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Egypt rocks the world

Millions in streets try to oust U.S.-backed regime

Published Feb 2, 2011 3:41 PM

Feb. 1 — The outpouring of Egyptians on Tuesday, Feb. 1, is one of the greatest manifestations of mass protest in history. More than 1 million people overflowed Tahrir Square in Cairo; hundreds of thousands came out in Alexandria, Suez, Mansoura and other cities throughout the country. It is truly world-historic in proportion. Nothing will be the same after this.

All classes, all but those strata irreversibly tied to the old regime, have united behind a national democratic revolution to topple Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship. They have risen on a scale and with the power of a social volcano.

These demonstrations took place even though the regime shut down trains and other mass transportation and blocked the Internet. Many people walked miles to reach the demonstrations.

Direct reports to Workers World from Tahrir Square are that the slogans are anti-imperialist, anti-U.S., very anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian, against the Egyptian business class, against the entire regime and calling for a new “pro-people” constitution. There is no turning back.

The protests have risen and spread within the extraordinarily short time of eight days. And, most importantly, the movement is still on the rise. The mass upsurge has leapt over the heads of everyone — the Mubarak regime, its imperialist backers and the political opposition in Egypt. All forces are rushing to catch up to developments. But with each recalibration by the Obama administration or the Mubarak regime, or those who call themselves “the opposition” in Egypt, the masses take another leap forward, leaving everyone behind.

At this writing Egyptian television is showing the bizarre scene of Mubarak sitting in his office, discussing measures to be taken with his newly appointed cabinet, while more than 2 million people just blocks away are calling for an end to the entire regime. It is like watching the ghost of someone who has died — but thinks he is still alive.

‘Martyrdom or freedom’

The corporate television networks covering the demonstrations describe the mood as celebratory. Yet Al Jazeera cited “martyrdom or freedom” as a widely popular slogan. Effigies of Mubarak hang from poles. The crowd demands his arrest and that the entire regime be booted out.

The day Mubarak appointed his crony Omar Suleiman, the hated head of intelligence and a former general, as his vice president, the people raised the slogan: “Oh Mubarak, oh Suleiman, we have heard that before. Neither Mubarak nor Suleiman — both are stooges of the Americans.” (New York Times, Jan. 30)

At the moment this great uprising lacks a central leadership. But this is inevitable under the circumstances. The Mubarak regime’s ruthless repression of the left and all progressive forces has weakened the movement. Furthermore, the meteoric rise in the demonstrations, from tens of thousands to millions within a week, would leave even the most developed revolutionary party running to catch up. There is still much time for the Egyptian people to develop the leadership they need.

‘Hug a soldier’

The masses have adopted a classical revolutionary strategy of fraternization towards the rank-and-file soldiers. The movement calls it “hug a soldier.” Numerous shots were shown on television early on of soldiers posing with demonstrators; troops riding in tanks waving Egyptian flags; one officer declaring, “We will not fire on you.”

A military spokesperson the night before the “million person march” told the masses, “We will not fire on the people.” Actually, after six days of fraternization, the high command had no idea of whether the troops would, in fact, fire on the people. The order to fire could cause a huge split among the troops and drive sections of the ranks actively over to the side of the people and into combat against the police and the regime.

Former Egypt analyst for the CIA, Bruce Riedel, gave a blunt assessment: “They could shoot the crowd, they win tomorrow, and then there will be a revolt that will sweep them away.” (New York Times, Jan. 30)

Two notes of caution regarding the military’s pledge not to shoot: This pledge was made in the face of an anticipated demonstration of a million or more people; also this pledge was made in the context of the masses acting peacefully. There is no telling what the military high command, who are complete servants of imperialism and reaction, would do should the masses become more aggressive in their attempts to oust an intransigent dictatorship.

The state and the revolution

Either way, the question of the military and the state in the present struggle is contradictory. In every revolutionary struggle the question of the state becomes paramount. The Egyptian state is first and foremost the instrument for the suppression of the working class and the peasants. In Egypt the police have traditionally carried out this repressive role.

But with the police off the streets for the moment, the army is the weapon of the state with its face to the demonstrations. As the situation stands, then, the state exists but the high command is constrained from using it to suppress the demonstrations. Yet as long as the troops follow the orders of the high command, the army is the instrument that prevents the people from sweeping away the regime and establishing new organs of popular government.

Washington’s illusory ‘orderly transition’

The U.S. imperialists in Washington have been trying to find some “orderly transition” that will allow the Pentagon and Wall Street to maintain their grip on Egypt, while placating the masses at the same time.

But the uprising left Washington without any control over the situation and without an effective plan to regain control. The U.S. has contemplated dealing with Mohamed ElBaradei and various small liberal parties of the opposition. They would like them to negotiate with the military for a transition that would set up elections but leave the fundamental policies in place.

But in face of the titanic uprising of the Egyptian masses, it will be an almost impossible task for the U.S. to maintain its domination of the Egyptian government and its policies, including the peace treaty with Israel, the blockade of Gaza, the use of the Egyptian foreign office to frustrate the Palestinian national movement, and using Egypt as a base for the Pentagon in the region.

The anger at the old regime is reminiscent of the people’s anger at the French monarchy in 1789, the Czar in 1917 and the Shah in 1979. The old order, the order carefully armed and financed by U.S. imperialism, will eventually be swept away by the Egyptian masses. No “orderly transition” can hold. Things can never be the same. For the Egyptian people, the road to liberation is a complete break with imperialism. This glorious, world-historic uprising is an enormous first leap along that road.