The military junta ruling Egypt, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), carried out its second wave of murders in as many months, killing at least 14 between Dec. 16 and Dec. 19, when it attacked protesters engaged in a sit-in outside the Cabinet building. As had happened the month before, the murders sparked off a return of mass protests in Tahrir Square and other cities.
The sit-in, called “Occupy Cabinet,” was called to try to prevent the assumption of office by the military-appointed Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri, and in denunciation of the killing and blinding of demonstrators during the Battle of Mohammad Mahmoud Street in November. The mid-December attacks once again included detention and torture of protesters, with the added tactic of army and police throwing glass, stones, and various heavy objects from rooftops onto activists on the streets below.
Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists noted that the military and its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood were particularly worried about the potential for the Cabinet sit-in to deepen links between protesters in the streets and in workplaces, where strikes continue to grow in number and political content. Furthermore, “the army wants to muzzle the revolutionaries until political positions and powers can be divided between the opportunist political forces which consented to enter the battle of parliament under military rule.”
Concerns that the military was moving to detain, torture, and even assassinate leading movement activists led to calls for support from international allies. In the U.S. these calls sparked the formation of the Ad Hoc Coalition to Defend the Egyptian Revolution, initiated by the activists who have been holding protests at the Egyptian consulate and mission in New York, as well as at corporate offices of manufacturers whose tear gas has been used by SCAF against protesters (see defendegyptianrevolution.org).
The Coalition initiated a statement protesting SCAF’s actions, which in just a few days garnered several dozen organizational endorsements, including at least 13 Occupy sites, and over 500 individuals. The statement drew the connection between repression by the military in defense of Egypt’s ruling class (including its own economic perks; the military controls 30% of the country’s economy) and the global offensive by ruling classes and governments. And it reminded supporters of the role of the Egyptian revolution in sparking the global fightback, including the Occupy movement, which drew inspiration so explicitly from the Egyptian revolt.
The statement noted: “The same 1% that arms the Egyptian dictatorship commits systematic violence in this country against the Occupy movement; antiwar and solidarity activists; and Arabs, Muslims, and other communities of color. As the U.S. Palestinian Community Network recently observed, ‘the same U.S.-made tear gas rains down on us in the streets of Oakland, Cairo, and Bil’in.’”
The Coalition stressed, “Because of Egypt’s key strategic location, the fate of its revolution echoes across the world. Its success will bring us all closer to achieving economic and social justice. But its defeat would be a major blow to social justice movements everywhere, including Occupy. … In short, Egypt is key to the continued success of the Arab Revolution, and movements she has inspired.”
The Coalition demanded the end of all U.S. aid and weapons to the Egyptian military and police, an end to the murders, tortures and detentions, release of all political prisoners, and an immediate end to military rule in Egypt. In addition to encouraging protests at consulates and missions, the Coalition organized a speedy, efficient mass calling campaign to the offices of SCAF head Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi Soliman and Prime Minister Kamal El Ganzory.
After the brutal treatment of women protesters, most notoriously captured in a video which went viral showing Tantawi’s thugs stripping and stomping a female protester, the Egyptian and Egyptian-American women in the Coalition (who have been its leaders from the beginning) initiated a statement supporting women in Egypt. They noted the bold response of the 10,000 women who took to the streets in Egypt after this thuggery and called in one voice: “Egyptian women will not be stripped!” The statement also noted the leading role of women in “vital initiatives such as field hospitals [to care for wounded protesters] and the campaign to end military trials for civilians.”
The Coalition also issued an appeal for Mohamed Hashem (a leading progressive publisher who has worked with dedication to protect protesters from the military’s thugs and in return was threatened by the regime), and is working on sector-specific appeals for unions, legal rights groups, and others.
Who’s the real “foreign agent”?
On Dec. 29 the military raided the offices of 17 human rights and civil liberties organizations, most of them legitimate, three of them fronts for the U.S. State Department. The latter were purposely chosen as part of the military’s campaign to label all opposition to its rule as part of a plot on behalf of unnamed “foreign powers.” This was from a regime whose survival is completely dependent on $1.3 billion in annual military aid from the United States! What’s more, the military knows that the overwhelming majority of its opponents have in principle not only refused financial support from the U.S. government, but in fact see completion of the revolution as indissolubly connected to ending all collaboration with imperialism and Zionism.
The most steadfast of such opponents of collaboration, the Revolutionary Socialists, came under attack on Dec. 24 when a lawsuit against it was filed by a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood’s leadership formally distanced itself from the lawsuit, yet repeated in its media the lies articulated in the lawsuit even after it had been withdrawn.
The lawsuit was filed using the pretext of a statement captured on video of one of the leading members of the Revolutionary Socialists, Sameh Naguib, in which, the RS said, he “talked about how the revolutionaries want the downfall of the state to build a new revolutionary state, and that the military council does not protect the interests of the Egyptian people but instead protects the interests of the 1000 richest families in Egypt, the interests of the Pentagon, the U.S. government, and the Zionists.”
“Our reply,” the Revolutionary Socialists affirmed, “is that it is no indictment to say that we want the downfall of the oppressive state and the creation of a just state. … Yes, we are seeking to overthrow the state of tyranny and poverty that has ruled us for the last 30 years, and continues to rule us today, the state that has killed thousands of fighters in its prisons, the state which has looted and stolen from the poor to increase the wealth of the rich. … This is the state which discriminates between its citizens on the basis of religion, gender, and race.”
In a longer late-December document on strategy and tactics in the current stage of the revolution, the RS identified three key forces in the country’s politics: First is the ruling military.
Second is the bloc of Islamist and liberal reformist political forces, “which are straining to contain the revolution within the limits of formalistic democracy. These forces believe that they are due a greater share of power and wealth without disturbing the old economic and social system,” and as a result “flirt with the military council and the remnants of the old regime, and make promises about their ability to contain and terminate the mass movement politically, as they cannot deliver this by repression.”
The third factor is the mass movement, “with the workers’ movement in the vanguard and around it the protest movements of the poor and oppressed.” This movement “reached an unprecedented level during the months of September and October with a wave of mass strikes by 700,000 workers for the first time in Egypt’s modern history.”
(A report issued in mid-December showed education workers moving to the forefront of working-class mobilization, with 80,000 workers employed by the Education Ministry and thousands of teachers striking for pay, benefits, and permanent contracts. And, reports the independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, in the last days of 2011 a new form of worker action arose, as large groups of workers blocked roads and doorways in front of various government and corporate offices, calling for the dismissal of the corrupt leaders of their companies, payment of overdue compensation, and implementation of court verdicts in favor of re-nationalization of their companies. They have also protested hundreds of arbitrary dismissals while company officials give jobs to their relatives.)
The RS also noted the regular protests by poor Coptic Christians, Nubians, the people of Sinai, “and other sections of society which have suffered decades of organized oppression from the regime.”
With the military’s lack of certainty, given the continued mobilization and self-confidence of the masses, that it could get away with the wholesale repression that would be needed to put an end to protests, the regime has instead resorted to selective repression combined with reliance on its partners in the Muslim Brotherhood and in Salafi (ultra-orthodox religious) groups, who have used the current staged elections to try to fool the masses into thinking they can achieve justice by passive reliance on Parliament and the president.
Such duplicity is carried out in the face of continued assertions by the military that it would not relinquish power to such elected figures, and in the face also of repeated assurances by these Islamist forces to the military and to their U.S. masters that once elected they would maintain “free market” policies and collaboration with Israel (see The New York Times, Jan. 4). Their dispute with the military is simply over a division of the spoils and over where to draw the line in what the military and the Islamists agree must be a shared control of the country.
Finally, the RS document examines the factors that could unite the various components of the mass movement, the obstacles to such unity, and specific projects for overcoming those obstacles. The authors break down the mass movement into three principal blocs. First is the youth of the slums, the marginalized and unemployed, “joined by the Ultras [organized football fans] and many independent youth and anarchists.” These have suffered the heaviest casualties in street fighting. While representing “a model of revolutionary courage,” and calling for the downfall of military rule, the cleansing of the police, an end to military trials and for the rights of the families of the martyrs and the injured, “they have failed to raise social demands, or even to offer solidarity with workers’ protests.”
“The second bloc among the revolutionary forces has at its heart the core sections of the Egyptian working class … which have fought a large number of battles since 2006,” and dealt the death blow to the Mubarak presidency last February. It has organized many independent unions since then and engaged in waves of mass strikes. “However,” writes the RS, “its birth has been aborted by the absence of a revolutionary workers’ organization and the absence of demands which link the social and the political,” as well as its absence as an organized force in the rallies in city squares and sit-ins against military rule.
The third bloc within the mass movement is the far left, including the RS itself, as well as other radical groups. Taken as a whole, these groups “remain relatively marginal to the political scene, lacking the ability to propose initiatives which rally wider forces, despite their participation in the leadership and development of the November sit-in and their support for workers’ and professionals’ strikes and sit-ins.”
The desire to overcome these weaknesses inspired the Revolutionary Socialists to make several concrete proposals. They advocate turning the abstract slogan of social justice adopted by the revolutionary movement—“which sets them apart from the liberals and the Islamists”—into concrete, practical demands around wages, prices, housing, health, education, and jobs, “in turn connecting the achievement of this program with the presence of a revolutionary government in power.”
They note in this regard the demagogy of the Islamists, whose mention in their electoral program of social demands is pure hypocrisy given their longstanding opposition to labor organizing, their own huge economic investments, and their support for neo-liberal policies during the Mubarak era.
To organize and mobilize for these concrete demands, and in so doing to link the varied components of the mass movement, the RS proposes “to construct a revolutionary front with a political program,” which could unite the social, economic. and political demands of the revolution, and unify the struggles in the workplace, the squares. and the campuses.
Finally, the RS calls for translating its slogan “power and wealth to the people” into a concrete radical program that could mobilize the masses from the very first day on which the newly elected parliament members take their seats and begin enacting anti-worker, anti-revolutionary legislation. And to ensure the success of all these projects, the RS pledges “to build a revolutionary socialist party rooted in the ranks of the workers, peasants and students, capable of leading the masses to victory.”
Workers and next phase of Arab Revolution
At the very same time as Egyptian government employees were staging mass protests, their counterparts in Yemen began mass action against their own officials’ corruption.
As the AP reported on Dec. 26: “The strikes are following a pattern. Workers lock the gates to an institution, and then they storm the offices of their supervisors, demanding their replacement with bosses who are not tainted with corruption allegations. So far the scenario has played out in 18 state agencies.”
As in Egypt, Yemen’s military has a large stake in the country’s economy, and hundreds of workers have demonstrated in front of the Military Economic Institution, protesting its budget secrecy and demanding dismissal of the agency manager, one of the regime’s most powerful and corrupt figures and a funder of the armed gangs that have attacked protesters.
This similarity in tactics in Egypt and Yemen is, as far as we know, a coincidence. But it could and indeed must become part of a conscious, organized sharing of tactics, and a discussion of shared needs and goals among workers across the region. Such a regional class project would, of course, require construction of a revolutionary party for the Middle East and North Africa as a whole.
Furthermore, this discussion of how to deepen the centrality of workers’ mobilization and demands in the Arab Revolution is also crucial for opposing imperialism’s latest maneuvers. Nowhere is this more needed than in Syria. For months the regime has murdered dozens in cold blood every single day. Yet for months the masses’ response has been to turn out in the tens or hundreds of thousands after each massacre.
But in contrast to this almost unparalleled heroism and steadfastness by Syria’s working people, depending not on lying imperialist “saviors” but rather on the masses’ own strength, the traitorous leadership of the liberals heading the Syrian National Council speaks more and more openly about requesting aid from Washington’s murderous military.
We in the U.S. can further this counterposition of workers’ power to imperialist maneuvers by raising ever louder our own demands that Washington cut all military aid to its client regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and elsewhere, that it stay out of Syria, and that it end all aid to Israel!
> The article above was written by Andrew Pollack, and first appeared in the January 2012 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.