«Fini l’injustice» - Devant le ministère de la Santé
au Caire, le 14 février
Les récupérateurs de la Coalition des Jeunes de la Révolution, après avoir rencontré les militaires dimanche soir, déclaraient qu’un gouvernement civil serait mieux à même de mettre fin aux grèves. «Je pense que beaucoup de ces grèves seront résolues en nommant un gouvernement de coalition rapidement», a dit Shadi El Ghazali à la presse. (Traduit par nos soins.)
Egypt After Mubarak: Labor Strikes Escalate
Employees of the bank, transport, tourism and police sectors, as well as factory workers, demonstrated today to demand better wages, contracts and benefits. As waves of labor strikes escalated across Egypt, the new military government took additional steps to subdue protesters while urging all stripes of demonstrators to go home.
The labor unrest continued to shut down parts of the country, thwarting the return to normal urged by the now all-powerful military, which took control of the country when President Hosni Mubarak stepped down Friday.
The armed forces have taken steps to control and appease the population, including opening a dialogue with youth activists who organized the initial demonstrations that continue to send shock waves throughout the Middle East.
Parvis du bâtiment de la radio-télévision
au Caire, au matin du 15 février
The Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution, a self-selected alliance of pro-democracy groups that organized the Jan. 25 protests, said today it met with military leaders Sunday night to discuss reforms.
Today, the coalition issued its demands for a transition to civilian rule by establishing a technocratic government within 30 days, saying a new legitimate government would better stop job walkouts.
“I think a lot of these strikes will be solved by changing the government, which I stressed on about the coalition government and how it should be quickly met,” Shadi El Ghazaly, a leading member of the youth coalition, told reporters.
The group said the army had taken steps in the right direction by opening a dialogue with the coalition, but urged a 12-point reform program for the next six to nine months. The demands include a timeline for the end of a transitional period, the release of all political detainees and removing the three-decade-old emergency law.
The coalition set a 30-day deadline for a civilian technocratic council to replace the current cabinet, a remnant of Mubarak's time in office. It threatened continued demonstrations if its demands are not met.
“We are asking the government to choose them, but they know who we trust and we know who we don't trust,” El Ghazaly told AOL News. “We're telling them [the military] the kind of people that we want, and we hope they will respect that.”
A military statement read on television said Egypt needed a calmer climate in this “critical stage” to eventually transfer power to an elected civilian administration. It did not specify a date. It also warned that continued demonstrations would hurt the country's security and economy, giving power to “irresponsible parties” to commit “illegal acts,” according to The Associated Press.
The youth coalition said it was planning on meeting the army again this week to continue to press demands, calling the first meeting a “zero point” to establish a dialogue. The group acknowledged that it does not represent everyone who demonstrated in Cairo's Tahrir Square but is a “channel” for dialogue with the new military government.
The coalition includes members of the April 6 Youth Movement, the Muslim Brotherhood Youth, supporters of Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and independent activists. In a sign of the youth-led revolt, the group's demands also included lowering the age for parliamentarian candidates to 25 and for presidential candidates to 35. Currently, parliamentarian candidates must be at least 30 and presidential candidates 40.
On Sunday, the army suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament, both welcome moves to demonstrators who have been calling for new elections and a new constitution. The armed forces pledged that free and fair elections would be held under a revised constitution, but did not give a timetable.
The army also promised to lift the country's draconian state of emergency, but again did not specify a deadline, and said the cabinet, appointed by Mubarak last month, would remain in power.
The spontaneous protests initially drew strength from their disparate members, but with Egypt in transition, disagreement over the negotiation process with the military continues to emerge. Some doubt the sincerity of the army, which formed the backbone of Mubarak's 30-year regime, and disapprove of negotiating with the top of the command chain.
“Now the military junta are making more or less useless statements which do not really say anything, except that they are the ones in charge, giving us promises about the transition to democracy,” said Hossam El Hamalawy, a journalist and prominent blogger on workers' movements. “They are now warning against so-called chaos instigated by industrial actions. However, let's remember … the working class are the ones who toppled Mubarak.
“Those striking Egyptian workers are not going home anytime soon. They cannot go home to their starving children to tell them the military promised us that they will solve our problems within X number of months. These are both economic and political demands by the working class that have to be met immediately,” El Hamalawy said. “These strikes constitute our only hope that we have a revolution that's unfinished, to be completed.”
Leur presse (Sarah A. Topol,
AOL News), 14 février 2011.
Occupation de la gare de Mansoura - 14 février
Grève des travailleurs du transport du Caire - 14 février
Les ouvriers demandent la dissolution de la Fédération syndicale étatique
Workers demand dissolution of state-run trade union federation
Around 500 workers and labor activists congregated outside the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) on Monday to demand the federation’s dissolution. Protesters gathered at 4 PM and chanted slogans calling for the right to conduct peaceful labor strikes, the trial of ETUF leaders, and the right to establish independent unions.
“The federation is a den of thieves; the federation is a group of thugs,” protesters chanted. Dozens attempted to storm and occupy the ETUF headquarters at around 5 PM. ETUF security responded by beating protesters out of the building, which led to rocks being thrown back and forth. ETUF employees and security began to hurl bottles, sticks and rocks from the floors above, injuring a number of protesters and journalists.
An army jeep drove up to the shattered gates of the ETUF headquarters, and a soldier and officer brandishing guns stepped out and pushed the opposing factions away from each other. Three ETUF employees involved in the melee were detained for questioning.
The officer called on three representatives from among the protesters to spell out their demands. Meanwhile, protesters chanted, “The people demand the removal of the federation,” while others held up signs reading, “Put on trial those responsible for profiteering from privatization.” The largest number of workers in attendance were those from the independent Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Employees (RETA Union).
RETA Union President Kamal Abu Eita grabbed a megaphone and spelled out the demands. “We demand the dissolution of the federation. We call on general prosecutor to freeze the accounts of [ETUF President] Hussein Megawer and all other federation officials. We demand the right to establish independent trade unions and official recognition of these free unions.”
Megawer and his finances are currently being investigated by the general prosecutor's office. The ETUF president has been prevented from leaving the country until these investigations are concluded.
On February 6, the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers' Services (CTUWS) filed a lawsuit against Megawer on charges of misappropriating funds and misrepresenting workers and unions. CTUWS Director Kamal Abbas told protesters outside the ETUF that “this Federation no longer represents Egypt's workers or unions.” He demanded the swift investigation of Megawer's finances and those of other ETUF officials.
Abbas added: “On January 30, a new independent federation was established including the Unions of the Real Estate Tax Authority, the Egyptian Health Technologists' Syndicate, the independent Teachers' Syndicate, and the Pensioners' Syndicate. This is the only legitimate trade union federation in Egypt.”
All of the aforementioned unions and syndicates were established over the course of the last two years, independent of the ETUF. Egypt's trade unions have been under state control since 1957. Since then, only two labor strikes have been authorized, while independent trade unions have been harassed and their activities obstructed. The federation has 24 general unions, 22 of which are presided over by members of ousted president Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party.
The ETUF had planned to postpone its elections this year in order to support the re-election of President Mubarak, and so as not to overlap with presidential elections slated for later this year.
Leur presse (Jano Charbel,
Al-Masry Al-Youm), 14 février.
des syndicats au Caire, le 14 février
La révolution continue dans toute l’Égypte
Quatre morts et 65 blessés dans des combats à Port Saïd — opposant «ex-détenus» et «voyous» d’après leur presse —, où le gouverneur Mostafa Abdel Latif a dû fuir ses bureaux pour trouver refuge dans une station touristique. À l’hôpital de la ville, on dit que le bilan doit être plus lourd, les évadés évitant évidemment d’aller se faire recenser à l’hôpital.
À Beni Suef, la police a ouvert le feu et arrêté 5 personnes lors de l’incendie de deux locaux municipaux. Les pillards se sont enfuis avec du matériel informatique et des meubles.
À Minya, deux prisonniers ont été tués et 11 autres blessés lors d’une tentative d’évasion. L’attaque de la prison, menée de l’extérieur, a duré deux heures.
Traduit par nos soins.
Armed clashes erupt between citizens in several Egyptian cities
Due to the absence of police security, armed clashes erupted between citizens in three cities, killing six people and wounding 80 others.
In the city of Port Said, four people died and 65 were wounded in a fight between ex-convicts and thugs. The City General Hospital said casualties could be more, as ex-convicts typically do not seek treatment in hospitals, fearing they would be arrested by police.
Governor Mostafa Abdel Latif evacuated his office and relocated to a tourist resort. He asked the armed forces to increase its presence and restore order or declare a curfew in the city.
In the city of Beni Suef, thugs set fire to two warehouses of the local council, seizing computers and furniture. Police arrested five of them after an exchange of gun fire.
In the city of Minya, two convicts died and 11 others were wounded in clashes lasting two hours with police as thugs tried to storm the city’s jail to free prisoners inside.
Leur presse (Al-Masry Al-Youm), 14 février.
Dans le métro du Caire, le peuple a rebaptisé
la station «Moubarak» en station des «Martyrs»
Mouvement de grogne sociale en Égypte, que l'armée appelle à cesser
Des milliers de fonctionnaires égyptiens se sont mis en grève et ont manifesté lundi au Caire et dans d'autres villes du pays pour réclamer de meilleurs salaires et conditions de travail, dans la foulée du soulèvement qui a poussé au départ le président Hosni Moubarak. L'armée désormais au pouvoir a rapidement réagi, appelant les contestataires à cesser le mouvement de grogne.
Des centaines de salariés des transports publics ont défilé près du bâtiment de la radio publique, alors que ceux de l'Organisation gouvernementale de la Jeunesse et des Sports manifestaient sur la désormais célèbre place Tahrir. Sur l'autre rive du Nil, dans la capitale, des centaines de conducteurs d'ambulance se sont également rassemblés avec des revendications similaires.
La Banque centrale d'Égypte, de son côté, a décidé de fermer ses bureaux dans tout le pays en raison de la grève des employés de la Banque nationale et de plusieurs autres institutions bancaires du pays. Un mouvement de grève affecte aussi la compagnie aérienne nationale EgyptAir, qui a programmé seulement 31 vols internationaux et 12 dessertes intérieures ce lundi, contre au total 145 liaisons quotidiennes. L'agence officielle Mena a fait état de manifestations dans d'autres villes, dont Assouan (sud) et Alexandrie (nord).
Pour la deuxième journée consécutive, par ailleurs, plusieurs centaines de policiers ont manifesté lundi devant le ministère de l'Intérieur, pour réclamer de meilleurs salaires mais aussi plaider leur cause. Nombre de ces policiers affirment ne pas être responsables de la répression qui a coûté la vie à de nombreux manifestants fin janvier. «C'est dur pour nous de retourner au travail, parce que les gens nous détestent», expliquait un capitaine. La police est honnie en Égypte, pour sa brutalité et sa corruption durant les années Moubarak.
«C'est dur pour nous de retourner au travail,
parce que les gens nous détestent»
Aux commandes du pays depuis la démission du président Moubarak, l'armée a rapidement fait comprendre qu'elle ne tolérerait pas que le mouvement de grogne prenne de l'ampleur. Dans un communiqué lu à la télévision nationale, un porte-parole du Conseil suprême des forces armées en a appelé à la responsabilité de chacun pour qu'en cette «période cruciale» de l'Égypte, un climat apaisé puisse permettre la transition promise par les militaires vers un gouvernement civil élu.
La poursuite des grèves et manifestations, avertit l'armée, mettrait en péril l'économie du pays et permettrait à des «éléments irresponsables» de perpétrer des «actes illégaux». Le communiqué ne fournit pas d'autres détails.
Parallèlement, les généraux au pouvoir ont rencontré dimanche des représentants des groupes de jeunes et cyber-militants à l'origine du soulèvement.
Wahel Ghonim, qui a émergé comme un des porte-parole du mouvement, a jugé cet entretien encourageant. Les militaires, a-t-il expliqué sur sa page Facebook lundi, ont annoncé que des amendements à la Constitution — suspendue dimanche — seraient préparés dans les dix jours par un comité indépendant, puis soumis à référendum dans deux mois. «Nous avons senti un désir sincère de protéger les gains de la révolution et un respect sans précédent pour le droit des jeunes Égyptiens à exprimer leurs opinions», a déclaré Wahel Ghonim.
Les guides et professionnels du tourisme ont eux aussi manifesté lundi devant les pyramides, à Gizeh près du Caire, pour appeler les touristes à revenir en Égypte. «Dites à tout le monde que l'Égypte est sûre. Nous sommes prêts à accueillir des millions et des millions de gens comme avant. S'il vous plaît, revenez», a lancé Shahindar Adel, un guide.
Leur presse (AP), 14 février.
Assiut workers protest living conditions
Thousands of workers and employees from the Upper Egyptian city of Assiut protested today, calling for better living conditions and higher pay, and condemning corrupt officials who headed government bodies under the ousted regime.
Approximately 1500 employees from a local businessmen's association staged a sit-in for the second consecutive day to demand permanent contracts, higher pay and better working conditions.
Mohamed Zaki, one of the protesting employees, said that after working with the association for several years he receives a monthly salary of only LE250. Meanwhile top-ranking managers receive much higher salaries, he added.
Around 4000 workers from the Assiut Cement Company also staged a sit-in to demand permanent contracts and to call for a profit-sharing system as well as to express their rejection of the daily-wage basis for work.
The workers also called for returning the company to its former Egyptian owners instead of the current Mexican owner, who they say purchased the factory at an extremely low price.
Another 2000 workers from the Assiut Fertilizer Factory organized a sit-in to demand better compensation and permanent contracts and called for the departure of the general manager of the factory.
Leur presse (Al-Masry Al-Youm), 14 février.
Grève des travailleurs du gaz et du pétrole
Manif devant le ministère à Nasr City, le 13 février
Des milliers de travailleurs de plusieurs entreprises du gaz et du pétrole sont en grève, manifestant devant le ministère du Pétrole à Nasr City le 13 février. Parmi leurs revendications économiques et sociales : la fin des pratiques managériales abusives concernant les licenciements, la réintégration des ouvriers licenciés, la hausse des salaires à 400 LE, la création d’un syndicat indépendant, la destitution du ministre corrompu Sameh Fahmy, et l’arrêt de l’exportation de gaz vers Israël.
Les porcs reprennent la rue
Hypocrisy of Police Protests in Cairo
I was having lunch with a fellow journalist friend at Cilantro, a small cafe on a side-street off Tahrir Square, when all of a sudden we spot a couple of thousand police on strike marching towards us and headed for Tahrir Square. From my vantage point on the second-floor balcony I was able to record the entire thing. As we watched the police flood by, a number of other Egyptians at the cafe joined us on the balcony to watch the spectacle.
The sentiment among each of them was the same… they commented on how the police officers who just last week were breaking bones in Tahrir Square, looting across the city and joining the baltagia (pro-Mubarak thugs-for-hire who violently attacked protestors on Feb 2nd), were now protesting in an attempt to fix their tarnished image among Egyptians. The hypocricy of the protesting police — chanting slogans crafted by Jan25 protestors and occupying the same square which they violently attempted to empty last week — was not lost on any of the spectators at the cafe.
As the police marched by, hair glossed up and aviators shining, I couldn't help but remember that after Ben Ali fled Tunisia, the Tunisian police who had cracked down on #sidibouzid protestors, staged a simmilar march in the aftermath of the revolution complaining that they had been maligned by the media. Ha!
Lesson for the history books… if you stand on the wrong side of history, no shallow symbolism will correct your error. The people's collective memory runs deep, and i imagine it will be long before the Egyptian people forgive the police for their heinous crimes during #Jan25.
Assia Boundaoui, 14 février.
Interior Ministry counts losses
The Egyptian Interior Ministry has started identifying human losses and other damage it sustained during the 25 January revolution, in order to rebuild and restore the police apparatus.
Six officers, 11 policemen and 15 recruits were killed during clashes with protesters, while 342 officers, 167 policemen and 570 recruits were injured, according to a statement issued by the ministry on Monday.
Ninety-nine police stations, six prisons and a number of civil protection units and police vehicles were burned across Egypt. Some prison fences collapsed.
Necessary measures are being taken, according to the ministry, to restore the role of the police under a new slogan “The police serve the people.”
Leur presse (Al-Masry Al-Youm), 14 février.
La victoire d'un mouvement sans leader
L'absence de direction unifiée s'est avérée être une force pour une opposition défendant un agenda simple et radical, sur qui le pouvoir ne pouvait avoir aucune prise.
C'est un nouveau type de révolution qui a eu raison du régime de Hosni Moubarak. Une contestation menée à grand renfort de Facebook et de Twitter, mais aussi privée de l'appui d'institutions établies. Fédérant des groupes sociaux aux agendas objectivement différents, mouvements de jeunes, Frères musulmans, partis laïcs traditionnels, la contestation était dépourvue de toute direction collégiale ainsi que de porte-parole charismatiques à qui les manifestants auraient pu s'identifier. Ce qui pouvait apparaître comme une faiblesse rédhibitoire s'est révélé au contraire une force.
Ahmed Essily, un célèbre blogueur et animateur de télévision explique que «l'absence de direction mandatée empêchait le pouvoir d'avoir une prise sur nous. Des leaders peuvent être intimidés, manipulés, achetés, pris dans une négociation où le régime aurait fait quelques concessions pour se sauver». Au contraire, un mouvement sans tête et uni dans une revendication à la fois très simple et radicale — le départ immédiat de Hosni Moubarak — n'offrait aucune prise au pouvoir. Cette «stratégie de la savonnette» s'est avérée payante.
Toutefois, les manifestants n'étaient pas inorganisés. Une demi-douzaine de mouvements (le Mouvement du 6 avril de jeunes, ainsi que le Mouvement de la jeunesse en colère, les Frères musulmans, l'Alliance pour le changement de Mohamed ElBaradei) se consultaient informellement sur l'organisation de la vie place Tahrir. Les manifestants disposaient d'un «ministre de la Santé», de fournitures en boissons et couvertures.
La police militaire disperse les occupants
de la place Tahrir au Caire, le 13 février
Parce qu'il a déclenché la protestation le 25 janvier et qu'il n'appartenait pas au paysage politique traditionnel, le Mouvement du 6 avril a été sans conteste le plus influent durant les trois semaines de protestations. Il s'est inspiré du mouvement d'étudiants serbes Otpor (Résistance), qui avait lancé en 2000 les manifestations pacifiques ayant abouti, avec l'appui de l'armée, à la chute de Slobodan Milosevic. Otpor, qui a depuis été copié dans les «révolutions de couleur» en Ukraine, Géorgie, Kirghizstan, était soutenu par Freedom House, une association américaine de promotion de la démocratie créée en 1941 et partiellement financée par Washington. Le manuel d'action d'Otpor est le livre Les Politiques de l'action non-violente, publiée en 1973, du théoricien de la désobéissance civile Gene Sharp.
Pour autant, les témoignages recueillis place Tahrir indiquent que la contestation se serait peut être essoufflée sans les monumentales erreurs du régime, au premier rang desquelles la coupure d'Internet pendant cinq jours. «Internet fait partie de nos vies, désormais, c'est un droit fondamental, même pour les gens qui n'ont pas d'ordinateurs et ne s'en servent pas, souligne un jeune manifestant, voir notre pays ainsi coupé du monde pendant des jours a été vécu comme une punition humiliante, ce qui a mobilisé la population.»
Cette organisation sans leader s'avérera cependant bien moins adaptée à des négociations avec le nouveau pouvoir, lors desquelles les organisations traditionnelles devraient «reprendre la main».
Leur presse (Yves Bourdillon,
Les Échos), 14 février.
Mubarak's folly: The rising of Egypt's workers
Rarely do our rulers look more absurd than when faced with a popular upheaval. As fear and apathy are broken, ordinary people — housewives, students, sanitation workers, the unemployed — remake themselves. Having been objects of history, they become its agents. Marching in their millions, reclaiming public space, attending meetings and debating their society’s future, they discover in themselves capacities for organization and action they had never imagined. They arrest secret police, defend their communities and their rallies, organize the distribution of food, water and medical supplies. Exhilarated by new solidarities and empowered by the understanding that they are making history, they shed old habits of deference and passivity.
It is this — the self-transformation of oppressed people — that elites can never grasp. That is what explains the truly delusional character of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s speech on Thursday, February 10, where he prattled on in surreal disconnection from events. But while the aging dictator may be uniquely out of touch, he merely reflects the biases of his class. For it is a general characteristic of our rulers that they imagine those below them to be inherently stupid and deferential. They treat the downtrodden as laboring drones and cannon fodder for military adventures. They feed them lies and empty promises and send in the riot police when the subjugated get unruly. And most of the time they get away with it.
That is why popular revolutions are inexplicable to them. As ordinary people cast off resignation and obedience, as they take control of their communities and reclaim the streets, they become unrecognizable to their rulers. This is the real “intelligence failure” of the ruling class. Contrary to the terms of debate in security circles, it is not that they missed some indicators of institutional change; it is rather that all their models are based on the presumption of popular passivity. “Ordinary Egyptians have a reputation as fatalists,” pronounced a former Canadian diplomat to Egypt in the early days of the revolution, explaining that Egypt would not go the way of Tunisia, where dictator Ben Ali was toppled only weeks earlier. [Michael Bell, “Will Egypt go Tunisia’s way?” Globe and Mail, January 27, 2011.] In so doing, the diplomat revealed not only his own foolishness, but also the tone deaf incapacity of elites to comprehend people’s power.
After all, revolutions are not just about changing institutions. Most profoundly, they are about the dramatic remaking of the downtrodden. Revolutions are schools of profound self-education. They destroy submission and resignation, and they release long-repressed creative energies — intelligence, solidarity, invention, self-activity. In so doing, they reweave the fabric of everyday life. The horizons of possibility expand. The unthinkable — that ordinary people might control their lives — becomes both thinkable and practical.
All of this eludes bosses, bureaucrats, generals, politicians, and the vast majority of journalists because they do not understand the inner heart of a genuinely revolutionary process — that having taken to the stage of history, oppressed people are never again the same.
It is this error that explains the frantic tacking and turning of rulers confronted with mass insurgency. One moment they make concessions, the next moment they send in the goons — all in the belief that ordinary people can be beaten back into submission, or bribed with crumbs from the tables of the rich. But the longer they do this, the more they force the mass movement to broaden its base and deepen its struggles. President Ben Ali made this mistake in Tunisia; Mubarak keeps making it in Egypt. And by clinging to power in the face of mass opposition, they give the lowest layers of society the time and space to enter the political sphere. The result is that popular revolutions open the doors to great upsurges of working class struggle.
That has been Mubarak’s greatest folly. It is why Egyptian capitalists, parts of the Egyptian regime and the U.S. state have concluded that he has to go. But the genie of the Egyptian workers having now been awakened, it will be very hard to put it back in the bottle.
THE BIRTH OF POPULAR POWER
Philosopher Peter Hallward is among those few commentators who have grasped the inner workings of the Egyptian Revolution. Writing in the Guardian of London, he observes:
“Every step of the way, the basic fact of the uprising has become more obvious and more explicit: with each new confrontation, the protestors have realised, and demonstrated, that they are more powerful than their oppressors. When they are prepared to act in sufficient numbers with sufficient determination, the people have proved that there's no stopping them.
Again and again, elated protestors have marvelled at the sudden discovery of their own power.” [Peter Hallward, “Egypt’s popular revolution will change the world,” Guardian, February 9, 2011.]
Participants repeatedly describe how their fear has lifted. “When we stopped being afraid we knew we would win,” Ahmad Mahmoud told a reporter. “What we have achieved,” proclaimed another, “is the revolution in our minds.” The significance of such a revolution in attitudes is inestimable. But such shifts do not happen at the level of consciousness alone; they are inextricably connected to a revolution in the relations of everyday life — by way of the birth of popular power. And these new forms of people’s power and radical democracy from below have emerged as steps necessary to preserve the Revolution and keep it moving it forward.
So, when violently attacked, as they were on February 2, 2011, by undercover police and goons of the ruling party wielding guns, knives, Molotov cocktails and more, the insurgents held their ground and fought back, holding Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. In the process, they extended their grassroots self-organization. As reporters for the Washington Post noted, the rebels of Tahrir Square created popular prisons to hold undercover security forces, and people’s clinics to care for the wounded:
“Refusing to end their 10-day old demonstration, protesters set up makeshift hospitals in alleyways off the square to treat their wounded, and fashioned a holding cell in a nearby travel office to detain those they suspected of inciting the violence. Organizers said they had captured more than 350 ‘thugs of the government’ among the pro-government demonstrators, some carrying police identification cards, and turned them over to the Egyptian army.” [Leila Fadel, Will Englund and Debbi Wilgoren, “5 shot in 2nd day of bloody clashes; amid outcry Egyptian PM apologizes,” Washington Post, February 3, 2011.]
In the same spirit, the movement has formed Peoples Protection forces, staffed by both women and men, to provide safety and security in neighbourhoods and in the mass marches and assemblies. In some towns, like El Arish, the biggest city in the northern Sinai, official police and security forces have melted away only to be replaced by armed Popular Committees, which have maintained the peace. [Tobias Buck, “Palestinians hope for change and resumption of border trade,” Financial Times, February 8, 2011.]
Developing alongside these forms of popular self-organization are new practices of radical democracy. In Tahrir Square, the nerve center of the Revolution, the crowd engages in direct decision-making, sometimes in its hundreds of thousands. Organized into smaller groups, people discuss and debate, and then send elected delegates to consultations about the movement’s demands. As one journalist explains, “delegates from these mini-gatherings then come together to discuss the prevailing mood, before potential demands are read out over the square’s makeshift speaker system. The adoption of each proposal is based on the proportion of boos or cheers it receives from the crowd at large.” [Jack Shenker, “Cairo’s biggest protest yet demands Mubarak’s immediate departure,” Guardian, February 5, 2011.]
Tahrir Square and public spaces in Alexandria, Suez and dozens of smaller cities, are now sites of ongoing festivals of the oppressed. Describing the popular security services and people’s “food supply chains,” demonstrator Karim Medhat Ennarah proclaims, “We have already created a liberated republic within the heart of Egypt.” [Quoted in Hallward.]
ENTER THE WORKERS
Years of courageous struggle by Egypt’s workers were decisive in creating the conditions for the popular uprising. And now, mere weeks into the upsurge, tens of thousands of workers are mobilizing, raising both economic and political demands as part of a rising wave of strikes. The consequences could be momentous.
Social movements generally have been on the move recently in Egypt. The years 2002-3 saw important stirrings of political protest in solidarity with the Palestinian Intifada and in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Shortly after this, the Kefaya (Enough) movement organized for democratic reform and the feminist group, We Are Watching You (Shayfenkom) came out in defence of women’s rights.
But by 2004 it was strike action, sit-ins and demonstrations by workers that comprised the most determined and persistent oppositional activity — most of it illegal under the emergency edicts and laws that deny workers the right to form independent unions. Over the past six years or so, more than two million workers engaged in thousands of direct actions. Most importantly, they regularly won significant concessions on wages and working conditions. The result was a growing confidence among workers — so much so that genuinely independent unions began to emerge in a society where the official unions are effectively extensions of the state.
In 2006-7 mass working class protest erupted in the Nile Delta, spearheaded by the militant action of 50,000 workers in textiles and the cement and poultry industries. This was followed by strikes of train drivers, journalists, truckers, miners and engineers. Then 2007-8 saw another labor explosion, with riots at the state-owned weaving factory in Al-Mahla Al-Kobra. The youth-based April 6th Movement emerged at this point in support of workers’ strikes. Meanwhile, workers began to address the general interests of all working people, particularly the poorest, by pressing the demand for a substantial increase in the minimum wage.
Now, workers are again throwing their collective power onto the scales of the political struggle in Egypt. And Mubarak and his cronies will live to regret it.
In the course of a few days during the week of February 7, tens of thousands of them stormed into action. Thousands of railworkers took strike action, blockading railway lines in the process. Six thousand workers at the Suez Canal Authority walked off the job, staging sit-ins at Suez and two other cities. In Mahalla, 1,500 workers at Abul Sebae Textiles struck and blockaded the highway. At the Kafr al-Zayyat hospital hundreds of nurses staged a sit-in and were joined by hundreds of other hospital employees.
Across Egypt, thousands of others — bus workers in Cairo, employees at Telecom Egypt, journalists at a number of newspapers, workers at pharmaceutical plants and steel mills — joined the strike wave. They demands improved wages, the firing of ruthless managers, back pay, better working conditions and independent unions. In many cases they also called for the resignation of President Mubarak. And in some cases, like that of the 2,000 workers at Helwan Silk Factory, they demanded the removal of their company’s Board of Directors. Then there were the thousands of faculty members at Cairo University who joined the protests, confronted security forces, and prevented Prime Minister Ahmed Shariq from getting to his government office. [My sources on workers’ protests include Aljazeera, Al-Masry Al-Youm, the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services, newsocialist.org, and socialistworker.org. Special thanks to Jack Hicks for documents and reports.]
What we are seeing, in other words, is the rising of the Egyptian working class. Having been at the heart of the popular upsurge in the streets, tens of thousands of workers are now taking the revolutionary struggle back to their workplaces, extending and deepening the movement in the process. In so doing, they are proving the continuing relevance of the analysis developed by the great Polish-German socialist, Rosa Luxemburg. In her book, The Mass Strike, based on the experience of mass strikes of 1905 against the Tsarist dictatorship in Russia, Luxemburg argued that truly revolutionary movements develop by way of interacting waves of political and economic struggle, each enriching the other. In a passage that could have been inspired by the upheaval in Egypt, she explains,
“Every new onset and every fresh victory of the political struggle is transformed into a powerful impetus for the economic struggle… After every foaming wave of political action a fructifying deposit remains behind from which a thousand stalks of economic struggle burst forth. And conversely. The workers condition of ceaseless economic struggle with the capitalists keeps their fighting spirit alive in every political interval…”
And so it is in the Egyptian Revolution. Tens of millions of workers — in transportation, healthcare, textiles, education, heavy industry, the service sector — are being awakened and mobilized. They are fusing demands for economic justice to those for democracy, and they are among the hundreds of thousands building popular power and self-organization. Moreover, should the rising of the workers move toward mass strikes that paralyze the economy, the Egyptian Revolution would move to a new and more powerful level.
What the coming weeks will bring is still uncertain. But Mubarak’s folly has triggered an upsurge of workers’ struggle whose effects will endure. “The most precious, because lasting, thing in this ebb and flow of the [revolutionary] wave is … the intellectual, cultural growth of the working class,” wrote Rosa Luxemburg.
In Tahrir Square and elsewhere thousands of signs depict Mubarak accompanied by the words “Game Over.” For the workers of Egypt it is now, “Game On.”
David McNally, 13 février.
David McNally teaches political science at York University, Toronto and is the author of the recently published, Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance (PM Press).