Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Egypt's Revolution Continues To Burn

Lots of people hoped that everything would return to normal after the dictator Mubarak abdicated. They hoped that once the face at the top was changed people would be happy. None wanted this more than the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), led by Mubarak's childhood friend Field Marshall Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. At first they seemed to get their way. Tahrir Square, the beating heart of the revolution, was emptied and the revolutionaries went home. The military, while it used the language of the revolution and talked about its martyrs, tried activists in front of military tribunals, which handed out swift and harsh judgments. Strikes and protests were banned. Meanwhile, the cops who killed around 900 protestors during the revolution weren't prosecuted. Former regime figures weren't prosecuted for their crimes and theft. Others - "little Mubaraks" - were left in charge of public businesses, universities, hospitals, the government controlled unions.

But in a revolution the people rarely are happy to settle with cosmetic change. In the wake of Mubarak's fall, strike waves rolled across the country. After all, it had been a mass strike by millions that had forced the military's hand in turfing Mubarak. Now those workers had tasted their power, there was no putting it back in the bottle - even the military trials of strike leaders failed to quash the movement. This was combined with an mushrooming of independent unions, controlled by rank-and-file election and committed to bettering the conditions of the workers, rather than simply serving as a conduit to transmit the priorities and propaganda of the dictatorship. Many of those unions have now come together to form a union central representing everyone from tax collectors to hospital workers and bus drivers.

Sooner or later the movement was going to come up against the attempts by the military government to put a lid on any change. That time appears to be now. It seems clear that a new phase with a new decisive battle is taking shape in Egypt. Millions marched last Friday, demanding that the cops who killed protestors be put on trial - along with former regime figures. The demands include purging public life of officials from the former regime, whose loyalty is to the defeated dictatorship and whose interest is in rolling back the revolution. And from political demands, the revolution has now taken on social demands - demanding minimum and maximum wages to bring aid to the poor and close the massive gap between the richest and poorest. They want state industries that were sold at fire sale prices to Mubarak's cronies to be brought back under state control.

The immediate response of the government and the military leadership has been twofold. On the one hand, it was announced just prior to today's mass protests - including at Tahrir, which has been again been occupied by a permanent sit-in, like the early days of the revolution - that the deputy Prime Minster had resigned. He was a hated figure from the former regime and his departure is a clear victory. There were also several verdicts released which found former regime figures guilty. According to Al Jazeera:

Earlier on Tuesday, an Egyptian court sentenced Ahmed Nazif, Egypt's former prime minister, to a one-year suspended jail term.
Two other ministers from Hosni Mubarak's, the former president, cabinet were also sentenced to prison for fraud, judicial sources said.
Habib al-Adli, the former interior minister and one of the most reviled members of Mubarak's administration because of the brutality of his police force, was sentenced to five years and former finance minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali received ten years.
Al-Adli and Boutros-Ghali, who is being tried in absentia, have both been sentenced in other cases. This was the first time Nazif has received a court conviction.
The three were fined $15.6m and are to return the same amount to the state. Boutros-Ghali and Adli were fined another approximately $16.9m, sources told the AFP news agency.
But the military council, through its spokesman Mohsen El-Fangari also came on TV to deliver threats to the protestors in Tahrir, Suez and elsewhere. They were warned not to disrupt "public order." There is also a widespread belief that the military and the police have deliberately allowed criminal gangs to run rampant in Cairo as a way to make people long for the security of the dictatorship. In addition, there are shadowy forces - identically dressed men who show up at Tahrir with truckloads of rocks, attacks on Christian churches designed to foment inter-religious conflict - that are undoubtedly connected to the regime. The response, however, to El-Fangari was clear enough - tens of thousands of protestors took off their shoes and waved them in the air - a profound insult and demonstration of defiance in Arab culture that was a popular display whenever Mubarak spoke, prior to his resignation. And protestors intended, for the first time, to march past the Prime Minister's palace, something that never happened during Mubarak's final days.

As resentment and longing for change continues to burn throughout the Arab world, Egypt remains the key to everything. It is the most populous nation and a lynchpin, along with Israel, in America's Middle East policy. If the revolution can push forward in Egypt, deposing the corrupt and compliant military leadership - who own up to a third of the economy - they can help to bring about an historic transformation, the kind that happen once in a century.

Millions back on Egypt’s streets|16Jul11|Socialist Worker

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