In the same way the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia strengthened the movement of protest in Egypt, the events in Cairo are encouraging people of the region, from Algeria to Bahrain to Yemen, to start or continue their struggle against their own authoritarian regime.
Since the resignation of Mubarak last Friday night, power has been handed over to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, led by defence minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. The Supreme Council promised to install a new civilian government as soon as possible and is committed to safeguarding the “achievements of the revolution.”
On Saturday, the country's new military leaders announced on state television that they promised to hand power to an elected, civilian government. They also pledged to respect all international treaties, a clear nod to the country's 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
On Sunday, the military rulers dissolved parliament, suspended the Constitution and promised free and fair elections in the next six months.
Egypt's new army rulers have appointed Tareq al-Bishry, a retired judge, to head a committee set up to suggest constitutional changes. Al-Bishry was a strong supporter of an independent judiciary during Hosni Mubarak's rule. The committee to suggest changes to the Egyptian Constitution actually held its first meeting Tuesday, and its aim is to draft a temporary constitution until the formation of a democratic government.
Sobhi Saleh, a lawyer and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, said that the purpose of the committee was to "cleanse" the Basic Law that has been suspended on Sunday by the new Egyptian leaders in order to lift all restrictions on freedoms and in particular to guarantee the right to form political parties. The objective is then to elect a democratic government which would be in charge to draft the final constitution. The Military Supreme Council hopes that the Constitution will be amended within ten days, and a referendum on these amendments should then be organised in two months. Free and fair elections would be held then to elect a new parliament and, ultimately, a civilian government.
The army has started to purge some of Mubarak's most hated officials, such as Adly Fayed, the director of public security at the Interior Ministry, and Ismail El-Shaer, Cairo's security chief. They have been sacked for their involvement in the decision to open fire on pro-democracy demonstrators during the uprising. Their dismissals are aimed at appeasing public anger against the much-hated security forces.
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) said on Tuesday it intended to form a political party once democracy was established. Essam El-Arian, a senior leader in the MB declared that the movement would not run any candidate for planned presidential elections.
Egypt has now entered the second part of the revolutionary process where we will observe the differences appearing between the demands of the various strata or classes of society. The revolution is now at a crossroads, and the events to come will determine what kind of revolution Egypt will witness.
The Egyptian army called publicly and repeatedly on Monday and Tuesday on citizens and unions to halt strikes and social protests, and to go back to their workplaces. Also, on Sunday morning the military began evacuating the protesters and the tents on Tahrir Square. Clashes broke out between soldiers and young demonstrators refusing to leave and calling for guarantees by the army for the transition period.
A section of the protest movement, mainly the bourgeoisie and some middle class protesters, followed the call of the army and urged Egyptians to suspend the protests and return to work. The Muslim Brotherhood, in the same vein, declared on Tuesday that they trusted the military and their promise to democratise the regime, in a clear message to the people to listen to the orders of the army.
The workers, on the other hand, want to continue the revolution and make it permanent. Workers all over the country are pursuing the mobilisation for democratic and economic change through mass protests, sit-ins and strikes in public factories and services as well as in privatized ones, including the stock exchange, media groups and railways.
Their demands centre on a wide range of issues, from higher salaries and better working conditions, to the return of union members who were sacked because they struggled for workers' rights and fought against corruption. Many of them asked for the resignation of their top management, which is highly corrupt. The establishment of free trade unions away from the corrupted and state-backed Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions is also a key demand.
Workers also want to assure the democratic rights of the Egyptian people, and there is general distrust towards the army among workers. As a reminder: during the revolution the army did not take action against the protesters, but it did not side with them, either. Its position has been one of cultivated, convenient ambiguity.
The military institution is clearly not in favor of a change of the socio-economic system of which it is one of the main beneficiaries. The army, in addition to a major political influence, has crucial economic interests in the country. The military establishment has not only a hand over the defence industry but is also present in the cement industry, hotel business, construction, still mineral water and olive oil. Thus, the interest of the army lies in saving the regime rather than preparing the ground for a democratic transition in many aspects.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was also quick to reassure its US sponsor, which has provided to the Egyptian military an annual average of $2 billion for the past 30 years in order to maintain the peace agreement with the State of Israel; it even strengthened its military cooperation on Wednesday, when the Israelis approved the deployment of more troops in the Sinai Peninsula in order to keep gas facilities and pipeline. There is no doubt the army will continue to follow US imperial foreign policy and ensure its interests, including safe passage for the US navy in the Suez Canal, the continuation of the Egyptian collaboration in the Gaza siege and exports of natural gas to Israel at subsidised rates.
The army will surely allow the transition to a civilian government the following months, but it will definitely try to guarantee its privileges and maintain the system so that the military establishment will have the upper hand and the final say in politics, similar to the Turkish model.
The workers refused this status quo, which is why they are mobilizing the people to continue the revolution to guarantee their democratic and social rights against the threat of the counter-revolutionary forces led by the army. They are not only striking or occupying their workplaces for economic reasons as portrayed in the Media, but also to allow in the near future the formation of a democratic, social and civilian government, which truly represents the needs and interests of the Egyptian people.
The workers, as we explained in previous articles, have been the leading force against the regime even before the revolution: the country witnessed the biggest social movement since the Second World War, with strikes and occupation by various sectors of the society such as health and textile workers, pharmacists, doctors, lawyers, judges, transportation and postal workers, and even real estate tax collectors. In the last days before the resignation of Mubarak, it was the mass strikes, just as in Tunisia on 14th January, which caused the regime to crumble. The army finally had to force Mubarak to resign because the system was about to collapse. The workers called for a huge demonstration this Friday to continue the mobilisation and the revolutionary process.
The workers have an important role within the divided left, which definitely needs to unite and to build a large movement, to lead and complete the revolution, so that a socialist revolution can be achieved.
Movements of protests have spread to Bahrain, which has now entered its fouth day of revolt. Clashes between protesters and security forces have already caused two deaths and hundreds of injuries.
The second demonstrator, Fadhel Ali Matrook, was killed Tuesday morning, when a funeral procession of more than 10,000 people who mourned the death of a protestor killed on Monday night was attacked by riot police.
The demonstrators' demands are political - they want a democratic system and the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has governed Bahrain since its independence in 1971 - and socio-economic, including the fight against poverty and unemployment. They also reject the state’s promotion of sectarianism, political naturalisation of foreign Sunnis from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, and Pakistan, who - with the exception of the Saudis - are largely recruited into the Interior Ministry, given passports, public housing and meagre salaries to enforce the word ‘police’ in the police state.
Demonstrators started occupying a square in Bahrain's capital, Manama, when riot police were called off late in the afternoon, although they remained stationed nearby in massive numbers. This resulted in the establishment of a makeshift camp on Perle square - which people started to call ‘Bahrain’s Tahrir Square’ - with public speeches by members of Bahrain’s secular democratic party Wa’ad and others, a few tents, public discussion, chants, and tea.
Al Wefaq, repeatedly described as the ‘largest Shia opposition bloc' on the news, even though it’s been a long time that they opposed anything being done to their constituents, announced that they were suspending their participation in parliament in response to police brutality. Conveniently, this allows them to hop onto the bandwagon without having public support or officially participating in Monday's demonstration.
The government has tried to appease people in order to avoid radicalisation of the movement of protest through different measures. The king announced the payment of an allowance of 1,000 dinars (2,000 euros) to each family. The Bahraini government undertook to release adolescents arrested last year. The king also declared that the government would release $417 million in social spending, including subsidies on basic commodities.
On Tuesday, Bahrain's ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa expressed his condolences for "the deaths of two of our dear sons" and said a committee would investigate the killings.
On Wednesday, nevertheless, thousands of Bahrainis were in the streets and attended the funeral of a demonstrator killed on Tuesday by security forces, while more than 2,000 protesters camped on Pearl Square, in the heart of Manama to demand reforms. The United States said they were "very concerned" after the death of two demonstrators in the kingdom, the seat of the Fifth Fleet, and called on all parties to exercise restraint.
Protests in Yemen are increasing as they enter their sixth consecutive day, with protesters and government thugs clashing in Sanaa, the capital. Despite thousands of police being deployed across the city, dozens of students demanding the president's resignation clashed with government thugs at Sanaa University on Wednesday. Three journalists were beaten up by thugs of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president, near the university.
A sit-in by hundreds of judges demanding greater independence of the judiciary and the ousting of the Supreme Judicial Council, went into its second day outside the justice ministry in Sanaa. The judges, who have poured into Sanaa from around Yemen, declared that they want all the members of the Supreme Judicial Council, including the justice minister, to be sacked. They also are demanding higher salaries.
On Tuesday, in Taiz, a town south of the capital, thousands of people have also called for a regime change, and eight people were injured when police dispersed the demonstration.
On Monday, around 3,000 demonstrators protested in the streets of Sanaa, and then clashed with police and security services.
The parliamentary opposition, which has agreed to start a dialogue with the regime on Sunday, has not participated in the demonstrations. Several checkpoints have appeared on the streets leading to Sanaa's presidential palace, and many have been blocked with razor wire.
Military ties between the US and Saleh's administration have grown stronger in recent months, as the country struggles with the increasing militancy of a secessionist movement in the south, as well as revolts provoked by rising food prices, unemployment reaching 40 percent - and demands for political freedom to be recognized. Forty percent of the 23 million Yemenis live on less than two dollars a day and a third of the population suffers from chronic malnutrition.
The US is shortly to embark on a $75 million project to train Yemen's so-called counterterrorism unit, but more surely to strengthen security services.
Libya as well is now facing the beginning of a public movement of revolt on the streets. On Wednesday morning, protesters have clashed with police and security services in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. Demonstrators gathered in front of police headquarters and chanted slogans against the "corrupt rulers of the country".
Protesters have also called on citizens to observe Thursday as a "Day of Rage". A group of prominent Libyans and members of human rights organisations have also demanded the resignation of Gaddafi. The demands came in a statement signed by 213 personalities from different segments of the Libyan society, including political activists, lawyers, students, and government officials.
In Tunisia, the authorities decided last Tuesday to lift the curfew imposed on 13th January, but the state of emergency declared on 14th January remains in force. The Tunisian foreign minister resigned in the face of pressure by the public servants of his ministry, who were striking for few weeks and asking his departure after he declared in a visit to France that the French Foreign Minister Alliot Marie was a friend of Tunisia, despite her negative role in the Tunisian Revolution. She actually suggested to ex-president Ben Ali to send French security forces to restore order during the revolt.
On Saturday, hundreds of Tunisian judges from different regions of the country observed a sit-in outside the courthouse in Tunis to demand their "right to independence" from the executive power. The lawyers, who revolted during Ben Ali era against the stranglehold of the executive power on the various wheels of justice, joined the judges in their sit-in.
Last Thursday, The General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) urged the government to initiate rapid decisions to meet the demands of the protest movement, while a woman set herself on fire in Monastir few days ago because she was not able to buy drugs for her husband suffering from cancer. Nationwide, strikes and sit-ins are being organised to remind the current government of the socio-economic needs of the people and of the demands of the revolution for a change of the system and social justice. The Tunisian government has still not met or addressed any important socio-economic issues, which would improve the daily life of Tunisians.
In Algeria, authorities deployed their security forces in Algiers last Saturday to prevent opposition movements to protest in the streets of the capital. A spokesman for the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), an opposition party, said that the demonstration was attended by between 5,000 and 7,000 protesters and that the police had made a thousand arrests. The Algerian opposition announced a new march on 19th February in Algiers.
The opposition movement was able to organise its first demonstrations in a year; protests took place in several Iranian cities. Clashes broke out between supporters of the Iranian government and members of the opposition during these protests. Two people were killed in the capital last Monday and dozens wounded, after riot police fired tear gas and paintballs at demonstrators.
The Committee of Human Rights Reporters, an Iran-based rights group, published an article on its website Tuesday, saying that Iranian officials "declared a list of 1,500 detainees". Opposition figures, Karroubi and Moussavi, called for Monday's demonstrations to show solidarity with the Egyptian people, who overthrew the country's president last week. Both Karroubi and Moussavi are under house arrest.
Three people were killed and thirty injured Wednesday in Kut, a town in southern Iraq, when security forces clashed with protesters. The demonstrators denounced the corruption and the inadequate public services.
Protesters threw stones at the police and took control of several public buildings that were evacuated. Half of the injured are members of law enforcement. Over 2,000 people gathered in Kut early this week to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. Other rallies were held in Falluja, Kirkuk and Basra. Protests across the country have been called by different groups on Facebook for 25th February.
Revolution must continue and spread
The need for the revolution to continue and be permanent in Egypt is being more and more clear every day. The need for the workers to lead and pursue the movement of revolt is crucial to achieve the objectives of the revolution, in order to guarantee the democratic and social rights of the Egyptian people. The success of the workers in Egypt will not only be crucial for the revolution in their country, but for the region as a whole.
Every step forward made by the Egyptians to continue their revolution is helping the revolutionary struggle of the protesters in the neighbouring countries. This is why the revolution needs to be permanent, in order to spread the atmosphere of revolt in the region. Tahya Thawra!
More articles from this author
- Despatches from the frontline: nurse speaks on hospitals crisis
- Barnoldswick: Workers standing together gets results
- Save Tower Hamlets libraries: council workers take a stand
- Life outside Labour - part 2
- Workers fire back - News from the Frontline
- Free School Meals: profiting from hungry children
- Barnoldswick strike suspended amid Unite deal with Rolls-Royce