By ANDREW POLLACK
In recent weeks the masses of Egypt and Tunisia have re-entered the streets and taken workplace action in significant numbers, boldly defying their rulers out of dissatisfaction with how the latter are throttling the promise of their revolutions.
In response the parties in power in each country—bourgeois populist parties with an Islamist veneer—have stepped up repression, while at the same time engaging in maneuvers with parties representing either old regime or bourgeois secular forces, or sometimes coalitions blending elements of each.
But neither such maneuvers nor outright repression are dissuading either countries’ workers and peasants from stepping forward, both as individual participants in the revived mass movements, and as actors in their own name.
A similar upsurge and a corresponding array of class forces are visible in Palestine as well, even if the vastly different circumstances make the parallels seem obscure at first.
In Tunisia and Egypt the leading forces in the state include degenerated remnants of the bonapartist bourgeoisie that ruled for most of the period after formal independence was achieved. Once their dictator was overthrown, elections were held which the Islamist bourgeois populists won—a not surprising outcome given their decades of organization-building—but rapidly lost mass support as their policies were seen to mirror those of the previous regime.
The majority of figures and organizations in the bourgeois opposition in both countries are from the secular liberal camp, who have done little better in differentiating themselves from the old regime’s approach.
In Palestine the array of leading political forces appears fundamentally different, yet in essence rests on the same class basis. The key difference is that there is no post-independence regime over which a bourgeois party could rule. Instead we have a puppet pseudo-government, the Palestinian Authority, pretending to rule over discontinuous fragments of land still controlled by the colonial power, Israel. And instead of old regime, Islamist, or liberal bourgeois parties battling for control of all the spoils and succeeding each other in power, in Palestine the division plays out geographically, with Fateh dominant in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza—but all representing parallel class fractions to those in Egypt and Tunisia.
So given these similarities, it’s also not surprising that in Tunisia, Egypt and Palestine, these varied bourgeois forces are all increasingly challenged by determined workers and peasants.
Tunisian politics have long been distinguished regionally by the presence of a large union federation, the UGTT (Tunisian General Labor Union), which, while dominated until recently by a relatively bureaucratic leadership, was never formally subordinate to the regime as was the case with unions in Egypt until Mubarak’s departure and the formation of independent unions. What’s more, left parties with a base in the UGTT and other mass organizations have had relatively more success in leading mass actions than those in Egypt—although the dynamism and persistence of revolutionary parties in the latter, in the face of repression and a far bigger working class within which to contend for leadership, has been inspiring.
The activities of the left within the UGTT during and since the uprising against Ben Ali has given it a share in the federation’s leadership. As a consequence, when protests of thousands of youth broke out in November of last year in Siliana, the UGTT’s threat of a general strike forced the government to stop its violent attacks on the youth and to make some concessions regarding the social and economic demands behind the protests.
In retaliation, however, the regime launched attacks against the UGTT, both on its own and through its surrogate armed thugs. Meanwhile, the left parties, united in the movement against Ben Ali, subsequently suffered a fracturing of that unity, but have since come back together.
Since the spring of 2012, the Tunisian political landscape has been marked by a growing polarization between two major poles. The first consists of the Islamists of Ennahda (the current ruling party), with allies in the Congress for the Republic. The second brings together various forces left over after the break-up of the party of former dictators Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Habib Bourguiba.
But a third pole, united in the Popular Front, has arisen and is rejecting this polarization. It is made up of Maoists, Trotskyists, Socialists, Nasserite and Baathist Arab nationalists, Greens, anti-debt activists, and independents.
Creation of the Front was the result of a realization by the left of their failed tactics during the elections of October 2011. Some forces within it had fallen for promises of old-regime figure Beji Caid Essebsi. And the rest, rather than forging a joint electoral slate, each ran on their own.
As illusions in Essebsi fell away, and events at polling places and in the streets made clear the need to reforge unity, the January 14 Front, prominent in the immediate post-Ben Ali period, was reborn under the name of the Popular Front.
One of the leaders of the Front was Chokri Belaid, a lawyer well known for defending labor struggles and an outspoken critic of the Ennahda-led government. His assassination on Feb. 6 led to a mass upsurge, an upsurge building on continued mass mobilization since Ben Ali’s fall. Days before his death, Belaid had denounced on the radio slanders and threats by the regime against its opponents, and he predicted more murders by the government and its gangs.
A million, some estimates say a million and a half, protested around the country after the murder. There was a general strike in Siliana on Feb. 8. Headquarters of the Ennahda party were attacked in several places. In the Tunisia-Libya border town of Bin Kirdan, tear gas was fired at protesters and some demonstrators broke into Ennahda’s headquarters—this in a town which had voted heavily for that party in the last elections.
Belaid had taken part in the protests in Siliani, leading then Interior Minister Ali Larayedh to accuse him of “stirring up trouble.” After Belaid’s assassination this same Larayedh—who has overseen the government’s repressive apparatus since the fall of Ben Ali—was appointed Prime Minister!
The Popular Front put out a statement two weeks after the assassination, calling for a new transitional government and outlining an emergency program that such a government should carry out. The program contained a variety of demands related to justice for martyrs of both the old regime and the current one; proposals for reform of various laws and institutions in order to promote equity and democracy and to end corruption; and disbanding of the “Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution,” the shadowy gang of thugs which the regime has sent against opponents.
The Front also put forward a set of economic and social measures that included “preventing the liquidation of domestic enterprises and of the main wealth of the country; suspending the repayment of the debt and setting up an audit committee on the question; recovering the rights of the state concerning tax evasion; establishing an exceptional tax on large fortunes; supporting and encouraging small and medium farmers and exempting them from the payment of the debt which is crushing them; freezing prices to protect the purchasing power of the people and encourage consumption; implementation of the decree on the prohibition of subcontracting (temporary work) and regularization of workers on construction sites; reducing unemployment and considering the introduction of an unemployed allowance; modifying and restructuring the industrial and agricultural minimum wage; reducing imports of luxury goods and expenditure on public administration.”
A member of the leadership of the Ligue de la Gauche Ouvrière (Workers’ Left League, LGO), Jalel Ben Brik Zoghlami, put forward his party’s perspective on the political basis required for the Front to win these demands and move toward taking power: “1) A firm base in the current social mobilizations. 2) Establish a program of struggle and mobilization around the essential points: against the line of Ennahda (reactionary, anti-democratic and opposed to women’s rights), cancellation of the debt and the agreements of association with imperialist forces, for the campaign against unemployment and for the right to work, the establishment of a system of development favoring the disadvantaged classes and regions. 3) To clearly oppose the antisocial, pro-imperialist and undemocratic policies of the government of the Ennahda party, and to combat illusions around the liberal pole of the old RCDistes [the old regime’s party]. 4) To call for the fall of the current government and start to discuss the nature of a popular government: For the LGO, it should be based on a popular and democratic workers’ front, with the spinal column of the UGTT. 5) Opening up to and working with independents, notably leaders in the struggle in the trade-union movement, in the regions, among women, the unemployed and young people.”
The LGO also issued a press release headlined “Down with the government of murderers!” In it the League proclaimed: “Let the blood of comrade Chokri Belaïd unite us to overthrow this government in the regions, in the centers of sovereignty, in all the state institutions, in the particular the institution of the Ministry of the Interior and the Constituent Assembly!
“Get rid of the governors and delegates and elect activist local bodies to create a situation of dual power!
“We call together for civil disobedience and the general strike with the sole perspective of bringing down the regime!
“The successive governments since the fall of Ben Ali have followed the same neoliberal economic choices, in liaison with international capital. Inflation is high, and there are around 200,000 more people unemployed than at the time of Ben Ali. As for the development of the regions of the interior, we face an almost total absence of state and private sector investment. … The new partnership agreement with the European Union will deepen the neoliberal policy.”
The bold and far-reaching statements of the LGO stem from a confidence borne of continued and growing working-class mobilizations in recent years. After Ben-Ali’s flight, struggles for social rights took place, most notably in the country’s mining basin as well as in regions of the interior like Sidi Bouzid or Siliana. In the postal service and telecommunications, the state was forced to withdraw its anti-labor plans. After a relative hiatus in struggle during the fall 2011 actions, mobilizations resumed, beginning in the mining basin. “Not a day passed,” noted the League, “without a strike or a demonstration, even in small localities, notably around wages.” The struggles also involved precarious workers and unemployed graduates, who have their own organization.
The LGO noted that “significant differences exist between sectors since they do not all have the same experiences of struggle. … Some regions are very much in advance of others, like for example that of Sidi Bouzid and numerous towns in the interior. Inside the working class, certain sectors are more combative than others, like posts, telecommunications, teaching or public health where strikes also affect doctors.”
At the same time mobilizations have continued in defense of civil liberties and women’s rights. The LGO pointed out that at the root of attacks by the regime and their gangs was the regime’s incapacity to resolve the country’s social and economic problems. So instead, “the government has from early 2012 tried to attack the backbone of the social movement, the UGTT. That led to big mobilizations in its defense, and the regime had to back off.”
After Belaid’s murder, Ennahda’s prime minister, Hamdi Jebali, pledged to form an interim cabinet of technocrats to try to quiet the mass outcry. But Ennahda’s leadership announced that Jebali had spoken out of turn and rejected his plan. Soon thereafter, Jebali tendered his resignation, to be succeeded by Larayedh.
Subsequently, Ennahda claimed it would give up control of four key ministries—the Interior, Justice, Foreign and Defense portfolios. It’s hard to believe they would actually relinquish such important posts, but just the announcement is certainly a sign of the pressure they’re under.
In analyzing Ennahda’s difficulties, Tunisian leftists note that Ennadha had not expected the old regime to fall, and, not believing it was possible to overthrow it, were ready to negotiate with it. “They have shown the people,” said the LGO, “that they practiced the same clientelism as Ben Ali’s party.” All of this could obviously be said as well of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
And as in Egypt, the new ruling party continues its collaboration with international capital, both in economic policy (eagerly subjecting itself to the dictates of multinational banks and corporations and their IMF) and diplomacy, lining up with the US and its puppets.
In the face of this difficult situation the unity represented in the Popular Front is a precious acquisition. The Front has a strong presence in mass organizations of labor, women, the unemployed, human rights and others.
The Front, says the LGO, also declares its intention to address the problem of taking power, “on an anti-neoliberal and anti-fundamentalist orientation. It is a broad workers’ and popular front, which, for the LGO, prepares the way for the UGTT to then play such a function [of being the backbone of a new power]. The Popular Front is fully involved in the democratic and social mobilizations. And it will run lists at the 2013 elections. These two aspects are complementary.”
In mid-February protests broke out in the coastal city Port Said against the murders by the regime and its thugs of dozens during a mass rally against the regime’s frame-up verdicts in the February 2012 football match deaths (which were widely viewed at the time as having been set up by the regime and its paid thugs). The protests also raised the full range of grievances against the government and its repressive and pro-capitalist policies, and very soon spread to many other towns in the Suez region—towns that, like those first to ignite in Tunisia, are heavily working-class in composition and that, while usually out of the eye of the mass media, have often been even more militant in recent years than the more highly-publicized Tahrir Square protests in Cairo.
Workers at a Port Said shipyard launched a sit-in, while some residents and members of local football fan clubs blocked the road to Sharq al-Tafrea port, the country’s largest seaport on the Mediterranean.
At the same time, workers from the Suez Canal Authority’s navigation department issued a statement expressing solidarity with calls for the resignation and prosecution of Port Said security chief Mohsen Radi and of Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim. Workers threatened to strike if their demands were not met.
Soon the mobilization spread to other cities. A statement from a coalition in Ismailia, another Suez region city, said it was launching a civil disobedience campaign to be implemented at five government institutions and service directorates, and then expanded to the departments of supply, agriculture, education, and the free investment zone in the governorate.
The bakeries division of the Ismailia Chamber of Commerce also said in a statement that it would go on strike March 1 to protest the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade’s payment policies. (This comes as bakers nationwide are threatening to strike if the government doesn’t reconsider a new subsidization system for bread products.)
In Kafr al-Sheikh, a delta city, members of the National Salvation Front opposition coalition issued a statement threatening to start a civil disobedience campaign, citing its disapproval of governmental appointments of what it described as “incompetent” Muslim Brotherhood members and allies, alleging that the appointments were part of a plan to “Brotherhoodize” the governorate.
More details on this upsurge among workers outside of Cairo were provided in an Al-Akhbar article dated Feb. 26, titled “Egypt: Civil Disobedience Gains Ground Among Workers.” Noting the then-two week long duration of the Port Said uprising, the authors wrote that “there are many reasons behind the rise in worker actions and popular protests. One being a general mood of anger among organized workers and professionals following an attempt by Muslim Brotherhood labor minister Khaled al-Azhari to undermine the unions by issuing legislation severely restricting union pluralism.
“This coincides with demands for higher wages in the midst of a significant decline in living standards and exorbitant prices.
“Hesham Fouad, a leader in the Revolutionary Socialists and a member of its workers committee, explained to Al-Akhbar that workers’ strikes are not only increasing in frequency, but witnessing a qualitative change.
“There is a noticeable trend of workers taking over and running their factories [in the face of] attempts by defaulting employers to close facilities and escape the country,” he said. “This concerns the state, “since it knows that giving back the companies to the businessmen will become impossible as the workers gain more confidence.”
According to Fouad, the threat to the state is now more apparent, with workers joining the civil disobedience in Port Said. “The workers of the industrial free zone joined the demonstrations, and dock workers are demanding retribution for victims of abuse at the hands of security forces.”
Socialists quoted in the article exposed the pretensions of leaders of the main bourgeois opposition formation, the National Salvation Front. Said one: “All the leaders of the Front who claim to be secular opponents of Islamists do not have economic answers that differ from the Muslim Brotherhood. While the deteriorating economic conditions indicate that social upheaval is on the horizon, when it happens, it will not be led by any of the leaders of the National Salvation Front.”
Another example of rising worker unrest was described in a Feb. 27 bloomberg.com article: “For 16 days earlier this month, not a single shipping container moved into or out of Egypt’s principal port for Asian trade. Laborers at Ain Sukhna, on the Suez Canal east of Cairo, were busy protesting management’s plans to continue using short- term employment contracts. The roughly 1,200 striking dock workers, who slept each night in empty containers while campaigning for permanent jobs with port operator DP World Ltd. (DPW), hung a white banner reading ‘Our one demand is to be hired,’ alongside a large Egyptian flag.
“The standoff ended February 17 when the government agreed to give the strikers jobs with a new state-controlled port company.” But the strike was cited by business figures interviewed to complain about the drop-off in foreign investment, supposedly due to workplace and general political unrest.
“Magdi Tolba, chairman of clothing maker Cairo Cotton Center, frets over a ‘breakdown of discipline’ in Egyptian factories as endless political debates distract workers from their assembly lines. ‘Someone has to go and say: ’enough is enough,’’ he said. ‘The economy is bleeding.’” (An AFL-CIO official in the Egypt branch of the federation’s Solidarity Center was quoted by Bloomberg echoing this line, saying workers should stop worrying about politics and focus solely on workplace issues.) The Nile Delta city of Mansoura joined the upsurge a week after Port Said. Suez, Mahalla and Tanta have also joined.
On March 2an activist in Egypt tweeted that “FIERCE clashes now have erupted in Mansoura, where the central security forces are besieging the field hospitals; in Port Said, where the army troops and police forces are exchanging live ammo; and in Tahrir! Civil disobedience have started today in Ismaileya, continues in Port Said, Daqahleya and Suez. People are stopping trains, blocking roads, protesting everywhere.” In Mansoura the clashes escalated after the police ran over and killed a protester.
IMF/U.S. dictate austerity, repression
This working-class-led upsurge comes as the IMF, with U.S. backing, turns up the pressure in its months-long campaign to get the regime to impose austerity measures in exchange for a promised loan.
By coincidence, in a maneuver reminiscent of those used in the manufactured Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s, it turns out that the IMF has had an even more direct hand in sabotaging Egypt’s economy. A Fund press statement reported in Al-Akhbar revealed “an agreement with the Egyptian government to end the central bank’s control of the exchange rate, under the pretext of enhancing Egypt’s competitiveness in world markets.” This led to the collapse of the Egyptian currency relative to the U.S. dollar and the draining of foreign reserves—a collapse that The New York Times among others has been using for months as supposed proof of the need for draconian austerity measures. It also led to the resignation of the central bank head and his replacement by one more agreeable to the IMF’s insistence on devaluation.
The U.S., of course, continues to support the regime’s repression, both politically and materially, above all because it knows austerity can never be imposed on a populace still ready to defy the regime.
In January, the Interior Ministry ordered the import of 140,000 teargas canisters from the U.S., an order accompanied by an open admission that the emergency shipment was needed because they were running out of supplies given the frequent and widespread attacks on protesters. The import permit specified that the manufacturer’s name and the country of origin would be erased from the canisters.
An Egyptian leader of the U.S. movement in solidarity with the Egyptian revolution recently described on Facebook the scope of the latest wave of repression: “Morsi’s new interior minister … unleashed a vicious wave of violence against protestors and activists with the anniversary of the January 25 revolution. Tahrir and downtown witnessed one of the longest and most intensive tear-gas campaigns of the past two years. In the past couple of weeks, dozens of activists have been kidnapped, tortured and murdered by security forces with the help of the ministry’s roll-call of paid thugs and Brotherhood foot soldiers.
“This is just one case among hundreds of unchecked police vigilantism and brutality since January 25, 2013 [the revolution’s two-year anniversary, an occasion for mass protests]. The Brotherhood regime has clearly decided to use state security forces to terrorize the insurgent population into submission in an all-out orgy of violence targeting activists, protestors and bystanders, many of them minors. Police snipers have been routinely shooting down activists and journalists at the scene of clashes. The notorious sexual assault campaign in and around Tahrir Square and MB militia kidnappings are part of this strategy. Rape has once again become a routine procedure in Egyptian prisons (I say once again, but to my mind there is a frightening difference in kind and degree between the practices of the former regime and the current one.)”
On Jan. 27, she reported, a high-level U.S. “counter-terrorism” delegation arrived in Cairo, headed by Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and Lieutenant General Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Joint Special Forces Command. Morsi promptly declared martial law in the Canal cities and the next day, Jan. 28, security forces went on the rampage in Suez, Port Said, Alexandria, and Cairo—with more than 50 dead and hundreds injured and detained in a single day.
“The draft law on demonstrations is also designed to criminalize and stamp out protest.” Congressional leaders, she added, were urging a shift in emphasis toward support for security and police forces, as opposed to the military, and encouraging a greater focus of those forces on “counterterrorism” duties. Nevertheless, the Pentagon is reiterating its support for the military, especially in light of its efforts to police Gaza’s borders on Israel’s behalf.
Meanwhile the response of many bourgeois liberals to Brotherhood/police/informal gang repression has been to call on the military to seize power. In point of fact, the military never relinquished its share in state power, giving up neither its armed might nor its vast economic empire, but only ordered its troops to stay at the ready in their barracks, as it did during the anti-Mubarak protests.
An example of the liberals’ pro-coup campaign was the Feb. 25 rally in front of the Unknown Soldier Memorial in Nasr City “in support of the Armed Forces” and rejecting what they called attempts to “Brotherhoodize” the army.
On March 1, pro-military protesters at that site announced an open-ended sit-in until the fall of Morsi and the cancellation of the Constitution [which Morsi’s party had rammed through in the face of objections from all wings of the opposition].
“The protesters,” reported Al-Masry Al-Youm, “called on the army and the police to protect the nation and the people ‘against the high treason of the Muslim Brotherhood.’
“Earlier in the day, a march of dozens led by prominent journalist Mostafa Bakry, who is rumored to have close ties to the army, arrived at the memorial.
Notable public figures supporting a military takeover included former Mubarak Supreme Court appointee Tahani al-Gebali. She declared: “We must protect our national security at home and abroad. The military has other duties. It shouldn’t respond to pressure from the Brotherhood to open the tunnels to Gaza and let them implement their schemes in Sinai.” In fact, the Brotherhood has bent over backward to comply with U.S./Israeli insistence that it continue to assist in the blockade of Gaza. But that has not been quick enough for the liking of the pro-Zionist liberals, who filed and won a lawsuit to demand the government flood the tunnels on which the economically-bereft masses in Gaza depend.
Participating political forces in the pro-coup rally included the Silent Majority Movement, the Military Retirees Coalition, the Egyptian Revolution Union, the Maspero Youth Union, and the Federation of Trade Unions (the old pro-regime union body). Another sign of the regime’s continued allegiance to Tel Aviv is its announcement that the Interior Ministry is currently searching for 500 Palestinian citizens who are allegedly Hamas members, and who are accused of illegally entering the country.
As in Tunisia, there is a similarity in policy—whether on the economic, repressive, or diplomatic fronts—between the ruling party and its secular bourgeois opponents. They disagree only over who should administer the cuts and accompanying repression, and which segments of the capitalist class should profit.
This coincidence of interests is particularly dangerous given the deepening economic crisis and the swelling volume of insistence that Egypt turn the screws on workers if an IMF loan is to be granted (a loan that in turn is held up as a prerequisite for further loans by Western banks and for multinational corporations’ investment).
Satisfying the IMF and Washington
Egypt’s latest economic reform plan, drafted at the behest of the IMF, will cut subsidies for many basic consumption items, and will raise taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, iron, cement, carbonated drinks, and mobile phone use. Egypt’s Minister of Industry and Foreign Trade Hatem Saleh said on Feb. 26 that energy subsidies for industrial firms would disappear over the next three years. We know who will pay the price of those cuts.
The reform plan’s announcement came on the eve of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the result of which was an announcement on March 3 that the U.S. would provide $250 million in assistance to Egypt after the latter’s president had promised to reach an agreement with the IMF following more than a year of talks over a $4.8 billion loan package.
U.S. officials, reported The New York Times, said that Kerry had “asserted that moving ahead with difficult economic changes in Egypt would require a degree of political consensus and was implicitly a promise of some political change.”
The $250 million itself is hardly significant: $190 million of it was already promised and approved by Congress (and is in fact only a small part of the $1 billion promised by Obama in May 2011). The other $60 million is for creation of a fund to support small businesses. Clearly, the main point of the Kerry-Morsi meeting was for Kerry to have a chance to make clear to Morsi that he had better do whatever is necessary to stop dissent against austerity and against the regime’s pro-Israel policies.
In the face of the regime’s policies and the renewed mass upheaval, some liberal opposition groups have called for a boycott of upcoming elections. Some from this sector have also announced their intention to form a “Popular Parliament,” which would run in parallel with the official legislative body. Starting at first in Mahalla—home of the country’s militant textile workforce—it would eventually go national.
Groups involved in the plan include the Constitution Party, Egyptian Popular Current, Egyptian Social Democratic Party, April 6 Youth Movement (Democratic Front), and Mahalla Revolutionary Youth Movement.
It’s unlikely that this body will base itself on the committees thrown up in workplaces and neighborhoods at the peak of mass struggles. But perhaps its creation will open a discussion of the need to revive—and to unify nationally—such bodies.
Meanwhile, the number of Palestinians resisting oppression in the streets has once again swelled. In mid-January a series of tent encampments were launched to try to recapture, if only symbolically at first, land stolen by Zionist settlers in the West Bank. As soon as one encampment was destroyed by Israeli soldiers, another was put up in a new location.
This overlapped in time with rallies and tent cities set up to support political prisoners on hunger strike, actions which gathered momentum and spread to new areas, as Samer Issawi—on hunger strike since last August—appeared close to death.
During this same period running street battles between Palestinian youth and the occupation army also escalated in size, frequency and geographical location. All these actions drew fuel from the dramatic increase in number and violence of settler and IDF attacks, mushrooming settlement expansion, and growing anger at a Palestinian Authority leadership which does nothing but beg Israel for talks.
At the same time, public sector strikes are growing as the PA withholds wages and rejects other demands by healthcare, education and other public sector workers.
These strikes follow massive protests and strikes in the West Bank last fall against price hikes and tax increases, actions that featured calls for the resignation of the PA’s chief economic policymaker, Salam Fayyad, as well as for an end to the Paris Protocols, the economic section of the Camp Oslo Accords, which codifies PA subservience to the neoliberal policies of the IMF, including reinforcing dependence on the Zionist economy.
These diverse protests appeared to be heading toward an explosive climax, as furious and massive street actions broke out after Israel had tortured to death detainee Arafat Jaradat. He had been arrested for supposedly throwing a rock at an Israeli soldier (a charge commonly applied when Zionist forces run out of other excuses for detaining someone). His wife, Dalal, told reporters that an Israeli intelligence officer brought her husband to his front door a few minutes after he was arrested to “say goodbye to your wife and children.”
News of Jaradat’s death led to mass demonstrations in Hebron, Gaza, the Huwara checkpoint near Nablus, and in front of Ofer prison in Beitunia, Ramallah. Tens of thousands went to Sa’ir for his funeral. Pro-prisoner rallies were held on the following Friday in Huwara, Issawiya, Ofer Prison, Budrus, al-Arroub, Kalandia, Bil’in, Nabi Salih, and Ya’bad.
As a response to Jaradat’s murder, thousands of prisoners observed one-day hunger strikes. Other prisoners have announced their own open-ended hunger strikes, such as Younes al-Huroub and Hazem Tawil, both administrative detainees. These protests were met by tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, live ammunition, beatings and arrests. Israeli officials publicly demanded that the Palestinian Authority put a lid on the upsurge.
Annie Robbins noted in the Electronic Intifada that for months, Israeli officials and mainstream media have been speculating on when a “Third Intifada” would begin (and she questioned why Palestinian sources “who launched Intifadas in 1987 and 2000” were not “the ones to declare their own uprising”).
A march in solidarity with the detainees and hunger strikers was held in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan. A rally with the same theme was held in Yaffa—i.e., inside pre-1967 Israel.
The fury over Israel’s treatment of prisoners and detainees is intensified by recognition that it has carried out frequent re-jailings in violation of the agreement reached to end mass hunger strikes called in 2012 to protest open-ended “administrative detention.”
Israel’s brazen disregard of agreements signed concerning detainees and prisoners is paralleled by its repeated and murderous violations of the terms of last year’s Gaza ceasefire, Israel has breached that agreement on more than 800 occasions since it was signed last November. In stark contrast, there have been only two allegations of truce violations by Palestinian groups. The latter, of course, are the only ones to get mainstream media coverage. And we can be sure that when Israel decides once again to attack with massive force, the mainstream media will claim it is in retaliation for supposed missile-fire from Gaza.
Israel’s ceasefire violations include repeated deadly attacks on Gaza fishers, despite the fact that they have been sailing well within the agreed-upon off-shore limit set as part of the ceasefire. In response, the fishers carried out a demonstration at sea on March 3, in which fishers from all over the Gaza Strip brought their boats and formed a flotilla at the seaport.
The everyday racism of Israeli society was horrifically captured in a set of photos that went viral at the end of February of a vicious attack by dozens of settlers on a lone Palestinian woman. Soon thereafter, Israel announced it would begin “Palestinian-only” bus lines. News of this, and comparisons to Jim Crow policies of the U.S. South, also went viral.
In the face of this increased and ever more widely and openly applied racism and repression, the PA and Hamas have done virtually nothing to defend those whom it supposedly represents. And they will certainly continue to try to impose austerity measures as in Egypt and Tunisia.
This, of course, is not surprising, for as mentioned at the start, despite the dramatically different contexts the class basis of both the PA and Hamas is the same as that of their counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia—one or another segment of the capitalist class.
The real question facing Palestine, then, is not so much whether a Third Intifada has or will soon break out but whether grassroots committees gathering in the masses of workers and peasants akin to those of the first Intifada can be strengthened and broadened where they exist, created where they don’t, and linked up across Palestine. Such base-building is needed regardless of whether the pace and intensity of the ever-present Palestinian grassroots resistance quickens, or whether we are instead in a period of preparation for the next uprising. Such a period would also be useful for strengthening ties being reforged with the campaigns for return of the millions of refugees in exile, and of Palestinians within pre-1967 Israel.
A corollary to these questions is whether a revolutionary leadership—that is, a working-class-based party—can be built in time in order to gather the most militant elements of such committees. Such a party could function in intimate cooperation with the grassroots committees to develop strategy and tactics to fend off bourgeois cooptation and repression—as well as to forge ties with similar movements and bodies throughout the region.
Labor upsurge in Lebanon
Meanwhile, mid-February was also the occasion for an upsurge of Lebanese workers. On Feb. 27 Lebanon’s unions launched “the revolution of the hungry,” as thousands flocked to the streets to demand the enactment of an agreed upon pay raise and an enhanced social security package.
Teachers and public workers had been on an open-ended strike since Feb. 19 over delays to a salary hike first passed by the cabinet more than 18 months ago. It awaits parliament’s approval. (This is the government in which Hezbollah holds cabinet posts.) Teachers and public workers came to join a march in Beirut from all parts of Lebanon. The actions are considered to be the largest economic protest since the end of the country’s civil war (1975-1990).
Sit-ins and protests are being held on a daily basis in front of the offices of different ministries, and strike committees have been organized in different workplaces to support and sustain the strike.
On Feb. 25 the union federation called for continuation of the strike and called sit-ins in front of the schools whose administrations have threatened to sack teachers who participate in the strike. Thousands of teachers and public sector workers demanding pay hikes took to the streets for an eighth consecutive day on Feb. 26, blocking major roads across Lebanon. Soon thereafter teachers at Catholic schools joined the strike.
The similarities in the class alignments in each of the countries described above raise the question not just of the need for firmer organization of working-class-based movements and parties within each country, but also of the necessity and possibility of regional solidarity and collaboration.
Fear of just that on the part of the region’s rulers and their masters was seen in a recent attack on a gathering in Algeria. Police there raided the first North African Forum to Fight Unemployment and Precarious Work, arresting and deporting unionists from Morocco, Tunisia, and Mauritania.
The police also arrested Abdelkader Kherba, a member of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights and the National Committee to Defend the Rights of the Unemployed.
The anti-unemployment forum had been formed following meetings in Tunisia and Morocco of representatives of unemployed graduates and young precarious workers. The meeting in Algeria was organized in particular to prepare for the World Social Forum to be held in Tunisia from March 26 to 30, 2013.
The LGO’s Zoghlami said that the WSF “should be an effective time to express loudly the rejection of neoliberalism as well as the diktats of the EU and the USA. We expect a significant presence from all the movements opposed to neoliberalism and fighting for the emancipation of oppressed peoples.”
In this regard, the WSF can be a forum for discussing the tasks outlined in this article facing the region’s labor and socialist movements. And, we should add, in so doing it can provide, as the region has done so often in recent years, continued inspiration for those now engaged in general strikes and monster rallies throughout crisis-ridden Europe.
Photo: Feb. 6 demonstration in Tunis protesting the murder of leftist attorney Chokri Belaid.
Hassene Dridi / AP