FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Remaking Egypt Beyond Tahrir Square

by CARL FINAMORE

Tens of thousands filled Tahrir Square on April 1, emphatically demonstrating the utter failure of prolonged attempts by Egypt’s military government to demobilize and demoralize the pro-democracy movement.

Fifteen thousand people, according to the state news agency MENA, already attending the Friday Muslim prayers in Tahrir Square, were joined later in the afternoon by twice as many protesters jamming the central Cairo plaza according to Agence France Presse.

In what was called “The Friday for Rescuing the Revolution,” protestors demanded bringing to trial deposed President Hosni Mubarak and his cronies, ending the official state of emergency, and releasing all political prisoners.

In fact, important sections of the population continue to call for serious and fundamental democratic reforms, going far beyond the transparently shallow changes to Mubarak’s discredited constitution recently suggested by the top generals.

Nonetheless, the military did successfully cast the March 19 constitutional referendum as the best chance to stabilize the economy and to move more quickly toward civilian rule, thus producing very large voter turnout and approval.

This despite the fact that many leading democracy activists attacked the government’s amendments as a tepid rewrite of a few clauses in the dictator’s carried-over constitution, minus any additional firm guarantees of civil liberties.

The Egyptian Center for Trade Union & Worker Services (CTUWS), a leading advocate of the newly-formed Egyptian Federation of Independent Unions (EFITU), produced a leaflet urging people to vote against amendments that were the very same “previously proposed by the deposed President Mubarak….[and] to demand a new constitution that lays the foundations for a new Egypt.”

The CTUWS also organized “a ‘Vote No'” demonstration of around 3000 students, human rights activists and trade unionists in Tahrir Square on March 27,” according to representative Tamer Fathy in a phone interview from Cairo.

Furthermore, the AFL-CIO-supported Solidarity Center (SC) in Washington DC pointed out that “yes” numbers were boosted significantly because separate votes were not allowed on any of the nine proposed amendments. “It was all or nothing, they were presented as a package,” SC program officer Erin Radford told me.

The opposition in Egypt actually sought a whole new alternative constitution that could be developed by a broad cross-section of the movement.

“But, in the end,” Fathy admitted, “there was insufficient debate. The government was successful in rushing the whole discussion and making it unclear. People thought they were voting for a little bit more democracy so it passed overwhelmingly.”

Reforming the Constitution While Banning Strikes?

Even more dangerous than this apparent constitutional deception, however, is last week’s proposal by cabinet ministers to ban strikes and protests. It includes onerous fines and grueling prison terms for any violations. This draft legislation is now under serious consideration by the ruling Supreme Military Council.

If eventually ratified and enforced, all organized government opposition would be silenced. These ominous threats have, as a result, accelerated demands to suspend the state of emergency in effect since 1981 and under which such restrictions could legally be enacted. This was one of the central demands of those assembled on April 1.

Clearly, the Military Council continues to walk a delicate political tight rope. But, surprisingly, they have proven to be quite adept and quick on their feet, unlike the clumsily inept Mubarak who provoked intense anger by his arrogant and imperial intransigence.

On the one hand, the Supreme Council desperately attempts to demobilize and malign the reform movement either through malicious accusations of economic sabotage or through actual physical threats.

At the same time, the ruling Council periodically concedes a number of important reform demands, many of which are prudently announced several days before major protests.

For example, just a few days before April 1, Mubarak’s whole family was placed under house arrest and a travel ban imposed on the ruling National Democratic Party chief, the former presidential chief of staff and the former parliamentary speaker.

After Rebellion Comes Confidence

In the country’s large industrial and commercial sectors, incredibly massive organized protests involved significant sections of the working class and poor. Their participation left a larger political footprint than other recent social explosions in the Middle East.

“You cannot understand events in Egypt today without understanding the absolutely critical role of the working class – both before, during and after the Tahrir Square events,” according to prominent labor-rights attorney Khaled Ali, who spoke from Cairo in a February 18 Democracy Now televised interview I attended.

“For example, there is absolutely no doubt that the isolation of the students and young people in the Square was ended once workers began conducting strikes and protests, about 30-40 a day throughout the country during the revolutionary Tahrir days and in the immediate days following. The role of the working class was absolutely decisive to our victory,” concluded Ali.

Massive working class involvement in the rebellion has provided much-needed confidence for its participation in the next stage of the revolution.

Allies and Antagonists

The immense national unity of the January 25 Freedom Movement is now realigning as bloody battles to end corruption and dictatorship give way to public discourse on how to reconstruct “a new Egypt.”

This shift means other changes in the social dynamic different from the rebellious Tahrir days. Allies in the streets are now sometimes antagonists in the debates. It could not be otherwise. The alliance of a whole country during time of war could not possibly be maintained when deciding exactly how the nation should take shape in time of peace.

Consequently, different classes, sectors and strata of society that stood shoulder to shoulder in Tahrir, Alexandria and in the Suez, are now quite naturally each promoting their own specific social, political and economic programs.

Democratic rights won by the revolution have allowed this immensely important debate to occur openly and the results will determine whether revolutionary gains will be limited to the business sector and upper classes or extended also to the working class and poor majority. Extensive participation by working people in the national dialogue is, therefore, absolutely critical.

But it is not guaranteed.

Parliamentary forms in all countries, not just Egypt, are almost exclusively restricted to the rich and powerful who can buy influence, construct pliable parties and mount expensive national election campaigns.

The democratic organization of this debate and the participation of the working class and poor is, therefore, only assured to the degree that they organize themselves independently, recognizing they have interests separate and apart from the power structure that remains largely intact from the Mubarak era.

“The revolution’s goals of democracy is also about building civil organizations like trade unions because they are truly working in a natural and instinctively democratic way by involving people fully,” the CTUWS’s Fathy told me.

“Democracy should be a means to achieve our social goals. It is really about people and how they organize themselves to improve their lives.”

What next?

Judging by the large turnout and overwhelming approval numbers during the constitutional referendum, the army was successful in sidetracking discussion away from self-organization of the people and into the safer and more familiar terrain of parliamentary reforms where, as noted earlier, the traditional elite can more easily reassert themselves through their existing political parties and economic structures.

For example, the rarely-enforced minimum wage is still only a paltry $74 a month after recently seeing its first increase since 1984, where it remained at $6.50 a month for 26 years.

Millions continue to languish in poverty, forced to work several jobs in the informal sector as street vendors or in one of the Qualifying Industrial Zones, exclusively reserved for U.S. companies where wages are low, benefits non-existent and unions severely repressed.

But, on the other hand, the steady presence of independent unions is growing stronger each day. Teachers, healthcare workers, textile workers, transport workers, tax collectors and other sectors continue to form unions, breaking from the government-controlled official union and joining the independent union federation, EFITU, only just formed on March 2.

“We are concentrating most on organizing the working class because we know that ultimately this is the only way to gain our share of democracy and a decent standard of living,” Fathy declared.

“Workers here have no experience with free and independent unions, it is all new to us. But we are very, very happy with our progress so far.”

As long as the debate on Egypt’s future continues with full participation of an organized working class and its allies among the poor, students and middle classes, so also will the revolution’s social, economic and political goals stay on track and become more possible to achieve.

CARL FINAMORE is Machinist Local Lodge 1781 delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. His highly-recommended 10-minute video of labor’s role in the Egyptian revolution is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frtpwNYc980 He can be reached at local1781@yahoo.com

 

 

 

Carl Finamore is Machinist Lodge 1781 delegate, San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He can be reached at local1781@yahoo.com

More articles by:
May 31, 2016
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
Imperial Blues: On Whitewashing Dictatorship in the 21st Century
Vijay Prashad
Stoking the Fires: Trump and His Legions
Patrick Howlett-Martin
Libya: How to Bring Down a Nation
Uri Avnery
What Happened to Netanyahu?
Corey Payne
Reentry Through Resistance: Détente with Cuba was Accomplished Through Resistance and Solidarity, Not Imperial Benevolence
Bill Quigley
From Tehran to Atlanta: Social Justice Lawyer Azadeh Shahshahani’s Fight for Human Rights
Manuel E. Yepe
Trump, Sanders and the Exhaustion of a Political Model
Bruce Lerro
“Network” 40 Years Later: Capitalism in Retrospect and Prospect and Elite Politics Today
Robert Hunziker
Chile’s Robocops
Aidan O'Brien
What’ll It be Folks: Xenophobia or Genocide?
Binoy Kampmark
Emailgate: the Clinton Spin Doctors In Action
Colin Todhunter
The Unique Risks of GM Crops: Science Trumps PR, Fraud and Smear Campaigns
Dave Welsh
Jessica Williams, 29: Another Black Woman Gunned Down By Police
Gary Leupp
Rules for TV News Anchors, on Memorial Day and Every Day
May 30, 2016
Ron Jacobs
The State of the Left: Many Movements, Too Many Goals?
James Abourezk
The Intricacies of Language
Porfirio Quintano
Hillary, Honduras, and the Murder of My Friend Berta
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes on ISIS are Reducing Their Cities to Ruins
Uri Avnery
The Center Doesn’t Hold
Raouf Halaby
The Sailors of the USS Liberty: They, Too, Deserve to Be Honored
Rodrigue Tremblay
Barack Obama’s Legacy: What Happened?
Matt Peppe
Just the Facts: The Speech Obama Should Have Given at Hiroshima
Deborah James
Trade Pacts and Deregulation: Latest Leaks Reveal Core Problem with TISA
Michael Donnelly
Still Wavy After All These Years: Flower Geezer Turns 80
Ralph Nader
The Funny Business of Farm Credit
Paul Craig Roberts
Memorial Day and the Glorification of Past Wars
Colin Todhunter
From Albrecht to Monsanto: A System Not Run for the Public Good Can Never Serve the Public Good
Rivera Sun
White Rose Begins Leaflet Campaigns June 1942
Tom H. Hastings
Field Report from the Dick Cheney Hunting Instruction Manual
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail