Egypt: Mass demonstrations and brutal state repression
Egypt: Mass demonstrations and brutal state repression
Only the organized working class can show a way forward
Aysha Zaki, Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI)
Following the second anniversary of the 25th January Revolution, Egyptian streets have witnessed days of mass demonstrations and riots. State forces have brutally repressed many protesters. Last Monday, the army was deployed to try to reinforce a curfew announced as part of an Emergency Law introduced by President Mursi, for a period of one month, in the three cities of Suez, Ismaeliya and Port Said.
Violence has been sweeping Cairo and other cities, including those on the Suez Canal, and Alexandria, since Friday 25 January. Since the day of the second anniversary, tens of demonstrators have been killed and hundreds injured.
On Monday, 28 January, the military declared it would confront rioters but denied shooting live ammunition against protestors. Monday’s state news reported that the Navy tops and Armed Forces warned against attempts to ‘attack’ the Suez Canal and that they would act to secure strategic and vital facilities. At the same time, it was reported that Mursi was consulting with international political powers to try to end the crisis (in reality, an attempt by Mursi to win over leaders ahead of Egypt’s general elections).
The demonstrations on the 2nd anniversary of the revolution, although widely seen, at first, as an attempt to ‘reclaim’ the revolution and to protest against Mursi’s iron grip, turned soon into violent clashes with the police. Demonstrators claimed that Islamist forces, including Muslim Brotherhood militias, acted on the side of the police and were responsible for killing some demonstrators. Muslim Brotherhood supporters have claimed that Mubarak ‘baltagiya’ (thugs) have been among the rioters.
Unlike the 25th January 2011 uprising, parts of the opposition movement, provoked by the state forces and the far-right Islamist groups, who have replaced Mubarak’s baltagiya, area increasingly turning to violent protest. Destruction of public property is on the increase, as is the burning of cars and properties, which horrifies many local residents. These developments have resulted in daily media reports of people calling for ‘stability’.
A new group calling itself the ‘Black Bloc’ has taken to the streets of Cairo during the recent clashes. The masked Black Bloc youth told media they do not belong to any group or political party and claim their main aim is to protect protesters. The Black Bloc emerged during the brutal killing of protestors under Mursi’s increasingly authoritarian rule and in the absence of an organized, mass socialist alternative that could mobilize millions of workers and poor from all across Egyptian workplaces and communities. A mass workers’ movement would not only protest but use of the methods of strikes and occupations and challenge Mursi and the whole capitalist class, sending a blow to outside imperialist influence.
Of course, demonstrators have the right to defend themselves against vicious attacks from police and right wing Islamic forces. Many female protesters have faced violent sexual assault in Tahrir Square. But it is not relatively small numbers of masked youth that can successfully stop these attacks but the organized movement of workers’ and youth. The CWI advocates building mass self-defence, organized democratically, to ensure protesters have secure stewarding, which should be linked to a programme to change the social system.
Opposition to Mursi had been increasing since his coming to power. He is accused of failing to offer any solutions to the deteriorating living conditions facing the masses of workers and the poor. But Mursi is exploiting the chaos created by his regime’s armed forces, by calling for a dialogue with the opposition to try to portray himself as the leader capable of re-establishing ‘order’ in Egypt.
Many Egyptians see no way out of the continuing instability and confusion and some fear that Mursi and opposition leaders could take the country into a “civil war”. The American and British embassies suspended their work due to the violent incidents and a ‘security vacuum’ surrounding Tahrir Square in central Cairo.
The ‘Ultra’ supporters of Ahlawy football club, previously known for their courageous confrontations with the repressive forces of counter-revolution during and after Mubarak’s rule, promise retaliation against the Ministry of the Interior and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces until “justice is served and all of those involved in the Port Said massacre are convicted”. Last Saturday, a Cairo judge sentenced 21 local people from Port Said to death for their part in a football massacre a year ago. But many Egyptians believe that it was thugs, hired by police, who enacted revenge on the fans for their part in the 2011 revolution.
Regime and capitalist class fear working class
The current regime, like its predecessors, is giving the military a powerful grip over security. What the regime, and ruling capitalist class, most fear is the possibility of the working class becoming active as an organized force, taking mass action, including strikes that are capable of paralyzing the economy.
A recent indication of this is the refusal by Finance Minister Hegazy to reveal the new budget for the Interior Ministry, as this would enflame the workers’ movement. The working class and poor are already being made to pay for the country’s economic crisis and hard won and limited trade union rights are under attack. But with an increasingly unstable situation in Egypt, even such an unpopular measure could be passed in the name of “re-stabilising the country”.
Other attacks against workers may also be justified by the regime by trying to blame the economic situation on continuing protests. This week, the Egyptian stock exchange lost LE2.7 billion and the Egyptian pound fell further against the US dollar.
The Egyptian Central Bank stepped in with US$75 million to try to stop rapid currency devaluation. The bail-out is from the state to big businesses and entails using public money and wealth created by the hard labour of the masses in Egypt to save the profits of the rich. An organized, socialist working class movement would call for the nationalization of the big companies and the means of production under the democratic management and control of workers.
The developing independent workers’ movement and Left forces need to break from the forces of capitalism and counter-revolution, which includes the liberal forces prepared to go into dialogue with any regime, particularly if potential seats in parliament are in sight. The leadership of the National Salvation Front is backed by very rich individuals, as is shown by the Front’s vague, liberal demands, mainly about the constitution and democratic rights (with passing mention of “social justice”).
For a mass revolutionary party
Left forces need to be, in the midst of upheaval, warning about the NSF leadership leading the opposition down a blind alley. The socialist left bears the responsibility of building a mass genuine revolutionary and socialist alternative, including to counter-productive anarchistic methods, by orientating to the organized workers and independent trade unions and calling upon them to build their own mass workers’ party.
Such a mass political vehicle would appeal to workers, poor and the oppressed to join in the struggle against the rotten capitalist system. It would be a show of a way forward for confused and alienated youth, many of whom might mistakenly think that mass demonstrations are enough to change the system.
A mass workers’ revolutionary party would appeal to unite the masses across all religious and sectarian divisions, as it would base itself on the struggle for trade union and democratic rights, a living minimum wage, a programme of public housing, education, healthcare and public transport and for the nationalisation of all the major banks and big corporations, under working class democratic planning.
This would not only appeal to workers throughout the Middle East and North Africa but beyond the region and across borders and continents. Workers’ solidarity and the formation of a democratic, socialist, workers’ government in Egypt would be hugely inspirational to the working masses and poor, leading the way out of misery, war and poverty.