Transcript of an interview with an Egyptian student and activist, describing the strikes and social movements that preceded the present rebellion.
A video of the interview can be seen here.
Mohammed Ezzeldin is a graduate of political science from Cairo
University, and is doing his Masters’ Degree in History at Georgetown.
Transcript (from The Real News Network)
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m
Paul Jay in Washington. The people of the world are watching the people
of Egypt and Tunisia as they shake the very foundations of Arab regimes
and US policy in the region. Amongst the people watching the events in
Egypt, perhaps none are more focused than Egyptians abroad, especially
students like the guest in our studio now. His name is Mohammed
Ezzeldin. He’s a graduate of political science at Cairo University
currently completing his master’s degree in history at Georgetown.
Thanks for joining us.
MOHAMMED EZZELDIN, EGYPTIAN ACTIVIST: Thank you.
JAY: So I guess you wish you were there.
EZZELDIN: Actually, it is a glorious moment. I wish I were there in the
Cairo streets. I just came to DC to continue my study, actually, ten
days ago, and I can’t believe what I have seen on TV, beginning from
Tuesday. This moment I have been–I kept dreaming of, I kept
participating and doing my best to witness this moment, me and millions
of Egyptian youth. And now it’s–we just–we find the dream coming true.
JAY: Did it come as a surprise to you? I mean, you saw the events in
Tunisia, and you know everybody was saying what will happen in Egypt,
and the regime is so repressive. On the other hand–and the extent of
the force of repression so powerful. And there’s sort of a facade.
There’s elections, the facade of democracy. Did you expect something of
EZZELDIN: Two points I would say here. First, in terms of number, terms
of scale, in terms of the demands they have been calling [for], and
these radical demands calling against the regime, it was really
surprising. It was–in terms of–.
JAY: To hear the words “Mubarak out”.
EZZELDIN: Yes, yes, from laymen in the street, people who are just
ordinary people, people who are not activists, who are not part of
political opposition or syndicates, people just coming, seeming from
everywhere in the city, and calling, “Down to Mubarak”. So this was
surprising and was for far extent unthinkable, till–at least till
Monday. People were calling for a big strike, a bigger demonstration in
Cairo for January 25, but nobody expected this scale. But what make this
moment is really glorious, actually, is it refuted all the stereotypes
[that] has–have been said about the Egyptian people, about the Egyptian
opposition, about the real grassroot democracy, the possibilities of
this democracy to be happening in Egypt, regardless of the American
support for the regime, regardless of the very weak opposition movements
and very weak stand took by many opposition parties in Egypt. So this
what make this moment —
JAY: So how did this moment arrive? How did we get here?
EZZELDIN: Yes. This is my second point, that this moment, we have to
understand this moment in terms of accumulation. This not just–didn’t
come out of the blue. This moment was the manifestation, this moment
unfolded after a manifestation of different opposition movement,
basically three circuits or three rounds of opposition to Mubarak
regime, beginning from 2004, 2005, when Kefaya movement rised up the
famous slogan la ilI tadid. la lil tawrith,”no for continuation for
continuation for Mubarak, no to inheritance of power to his son Gamal
Mubarak”. And then this movement took a momentum in 2005 and people made
renewed the hope for a real change. After 2005 we have witnessed a huge
wave of strikes–included workers, bureaucrats, included people working
in the state apparatus and business. For example, in Mahalla, industrial
city in Delta, witnessed three successive and successful strikes in
2006, 2007, and 2008.
JAY: Strikes at what kind of places?
EZZELDIN: In one place. This city, actually, it include–.
JAY: You mean the city–people of the city went on strike.
EZZELDIN: City and factories. Like, it’s industrial city, based on huge
compunds of factories of textile industry. And it’s–like, you can find,
like, almost 30,000 workers working together. So imagine when for a
moment 30,000 people are striking and supported by the residents in
El-Mahalla. So three times they made successful.
JAY: And what years were the–?
EZZELDIN: 2006, 2007, and April 2008.
JAY: And were they met with police repression?
EZZELDIN: In 2008, April 6, 2008, they met with huge and brutal
repression by the police, and it was like a street war. So this
was–this moment actually made a new hope, that first it delivered a new
culture, a new experience for ordinary people about the strike. So it
was followed by estimated, almost estimated 800 strikes in two years,
which [is] unprecedented in Egyptian history.
JAY: This is the last two years now.
EZZELDIN: No, in 2008, 2009. Okay? So we had first a political movement
2005, social movement, spread all over Egypt, in 2008 manifested by
Mahalla strike and the tax [textile?] workers strike, who called for
independent trade union. And both experiences [inaudible] many of
Egyptian workers and people who are protesting against the regime and
the–it paid a lot of attention to what these people can do and how
powerful they are. Okay? It was followed later, last year, in 2010, by a
youth movement. This youth movement [inaudible] after the brutal death
of Khaled Saeed. Khaled Saeed was a young man, a university graduate in
Alexandria, and he was tortured in the street and he was killed by the
police inspectors. And after–like, who was ordered by the police to
kill this man, and he was killed. And after the murder of Khaled Saeed
in June 2010, there was a huge and massive opposition between the youth
[inaudible] the people who are vulnerable to unemployment, people who
are facing the police in daily interactions, and people who feel that
this country is theirs, this country is ours, but it has been hijacked,
it has been captured by this repressive regime and the political and
economic figures who are supporting this regime and who are depriving
them from a new future. So we have three moments manifested in what
happened. And, of course, this wouldn’t happen, I would say, this
wouldn’t happen, at least unless we have kept watching the great and
glorious revolution of the Tunisian people, which actually broke any
barrier of fear [inaudible] just fearing to go to demonstration and
continuing and insisting on the demands. So Tunisia, of course, played a
huge role in what–to make what happened in this shape, in this —
JAY: How important was social media? We’re–you know, from the Western
coverage there’s kind of this sense that Egyptians were doing nothing,
Tunisia happens, social media, and now you get this. So now what–you
can understand there’s years of development. But that being said, did
social media play an important role?
EZZELDIN: Yes, it played an important role. But we have to understand
there’s a sort of difference between Egypt and Tunisia. The Egyptian
regime, the dictatorship in Egypt, is supported, basically, by the
American aid and supported by American regime, American [inaudible],
American administration, and of course supported by Israel. The
geographic and strategic status of Egypt in the region made the Egyptian
regime quite different from other regimes in the region, okay, w hat
made the mission and the task of the Egyptian opposition is really hard.
So this is number one. Number two–.
JAY: But just to add, because there’s so much at stake for Western
interests, Egypt is like the pillar of this US policy for this region.
EZZELDIN: Sure. Sure. Sure. This first. And this not–by any means,
this–I don’t mean to reduce anything of what happened or to
underestimate what happened in Tunisia, which is beyond imagination,
beyond recognition, something really incredible, something great. But I
would say, first, Egypt is quite different in terms of population, in
terms of strategic importance to United States. And second, regarding
the media, the media played important role, because, first, the
government and the state media lost its legitimacy since 2005. Al
Jazeera and all independent bloggers and websites, Facebook, all this
new social media played a significant role in networking and in, like,
calling for strikes. For example, in April 6, 2008, it played a
magnificent role. So social media played very important role. And people
now, like, we–I expected that what happened in Tunisia is going to
influence people in Egypt, but I didn’t expect that it’s going to
influence–me and many people didn’t expect it will take this short
an–it was with this–in this quick way, this very fast way. So media,
basically, the coverage of events in Tunisia last month, played a major
role in bringing the potential for change in Egypt to a moment, a
JAY: So do you get a sense now that–both in terms of the workers
movement and the unions and the student movement, that this is going to
give rise to new forms or more developed forms of organization? ‘Cause
right now it looks very spontaneous.
EZZELDIN: Yeah. It’s completely spontaneous. The opposition movement,
the legitimate, legally, opposition movement can’t claim anything of
what’s going on now in Cairo streets. And Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday,
they denounced what happened. They said, we didn’t participate; we are
going–. They said they are going to participate, but they didn’t
participate actively in what happened Tuesday. Okay? So this actually is
really inspiring. First, those people are having spontaneous
motivations. They were going after an–because of unemployment
[inaudible] economic and political social grievance, because of
dictatorship, because the suppression, the oppression of the police,
okay, they are just–they are done. They are done. They have nothing to
lose [inaudible] People are going to change. Okay? So this is number
one. There’s–they are not consolidated by foreign influence or foreign
support. In terms of money, in terms of organization, like what happened
in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, for example, it’s quite different. People
are not supported in Tunisia and Egypt; they are not supported from
outside. And all the stereotypes in Western media about the potential
threat of Islamist and all this stuff and they are going to take over
the power [inaudible] only potential or only alternative to the recent
regime in the region. Now it’s–it doesn’t has–it lost all of its
credibility, because people are going and challenging the regime.
JAY: So, in other words, $1.3 billion of military aid isn’t to stop
Islamic extremism. It’s being used to stop popular resistance.
EZZELDIN: I would say so. For almost 30 years in Egypt it did so. Yeah.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us. And thank you for joining us on
The Real News Network.
End of Transcript
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