As we go to press, the revolutionary process that has opened in Egypt appears to be entering a decisive phase. This is the most important of a series of uprisings that are sweeping through different countries in the Arab world: in Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen, Morocco and Algeria, where the opposition has called for a general strike and demonstrations.
In Egypt, the workers’ rebellion and popular uprising reached a new milestone on February 1st, when between two and four million people demanded the resignation of the dictator Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak then raised the stakes by announcing that he will stay in power until the presidential elections in September, his only concession being that he will not run again for re-election himself.
This belated attempt by Mubarak to stay in power, like his previous measure of appointing the chief of military intelligence, Omar Suleimán, as vice president, appears to be completely ineffective in derailing the ongoing revolt.
The army, that had presented itself as a ‘friend’ of the anti-government demonstrations, has started to show its hand more clearly: after Mubarak’s speech it called on the masses ‘to go home’ and ‘go back to their normal life’, since the government had taken notice of their demands. In addition to the fact that Obama demanded that Mubarak initiate a democratic transition immediately, it is possible that the dictator’s speech was discussed in advance not only with the army but also with Washington’s special envoy, Frank Wisner, who has been intervening actively in order to save the Egyptian regime.
As expected, the call to return to their homes was rejected out of hand by those who have been on the streets for several days with the aim of putting an end to this dictatorial regime. The regime turned to its armed gangs, composed of policemen and functionaries, who on February 2nd launched an attack on the demonstrators in order to regain the emblematic Liberation Square in Cairo, which has become the revolutionary epicentre. The pro-government gangs, some mounted on horses and camels, attacked the crowd with sticks, knifes and other weapons.
The violent confrontations with stones and Molotov cocktails were in stark contrast to the festive atmosphere that had prevailed on previous days. The battle cost at least five lives and more than 1,500 wounded, but the anti-Mubarak demonstrators were successful in defeating the attack perpetrated by the pro-government gangs, whose aim was to put an end to the mobilisation. As this article went to press the crisis was deepening.
Clearly, Mubarak’s insistence on staying in power has radicalised the situation, which is approaching a turning point, and is a cause of concern for the imperialist powers, primarily the USA, and also the dictatorial governments in the Arab world that are facing similar protests.
The status quo is becoming untenable: either the revolutionary process takes a huge step forward in its organisation and goals and manages to divide the army – the main institution of the regime and the capitalist state – and overthrow Murabak, or the regime, with the help of the army and imperialism, gains the time it needs to weaken and divide the movement (possibly using repression) in order to put in place an orderly transition that banishes the spectre of revolution.
Given the impressive scale of the mass movement, the regime, backed by the army and imperialism – in particular the Obama government – and the bourgeois opposition to Mubarak, are looking for credible solutions in order to derail the process and avoid its radicalisation.
However, Mubarak’s refusal to stand down polarises the situation. It cannot be ruled out that he seeks to stay in power by resorting to a bloodbath, although this would be a risky strategy since could lead to a split in the army.
The army, which enjoys relatively high prestige because it is associated with the end of the monarchy and the rise of Nasserite populism at the beginning of the 1950’s, has taken de facto control of the situation and is acting like an arbitrator, while in reality it is the main support of the regime and Mubarak. At the same time, by refusing to repress the demonstrators it feeds the illusion that it is possible to place one’s trust in the army. This trust has been a key element, so far, in holding back the radicalisation of the process.
Another scenario is that Mubarak goes, but that the continuity of the regime is maintained by the vice president, Omar Suleiman, a close ally of Mubarak who enjoys the trust of the USA because of his role against the Palestinian people alongside Sami Anan, the chief of staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces. Yet another possibility is that figures from the bourgeois opposition like the former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, take part in the transition. His participation would receive the support of the Muslim Brotherhood, a traditional and conservative Islamic organisation, which is the main opposition force to Mubarak. This feeble government would be responsible for preparing the country for the next presidential elections.
Although the US has so far backed Mubarak because it is afraid of the consequences of him being toppled in a revolutionary way and doesn’t have a credible and trustworthy alternative, it seems that its main policy is to defeat the movement through a ‘democratic reaction’ solution. It is fully aware that a violent and repressive solution could deepen the revolutionary process with consequences throughout the Maghreb region, which is almost in a state of rebellion. This policy of ‘democratic reaction’ is shared with the imperialist powers in the European Union, who are nervous that the revolutionary events in the Maghreb and Middle East will have an impact in their own countries.
A crisis for imperialist control
Because of the geopolitical importance of Egypt, its demographic weight and its role in the Arab world, the possibility that a workers’ and popular revolution will put an end to Mubarak’s regime would have enormous regional and even world consequences.
Egypt is one of the main Arab countries, with a population of more than 80 million inhabitants, a strong, concentrated proletariat, urban middle and impoverished classes, as well as a decisive political weight.
From the economic point of view, Egypt is key for the transport of oil. Through the Suez Canal and the Suez-Mediterranean pipeline, some 3 billion barrels of oil flow daily from the producing countries of the Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. Fear of a possible closure of the Suez Canal could make the price of oil, which is already registering an increase, rise to exorbitant levels, with unpredictable consequences for the world economy, calling into question not only the weak recovery of some advanced countries, but the growth of emerging countries like China, which would have an impact on the entire world capitalist economy.
From the point of view of the geopolitical interests of US imperialism, it would be a blow that would increase the decline of the hegemony of the US, which has not succeeded in ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor in forcing the Iranian regime, which has grown stronger as a regional power, to abandon its nuclear programme.
As happened in 1979 with the fall of the Shah in Iran, the United States would lose an essential ally in the region, considering that Egypt, together with Jordan, are the only Arab countries that signed the peace agreement with the Zionist State of Israel. Mubarak has been a bulwark of US interests, collaborating with the policy of oppression of the Palestinian people and justifying his brutal dictatorship with the fight against radical Islamist groups and the Muslim Brotherhood. For these services, Mubarak’s regime receives 1.5 billion dollars annually, as military financial aid, the second largest amount after Israel’s. For that reason, all the pro-imperialist regimes, from the reactionary Arab governments to the corrupt Palestinian National Authority and the ultra-rightist Israeli government of Netanyahu, go on supporting Mubarak, since his fall would open a situation of great instability, that could decisively change the regional balance of forces.
But above all, a revolution in Egypt would be an example for the Arab and Muslim peoples that are revolting against their own pro-imperialist and dictatorial governments, and it would have enormous consequences for the international class struggle, since it would be a revolutionary response by the exploited and oppressed to the capitalist crisis and imperialist control.
A revolutionary programme
The mobilisations in Tunisia, that culminated in the fall of the dictator Ben Ali, were a catalyst of the revolutionary process that exploded in Egypt and put on the stage the profound aspirations of the masses: ending poverty, unemployment, the obscene social inequalities and Mubarak’s dictatorial and pro-imperialist regime, that for thirty years has been guaranteeing, with an iron fist, the stability necessary for capitalist businesses, privatisations and neo-liberal policies, with the collaboration of a supportive union bureaucracy and a powerful repressive apparatus.
As a result of decades of oppression and exploitation, an Egyptian worker’s average wage is approximately $75 per month, and the rate of unemployment is rising to almost 24%, although official statistics put it at 12%. These conditions of destitution suffered by at least 40% of the population of more than 80 million people, who live on scarcely two dollars a day, crowded together in the Cairo suburbs and the big cities of the country, have worsened with the effects of the international economic crisis, that caused the price of basic foods to go sky high, in a country that is essentially an importer of wheat and other foods.
The revolutionary process now opened in Egypt did not emerge from nothing; it was preceded by years of workers’ and popular resistance, especially that of the textile workers, who between 2006 and 2008 led big strikes with factory occupations in the industrial city of Mahalla, in northern Egypt.
This explains why the Egyptian workers are now a fundamental force in the movement of the struggle against Mubarak’s regime, together with unemployed youths from the educated middle class who cannot find jobs, and the poor population of the cities. In spite of their leadership, tied to the regime, several unions and organisations joined together in the April 6 Coalition (which arose in the process of struggle in 2008) have launched a call for the general strike, that coincided with the so-called Million Person March on February 1, and some groups have begun a process of organizing outside of the official union headquarters.
But, in spite of the strength and massive nature of the mobilisations, the revolutionary process is still in its initial stages: Mubarak remains in power, and the army, the main pillar of the regime and the capitalist state, is still standing. It is necessary that the struggle move forward to a political general strike until Mubarak falls. In opposition to the attacks by irregular armed bands, the police and possibly the army, some committees to defend the mobilisations have already been formed; it is necessary to spread workers’ and popular self-defence, in order to split the army and the repressive forces.
None of the structural demands of the movement of the masses will be able to find a response from any government of the Egyptian bourgeoisie that replaces that of Mubarak. El Baradei, who is presented as an alternative, is one of the variants that imperialism is manipulating as a temporary solution, and the Muslim Brotherhood is an organisation that defends the established social order and has in its ranks members of the affluent local bourgeoisie.
In order to advance decisively, it is necessary that the working class, in alliance with the unemployed young people and the urban poor and those of the countryside, acquire its own bodies of self-organisation and a programme and a revolutionary strategy independent of the regime and of the oppositional variants, that, far from representing the interests of the exploited, are the safety valves for a ‘democratic transition’, that will save the capitalists and preserve the interests of imperialism. In opposition to the trap of arranged transitions, elections, or the continuity of the regime with or without Mubarak – the only democratic solution is the creation of a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly, that would accelerate the experience of the masses with their democratic aspirations and would be an impetus to fight for a workers’ and popular government based on organs of workers’ democracy, that would expropriate the capitalists and imperialism, and would be the first step of the socialist revolution in the Maghreb and in all the countries of the Arab world.