[Marxism] Egypt: The Struggle Continues

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jul 3 07:21:02 MDT 2011


Egypt: The Struggle Continues
Jul 02 2011 by Joel Beinin

Thousands of demonstrators filled expressing anger and determination 
rallied in Tahrir Square on Friday, July 1. Sharp clashes between youth 
on the one hand and police and regime thugs on the other on Tuesday and 
Wednesday June 28 and 29 were the immediate impetus for the 
demonstration. But in addition to outrage about police brutality, which 
most Egyptians had hoped was a thing of the past, there is growing 
dissatisfaction with the limited changes since the fall of former 
president Hosni Mubarak.

According to a group of youth who took a time out from returning tear 
gas canisters lobbed at them by the police on Wednesday morning, 
families of the “martyrs of the revolution,” who had been conducting a 
sit-down protest in front of the main government TV and radio 
headquarters in Cairo had gone to the Balloon Theater on the west bank 
of the Nile River on Tuesday evening to complain that they had not 
received compensation for their losses from the interim government and 
that some of those seriously injured did not have sufficient funds to 
pay for medications.

The families were attacked by thugs, a common phenomenon during the last 
years of the Mubarak regime. The aggrieved families then marched to the 
Ministry of Interior across the Nile River to lodge a complaint about 
this treatment. Once again, they were attacked by thugs. The crowd then 
moved to Tahrir Square, where clashes with police continued throughout 
the night and most of the next day. After 1,114 people were wounded, the 
army appeared and sealed off the street leading from Tahrir Square to 
the Ministry of Interior.

However, the pretense of the military’s neutrality whose purpose is 
simply to maintain order is wearing thin on some people. In response to 
the unusually repressive measures of the police, by the standards that 
have come to be acceptable in the post-Mubarak era, the Revolutionary 
Youth Coalition, the 6th of April Youth Movement, and several political 
parties called for a mass protest in Tahrir Square on Friday. These 
forces dubbed the protest “Friday of Retribution and Loyalty to the 
Martyrs.” Even the usually quiescent Muslim Brothers, who appear to have 
an understanding with the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces 
(SCAF) to maintain “stability” and to limit the extent of social change, 
denounced the excessive force used by the police.

There were also demonstrations in the provincial capitals of Suez and 
Isma‘iliyya, which have been particularly active since the popular 
uprising of January-February.

Many, including the liberal daily al-Masry al-Youm, believe that the 
thugs’ attack on the families of the martyrs was instigated by 
supporters of the former ruling National Democratic Party reacting 
against the judicial decision dissolving all of Egypt’s the local 
council’s the day before. The councils had been a central pillar of the 
power of the NDP and the Mubarak regime. Their definitive demise would 
be a very substantial blow to the capacity of former supporters of the 
old regime to reconstitute themselves as a viable political force. The 
SCAF has announced that it will not appeal the court’s decision.

The protest began with a rousing Friday sermon by Shaykh Mazhar Shahin 
of the ‘Umar Makram mosque, located across Tahrir Square from the 
improvised stage. He sharply denounced the government for failing to 
provide for the needs of the families of those killed and wounded during 
the revolution. He demanded swift prosecution of much-hated former 
Minister of Interior Habib al-‘Adli, who is under detention, and others 
responsible for deaths of demonstrators sine January. Embracing a Coptic 
colleague, Hani Hanna, and clenching both their hand high above their 
heads like victorious boxers, he denounced all forms of sectarianism and 
division between Muslims and Christians. He removed his red and white 
headdress, symbolizing his education at the citadel of Sunni Muslim 
learning, al-Azhar. Then, holding it high for all to see he proclaimed, 
“This imama will never submit to injustice. The tradition of al-Azhar 
will never submit to injustice.” His words recalled the career of Shaykh 
‘Umar Makram, for whom his mosque is named. Makram led Cairenes in 
resisting both Napoleon’s 1798 invasion of Egypt and the Ottoman 
reoccupation in 1800.

After prayers, a representative of the youth coalition read out its 
official demands which included: full compensation for the families of 
those killed during and since the revolution, the dismissal of ministry 
of interior officials responsible for attacking demonstrators, a speedy 
trial for former Minister of Interior Habib al-‘Adli, press access to 
trials of officials of the former regime. This was followed by militant 
chants including “The people want the fall of the field marshal” 
(al-sha‘b yurid isqat al-mushir, referring to the SCAF chief Muhammad 
Husayn Tantawi) and “Freedom, freedom, the people are not thugs” 
(al-hurriyya, al-hurriyya al-shabab mish baltagiyya). Around 4pm 
demonstrators marched from Tahrir Square to the offices of the Cabinet 
to present their demands.

One factor exacerbating the anger of the crowd was the death of Ahmad 
Sharif only days earlier from wounds he received during the popular 
uprising. He became the 847th “martyr of the revolution.” His mother 
addressed the demonstrators, many of who responded shouting, “We are all 
your children.”

Several tents were set up, reminiscent of the occupation of Tahrir 
Square from January 25 until Mubarak’s departure on February 11. The 
Revolutionary Youth Coalition called for a continuous occupation of the 
square until the demands of the demonstration were met. This expression 
of a more confrontational approach towards the military is a recent 
development resulting from growing realization among the liberal and 
radical-liberal upper middle-class intelligentsia the youth movements 
represent that the SCAF seeks to contain the revolution rather than to 
realize its full potential.

Another new development is that the April 6 Youth Movement has raised 
the slogan, “The martyrs and the poor first,” a demand that the 
government should give priority to these people’s needs. This is in 
sharp contrast to accusations by some liberals and the business classes 
that workers who continue to strike to demand a basic monthly minimum 
wage of £E 1,200 (about $200) are greedy or worse. The current minimum 
wage of £E 700 (about $118) was established in 2010. But many workers 
have still not received it because the government does not compel 
employers in the private sector and the “informal economy” to pay.

Those workers and others have understood from very early on that they 
cannot assume that their basic requirements will be met by the 
revolutionary process. The SCAF implored them to stop striking and 
protesting and return to work to restore economic growth. Nonetheless, 
strikes have persisted almost daily. There have been hundreds of strikes 
and protests by workers this year despite the promulgation of a 
draconian military decree in March establishing penalties of up to one 
year in jail and a fine of up to $83,333 for participating in strikes 
and protests that disturb production and public order. On Thursday five 
workers at Petrojet were given one-year suspended prison sentences for 
obstructing the entrance to offices of their employer, the Ministry of 

The suspended sentence suggests the delicate balance SCAF must maintain. 
It seeks to minimize the political changes that occur under its watch 
and until it can hand off power to a legitimate civilian government. But 
it cannot repress all popular demands and remain legitimate in the eyes 
of the people.

Only a few hundred people occupied Tahrir Square by the end of Friday. 
The police, who were notable by their absence on July 1, posed no 
obstacle to their remaining. A long-planned demonstration to push the 
SCAF in the direction of more comprehensive changes and speedier 
accountability is scheduled for next Friday, July 8. Egypt’s revolution 
is very much a work in progress and the struggle among its political and 
social forces remains undecided.

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