In an historic moment for the Middle East and the world, Egypt’s military ruler, Hosni Mubarak, was forced from power on February 11 following 18 days of action by a splendid and relentless mass movement for democracy.
This article analyses the significance of the mass uprising in Egypt for the future of the Middle East and its peoples. Following it is a short report on a Toronto celebration of Mubarak’s fall.
An important element of the uprising in Egypt has been the struggles of workers during recent years under exceptionally difficult conditions. The explosion of strikes by workers in the days preceding Mubarak’s downfall sealed the fate of his rule. A very informative look at Egypt’s trade union and working-class struggles was presented in the February 10, 2011 broadcast of Democracy Now. A lengthy interview with Stanford University Professor Joel Beinin begins at the 12-minute mark. He is the former director of Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo. http://www.democracynow.org/shows/2011/2/10.
Dr. Beinin was the principal author of a 136-page study on the Egyptian labour movement that was published in February 2010 by the Solidarity Center (AFL-CIO). You can read it here: http://www.solidaritycenter.org/files/pubs_egypt_wr.pdf
Egypt’s military have now announced plans to ban strikes.
A perceptive article, “Islamists and the Egyptian Revolution,” has been published on the English-language web publication, Al Masry Al Youm: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/opinion/islamists-and-egyptian-revolution.
Huge Protests and Strike Wave Topple Mubarak
By Tim Dobson
(Green Left Weekly, February 13, 2011) In a world-shaking event, after 18 days of constant street protests, the Egyptian people’s revolution won a huge victory when dictator Hosni Mubarak finally resigned on February 11.
On that day, designated the “Day of Departure” by protesters, an estimated 20 million people (out of a population of about 80 million) were reported to have taken to the streets.
They defied a regime that had tried to crush the movement in blood. More than 300 people have been killed by security forces or pro-regime thugs since the uprising broke out on January 25.
Earlier in the week, there were fears the revolution was stagnating or even declining in the face of Mubarak’s refusal to go. But huge protests took place across Egypt on February 8 as the pro-democracy movement took the offensive once more.
The Sydney Morning Herald said on February 9: “AFP journalists … confirmed it was the biggest gathering yet in a movement which began last month… Witnesses in Egypt’s second city Alexandria said a march there also attracted record numbers.”
Al Masry Al Youm said the protest in Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square in Cairo surpassed one million people.
The huge protests were a response to a speech by Egyptian vice president and long-time intelligence chief Omar Suleiman that made it clear the regime was not willing to accept the demands of the protesters.
“”The February 8 New York Times said Suleiman “does not think it is time to lift the 30-year-old emergency law that has been used to suppress and imprison opposition leaders. He does not think President Hosni Mubarak needs to resign before his term ends in September.
“And he does not think his country is yet ready for democracy.
“But, considering it lacks better options, the United States has strongly backed him to play the pivotal role in a still uncertain transition process in Egypt.”
The effect of the February 8 protests was almost immediate. Protesters marched on Parliament house and tried to storm the building. When repelled, they settled for blockading and setting up camp outside the entrance.
ABC Online said on February 10: “An army general who ordered the protesters outside parliament to disperse and go back to Tahrir Square was met by chants of ‘we are not leaving, he is leaving’.
In a significant development, a strike wave swept Egypt the next day. Three independent trade unions began an indefinite strike combined with economic and political demands on the regime.
The strikes involved factory and textile workers, steel and iron workers, teachers, workers in the health ministry, workers in the military factories and even journalists working for state-run media.
The New York Times said on February 9: “In the most potentially significant action, about 6,000 workers at five service companies owned by the Suez Canal Authority — a major component of the Egyptian economy — began a sit-in on Tuesday night.”
Striking iron and steel workers demanded: the end of the regime; the dismantling of the union federation controlled by the ruling party; the “confiscation of public sector companies that have been sold or closed down or privatised … and formation of a new management by workers and technicians”; and the “formation of a workers’ monitoring committee in all work places monitoring production, prices, distribution and wages.”
The Associated Press said that day: “For the first time, protesters were forcefully urging labour strikes despite a warning by Vice-President Omar Suleiman that calls for civil disobedience are ‘very dangerous for society and we can’t put up with this at all.’”
Such calls have especially come from the April 6th Youth Movement, which was formed in 2008 in solidarity with striking labourers in Mahalla.
AP said many workers were “motivated to strike when they heard about how many billions the Mubarak family was worth.”
The British Guardian said on February 4: “President Hosni Mubarak’s family fortune could be as much as [US]$70bn (£43.5bn) according to analysis by Middle East experts.”
The regime continued to try to hold out. At least five people were killed and 100 wounded on February 9 when police opened fire on protesters.
On February 10, however, the strike wave spread further. Public transport workers went on strike, and about 24,000 textile workers struck in Mahalla.
Lawyers, doctors, public transport workers and energy workers joined the strike.
As protests and strikes built throughout the day, Egypt’s Supreme Military Council met to discuss “necessary measures and preparations to protect the nation.” It released “Communique No. 1,” which said the military would “support the legitimate demands of the people”.
Many took this as a sign that, under pressure from the army, Mubarak would step down. Speculation reached fever pitch when Egyptian state television announced Mubarak was to address to the nation.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Tahrir Square went silent as they waited for Mubarak’s expected resignation.
Silence turned to rage when it became clear Mubarak was refusing to go. When Mubarak spoke about all that he had done for the country, thousands held shoes in the air in a sign of disapproval.
Mubarak’s speech, described by the Angry Arab News Service (AANS) as the “dumbest speech ever delivered by a dictator,” appeased no one.
The next day, Tahrir square quickly filled to capacity after afternoon prayers. With no room in the square, some protesters marched on the state television office and the presidential palace to join protests that began the previous night.
Huge protests occurred in every big city in Egypt. There was a heavy military presence in the streets, as the Supreme Military Council met again.
Protesters waited to see if the military would live up to its words that it was “with the people.” The mood was again expectant, with one protestor writing on Twitter: “This is the third Friday of our revolution. The first was bloody, second was festive and third should be decisive.”
Signs emerged that Mubarak’s reign was truly on the brink.
Al Jazeera reported during the day: “An army officer joined protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square say[ing] 15 other middle-ranking officers have also gone over to the demonstrators.”
At the state television office, activist Alaa Abdel Fatah told Al Jazeera: “The army have now given up and are letting the protesters control the flow of people around the state television building.”
The newly appointed general secretary of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party also resigned.
At 6pm Egyptian time, Suleiman addressed the nation with the words everyone was waiting for: Mubarak would step down. The president’s powers would be transferred to the military command to oversee a transition.
Jubilation broke out throughout Egypt, reporters on television couldn’t be heard due to the sheer noise. People power had beaten a dictator backed by the most powerful nation on Earth and who had ruled over them for three decades.
The army is widely respected in Egypt, but there is mistrust of many of the generals who were close to the Mubarak regime. The widespread feeling in among Egyptians is it was they who forced Mubarak out and it was their revolution.
Whatever comes next, Mubarak’s resignation is a big step forward — as is the apparent side-lining of Suleiman, who is infamous for heading Egypt’s torture program.
AANS said: “The biggest victory is that … Suleiman is out of the picture now. Israel/US/Saudi Arabia were hoping that he would be the extension of Mubarak until some other clone of Mubarak is found.”
The impact of Mubarak’s fall on the already explosive Arab world remains to be seen. The Egyptian revolution was inspired by the overthrow of a dictatorship in Tunisia. But Egypt is much more central to the Arab world – and therefore to the interests of the US and Israel.
Already, the Hamas-led government in Gaza has called for the Egyptian government to open its border with Gaza to ease Israel’s crippling siege – a move that would be hugely popular among Egyptians.
But the most immediate impact is on the consciousness of Egyptians. A 35-year-old Egyptian teacher told the February 5 Guardian: “People have changed. They were scared. They are no longer scared.
“We are not afraid of his system any longer and when we stopped being afraid we knew we would win. We will not again allow ourselves to be scared of a government. We will not be afraid to say when we think the president is wrong or the government is bad.
“This is the revolution in our country, the revolution in our minds. Mubarak can stay for days or weeks but he cannot change that.”
This attitude was reflected on the streets of Egypt after Mubarak’s resignation. Amid the scenes of wild jubilation, many protesters said they would not leave until they got some guarantees from the new government. Near the top of the list is a guarantee Mubarak will face trial for his crimes.
Egypt will never be the same again.
Toronto‘s Egyptian Community Celebrates Victory
By John Riddell
(Toronto, February 13, 2011) In yesterday’s Toronto Star, columnist Thomas Walkom bluntly termed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s departure from office that day a “military coup,” in which “one faction of the armed forces ousted another.”
He continues: “Egypt’s military and business establishment remains firmly in charge. Mubarak may have gone. So far, Mubarakism remains.”
It is hard to quarrel with this as a bare statement of fact. Yet there was no hint of this concern in yesterday’s rally celebrating Mubarak’s ouster, attended by more than 500 people from Toronto’s Egyptian community and many friends and supporters. This was the fourth such action in two weeks, following on one the previous evening.
It was a joyous occasion, reflecting the conviction that a decisive corner had been turned. Among the chants (mostly in Arabic): Egypt is free!; Egypt: congratulations!; Long live Egypt! Free at last!
The rally featured an open mike, and all participants were invited to speak. A great many did so – mostly quite young and apparently unaffiliated to any political current. Speakers alternated between Arabic and English. Many read poems composed for the occasion, honouring the sacrifice and courage of the Egyptian activists. Many played popular Egyptian patriotic music over the loudspeaker, and everyone sang along. The Egyptian national anthem was sung several times.
James Clark of the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War led what he called an Arabic lesson for the Canadian public. He spoke words in English (“dignity”, “freedom,” etc.) and the crowd roared back the Arabic equivalents.
A Ugandan activist said, “This is a great moment for all Africa.”
Almost all the speakers were young, and – despite their eloquence – seemed new to politics. The few speeches by veterans of solidarity politics were brief and to the point.
Mohammed Shokr of the Egyptian National Assembly for Change, who spoke so searchingly last week about the many steps needed to achieve freedom, focused this time on the significance of the moment. “We gained this freedom by our own means and not through America,” he said. “Arabs will never be taken for granted again.”
Khaled Mouammar of the Canadian Arab Federation led a moment of silence in honour of the martyrs of the struggle. The millions who joined in this struggle, people of every viewpoint and persuasion, have inspired the whole world, he said. Noting the protestors’ courage, eloquence, and adroitness in action, he said “all the world can learn from this.”
Stephen Harper’s comments on the overthrow of Mubarak expressed no respect for the Egyptian people, Khaled said. Instead, Harper praised the dictator, conceding only that “they’re not going to put the toothpaste back in the tube.”
Ali Mallah of the Canadian Arab Federation said, “Yesterday, Tunisia. Today, Egypt. Tomorrow, Palestine.” He called this “a new day of history – out with all the dictators. Solidarity with all Arab people: We will rise again.”
Did the Toronto demonstrators miss the essence of post-Mubarak Egypt, as expressed by Thomas Walkom – perhaps out of political inexperience? I think rather that they were grasping for a deeper truth about the victory in Egypt. A great historic victory has been won, which must be savoured and understood, to prepare us all for the new stage of struggles already unfolding in Egypt.