Egyptian Prime Minister Sharaf claims that reshuffling the government will help achieve the revolution’s objectives. But this is not what Egyptians in the streets think. They believe the main demands of the revolution are yet to be fulfilled.
Growing popular mobilisation in Egypt has forced Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to reshuffle his government. Friday, 8th July - “Last Warning Friday” or “The Friday of Implementing the Demands” – saw the emergence of a new wave of demonstrations and sits-ins across the country, from Cairo to Alexandria to Suez.
Since the mass protests on 8th July, demonstrators have repeatedly raised slogans for the toppling of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). On Saturday a SCAF member was forced to cut short a visit to Tahrir Square when protesters drowned out his speech with booing and anti-military chants.
The influential Muslim Brotherhood has played a contradictory role. It mobilised for the Tahrir Square rally on 8th July but made a point to exit at 6pm, and has joined in the campaign to delegitimise the protesters. It defied calls for a sit-in and leveled criticism at the political parties and groups who remained in the square. The group has launched attacks on the ongoing protest via its website, Ikhwan Online, which on 11th July claimed that the sit-in had been infiltrated by “remnants of the dissolved National Democratic Party, the state security apparatus and their Zionist allies”.
Change and continuity at the top
The resignations of the Minister of International Planning and Cooperation Fayza Abouelnaga and Finance Minister Samir Radwan were a response to popular pressure. They were associated with the dissolved National Democratic Party from the Mubarak era.
The Egyptian Democratic Party’s Hazem al-Beblawy will now be responsible for economic policy. Deputy head of the Wafd Party Ali al-Selmy will oversee political development and democratic change.
Beblawi is a former adviser to the Abu Dhabi-based Arab Monetary Fund and favours neoliberal economic policies. Selmy’s nomination has been criticised because neither he nor his party, the Wafd, participated in the revolution. The Wafd Party’s head, Badawy, enjoyed a close relationship with Hosni Mubarak.
The new Foreign Minister Mr. Amr has a similar background to his predecessor Mohamed El-Orabi (who served as deputy ambassador to Israel from 1994 to 1998 and was once close to the Mubarak family). Mr Amr is a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and has worked at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington while representing his country in the World Bank.
In addition to this five ministers retained their posts: the ministers of justice, interior, information, culture, and education. Minister of Information Osama Heikal has been subject of criticism from media workers, citing his history as a military affairs editor and presidential affairs correspondent for the Al-Wafd newspaper.
Minister of Justice Mohamed al-Guindi faced sharp criticism for the slow pace of trials of former officials accused of corruption and officers accused of murdering protesters during the uprising. Interior Minister Mansour al-Essawy is criticised for the ongoing security crackdowns. There have also been repeated calls for the removal of Public Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud who served during the regime of Hosni Mubarak.
Democratic demands of the movement
The trial of former Mubarak regime figures remains a key demand, while protesters and human rights activists voice mixed feelings over the recent police shake-up, which ended the service of at least 600 high-ranking officers. The “shake-up” has been criticised as inadequate, with many officers accused of committing violations on 28th January while on duty.
The protest movement called for immediately suspending all officers accused of killing protesters until they can be tried in court, and for a ban on any attempt to intimidate martyrs’ families to drop their charges. They also call for removal of members of the Supreme Police Council who were in office during the revolution and to refer them to a disciplinary council.
The right to protest has been threatened by the military regime and police. The military has broken up a number of sit-ins around the country. In Tahrir Square last week a group of thugs attacked demonstrators with knives. Protesters had to protect themselves on their own as neither the police nor the military intervened.
Since the armed forces took power after Mubarak's resignation in February, several reports have implicated the military in torture and other human rights violations.
Social and economic demands
Social and economic demands remain largely unmet. SCAF amended the budget expenditure prepared by the previous government from LE515 billion to LE491 billion. Expenditure on education, health and housing all fell.
The minimum wage proposal is only LE684 per month. Workers’ groups have repeatedly said that they would not accept less than LE1200 a month. This reflects the government’s desire to protect the interests of business and the established elite.
The Egyptian labour market is highly segmented into formal and informal sectors. This large informal sector, which means that these workers are completely unprotected by the labor regulation framework, is the result of previous government policies which served the interests of business to exploit workers. No improvement, or even willingness to enforce labour law, has been witnessed since the fall of Mubarak.
Independent workers’ unions and some political parties, such as the Popular Democratic Alliance Party, have played a key role in the mobilisation of workers these past few months - on social, economic and democratic issues alike.
Calls are being made to nationalise companies that have been privatised or liquidated through corrupt transactions, and where there have been mass sackings. The prosecution of all those that were involved in these corrupt transactions is also being demanded.
One corrupt case is Ghazl Shebin, a textile company sold in 2006 to Indorama Corporation for LE122 million. This company of 5,700 workers used to be one of the leading exporting textile factories to Europe with net profit of LE9 million in 2005-2006 alone, and the main competitor to Indorama Corporation. The factory now has 1,200 workers. Working conditions have deteriorated tremendously. Thousands of workers were laid off with no compensation. Some of the remaining workers are now under very strict contracts, in which the employer very often avoids paying pensions and benefits to the workers.
Future in the balance
There has also been too little progress from the Mubarak regime’s foreign policy. The Egyptian government reassured Gulf leaders they will not pursue relations with Iran if it means risking stability in the region, after turning down loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank but welcoming financial assistance from oil-rich Arab Gulf States to finance its budget deficit.
In relation to the Gaza strip, despite previous declarations from Egyptian authorities that the border would be reopened on a permanent basis, they recently announced that no more than 400 Palestinians would be allowed into the country on a daily basis. The whole road in direction of the Rafah crossing in the Sinai is filled with Egyptian military checkpoints accompanied with tanks.
Many Egyptians are not going to let go of their revolution, despite SCAF actions to maintain elements of the Mubarak system. Solidarity between protesters on the streets and workers have increased. Popular committees also played an important role to mobilise protesters and organise demonstrations.
Egyptians are back in the streets demonstrating and chanting “the people want to topple the Marshal”. Egypt’s revolution is far from over and the Egyptians have understood better than anyone else the dangers of starting a revolution and not finishing it.
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