“We will not be silenced,” shouts an Egyptian protester in one of the many videos posted on YouTube of the uprising against the Hosni Mubarak dictatorship that began on January 25.
“Whether you are a Muslim, whether you are a Christian or whether you are an atheist, you will demand your goddamn rights! And we will have our rights, one way or another, we will never be silenced!”
This statement sums up the immense change sweeping Egypt. This change is driven by a powerful mass movement that put millions of people on the streets across Egypt on February 4.
This came after between 6 and 8 million people marched across Egypt, Ahmed Shawki wrote from Cairo in a February 2 report posted at SocialistWorker.org.
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It also came after pro-Mubarak thugs and plain-clothed police officers launched a violent assault, with batons, bricks, petrol bombs and knives, on pro-democracy protesters occupying Cairo’s Tahrir Square on February 2.
Protesters fought back with rocks and ripped-up concrete in bloody scenes. At least 13 people were killed and more than 800 injured in the attacks, AlJazeera.net said on February 3.
The ongoing protests reflect a new spirit of confidence and determination that has marked the rise of a people’s movement determined to end to the United States-backed regime.
The movement is driven by anger at denied basic civil and political rights, as well as being unable to tolerate rising food prices, falling wages and unemployment.
“I haven’t any food, I haven’t anything,” another protester yells in the same video, before expressing his willingness to die for an end to the regime.
The movement has drawn inspiration from the success of the mass movement in Tunisia that overthrew dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali on January 14. This electrified the Arab world, which is mostly ruled by foreign-backed dictators.
When a call was made by the April 6 youth movement and popularised via Facebook for a “day of rage” on January 25, mostly young people responded in their tens of thousands.
The demands of the “day of rage” were to:
• raise the minimum wage to 1200 Egyptian pounds ($208) a month and provide subsidies to the unemployed;
• end the state of emergency in place for more than three decades and release all those imprisoned with no definite charges; and
• dissolve the parliament and change the constitution to bar presidents serving more than two terms.
The day of rage saw a larger than expected rally in front of the high court. Emboldened by the turnout, protesters broke through the security cordon and about 15,000 protesters occupied Tahrir Square. Protesters have remained there ever since.
About 20,000 also protested in Alexandria on January 25. Egyptian-American activist Mostafa Omar told SocialistWorker.org on January 26 that in the northern industrial city of Mahalla, a protest that started in the morning with 200 people had grown to 45,000 by the end of the day.
The protests began demands for reforms to the Mubarak regime, but quickly morphed into a movement for his overthrow.
Protests continued on January 26. A virtual uprising broke out in Suez, during which protesters burned a police station to the ground.
All this served as preparation for January 27, dubbed the “Friday of anger”. In advance, the Egyptian government shut down all internet services and mobile phone communication.
This merely fuelled anger, which exploded onto the streets soon after afternoon prayers. Protesters were met with mass repression. Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons.
The protesters however, did not retreat. In many places, they went on the offensive.
In Suez, protesters stormed a police station and freed all protesters who had been arrested. Government buildings were burned in Port Said and the headquarters of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party was burned down in Cairo.
A curfew was imposed from 5pm-9am. Protesters defied it and were met with more tear gas — even while engaged in evening prayer.
The military were sent to assist police, but the army chose not to move against protesters.
The Egyptian army, unlike the police force, is popular with the Egyptian people as it has mostly been kept aside from imposing Mubarak’s repressive laws.
The army, 500,000-strong, also includes many conscripts. This means most people either have a family member or friend who is part of the military.
On the night of January 27, looting broke out in parts of Egypt. Many believe at least some looting was carried out by the police.
Anti-government protesters responded by forming neighbourhood committees, self-armed groups who blocked roads and ensured only members of that neighbourhood could enter.
AlJazeera.net said protesters joined the military to help protect the Egyptian Museum from being looted.
When repression failed to stop protests, Mubarak tried co-option. He made a speech that night in which he promised to sack all other members of the government besides himself.
He also promised steps “to contain unemployment, raise living standards, improve services and stand by the poor”.
AlJazeera.net said protesters dismissed these moves. Khaled, a 22-year-old demonstrator, said: “We don’t care if the government resigns, we want him to resign.”
On January 28, 50,000 people protested in Cairo. The police, even traffic police, had almost completely disappeared from the streets — creating a very different mood from the day before.
The army were out in force, but were welcomed by the protesters.
AlJazerra.net screened footage of protesters fraternising with soldiers and chanting: “The military and the people are one.”
Protesters danced on tanks sprayed with anti-Mubarak slogans. Such fraternisation was a common sight in the first week of the revolution.
A Twitter user named Beltrew tweeted on February 1 that his friend had told him: “This morning at dawn there was a football match between the people & the army in Tahrir Square, stakes were a tank.”
On January 28, there were even reports of some soldiers obeying directions of protesters in Cairo who told them where to drive their tanks.
An Al Jazeera correspondent described the January 28 protests as an “explosion of freedom of expression”.
About 1000 people tried to storm the interior ministry and others tried to storm the Central Bank of Egypt.
The momentum was with the anti-government forces, so much so that Al Jazeera reported that 19 private planes with businessmen linked to Mubarak’s regime had flown to Dubai.
It was reported that Mubarak’s hated sons had fled to London.
Under pressure, Mubarak made another announcement that night. He said he was appointing his security chief Omar Suleiman as vice-president — a position that has been unfilled since Mubarak took control in 1980. This was intended as a signal that Mubarak’s eldest son would not be his successor, as was widely feared.
Renowned journalist Robert Fisk, however, summed up the mood of the protesters about this move in the January 28 British Independent: “When I told the demonstrators on the tank around me the news of Suleiman’s appointment, they burst into laughter.”
After a day of jubilation, things became more tense on January 29.
There was an increased military presence on the streets. The Egyptian government (unsuccessfully) banned Al Jazeera from broadcasting in Egypt, accusing it of “inciting protests”. Accreditation for its staff in Cairo was withdrawn.
On January 29, factory workers in Suez went on strike — refusing to go back to work until Mubarak was gone.
Police were nowhere to be seen again. This wasn’t a problem for many.
The Facebook group “We are All Khaled Said” reported a comment from someone in Cairo saying: “I don’t know why did we have police in the 1st place. We seem to be taking good care of each other, organizing traffic, cleaning streets & everything else without the need to have Egyptian police.”
This was confirmed by Daily News Egypt, which reported on January 31 that “as the revolt sweeps Egypt, so does a wave of volunteerism [in] what was truly a different Egypt”.
One volunteer on the streets said: “I’ll tell you something, these 6 days will impact Egypt for the next 50 years. Any ruler will think a hundred times before making a decision because he will remember what happened on January 25, 2011.”
After days of constant protests, the anti-government movement decided to push harder against Mubarak. Protest organisers called a “million person march” for February 1. An indefinite general strike was also called to start that day.
The strike was partly organised by the new Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions, set up to replace trade union bodies tied to government. The new group called for the “formation of committees in all factories and enterprises to protect and defend [workers]”.
The million person march, in fact, mobilised many more. In Cairo, up to 2 million took part. There were reports of about 1 million in Alexandria and 250,000 in Suez, despite the government shutting down the rail system and all highways.
Tahrir Square, February 1.
Protesters were confident that the show of strength would get rid of Mubarak. They chanted: “Hey, hey, Hosni is leaving tonight.”
During the day, the government expressed its wish to negotiate with the opposition, but this was rejected by all opposition groups.
However, in Cairo, the protest didn’t march on the presidential palace as planned. Organisers instead chose to continue the symbolic occupation of Tahrir Square, which they felt was a strategic position.
The spirit of solidarity and cooperation throughout the day moved one Al Jazeera reporter said it say it reminded him of “the old Marxist slogan ‘from each according to their abilities, to each according to their need’”.
The sheer strength of the protest forced Mubarak to respond with another concession. That night, he announced he would not seek to run in the September presidential elections.
This was applauded by the United States, which has awarded Mubarak’s regime with an average of US$2 billion in military aid a year and is desperate to ensure Egypt remains ruled by a pro-US and pro-Israeli government.
But those supporting the protest movement had a different reaction. The Angry Arab news service said: “As soon as I saw the defiant tone and substance of Mubarak’s speech, I realized that he is not speaking for himself but for the US/Israeli sponsors and that the US is now arranging for a coup against the will of the Egyptian people.
“It requires utmost vigilance and steadfastness and thus far those qualities have been abundant among the Egyptian people. This move by Obama towards Egypt can be described as criminal because it will lead to blood on the streets.”
Angry Arab’s speculation that Mubarak’s speech was a green light for more repression was confirmed the next day. Pro-government thugs, some found with police ID on them, launched a brutal assault on protesters in Tahrir Square.
Egypt’s health minister estimated up to 5000 people had been injured since the revolt began. The United Nations has said it believes as many as 300 have died.
Al Jazeera report on street fighting on February 2.
Anti-government protesters had regained control of Tahrir Square on the morning of February 3.
A lot of media coverage has focused on violence by anti-government protesters against their attackers, but live footage from AlJazeera.net showed a different, humanitarian picture.
Al Jazeera showed live footage of one thug trying to throw a molotov cocktail and managing to set himself on fire. Anti-government protesters rushed over to save him from being burned to death.
Further huge protests were scheduled for February 5 — this time designated the “Day of Departure” in what protesters hoped would finally drive Mubarak out.
Once again, more than a million mobilised in and around Tahrir Square and hundreds of thousands in Alexandria. Pro-government thugs had to retreat in the face of this display of people’s power.
Al Jazeera report from Tahrir Square, February 6.
In its aftermath, Mubarak continued to cling to power and protesters pledged to continue their street campaign until he is gone. It is less a question of whether the dictator will go, but when and what will replace his rule.
Regardless of what happens next, the Angry Arab pointed out that day that the movement had changed Egypt forever — regardless of who takes over.
“Some people I know are expressing worries regarding the US and Israeli attempt to abort the Egyptian uprising.
“Don’t worry. Even if they, temporarily, set up an extension regime, the political culture of Egypt has been altered.
“The ability of the regime to impose discipline, ‘order’, submission, has been undermined …
“It is a different country, even if the head of the secret police, Umar Sulayman (the candidate of reform and democracy according to Obama and Clinton), takes over in a transitional period.”