Mubarak’s resignation in slow motion was a feint behind which the regime prepared a counter-revolution. That is the meaning of the plain clothes police thugs attack on the protestors in Tahrir Square last night.
The best reports I can assemble from the Square tell that the thugs almost got right across the length of the Square but were driven back by the revolutionaries who had, by late evening, retaken most of the area. They were being reinforced by marches from local areas including some key working class districts. Perhaps 7 have been killed and thousands have been injured.
It is the heroism of these revolutionaries that has kept the revolution alive.
We should not be surprised. This is the deepest, most profound revolution of this generation. Its international impact will be enormous, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist. That is why it is the first duty of the left to defend it.
The revolution has already survived one attempt at outright repression. Pre-emptive arrests of activists did not halt the protests. Neither did the shootings of detainees or the murderous gunfire at the Interior Ministry last Friday.
Censorship has failed. The ridiculous state TV broadcasting scenes of streets with no protestors in them and claiming that they were Tahrir Square simply created more anger. Closing down the internet and mobile phone signals just sent more people into the streets say many Egyptians...if only to talk!
The attempt to create a strategy of tension around ‘looters’ in part promoted by police not only failed but backfired spectacularly by resulting in the creation of the popular militias which now control the streets of Cairo. This has spread and deepened the revolution.
As the police dissolved attention turned to the Army. But a crucial turning point came when the Army issued a statement on the eve of the massive protest yesterday saying that it would defend the people’s right to protest and would not open fire on them.
Of course the Army has not yet split and remains a unified military force, although doubtless there are tensions within it.
In areas other than Cairo it has been less worried about the use of force and yesterday at least some routes into Cairo were blocked by tanks to stop supporters of the revolution flooding into the city.
Now the renewed attempt at counter-revolution has radicalised the revolution again. The army has been reduced to temporary neutrality, in some cases soldiers have sided with the revolution.
In other parts of the country the movement is in any case more advanced. Suez is still essentially under popular control. Some reports say that the important textile centre of Mahalla had 100,000 of its 250,000 population on the streets on Tuesday.
There was talk, at quite an advanced and practical level, among activists yesterday about how to organise the taking of a government building on Friday if Mubarak did not resign.
There is also talk of getting workers to take over the factories that have been deserted by frightened bosses. Talk too of encouraging Suez Canal workers to halt traffic through the canal.
It is hard to know how much of this will go ahead or on what timescale but at the very least it shows that activists are strategically thinking how to deepen the revolutionary process. The founding a couple of days ago of a new independent trade union federation is also a hopeful sign.
But of course elite figures outside the Mubarak clique will also be making plans. El Bareidi may feel the timetable suits him. His popular support base is not strong and he may welcome the time to build it.
The Muslim Brotherhood, despite vicious persecution by the Mubarak regime, is usually a cautious opposition and has said that they back El Bareidi. Its youth organisations however are not so compliant and many fought at the heart of Tahrir last night.
So what we see now is not the bi-polar opposition of a broad democratic front against an isolated section of the ruling class but a more complex polarisation in which the resignation in slow motion will be used both by the old guard and the conservative sections of the democratic movement to try and get a ‘peaceful transition’. These elements are, as Marx said of the bourgeoisie in 1848, fearful of those above them and terrified of those below them.
The radical democrats and the left must now organise more systematically to frustrate the counter-revolution.
Stop the War Emergency protest
Sat 5 February 2.30pm
Solidarity with the Egyptian people - End US/British/EU intervention in the Middle East
Assemble US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, W1A and march to Egyptian Embassy
John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher) and ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German). He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.