Egypt rising: the return of the Arab revolution

It took 18 days, from the January 25 “Day of Rage” demonstrations in Egypt to the victory of the movement on February 11, when Mubarak was forced to resign. They were 18 days that shook the world and continue to do so. Just as the victory of the people of Tunisia inspired the uprising in Egypt, the victory in Egypt is inspiring revolutionary movements throughout the Arab world. In Yemen, Libya, Jordan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain — people are throwing off decades of fear and joining uprisings against dictatorship — uprisings that are spreading by the day.

The victory of the Egyptian people is a victory for all those who stand for justice. It is a victory against US imperialism: a victory against its wars and occupations, a victory against the brutal repression of the Palestinian people and a victory against the poverty inflicted upon the majority of the world’s population.

The Egyptian people faced down the brutality of the regime. More than 300 protesters were killed by the police and more than 4000 were injured, yet the people stood defiant. On January 31, Mubarak sent in fighter jets to scare people by flying low over the main centre of protest in Cairo; according to an Al Jazeera report, the tens of thousands of people in Liberation (Tahrir) Square did not even flinch. When Mubarak’s police thugs and mercenaries attacked the square with lethal force, the people fought back, fending off the attack.

The defence of the square was organised by the people, as they had organised to defend their neighbourhoods from the looting campaign organised by security forces after they had been run off the streets by the mass protests on January 28.

The same determination is now being shown throughout the streets of the Arab world, turning the tables and sowing fear in those who deny people their freedom — from Cairo to Baghdad to Washington.

Millions mobilised

The 18 days of the uprising mobilised up to 10 million people. At least one in 10 people in Egypt were part of the demonstrations. In the industrial centre of Mahalla, 100,000 people were out on protest — nearly half the population.

From the first moments when the army was brought onto the streets, the lower ranks were fraternising with protesters. By February 11, there were reports of officers pledging their support for the uprising; Al Jazeera reported 15 officers joining the protests in Tahrir Square. If there had been an attempt to crush the uprising militarily, there would almost certainly have been a split in the armed forces.

By February 11, the country had been brought to an almost complete standstill by a growing strike wave. An ever growing number of contingents of workers joined the protests. Workers had been part of the demonstrations since the beginning of the uprising. As Egyptian socialist and blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy wrote on February 12, “The workers were taking part as ‘demonstrators’ and not necessarily as ‘workers’ — meaning, they were not moving independently. The government had brought the economy to halt ... by its curfew, shutting down of banks and business. It was a capitalist strike, aiming at terrorising the Egyptian people. Only when the government tried to bring the country back to ‘normal’ on Sunday that workers returned to their factories, discussed the current situation, and started to organise en masse, moving as a bloc”.

When Mubarak made his speech on February 10, declaring that he would not resign, the fury of the people swelled the protests. In Cairo, the protests spread from their base in Tahrir Square to the state TV building, Parliament House and the Presidential Palace.

Imperialist hypocrisy

Even the US administration appeared surprised by the February 10 speech — expecting, like the rest of the world, that he would announce his resignation. The sickening hypocrisy of Obama’s congratulations to the Egyptian people after Mubarak’s resignation cannot be exaggerated. Mubarak received 30 years of support and US$1.4 billion annually in military aid from the US in order to buy a reliable ally in the Arab world.  Only when it was clear that the uprising could not be repressed like earlier uprisings did the imperialists arrogantly recognise the “grievances” of the people — as if the people of Egypt needed their legitimisation.

There is a lot at stake for capitalism and imperialism in the region. Their concern has been with an “orderly transition”, which is code for not undermining their system of control and exploitation. As el-Hamalawy said in an interview with Al Jazeera on January 27, “The reality is that any really clean government that comes to power in the region will come into open conflict with the  US because it will call for radical redistribution of wealth and ending support for Israel or other dictatorships. So we don’t expect any help from America — just to leave us alone.”

An activist in Tahrir Square told Al Jazeera an hour after the victory on February 11: “This is the beginning, not the end. We should deal with it with caution and happiness as well. It is the beginning of a free Egypt … We should embrace the revolution and care for it. The intellectuals were negotiating to just have four articles of the constitution changed. But that was not what we wanted. We must topple the whole corrupt system.”

Different views

In this, the movement that toppled Mubarak is divided. The class divisions within the movement came to the fore after Mubarak’s resignation —  a demand that united all the different forces. As el-Hamalawy wrote on February 12, “All classes in Egypt took part in the uprising. In Tahrir Square you found sons and daughters of the Egyptian elite, together with the workers, middle class citizens, and the urban poor. Mubarak has managed to alienate all social classes in society including a wide section of the bourgeoisie. But remember that it’s only when the mass strikes started three days ago that the regime started  crumbling and the army had to force Mubarak to resign because the system was about to collapse.”

El-Hamalawy condemned the middle-class illusions in Mubarak’s generals.  “Those activists want us to trust Mubarak’s generals with the transition to democracy — the same junta that has provided the backbone of his dictatorship over the past 30 years. And  I believe the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who receive $1.4 billion annually from the US, will eventually engineer the transition to a ‘civilian’ government, I have no doubt it will be a government that will guarantee the continuation of a system that will never touch the army’s privileges, keep the armed forces as the institution that will have the final say in politics (like for example Turkey), guarantee Egypt will continue to follow the US foreign policy whether it’s the undesired peace with the apartheid state of Israel, safe passage for the US navy in the Suez Canal, the continuation of the Gaza siege and exports of natural gas to Israel at subsidized rates”.

While some in the middle class have accepted the assurances from the military council and its demands and threats that things return to “order”, the struggle is far from over. The strike wave that was so decisive in Mubarak’s overthrow has continued. El-Hamalawy wrote: “These workers are not going home any time soon. They started strikes because they couldn’t feed their families any more. They have been emboldened by Mubarak’s overthrow, and cannot go back to their children and tell them the army has promised to bring them food and their rights in I don’t know how many months. Many of the strikers have already started raising additional demands of establishing free trade unions away from the corrupt, state backed Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions.”

Outcome not settled yet

Some liberal and academic commentators have been all too ready to predict from afar the outcome of the Egyptian people’s struggle. While parallels to revolutions and uprisings throughout history are necessary and useful to deepen an understanding of the process, such parallels should not be used to argue that the outcome for Egypt in 2011 is predetermined.

Worse still are those who  argue that Washington won’t allow the people to take control in Egypt. US imperialism and the Egyptian generals in their pay are doing whatever they can to save face and maintain control, but the US empire does not always get what it wants, as the Egyptian uprising has already proven!

It is up to all those against the status quo of exploitation, poverty and repression to stand in solidarity with the workers and the revolutionary movement in Egypt and to share in their optimism and their determination.

An crucial part of this solidarity is to demand that governments of the West leave the Egyptian people to determine their own destiny. In Australia, just as in the US, the government distanced itself only toward the end of Mubarak’s rule because it knew his day was up. It could see the writing on the wall and knew that the people would win. But like the US, it had supported him for 30 years, so it should not be let off the hook. It still supports dictatorships like Mubarak’s across the world. It still supports apartheid Israel.

We have to demand no more support for dictators. No more support for apartheid. And it is the people of Egypt and the growing revolutionary movements across the Arab world that are showing the way. We can’t wait for the governments to carry out the will of the people. We have to take to the streets and we have to bring about change through our own actions.