Egypt: the future belongs to those who take their fate into their own hands

31 January 2011

After 7 days of widespread street protests, facing the bullets of the police - which killed over 300 and wounded thousands - Egyptian protesters are undeterred. They have already succeeded in throwing the regime into disarray. While dictator Hosni Mubarak clings to power, appointing and re-appointing "new" ministers and fools no-one, his son and heir apparent Gamal, has fled to the safety of his £9m Knightsbridge townhouse in London.

This does not mean that the protesters are near to achieving their objectives. But for the first time in half a century of dictatorship, they have made their voices heard, and maybe, a lot more!

A long simmering revolt

These events are not a bolt from the blue. Undoubtedly the same catalyst which ignited the populations' anger across Tunisia, Libya and Algeria helped fuel this revolt too. One fifth of the population lives in poverty (on less than £1 a day) and prices of basic foods have risen by 17%. But in addition, in Egypt there is a long history of struggles and in particular, working class militancy. This may not have attracted headlines, but it is highly significant in a country where the industrial working class represents a greater proportion of the population than it does here.

Since 2006, there have been regular strikes in the huge Ghazl el-Mahalla textile factory complex - which have spread to the town, leading to several bloody confrontations with the police. This December, a country-wide truck drivers' strike involving 70,000 drivers, halted deliveries of cement and steel as well as grain and sugar across the country. In the past weeks, public sector workers have staged sit-ins and sleep-ins over low wages and against privatisation, outside government buildings, until police forcibly removed them. Now public sector workers are on strike in Suez and a national indefinite general strike has been called for February 1st.

What is more, the employers they are fighting, whether private bosses or public ones presiding over state enterprises earmarked for privatisation, are linked directly to the ruling clique. Placards in the demonstrations have featured the crossed-out face of businessman Ahmed Ezz, chairman of Ezz Steel, who was Mubarak's "Planning and Budget Committee" chairman as well. And let it not be forgotten that by and large many Egyptian enterprises are subcontractors of British and other foreign companies producing on the cheap, by super-exploiting the workforce. Egyptian workers are confronting the exact same exploiters we face over here.

They crave stability: rock them!

Of course western governments are suddenly caught in a quandary. Because they - but above all the USA and Britain - have always relied heavily on Mubarak's dictatorship, which also happens to be the biggest recipient of US military aid in the world!

Indeed, Mubarak's regime has been the long-time pivot of the imperialists' stranglehold over the Middle East. But now, all of a sudden, the floor seems to have given way under their feet. So we have Clinton and Hague making a display of their imperial arrogance by declaring that "we want to see a peaceful and orderly transition"! As if they should have any say, after all these decades of plundering the country - and the whole region! As if it was not the Egyptian protesters, and they alone, who should decide over what is, or is not, good for them.

Of course the situation is still full of danger for the Egyptian working class and poor. They are still facing the threat of an army which has, for decades, been the main pillar of the dictatorship. And if it is true, as the media claim, that the protesters "believe in the neutrality of the army", then let us hope that they soon realise who their enemies are - i.e., the generals, if not the soldiers, who may turn into enemies if they do not rebel against the army hierarchy.

As one protestor was quoted as saying: "we in the streets are in charge; we cannot trust any of them". Indeed, whether they are wearing the suits of secular politicians like Elbaradei, the clothes of religious politicians, or the uniforms of army generals, those vying for power all stand for the interests of the propertied classes who keep the population in poverty. Our side is with those who are struggling to end poverty altogether - who will not be satisfied with "regime change", but will carry on the fight for "system change".