The Egyptian Revolution has reached a crucial point since the fall of Mubarak. The combination of political struggle in Tahrir Square with workers' struggles in the workplaces continues to paralyse the ruling elite.
After the police evacuated Tahrir Square yesterday afternoon, the Square was revived with thousands of youth, organising before the big day ahead, today's Friday of Rage. By 10am marches already arrived at the Square.
The youth didn't waste one minute. As soon as security forces left the Square, young activists organised the traffic whilst handing out leaflets stating the demands of Friday's protest. Marches of several hundred youths from the Square to neighboring streets, including Talat Harb, were chanting 'down with the military council' and asking for residents to join the protest the next day.
Today's demonstration has more than five feeder marches, starting from eleven mosques across the city, and ending in Tahrir Square. The feeder marches are organised by various youth organisations, such as Revolutionary Youth Coalition and Youth for Justice and Freedom, plus secondary school students. The demands are mainly focused around the military trials of civilians. More than 12,000 civilians have been detained in military prisons and are facing military trials.
There is an obvious polarisation within Egyptian society over this protest, due to it direct opposition of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). This is what differentiates this Friday of Rage from others. It finally confronts the big elephant in the room: the army.
State television and media have waged a week-long propaganda campaign against protesters, similar to its anti-revolution campaign during the early days of the 25 January revolution. It is clear that 'the army and the people' are no longer one.
The majority of arguments against the protest are very similar to those heard between 3-9th February, during attempts to undermine the revolution, and are from the same people, in particular people who didn't participate in the Tahrir Square protests. The arguments are very shallow, weak and full of pessimism. They generally propose that patience is needed until the general elections come in November, along with the notorious 'production wheel' argument, which was used by the army to criminalise workers' strikes. This is nearly identical to the arguments against the revolution before Mubarak's fall: 'two months of patience is needed until he resigns and the elections can take place'.
SCAF and the remaining elements of the regime are panicking. The elite is facing a political crisis and it seems be escalating; it is struggling to get consent among the general masses.
But the true reasons why it faces such a crisis, and why this Friday is particularly important, is the anti-imperialist dynamic that overtook the revolution during Ramadan and the recent explosion of strike action from workers across the country.
In response to Israel's killing of seven Egyptian soldiers on the borders at Rafah, thousands of protesters besieged the Israeli embassy for a whole week, calling for the Israeli ambassador to be expelled from the country. In this case it was a response to an armed attack on an Israeli bus in Eilat, killing two soldiers and four civilians. This followed air strikes on Gaza which antagonised people even more. The Israeli embassy witnessed protests in May, marking the anniversary of the Nakba. But in the recent case the anti-Zionist protests had more impact.
Firstly, it exposed Sharaf's government and questioned its legitimacy. The day after the first protest at the embassy, rumours were that the new government decided to expel the ambassador. This turned out to be incorrect, and an obvious hesitation from a new incompetent government.
Secondly, on a much bigger level, it exposed the true interests of SCAF. The popular pro-army mood that accompanied people after the revolution was understandable, since the people saw the army as the force that protected people from imperial powers. This is due to the anti-imperialist context in which the first Egyptian state was formed.
But the Israeli attack on Egypt's borders shows how its institutions are paralysed, and that its role is completely different. With Turkey expelling its ambassador a week ago, in response to Israel's attacks on the Turkish activists who were aboard the flotilla ship last year, the army has exposed inherent class contradictions.
New wave of strikes
The sporadic strikes that have been happening the past two weeks, and the strikes yet to come next week, have pushed the elite from a political crisis into an economic one. Already we have seen nationwide postal strikes, strikes from a soap factory in Mansoura, airport workers, nurses from three different hospitals across the country, and many others.
The Mahalla textile workers are set to strike from tomorrow, 10th September. Three industrial textile workforces from different cities have decided to join them. On the same day, teachers will be staging a national strike and medical technicians around the country will be staging protests. It is the combination of the political struggle in Tahrir, and workers' struggle in the workplaces that paralysed Mubarak's regime.
It is likely we see more of this combination after today, which is why the government has given in to all the demands of the Mahalla workers, after a 5-hour meeting with the Mahalla trade union leadership. The victory that Mahalla achieved has sparked other textile factories to take industrial action, including three completely different textile factories who have announced their participation for tomorrow's strike.
In 2007, the struggle of the Mahalla workers ended in a massive victory, which influenced the biggest strike wave Egypt had ever seen. SCAF and Sharaf's government don't have much choice: either they give concessions to the militant labour movement, or respond with brute force. Either way, it seems that there are no solutions to the ruling elite's dual crisis.
The process of the Egyptian revolution has reached a crucial point since the fall of Mubarak in February, and today's protests seems to be a turning point. The army has asked the protesters to leave the Square within 24 hours, declaring that it would use brute force to evacuate the demonstration after that.
By John Rees and Joseph Daher
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