As these lines are being written revolution and counter-revolution are facing each other on the streets of Egypt. Cairo's Tahrir Square has once again become the focal point of the revolution. Over the weekend, clashes broke out once again in Tahrir Square as the police tried to clear it of activists who were demanding the end of military rule. Driven by the whip of the counter-revolution tens of thousands of revolutionaries are retaking their positions in the square where the revolution had played out its first acts.
The health ministry confirmed that the numbers killed on Sunday and into Monday had risen from 11 to 20, but the figures continue to rise as we write. Also, thousands across the country have been severely injured by rubber coated metal bullets and a particularly aggressive type of tear gas that is being used. This is the longest continuous protest since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February.
Activists from several political tendencies and groupings had occupied the square since Friday. Their demands were for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to set a clear date for ending military rule. The SCAF has organized parliamentary elections for next week, but it is clear that the constitutional amendments that the SCAF has introduced, leaves the parliament that will emerge from such the elections as a mere fig leaf for the continued rule of the military.
All through the weekend there were movements back and forth as the army tried to retake Tahrir Square and oust the protestors. Following these deadly stand-offs and after severe clashes at sunset, thousands of protesters regained their ground, successfully expelling the military police and soldiers – dressed in riot gear and wielding bludgeons and electroshock weapons – which stood before rows of Central Security Forces (CSF) firing barrage after barrage of tear gas. The streets of central Cairo were filled with fleeing protesters, weaving their way through burning trees and thick clouds of toxic gas.
The participants where primarily rank and file members of all opposition organisations. Many of them where defying their own leaderships by being present. One member of the Muslim Brotherhood told the Financial Times: “The Brotherhood has so far decided it will not participate, but I as an individual felt I must come, because I believe we must protect the revolution, and the continuation of the revolution. This is our duty at this moment, and not to just set up chairs in an air-conditioned hall.”
Another protestor told the same paper: “We were here, we were running away with an injured man, when we heard a shot and someone behind fell. One of us rushed to help him, but he too was shot down. I was planning to return to my job on Wednesday, but now I am staying, so that their blood would not have been shed in vain.”
These comments are a clear indication of the mood among the masses. The situation has now assumed a logic of its own and has been developing further today (Monday) as well.
The Guardian's Jack Shenker reports:
“After more than 48 hours of intense fighting on the streets of Cairo, the question today was always going to be whether momentum behind the protests began to slip away or whether it started to grow.
“Although the situation is extremely fluid, the answer right now appears to be the latter – the latest chants from Tahrir Square are for the trial or execution of Scaf head Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, while messages are rapidly circulating about a so-called 'million-man' march on the centre of the capital tomorrow.
“Adding to the sense of political crisis, at least one member of the interim cabinet - culture minister Abu Ghazi - has resigned, whilst unrest has reportedly spread to new towns like Damietta (already the site of public anger last week) and Damanhour in the Nile Delta, and Qena in Upper Egypt.
“In an effort to retain credibility, civilian political leaders - who have proved themselves to be largely out of step with the revolutionaries and the street during the past few days - are being forced to come down to Tahrir and affirm the right to peaceful protest.
“Meanwhile there is little let-up in the bloodshed, with the death toll still mounting and security forces showing no sign of backing down from confrontation.
“Some protesters are now writing their parents' contact details on their arms in case they are killed on the front-line, whilst a makeshift morgue set up in the square has put out a chilling note warning that it has run out of coffins.”
The SCAF unmasked
The Mubarak regime was overthrown by a revolutionary movement of the Egyptian masses. But the masses, taking their first steps onto the stage of history, did not have any clear plan of what to do once the dictator had been removed. In fact on a number of occasions, especially in the last week before Mubarak resigned, power was in the streets waiting for someone to pick it up, but the so-called leaders of the movement refused to take power. They limited their demand to calling for Mubarak to leave, but they refused to take up the question of his state or of the Egyptian economy that was, and still is, owned and controlled by the old ruling circles.
Thus power ended up in the hands of the SCAF who, encouraged by the leaders of the movement, as well as by US imperialism, stepped in to avert a complete disaster for Egyptian capitalism. The historical role of the Egyptian army and the backing it received from all “opposition” forces gave the SCAF a certain legitimacy in the eyes of the masses. Bur experience teaches, and now these illusions are all evaporating.
The post-Mubarak transition has been a bitter-sweet experience for those who put their lives on the line to remove the hated dictator. The former president and many of those around him are now in prison or on trial, but the military junta that took over has proved in many ways to be just as repressive. In March the military-installed government and the SCAF passed a law prohibiting strikes and protests; more than 12,000 political prisoners are still locked up by military tribunals; and the army is constantly found on the opposite site of the barricades when workers and poor try to use their newly won democratic rights to struggle for better living conditions. In short, since January, the role of the top brass of the army, who itself owns vast parts of the Egyptian economy, has been to attempt derail the movement in order to safeguard the interests of Egyptian capitalism and its masters in Washington. This serves to underline the fact that although the head of the regime was removed the body has remained firmly in place.
The events of this weekend come after several months when the tensions between the masses and the SCAF had been on the rise. While the SCAF regime has been manoeuvring to divert the revolution into safe channels, the workers and poor, that emerged from the revolution immensely confident, have become more and more radicalised. They understand that the mere removal of Mubarak is not enough to solve their main problems. They are demanding jobs, higher wages, better living conditions and in many instances the expropriation of the property of people who are connected to the old regime.
On this basis several strike waves have developed. In September a wave of strikes spread all over the country. Hundreds of thousands of workers launched strikes, sit-ins and marches to protest their working conditions. The demands that are developing are very radical and challenge the very foundations of Egyptian capitalism.
For instance, some 700 textile workers at the Indorama Shebin al-Kom Textile Company – which was privatized in 2007 – went on strike, and even occupied the Munifiya Governorate headquarters to demand the re-nationalization of their company, as well as improved working conditions and wages.
In many places the workers have won big victories, but they are meeting tough resistance from the authorities. For instance in the Tanta Flax and Oils Company the workers staged an occupation on 13 November in a bid to enforce a recent court decision to return the company to the public sector. In Mahalla, the home of Egypt’s biggest industrial complex, tanks have been deployed in front of the textile factories.
Transition to “democracy”
One of the main demands of the revolution was for free and fair elections. But from the beginning it was clear that the SCAF were not going to leave the question of power up to chance. The election laws drawn up right after the revolution heavily favoured all those organisations that had a consolidated organisation and network. This meant an overwhelming advantage to groups organized by the old regime and the Muslim Brotherhood who had a position of a semi-legal loyal opposition under Mubarak.
At the same time the SCAF has circulated a document with proposals for the constitution that would grant the military supra-constitutional powers as the guardian of “constitutional legitimacy” and keep the army's internal affairs and budget exempt from civilian control.
These factors led a series of left-wing parties, such as the Egyptian Communist party, to boycott the elections.
The Muslim Brotherhood stand to win an overwhelming majority in the elections. This is not because they enjoy the support of the majority, of the population but mainly because they are the only organized political force in Egypt with an established nationwide network and also because they have been receiving massive funding from large layers of businessmen (and reportedly also from the Qatari regime).
In any case, it was clear from the beginning that whoever wins the elections will have to abide by the wishes of the SCAF. The role of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the other Islamist organisations who were in electoral alliance with it, would merely be that of a rubber stamp of the new military dictatorship.
However, as the true nature of the SCAF was sinking into the consciousness of the masses, pressure was also piling up within the Brotherhood. Along with other organisations it was forced to support a demonstration called on Friday to demand that the SCAF present a specific date for the transition to civilian rule.
The leaders of the Brotherhood were being discredited because of their support for the SCAF and their constant calls for restraint and “patience” on the part of the workers. Their idea was to call a one day protest to let off some steam, but then to continue as they have done so far.
Unfortunately for these gentlemen the revolution develops a logic of its own and the masses will not abide by the dictates of anyone once they have had a taste of their own power. The demonstration of last Friday has now gone far beyond what anybody had expected. With the developments of the past few days, the elections next week will not have the degree of legitimacy the military would have wished for.
It is clear to all that the question of power will not be settled in the ballot box but on the streets. Already a million man march has been called for this Friday. Meanwhile the workers from a factory in Suez – the workers of which played a key role in the general strike that gave the death blow to Mubarak – have called for an indefinite general strike. This is a clear sign that the days of the SCAF are numbered. The Muslim Brotherhood and the other Islamic parties, wary of rocking the boat too much, have yet not responded to such a call.
What stage are we at?
The Egyptian revolution – the vanguard of the Arab revolution – was a decisive turning point in world history. Millions of Arabs took the streets in an impressive show of force. Cutting through the idea that nothing could be done to remove the hated regimes across the Middle East, the masses seemed to sweep away everything in their path. When the dust had settled one of the biggest oppressive machines in the world had been brought to its knees and Hosni Mubarak had become only the second dictator, after Ben Ali in Tunisia, to have been overthrown by a mass movement in modern Arab history.
This opened up a whole new period, not only in the Middle East, but across the world. Cutting across all cultural, national and religious barriers, the revolution united all the oppressed masses against the Egyptian ruling class and its imperialist masters.
In doing this it completely exposed the so-called theory of the Clash of Civilisations put forward by Samuel Huntington who argued that the time of class struggle was over and that in the future the clash of cultures would decide the course of history.
The revolution managed in a few weeks to do more than the petit-bourgeois reformists and NGOs had tried to do for decades. Based on this fact alone the revolution was fully justified and has been a success.
However, the revolution now poses new questions. Although on the surface everything has changed, it is equally true to say that objectively speaking nothing fundamental has changed. The old state apparatus is still intact, and the economy is still dominated by the rulers who were thought to have been defeated. At the same time the left organisations are small and insignificant while Islamic liberal and conservative parties appear to have grown.
Many bourgeois “experts”, and even some “lefts” echoing the same commentators, have reached the conclusion that the revolution has been defeated. This shows their utter ignorance of the laws governing the movement of the workers. Events are exposing these ideas I am writing.
The process that we are witnessing today in Egypt is one that we observe in all revolutions. Trotsky explained in his masterpiece The History of the Russian Revolution that the Russian workers after overthrowing the Tsar had power in their hands, but they did not know what to do with it, and therefore it was usurped out of their hands and put into the hands of the provisional government who had been appointed by the Tsar. Initially demoralisation spread through the masses and in the months of July and August reaction ruled over Russia, forcing the Bolshevik leaders to go into hiding.
However, under the surface a new revolution was being prepared. The masses, who initially had great illusions in the provisional government, learned through their own experience, that it could not even satisfy their most basic demands or provide the most basic forms of democracy. The Bolsheviks through patient explanation managed to connect their programme of socialist revolution with the movement of the masses. They explained that the Russian masses could only achieve their demands if they took power into their own hands.
The same process is unfolding in Egypt today. The Marxists always had full trust in the revolution. However, we also explained that a revolution is not a linear process. In the absence of a truly revolutionary leadership the movement will necessarily take a number of detours and learn through painful experience; through trial and error.
Therefore the next period will see the rise and fall of many tendencies and parties. The days of the SCAF are numbered, in fact some reports suggest that the government has handed in its resignation, but that the SCAF has not accepted it. But who will succeed the SCAF? Already the liberal Mohammed El Baradei, always on the lookout to reap the fruits sown by the masses, has stepped forward to offer his services in calming the situation down and saving the day for capitalism. But El Baradei, having been thoroughly exposed during the revolution, would last even less time than the SCAF.
The Muslim Brotherhood is preparing to step in, but a government led by them would not be much more stable. Already the more advanced, active layers can see through the Brotherhood. For example, today one of their candidates, Mohamed Beltagy was expelled from Tahrir by protestors as he tried to reach the square. The Muslim Brotherhood, however, although discredited in the eyes of most activists, still has support among the more inert layers of the masses, but this in no way signals the victory of reaction in Egypt. It is merely one stage in a long drawn out process.
The point is this: Whoever comes to power in the context of the Egyptian revolution will immediately be faced with demands from the masses who want a solution to their main problems – lack of genuine democracy, low wages, poverty and unemployment.
The cause of the Egyptian revolution lies in the capitalist system that is not able to give the most basic concessions to the masses. But none of the established parties are willing to challenge capitalism as a system. In fact they defend the capitalist order and that is why they will not be able to address the main demands of the people and will therefore come into conflict with the masses at some stage.
On the other hand, the workers and youth are still imbued with confidence from their victories in the spring of 2011. They will test every party that comes to power. Initially there can be a period in which they will wait to see what is being offered, but inevitably these parties will be found wanting. Therefore, the present lack of a clear revolutionary alternative does not mean the end of the revolution. On the contrary, the situation is building up towards new uprisings. The present situation is providing precious lessons for the masses and therefore a new revolution is inevitably being prepared.
Attention is now focussed on this coming tomorrows mobilisations. Action committees must be set-up in all neighbourhoods and factories in the preparation for the march and in order to coordinate and broaden the general strike. All forces must now be mobilised to bring down the Junta. For the Egyptian masses, the lesson is this: Only trust yourselves and your own powers – you, the masses, have driven the revolution forward and only you will guarantee its final success.
Thawra Hatta Al Nasr!Forward to Final Victory!