by Horace Campbell, Pambazuka
The renewed energy of the popular power in the streets of Egypt ensured that the political initiative remained in the hands of the grassroots mobilisers who had come together to trigger an uprising that is now called ‘the people’s revolution’. Their continued tenacity and strategic planning shocked observers, who were already reporting that ‘the protests were running out of steam’, and that ‘life was returning to normal in Cairo.’ What was considered ‘normal’ for the international capitalist forces that supported the Mubarak regime was the fact that banks were opening and there were traffic jams on the bridges across the Nile. But these stories could not conceal the floods of freedom as more people surged onto the streets to demand the immediate removal of the Mubarak regime. This reenergised outpouring of support for the revolution was beamed around the world as citizens everywhere who wanted genuine democracy watched and calculated the balance of forces in the revolutionary process. Was the tide shifting toward revolt elsewhere? This was the question being raised in all continents as ideas of sharing, cooperation and repair were challenging greed and obscene wealth in the midst of grinding poverty.
In all revolutionary situations, small acts of groups and individuals acquire historical importance. The coming-together of the grassroots organisers to form the ‘Unified Leadership of the Youth of the Rage Revolution’ represented one moment of historical significance. At this stage of the revolution, the interview of Wael Ghoneim, who was released from state detention on Monday 7 February, became one more barometer of the temperature of the people who wanted change. Wael Ghoneim, a business operator for an international information-age company, had been arrested by the secret police. His testimony on the brutality and murder of those picked up by the secret police again exposed to millions the nature of a police state in Egypt that was called a stable democracy. As the revolution gained new momentum, people demonstrated in differing parts of urban centres, even around government offices and the disgraced parliament. Thousands of workers intensified industrial actions to cripple the regime.
MAINTAINING THE FOCUS OF THE REVOLUTION
Esam al-Amin, in his writing on the leaders of the youth movement who are emerging as core organisers and future leaders (‘Meet Egypt’s Future Leaders’), spelt out the principal demands being made. Inter alia, these demands were: the resignation of Mubarak, the immediate lifting of emergency law, release of all political prisoners, the dissolution of both upper and lower chambers of parliament, the formation of a national unity government to manage the transitional period, investigation by the judiciary of the abuses of the security forces during the revolution and the protection of the protesters by the military.
From their statements on the internet and in interviews, the youths have made it clear that their demands are not only for the removal of Mubarak but that they are also calling for constitutional reforms in the areas of civil rights, political freedoms and judicial independence, and economically addressing poverty, unemployment, social justice and fighting corruption. It is clear however that political freedoms and social justice cannot be realised within the context of the present mode of economic organisation. Moreover, as in Tunisia, the corrupt and discredited members of the oligarchy want to remain within the national unity government for the transitional administration.
One of the many challenges of current stage of what some analysts have called ‘the Nile Revolution’ is how to take the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt through the twists and turns of the counter-revolutionary planning and scheming coming from the remnants of the old order. How could the Egyptian and Tunisian peoples achieve the ultimate goal of the revolutions? The goal of these revolutions, as expressed by the millions who took to the streets, is a society that would ensure the human dignity of its citizens by dismantling the old order of government corruption, repression of freedoms, political alienation and denial of economic rights. The challenge is now how to build on the momentum of the ongoing revolutionary process for a structural reorganisation of the economies to meet the basic needs of the people over and above the interests of local and foreign capitalists and militarists.
From Alexandria to Suez, and in some cities that did not play a significant part in previous demonstration, workers are building industrial actions to support the new energy. In particular, the emergence of judges, lawyers and other professional strata on the streets of Cairo at a time many thought the revolution was losing steam has pointed to the realisation by sections of the elite that they can no longer be silent in the face of the corruption of the values of the society. In a society of over 7,000 years of traditions, where sharing and collective security had defined the birth of human civilisations, these social forces are seeking redemption from the devaluation of human life by the system that placed profits over human life. The constant renewal of this energy and the consolidation of the revolutionary gains made so far are critical to maintaining the focus of the revolution.
With each passing day, the news of the formations of popular committees points to a new form of democratic participation by the people. These efforts at popular power increased as public information circulated on the level of theft and corruption by the ruling family. In a society where there are over 5 million homeless persons in the capital, information on the palatial homes of the ruling elements included facts of the more than US$70 billion accumulated by the Mubarak family and friends. This information was being discussed in the streets and factories as the demands of the revolutionaries were refined to sharpen the need for structural transformation of the society. Indeed, it is this structural transformation of society that the workers and all protesters have to make sure become a reality. Egyptian workers must beware of palliative measures to appease them in lieu of an overhaul of political and economic structures of their society. The popular capital of the reenergised people’s power must be used to refocus attention on the ultimate goal of the structural transformation of the social and economic system.
The flood of revolutionary change from the Nile seems to be flowing to other societies, and the challenges for progressive persons in the advanced capitalist countries are to mobilise so that their societies are not reorganised for war to beat back an evolving era of popular struggles for justice.
MONEY, POWER AND POLITICS
As the popular forces sustain their momentum across Egypt to reorganise the society, there is greater exposure of the nexus between politics, money, corruption and power. Ahmed Ezz has emerged as one of the top politicians and business tycoons who were at the helm of the police state of Mubarak. Ahmed Ezz, a steel magnate and friend of the son of Mubarak, is a poster image of the kind of capitalist who used the power of the state to get rich while millions were poor and exploited. Ezz is now under investigation on charges of corruption and there are now judges and lawyers assisting in the compilation of evidence of corrupt use of state power. It is in the process of exposing Ahmed Ezz that the citizens are learning of the roles of the banks, international financial institutions and the political leadership. Small- and medium-sized entrepreneurs are also joining the struggle to lend their weight to the evidence that state-controlled banks acted as kingmakers, extending loans to families who supported the government but denying credit to local industrialists and business persons who lacked the right political connections.
Exposure of power brokers such as Ahmed Ezz ensured that there is a coalescing of the popular forces around the demands for change in Egypt.
The discussions about the wealth and interconnections between different branches of the political class widened the divide in the Egyptian society between the corrupt forces and decent citizens who want to put an end to the police state. But the repression of the regime and its attempt to roll back the revolution are educating the youth that two weeks of demonstrations are not enough to break the entrenched power of the Egyptian oligarchs. The social division between the very rich and the massive poverty is everywhere to be seen in the human development indices that point to millions living on less than US$2 per day. In Egypt itself, the young revolutionaries understand the fact that 40 per cent of the Egyptian population lives on US$2 a day, while Mubarak’s wealth is estimated to be US$70 billion.
THE REVOLUTION CONTINUES
It was in an effort to blunt the coalescing of the democratic forces that the regime released Wael Ghoneim on Monday 7 February, and sought to dampen the popular anger by announcing concessions. Omar Suleiman, a vice-president who has been tarred with the history of the police state mechanisms, especially the intelligence services and the secret police, seeks to blow hot and cold in the face of the resolute spirit of the forces who are building popular democratic formations in the streets. Suleiman announced on one day that Mubarak had endorsed a timetable for a ‘peaceful and organised transfer of power’ in September. He also announced that Mubarak has ‘set up a committee to recommend constitutional amendments to remove tight restrictions on who can run for president, and promised there will be no reprisals against protesters’. Suleiman announced that: ‘The president welcomed the national consensus, confirming that we are putting our feet on the right path to getting out of the current crisis.’ However, these announcements belied the reality that the regime was gearing up for further thuggery and the unleashing of death squads and goons. Omar Suleiman threatened the democratic forces, arguing that: ‘We can’t bear this for a long time, and there must be an end to this crisis as soon as possible.’
In an effort to give the oligarchs time to arrange their transfer of money outside, the vice president is putting forward a bold front by rejecting the immediate departure of Mubarak when it is known that Egypt had changed fundamentally and that the police state apparatus cannot be reconstituted without massive shedding of blood. Suleiman promised martial law and a military coup if the revolutionaries did not go home and allow the police state and repression to continue. It is against this background that the revolution continues and the peoples’ power persists. Esam al-Amin captured the essence of the sophistication of the new leaders of Egypt when he noted that ‘the revolution has adapted to the manoeuvring of the regime and has adopted a comprehensive program of activities that are creative and extensive. Time is no longer on the regime’s side. With the passing of each week more Egyptians are joining the revolution. A culture of freedom and empowerment is on the rise.’
WHITHER THE EGYPTIAN ARMED FORCES?
The possibility of massive bloodletting sharpens the maturation of the new stage of the revolution, as a front against counter-revolution. Counter-revolutionary elements refer to the opposition to revolution, particularly those who act after a revolution to try to overturn or reverse it, in full or in part. This designation of counter-revolution has been most appropriate in the actions and statements of Omar Suleiman, who is signalling ahead that the armed forces and police powers will be used to roll back the demands of the people. This counter-revolution comes up against the work that has been done by the networks of workers, farmers, lawyers, judges, women, students, patriotic business persons, writers, religious persons and the mass of ordinary people who built new organisations for emancipation.
The strength of the networks of networks among the revolutionary forces is being harnessed so that the people can consolidate self-defence structures while sharpening the connections between the dismantling of the police state and subdue the culture of crony neoliberal capitalism. This is where the strength in numbers of those opposed to the police state will prove decisive. The decisiveness and confidence of the popular forces is already evident by the massive numbers that turned out on Tuesday so that the army was outnumbered by 40,000 to one. These numbers were one response to the warning from Vice-President Omar Suleiman that there could be a coup if popular forces do not accept the regime’s timetable for a transition to democratic rule.
What Suleiman and his foreign handlers mean by democratic rule is the exit of Mubarak with some cosmetic changes to reconstitute the police state of neoliberalism with new persons at the helm. In this new struggle, there is an intense campaign within the military to buy the allegiance of the top brass of the military into accepting the discredited form of rule that has kept down the people of Egypt. There are now divisions within the military. There are disagreements between some elite officers who were bought off by the regime and the rank and file of conscripted persons who will be crucial to the decision at the crossroad between rivers of blood and the tides of freedom. In the first test at this crossroad, the police state fell on the wrong side of history by attempting to stifle information and abort the revolution.
AS THE REVOLUTION MATURES
We have been studying the trajectory of this revolutionary process, which started in Tunisia and has matured to a new stage in Egypt: that of reconstruction and consolidation of the gains of revolution. The first four stages were spelt out in our previous writings. At this juncture, it is critical to grasp the balance of forces so that counter-revolutionary elements – whether in the military, among the old ruling elites, religious zealots, local and international capitalist/militarist interests or new fronts of power elites – do not hijack the goal of the revolution.
From the voices of revolution it is clear that the network of organisers among the April 6 movement and from the ranks of the militant workers are readying themselves for a prolonged and protracted struggle. Those who would be bought off to be thugs are being exposed as alternative political and social organisations emerge to defend the people. The working poor and the organised workers are now coming out to support the youth, and the April 6 youth movement is showing new determination to stand up to the challenges of the struggle. As one youth said and reported in the UK Guardian:
‘He [Suleiman] is threatening to impose martial law, which means everybody in the square will be smashed… But what would he do with the rest of the 70 million Egyptians who will follow us afterwards?’
These statements from the mobilized and self-organised youth point to the reality that the shift in confidence has devolved to the people, who have dropped all fear. People have decided to occupy the liberation square until the new process of change takes root.
Wael Ghoneim summed up the feeling in his statement that: ‘This is the revolution of the youth of the Internet, which then became the Revolution of the youth of Egypt. And now it’s become the revolution of all of Egypt. There is no [one] hero… We all are heroes. That’s it.’
The Egyptians are in the process of removing a corrupt, incompetent and arrogant government. They will not accept another corrupt, incompetent and arrogant regime to replace Mubarak.
With the maturation of the revolutionary process, the information battles within the struggles for freedom are clarifying the reality that far more than ‘cosmetic’ changes are needed to ensure that the economy is reorganised so that all citizens can have a better quality of life. I concur with the view of one columnist in the British paper, the Guardian, who noted:
‘For whatever happens next, Egypt’s mobilisation will remain a revolution of world-historical significance because its actors have repeatedly demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to defy the bounds of political possibility, and to do this on the basis of their own enthusiasm and commitment.’
Indeed, the flame of the revolution continues to be fuelled by the persistence, enthusiasm and commitment of ordinary people who are bent on achieving the goal of transforming the Egyptian society. These people are the ones who now hold the keys to what is possible about 21st century revolutions.