Friday, March 25, 2011

The Counter-Revolution In Egypt

The protests continue in Tahrir Square, angering the miltary
It's just six weeks since US-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced from power by the Egyptian working class, and replaced by a military junta. In that time, the military has succeeded in passing a new repressive constitution, and now effectively banning strikes and protests - the very tools which brought down Mubarak in the first place. While many Egyptians initially had some belief that the army were guardians of their revolution, these illusions have rapidly evaporated. But the material needs which forced poor Egyptians into battle two months ago remain unmet, so the stage is set for yet another confrontation.

Though ousting Mubarak was a major aim of the 'January 25th movement', it was ultimately driven by economic imperatives, rather than personal hatred of the man at the top. It was widely believed that once Mubarak had gone, the people could present their demands to the new officials, who would respond favourably. This has not proved to be the case, and a certain disillusionment is setting in. Ali Fotouh, a public transport driver, told AhramOnline:
"We really had hopes that the new government will support us and look into our demands. We expected them to say we have all of your legal demands on our desks and there is a timeline of a month or two within which they will be achieved."
However in the context of working people struggling to make ends meet, disillusionment can quickly turn into anger rather than despair. Fotouh continued:
"This is not fair, why don’t you solve our demands so that we don’t go on strikes? This tone reminds me of the old days of Mubarak, threats and oppression used by the regime. This is no longer valid after January 25 Revolution.”
Safi - brought to you by the same people who brought you a strike ban
In trying to satisfy their own post-Mubarak needs, the working class are coming face to face with the material interests of the military brass, which owns vast swathes of the factories and land throughout the country. As head on the junta, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi is effectively CEO of the military businesses. Just one of these - the Ministry of Military Production - employs forty thousand civilians and takes in hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Military companies sell everything from medical equipment to laptops, and sewing machines to Safi - Egypt’s most successful bottled water brand. It has been estimated that the military account for more than ten per cent of the country's owning class.

The land owned by the generals has been converted into gated communities over the last decade or so, providing luxury housing for the obscenely rich, including Mubarak himself, at his Sharm el-Sheikh palace. Other plots are converted into water-intensive golf courses, in a nation where millions lack running water.

From this outline of the generals' interests, it is obvious that any new workers' movement would directly threaten the miltary elite's parasitical lifestyle. With this in mind, it is not surprising that they were quick to urge protesters back to work after the fall of Mubarak. A week after the dictator fled for the safety of Sharm el-Sheikh, generals warned against those who "organise protests that obstruct production and create critical economic conditions that can lead to a worsening of the country’s economy." They said this warning was necessary because “The continuation of instability and its consequences will lead to harming national security.”

There is strong suspicion that the state is trying to whip up tensions between people of various religious backgrounds - a classic 'divide and conquer' tactic. Mounir Megahd of Egyptians Against Discrimination claims that: "Recent reports released have shown the close ties between the state security apparatus and the Salafist movement [...] It has been reported that state security has used them to bomb the Two Saints Church in Alexandria”.

Earlier this month, thousands of demonstrators successfully raided the offices of the secret police in Cairo, Alexandria, and other cities. They seized many documents related to state attacks on Coptic churches while Mubarak was in power, and orders for the phone tapping of callers to political talk shows were also uncovered.

Last Saturday, only 30% of Egyptians bothered to vote for a new rubber stamp constitution, with the remainder showing their growing distrust of the military caste by either abstaining or - in a smaller number of cases - voting against the proposals. But the changes were swiftly followed by a visit from US Defense Secretary Robert Gates - who pledged millions more in 'aid' would flow to the new dictators of Egypt - and by the ban on political action, which threatens jail terms and huge fines for those 'guilty' of fighting for their needs.

Just as in Tunisia, workers in Egypt are discovering that the new boss is pretty much the same as the old boss, and is backed by the same US imperial machine which is bombing its way through Libya. With pro-democracy movements growing in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, the conditions are ripening for militant, trans-national class struggle throughout the region.
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