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Egypt’s workers defy U.S.-backed junta

Published Feb 16, 2011 4:02 PM

Victory rally, Washington, D.C., Feb. 12.
WW photo: Sharon Black

Feb. 15 — The Egyptian military would like to put the genie of the Egyptian Revolution back in the bottle. But it won’t go back. The so-called “orderly transition” — backed by the Obama administration, NATO and the Egyptian ruling class — has the immediate tactical goal of pushing the masses of people off the streets and off the stage of history.

But millions of Egyptians for the last few weeks have fought and demonstrated in historic numbers, with passionate intensity, for a better future and against 30 years of police repression, thievery and growing economic hardship. They will not be pushed back into submission by commands from an outmoded, reactionary military junta.

WW managing editor Monica Moorehead
speaks at rally at U.N. in NYC, Feb. 11.
WW photo: G. Dunkel

The 19-member Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has assumed power in the aftermath of the downfall of hated former President Hosni Mubarak. The junta quickly declared that the 1979 Peace Treaty with Israel would remain in force. Thus, the generals promised to uphold the cornerstone of Washington’s and the Pentagon’s strategic policy in the Middle East.

The council issued a series of demagogic communiqués praising the protests and promising to establish democracy, but also calling for an end to protests and for things to go back to “normal.”

A council of Mubarak’s generals

This is a council of Mubarak’s generals. They have thrived off $50 billion in U.S. military aid over the last 30 years. They are intimately tied to U.S. imperialism and the Pentagon. They own businesses in many sectors of the economy and are firmly entrenched. They have operated behind the scenes for 30 years. But having been forced by a titanic mass struggle to get rid of Mubarak, they now have to step forward and rule openly on an emergency basis.

The next phase of the struggle has not yet begun. At this moment things are at the stage of maneuver between the council and its behind-the-scenes backers in Washington, on the one hand, and the revolution and its various representatives on the other.

The generals have dissolved the old corrupt parliament. They are forming a committee to amend the constitution and are promising elections in six months. But the council did not lift the emergency law of 1981, under which the military/police state can seize and imprison anyone. Neither have they freed the thousands of political prisoners. These were key demands of the revolution.

In a controversial move, two representatives of the 13-member Revolutionary Youth Alliance met with the Council and gave an equally controversial positive reaction to the meeting. The Alliance is a coalition of the various forces, some of whom helped organize or otherwise played a role in the demonstrations. Among them were representatives of the April 6 Movement, the youth of the Muslim Brotherhood and the forces around Mohamed ElBaridei. Another meeting is scheduled.

Of course the aim of the military is to break the momentum of the revolution while keeping the old order in place behind a false democratic façade.

The aim of the revolution is to achieve a genuine popular democracy and an end to the military/police dictatorship, which is still in place but has to act with caution and deception in the face of the revolution. Only the struggle will determine the ultimate outcome. It has been reported that mass “Victory” demonstrations are scheduled for Friday. The mass struggle is the only genuine leverage that the revolution has.

Strike wave sweeps the country

In the aftermath of the downfall of Mubarak, workers all over Egypt have exploded in protest. The Supreme Council has issued “Communiqué No. 5,” stating, “Noble Egyptians see that strikes, at this delicate time, lead to negative results.” This was a thinly veiled threat, but can the generals enforce it?

The Central Bank had to order all banks closed on Feb. 14 after “massive worker protests apparently drove the chairman of the National Bank of Egypt, Tarek Amer, out of the institution,” said CNN. The workers are demanding that their temporary jobs be made permanent, among other things.

The stock exchange had to postpone reopening. It had closed on Jan. 30 and was scheduled to reopen on Feb. 16, but the workers at the stock exchange went on strike. It is now rescheduled to open on Feb. 21.

There are also strikes at textile companies, media organizations, steel companies, the postal service, railways and the health ministry. (Aljazeera.net, Feb. 14) Other strikes were reported among public bus drivers, phosphate miners and state electrical workers. (online.wsj.com, Feb. 15)

Hundreds of public transport workers demonstrated outside the television and state radio building demanding higher pay. Hundreds more ambulance drivers lined up their vehicles on a road along the Nile in the capital’s Gaza district demanding higher pay. Workers at a key Cairo traffic tunnel threatened to shut down the route unless they got a raise in pay. (abcnews.go.com, Feb. 14)

Striking employees at EgyptAir, the national commercial carrier, got their boss fired. And 500 employees at the Opera House demanded the dismissal of the chairman of the facility, accusing him of corruption.

One of the activists in the revolution, Hossam El Hamalavy, posted pictures of striking workers outside the Ministry of Petroleum building. Hamalavy said that thousands of workers were demanding the ouster of the oil minister and, in addition to economic demands, were making political demands such as “stopping gas exports to Israel.” (hinuonett.com, Feb. 15)

Outside Cairo, strikes were reported in the southernmost city of Aswan and the northernmost city of Alexandria. In Beni Sweif and Qalioubiya, impoverished cities south of Cairo, thousands of people demanded distribution of state-built, low-cost apartments. Police reports said that the people seized 60,000 empty units of such housing.

A strike was reported at the Sukari gold mine near the Red Sea, near the coastal town of Marsa Alam. This gold mine is one of the largest in the world.

More than 700 workers who service the multinational peacekeeping forces in the Sinai Peninsula staged sit-ins. These forces watch over the enforcement of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1978. Hundreds gathered outside the headquarters in Sharm El-Sheik and El Gorah demanding raises in pay.

In general, it was impossible to keep track of all the strikes triggered by the revolution. The strike wave actually started during the struggle to oust Mubarak. Toward the end, 6,000 workers went on strike at five service companies owned by the Suez Canal Authority. More than 2,000 textile workers and others in Suez demonstrated also. At a factory in the textile town in Mahalla, 1,500 striking workers blocked roads. More than 2,000 workers at the Sigma pharmaceutical company went on strike in Quesna. And 5,000 unemployed youth stormed a government building in Aswan. (nytimes.com, Feb. 9)

In the last few years, 3,000 strikes have been reported in Egypt, involving more than 2 million workers. This formed a militant background to the revolution that began on Jan. 25.

Thus it is clear that the Egyptian proletariat has entered the arena of struggle in the midst of a political upheaval of monumental proportions. It will eventually assume its proper place in the political leadership of the Egyptian revolution. When it does, this will have the greatest long-term significance for the ultimate victory of the revolution.