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Egyptian people press on: ‘The revolution is not complete’

Published Jul 11, 2011 9:40 PM

Brother of young man killed by police in Tahrir Square holds up his photo as woman speaks to rally.
WW photo: Joyce Chediac

The Egyptian people’s determination to hold their government accountable for promised social, economic and political change could be seen June 17 during the weekly Friday demonstration at Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

A young woman wearing the head scarf known as a hijab and holding a microphone in her hand addressed the crowd from a raised platform. Several young men gave short talks in turn. People in the crowd hoisted others on their shoulders to lead chants, while small groups engaged in intense discussion.

Participants raised signs and banners detailing the issues that the ruling military council has not addressed. Topping that list was bringing the police and top officials in the regime of Hosni Mubarak to justice for their crimes against the people, including murdering protesters and looting the economy. Protesters were also concerned with low wages, Christian-Moslem solidarity and the upcoming elections and constitutional reform.

A young man carried a memorial sign with his younger brother’s picture above the words: “He will always be in our hearts.” He said he himself had sustained serious wounds from rubber bullets in the January-February protests, but his brother had been killed by three sniper bullets to the head and the heart. His view was that so far “nothing has changed.” He returns to Tahrir Square every Friday, he said, to carry his brother’s picture in the protests and make sure he did not die in vain.

A middle-aged man held a picture of Mubarak carrying a large sack on his shoulder labeled “The people’s money.” The sign read, “Jail him. He has destroyed our life for 30 years. No mercy for Mubarak and his henchmen.”

Another sign called for jailing Mubarak’s sons, Gamal and Alaa Mubarak. Like their father, they amassed huge personal fortunes at the people’s expense.

Two men held a hand-lettered banner that said it all: “The Revolution is not complete.” Under this was a set of demands: “End emergency law,” which has been in effect for three decades; “Replace military tribunals with civilian courts;” and “Elect new councils in each city.” The last demand, illustrated by a crescent and a cross, read: “Jail those making trouble between Moslems and Christians.”

Moslem-Christian solidarity

Progressives feel that sectarian attacks on churches are instigated by the government in order to divide the people. During the mass occupation of Tahrir Square for 18 days in January, Moslems stood guard while Christians prayed and vice-versa.

‘Constitution before elections’

A man from Suez City carried a sign reading, “Constitution before elections.” Parliamentary elections are scheduled for September. The new parliament will then be charged with writing a new constitution. Most progressives oppose this, however, as September elections come too soon for grassroots parties to be able to participate. Only the parties of the rich will be able to run. People fear a parliament dominated by bourgeois parties will rewrite the constitution to meet their needs and not the needs of the people.

Additionally, to be on the ballot a new party must amass 5,000 members and then buy ads in the two major Egyptian papers that include the 5,000 names. This arbitrary ruling makes it almost impossible for working-class parties to run.

A young woman in the square held a poster graphically illustrating why the constitution should be rewritten before elections are held. Her three-dimensional poster showed a city block with a bystander gazing in confusion at a building missing the bottom floor. The poster read: “Constitution first. You can’t construct a building without the first floor.”

Other progressives explained to this reporter that they seek to change the language in the constitution from defining Egypt as a Moslem country with a basis in Sharia law to defining it as a secular state based on civil law.

Israel gas deal: ‘Theft to please the U.S.’

An international issue generating widespread outrage here is the Mubarak regime’s filling 40 percent of Israel’s natural gas needs. While two-thirds of Egyptians live in poverty, the government sells gas to Israel at a third of the international price, according to Mamdouh el Habashi, a founder of the Egyptian Socialist Party. This is seen as pleasing the U.S. at the expense of the Egyptian people.

The ruling military council continues to honor this contract, which Egypt cannot fulfill without importing gas from Qatar at international prices, el Habashi said. On July 3, for the third time since Mubarak was ousted, an explosion damaged the Sinai pipeline delivering this gas to Israel.

‘Sense of entitlement among all classes’

The overwhelming impression this reporter had was that it is the Egyptian people, not the government, who have changed since the mass movement finally ousted Mubarak in February. Before these events few Egyptians voted, as the elections were rigged and the winners known beforehand. But in the March 19 interim elections, an election monitor told this reporter that the turnout was huge, with some people waiting on line for seven hours to cast ballots.

There is a sense of expectation among all classes, including the workers, who feel they are entitled to a government that is accountable to the people, that carries out justice against those who looted the country and murdered the revolutionaries and youth, and that gives relief from grinding poverty while fulfilling the very basic needs of a job, a home, food and healthcare. Expectations have been raised, and while some have said they are willing to wait for this, they are not willing to wait forever.

What will the next move be in this ongoing struggle, which has touched every level of Egypt’s population? What leadership will emerge? Will the people’s movement be able to defend itself against the state’s onslaught? All this remains to be seen.