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Protests continue in Egypt demanding end to Mubarak regime

Published Jan 31, 2011 10:49 PM

Jan. 30 — Massive protests continue throughout Egypt to demand an end to the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, a 30-year dictatorship that has served as an anchor for U.S. imperialism in the Middle East. In the streets protesters have fraternized with members of the military, while police forces have largely retreated. Meanwhile, youth direct traffic, as self-defense committees have been organized to defend neighborhoods from violence at the hands of “thugs,” who many suspect to be plainclothes police and members of the ruling National Democratic Party.

After three days of demonstrations in which tens of thousands of people faced brutal repression at the hands of the Egyptian state apparatus, hundreds of thousands came out on Jan. 28 to protest the police brutality, poverty, unemployment and corruption they have endured under the Mubarak regime. Defying a curfew imposed by Mubarak the day before, protesters hit the streets not only in the capital city, Cairo, but in cities throughout the country.

In battle after battle with the police, protesters endured rubber bullets, live ammunition, police batons and tear gas released from canisters stamped “Made in the U.S.” In many of these battles the protesters emerged victorious, chasing riot police out of the main square in downtown Cairo and torching armored police cars, police stations and several NDP offices throughout the country, including the headquarters in Cairo. According to reports, in some places police officers took off their uniforms and joined the demonstrators.

Police weapons and tear gas come from the U.S.

On the evening of Jan. 28 Mubarak made an appearance for the first time since the protests began, holding a press conference to announce that he was ordering the rest of the government to step down and naming a new cabinet the next day. Displaying just how meaningless this development was to the people’s demands, on Jan. 29 Mubarak’s first appointment was Omar Suleiman as vice president.

According to investigative journalist Jane Mayer, Suleiman “has served for years as the main conduit between the United States and Mubarak. ... Since 1993 Suleiman has headed the feared Egyptian intelligence service [and] was the CIA’s point man in Egypt for renditions — the covert program in which the CIA snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances.” (New Yorker, Jan. 29)

Unimpressed by the cabinet turnover, protesters have vowed to continue demonstrating until Mubarak resigns. Participating in the protests, from most accounts, are all sectors of working-class Egyptian society, including students and youth, women, socialists, secularist and Islamist forces, and members of other classes. Even those who abstained from protest showed support for the demonstrators, throwing water and lemons from balconies so demonstrators could clear tear gas from their eyes.

A post on Twitter quotes an interview with a woman protester from Al Arabiya who said, “We divided our family in two; one half protests and the other half rests and protects the house.” (Sultan Al Qassemi, Jan. 30)

On Jan. 28 the military was called into the streets of Egypt to help quell protests. Yet soldiers have allowed protests to continue unimpeded. In some cases soldiers had their pictures taken with demonstrators on their tanks. One soldier told protesters through a bullhorn, “I don’t care what happens. You are the ones who are going to make the change.” (New York Times, Jan. 29) Another said, “We are with the people.” (Washington Post, Jan. 30)

Nonetheless, brutal repression has continued, with reports from hospitals and morgues suggesting more than 100 deaths and thousands of injuries. There have been reports of snipers firing live ammunition at protesters.

The Egyptian state has attempted to limit efforts at communication between protesters and the larger world, shutting down cell phone service and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. On Jan. 30, the state closed the Cairo office of Al Jazeera television and suspended accreditation of its reporters. Some reports state that journalists were also singled out for arrest and repression in earlier marches.

Egypt: a significant fire

Before an equally dramatic uprising in Tunisia, the sequence of events in Egypt was not dreamed of by Arab governments, their imperialist masters or even the most revolutionary organizers within the Middle East and Northern Africa. Emboldened by protests that led to the overthrow of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali — another Western-backed president — protests have spread to Algeria, Jordan and Yemen as well.

Egypt holds particular significance as a major prop of U.S. imperialism in the region. Until the recent protests the U.S. was happy to ignore the repression of the Egyptian people while providing the Mubarak regime with high-tech weaponry. Egypt is one of the largest recipients of U.S. military aid in the world, receiving $1.3 billion annually in fighter planes, tanks, warships and missiles. In addition, since the 1978 Camp David accords, Egypt has been a bulwark to the neighboring Israeli settler state. In bordering Gaza, Palestinians have had to dig tunnels into Egypt just to procure the basics of life, since Egypt has consistently enforced an inhumane blockade of Gaza.

The U.S. has raised only the most tepid objections to state repression in Egypt in the past week. As the situation has escalated, President Barack Obama has mildly expressed support for an “orderly transition.” (Reuters, Jan. 30) Egyptians on the streets this week have denounced the U.S. for supporting Mubarak.

As a statement by the U.S.-based International Action Center declares, “A seemingly all-powerful military, police and media apparatus, that has had the support of the U.S. superpower for decades, is crumbling before the even greater strength of a united people who have first conquered fear and may now push the dictator’s regime into the dustbin of history.” (iacenter.org, Jan. 28)

The very potential of a citadel of U.S. imperialism crumbling may inspire more revolutionary actions — in the Middle East and Africa, throughout the world and inside the U.S. The people of Egypt need and deserve the utmost solidarity in this period.