One year on: the Egyptian revolution continues

February 11 marks the one year anniversary of the fall of Mubarak. Summer, autumn, and winter have passed since the beginning of the “Arab spring”, and the Egyptian masses are still taking to the streets. Despite all that has happened over the past 12 months, nothing has fundamentally changed for the majority of ordinary Egyptians. There have been a series of victories and defeats for the workers and youth of Egypt, but now, with the anniversary of the Revolution, the movement is entering a new phase.

The continuation of the Arab revolution one year on is a general feature across the region, as we have explained elsewhere (see here and here). In Tunisia, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere we see a revolutionary process that is clearly still ongoing. With a population of over 80 million, an enormous working class with strong revolutionary traditions, and an active layer of millions of revolutionary youth, Egypt is clearly the key country in this process. The movement in Egypt has passed through many ebbs and flows over the past year, with the revolutionary masses coming out time after time, including episodes such as the vast wave of strikes in September 2011  and the series of mass demonstrations last November .

Anniversary

The anniversary of the beginning of the revolution on January 25 saw a new wave of protests and mass demonstrations against the hated regime of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has clung to power since the departure of Mubarak through an eclectic mixture of concessions, political manoeuvres, and open repression. The confused and vacillatory tactics of the SCAF over the past year are a reflection of the weak social basis of the regime, which has not been able to achieve any of the tasks of the revolution. None of the democratic demands for “freedom, social justice, and human dignity”, which were central to the Egyptian revolution, have been met. Nor have any of the material demands that have been put forward by workers and youth – for jobs, wages, pensions, etc. – been met. In the final analysis, none of these demands – democratic, political, social, or economic – can be achieved by a regime that is unwilling to break with capitalism and carry out a socialist programme.

The demonstration called on January 25 to mark the anniversary was of comparable size to those seen at the beginning of the revolution one year ago. Reports suggest that over 300,000 took part in the marches to Tahrir Square from various districts in Cairo, with hundreds of thousands more arriving in Tahrir throughout the day.

Photo: Jonathan RashadThere was, however, a notable tension amongst the crowd between the different layers in society, which have become increasingly differentiated over the course of the past 12 months. Although the revolution began with one clear demand – “Down with the dictator! Mubarak must go!” – there are clearly different interests that have become more apparent over time. At its root, these represent the different class interests in Egyptian society. On the one hand are certain wealthy and middle-class layers, for whom the revolution is complete. For such people, the anniversary of the revolution was merely a festivity, after which everyone should quietly proceed back to their homes and stop making any more fuss. On the other hand are the workers, the urban poor, the peasants, and the youth, for whom the revolution is far from over. This vast mass of society was clearly present at the anniversary demonstration, with effigies of SCAF chief Hussian Tantawi and chants of “down, down with the military regime”. One slogan on display summed up the attitude of many towards the anniversary demonstration: “This is a revolution, not a celebration.

The Muslim Brotherhood

The anniversary demonstrations on 25th January 2012 were followed by almost daily anti-SCAF protests in Tahrir Square and at other significant and symbolic locations such as the state television building in Maspero, which was the scene of violent clashes between the military and a Coptic-led protest in October 2011.

One notable feature of these demonstrations has been the continued clashes – both verbal and physical – between the Muslim Brotherhood and the revolutionaries, with continued chants against the Brotherhood, who are seen by many to be a cosy ally of the SCAF regime. Ever since the beginning of the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood has distanced itself from mass demonstrations, and in many cases has openly come out against the protests, telling its own supporters to stay away. This has led to splits within the MB, with the more revolutionary layers – mainly amongst the youth – openly criticising their older, conservative leaders and defying them by joining the demonstrations. The leaders of the Brotherhood are seen as extremely opportunistic, only interested in winning seats in the new parliament, with no interest in solving the problems facing the masses. One protestor told Ahram Online, an Egyptian news site, that “we are chanting against the Muslim Brotherhood because they are here to 'celebrate' the anniversary, but there is no reason to celebrate. The officers who have killed the demonstrators are free and Mubarak’s trial is a joke.”

Much has been made in the bourgeois media about the electoral victories of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt last November (and of other Islamist parties elsewhere in the Arab world), and no space is spared to warn us of the “threat of Islamism” in these countries. But as we have explained elsewhere in relation to Egypt and Tunisia, these elections were notable for high rates of abstention, with the mass of people unable to see a party that represents their interests, i.e. the real aims of the revolution. In the case of Egypt, the elections in November 2011 were preceded by days and weeks of protests against the SCAF regime and the way in which it was organising the electoral process, rightly seen by many to be a sham. The Muslim Brotherhood leaders continually opposed these protests, and in some cases even organised their own separate counter-demonstrations.

The chants against the Muslim Brotherhood leaders at these latest demonstrations, accompanied by the desertion of the many revolutionary youth from the Brotherhood, show that the MB will not have a smooth ride if they come to power once the elections are over. Like the SCAF regime, they will still be faced with a multitude of political and social demands that they will not be able to achieve without a sharp turn to the left – a turn that would be anathema to the leading figures who currently decide the Brotherhood’s policies.

>On February 1 the situation in Egypt took a new turn with the death of 74 football supporters at a match in the city of Port Said. At the end of a match between the local side, Masry football club, and Ahly, a football club in Cairo, Masry supporters stormed the pitch and charged towards the Ahly fans. Whether or not the Masry charge was led by agent provocateurs or by lumpen hooligans is unclear; what is clear, however, is that the local police and security forces in the stadium did nothing to prevent the Masry supporters from charging at the Ahly fans. According to one report on Twitter: “Police opened the way for hordes of Masry fans to reach us… when Ahly fans tried to run away they found exits which are normally open at the end of the match were locked.”

Thousands gathered at the main train station in Cairo the next morning to meet the returning supporters, with thousands more gathering in Tahrir Square during the day on February 2. Ahly fans, known as the Ultras Ahlawy, put aside any rivalries and joined up with supporters of Zamalek football club, known as the Ultras White Knights. Chants of “down, down with the regime” were once again heard as the two sets of football supporters marched, together with political groups, to the interior ministry to demand that the military rulers step down.

The Ultras have been at the forefront of the revolution since its beginning, famously organising protection against the hired thugs of Mubarak in the early days of the movement and defending demonstrations against the attacks by security forces ever since. Many now see the police response at the February 1 football match as retribution for the prominent and revolutionary role of the football supporters, blaming the Egyptian security forces for the scale of the casualties in the stadium. One supporter stated that, “It’s political...Ultras Ahlawy is being targeted for its role in the revolution.” According to numerous reports, the security forces, which normally have a strong presence at matches to prevent clashes between fans, were notable for their reduced numbers and passive response to the violence by Masry supporters. Another Ahly supporter said the following to Ahram Online:

“The police deliberately absented themselves from this match to increase the violence... It is clear that the fight was arranged and the security forces participated in this, to take the spotlight away from the revolution. The state needs people to be focused on something else.”

If the events at the Masry-Ahly football match were purposefully organised by the state to distract the masses then, unfortunately for the SCAF and the police, these tactics had the opposite effect, with the masses blaming the ruling military council and the interior ministry for the bloody events in Port Said on February 1. In a revolutionary situation, when the class struggle is at its most heightened and the tensions in society reach their peak, any spark will easily find a vast mass of highly combustible material that is ready to ignite, often with explosive consequences. The February 2 protest continued over the next two days and nights as the Ultras, defending themselves with sticks and stones, clashed with the Central Security Forces (CSF), who fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd. Reports suggest a further five deaths and nearly 1,500 injuries during the night’s battles.

General strike

In addition to the revolution’s anniversary demonstrations and the protests of football supporters, numerous groups are threatening a campaign of civil disobedience to mark the anniversary of Mubarak’s departure on February 11. The campaign has been called for by an array of political groups, including trade unions and student unions, with tactics such as the non-payment of taxes and utility bills being promoted. Protest marches are being planned, with university students pledging to join in, and the call for a general strike is even being made. Once again, the Muslim Brotherhood leadership have publically opposed such tactics, with MB General Secretary Mahmoud Hussein stating that:

“These calls are extremely dangerous and threaten the nation and its future... A general strike would see train traffic halted, no transportation, and no work in factories, institutes or universities.”

“It also means no one would pay taxes to the government or fees for public utilities, which would damage the already crippled economy and lead to the country's decline."

Hussein’s statement is correct – a general strike by Egyptian workers has the potential to bring the economy to a standstill. After all, as is often said, not a light bulb shines, not a telephone rings, and not a wheel turns without the kind permission of the working class. Unfortunately, however, Hussein draws the opposite conclusion to the Marxists in relation to this fact. For Hussein, a general strike is “extremely dangerous” and a threat to “the nation and its future” that would “lead to the country’s decline”. Of course, what Hussein is really worried about is the threat to the profits of big business and the capitalists, whose interests he has at heart.

For Marxists, however, the general strike is not a standalone act. It is a display of the power of the working class, which, if organised correctly by a revolutionary leadership, can imbue the masses with confidence and pose the question of power in society. Rather than simply aiming to cripple the economy, an indefinite general strike should be used as a call for workers to occupy workplaces, set up factory committees and local councils, and begin to run production in their own interests, not those of the bosses and their political representatives in power.

It was a wave of strikes across Egypt one year ago that gave Mubarak the final push needed for him to topple. In addition, the creation of over 150 independent trade unions and the continued strike action over the past 12 months indicate the potential for the Egyptian working class to take action now on a higher level than before. The size and frequency of the mass demonstrations over the past year show the depths of support that the revolution has.

All the objective factors for the revolution to succeed are present, and have been so since the beginning of the revolution. The military regime offers no way out for the masses; instead it weakly stumbles and staggers from one event to the next. The liberal and Islamist political groups that wait in the wings provide no alternative either. Intermediate layers in society, such as the students, show a strong desire for the continuation and escalation of the struggles. Previously “middle-class” layers such as the teachers, academics, and doctors are at the forefront of the strikes over wages and improved conditions. The courage of the masses in the face of brutal police attacks shows no limits.

The main factor that is missing is the subjective factor of a revolutionary leadership. In the absence of this, the revolution will be protracted, with many more months and years of ebb and flow ahead. Events in Egypt, the Middle East, and the rest of the world are developing at an ever increasing pace. It is the task of the Marxists to intervene in these events, analyse the contradictions facing society, and patiently explain the necessary steps that must be taken; in other words, to build the forces of Marxism and forge the weapon of revolutionary leadership that is needed to put an end to the barbarism of capitalism.