke bricks on the curb. “For my right to express myself. For an end to oppression. For an end to injustice.”
Mubarak is justly regarded as a traitor and an American and Israeli stooge. The same sentiment is shared by many parts of the Arab world. The same conditions that provoked revolution in Tunisia and Egypt will cause a domino effect across other Arab states. That is why the demands of the Egyptian people have found an echo in the streets from Algeria to Morocco, from Palestinian camps in Jordan to the slums of Baghdad’s Sadr City.
Cynical western observers have often described the Egyptian people as apathetic and passive. Now this stereotype, the product of superficial thinking and feelings of racial superiority, has been stood on its head. Where is the apathy now? This is an ancient, proud and noble people who were exploited, oppressed, insulted and humiliated for generations by foreign masters and their corrupt local agents. They are in the process of breaking with the past and building a new and better future.
The Revolution has given a voice to those who had no voice, it has articulated the sense of hopelessness, the frustration, the humiliations at the hands of the police and the outrage of the youth who do not have enough money to get married and raise a family. The masses are not just fighting for bread and elementary human rights. They are fighting for human dignity. Thanks to the Revolution, the people of Egypt have stood up and raised themselves to their true stature.
“From minute-by-minute coverage on Arabic channels to conversations from Iraq to Morocco, the Middle East watched breathlessly at a moment as compelling as any in the Arab world in a lifetime. For the first time in a generation, Arabs seem to be looking again to Egypt for leadership, and that sense of destiny was voiced throughout the day.”
These words of the New York Times show the real situation. All this is having a tremendous impact that extends far beyond the Middle East and North Africa. Revolutionary Egypt can now begin to occupy its real place in world history.
London 4 February, 2011