A new uprising has exploded in Egypt since police attacked protesters in Tahrir Square on November 19. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Cairo and other cities to demand the end of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that has governed Egypt since dictator Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in February. Dozens of people have been killed by the police and military and much larger numbers injured.
Ordinary Egyptians view the SCAF regime, which has continued Mubarak's repression, as a new face on the same dictatorship. Under mass pressure, the entire civilian government resigned on November 21. On November 25, SCAF appointed Kamal el-Ganzouri, a former prime minister in Mubarak's regime, as head of a new government.
Protests demanding SCAF leave continue despite the repression and elections scheduled for November 28.
Reham Maklad is the convener of the April 6 Movement in Australia. The April 6 Movement is one of the key groups that has been leading the revolution since it broke out in January. She spoke to Green Left Weekly's Ash Pemberton about the new uprising.
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Can you explain what motivated the latest wave of protests?
This has been brewing for the past nine months. The population has lost faith with the military regime. It promised to deliver the demands of the revolution, but instead have been protecting the previous authorities and bleeding the revolution dry.
SCAF was the last part of the regime that had some respect for a brief period after the revolution [that brought down Mubarak]. Many people didn't have faith in SCAF from the start because their atrocities began way back in March. However, there's been a shift in general public opinion and it's reached a point where the masses are again on the streets.
Atrocities have been committed against unarmed civilians ― including protesters, workers, peasants, farmers, lawyers syndicates, even the medical association. Almost every sector of civil society has been attacked or witnessed attacks by security forces. The military has facilitated the attacks, or at least didn't prevent them.
There was also Maspero, where Christian protesters were mowed down and brutally killed. SCAF, as well as the Egyptian media, played a huge role in creating sectarian divisions. These attacks ― which are, in my opinion, high treason ― have been exposed by the independent media.
Those who were involved in the protests went home and told their families and eventually, just like with Mubarak in the 18 days before he fell, it became clear this was a plot to destabilise the country and it was made possible by those who were meant to be protecting the revolution. They were perpetuating lies that were not to anyone's benefit but those holding power.
The military council has failed the people. It has failed the revolution from the very start, but it has taken time for the general public to accept the reality. Its an undesirable reality, and no one wanted to admit it was the case, but it has reached a point where it can no longer pretend it's on the side of the revolution.
The military council is not the army. The army, in general, is seen to be part of the people. The military council is made up of a small number of old men appointed by Mubarak and are all intrinsically part of the regime.
They have vested interests in seeing the revolution fail and in stifling democracy. They were somewhat controlled until March, at least not overtly out of control.
Since then, there have been a number of incidents where they have allowed brutal attacks on civilians by police. Recently, it was reported by protesters and the independent media that they used chemical weapons banned everywhere else in the world against unarmed peaceful protesters.
People didn't go out [against Mubarak] in January with the intention of getting a military dictatorship. Unfortunately, this dictatorship is supported by the West, in more ways than is apparent.
Instead of supporting the will of 85 million people who wish for freedom, dignity and a democratic system, the West has armed the Egyptian authorities with more weapons and ammunition to suppress the masses.
They had run out of ammunition, but acquired a new variety of munitions, some of which are banned and most of which are 15 years past their expiry date. Some of it has Hebrew writing on it, and “made in the USA” is clearly marked.
I've spoken to activists who said they're firing mini-cluster bombs at them, which fire small metal balls in all directions.
People are being bombarded by a gas that's cripples them on the spot. People are fainting and vinegar wont work [as an antidote] as it did with the gas they used before. Apparently, its CR gas ― a combat gas that's carcinogenic.
The gas is also passed its use-by date, so it shows the West is not only selling weapons to Egypt, it's using it as a dumping ground.
I also have seen very disturbing photos of protesters being melted by chemicals fired on them. Everything except for the head is melting.
People are also being run down with trucks, as happened at Maspero.
What's happening is a war crime, and as far as I'm concerned, the Americans have a lot to answer for. If they've provided these weapons and/or given approval for these actions, they need to be made accountable. I doubt very much that SCAF would be doing something without the US's approval at this stage, given that most of their funding comes from the US and they are in regular contact.
I'm in absolute awe from what I've seen from the people in the streets. There was one guy ― a friend of a friend ― who lost one eye on February 28 and lost the other eye on November 19.
He said: “I have lost my eyes but my vision is clearer than ever. I would rather have no eyes than have no dignity or no freedom.”
He is just one of many who have been crippled or killed by the regime.
There is a very strong sense that people are not going away or giving up. They are prepared to risk their lives.
To some extent, there is a feeling among the Egyptian expat community that when you're dealing with a military council the only way you can change things, apart from fighting them on the ground, is to ensure that foreign powers that support them are lobbied to stop supporting and supplying these weapons and to support the people of Egypt, not their oppressive rulers.
Even 254 Egyptian diplomats signed a document condemning what's happening and demanding a transfer of power to a civilian government. That is unheard of for the Egyptian diplomatic circle.
What is the attitude among protesters to the upcoming elections?
Protesters in Tahrir want elections, despite the military's claims that they are trying to derail the process. In reality, it is the military that is undermining the possibility of a safe and fair process.
How can you have a fair election when people are scared to go out on the streets? The violence against unarmed protesters has underscored the complete lack of trust in SCAF. It is obvious that a transition is impossible under these conditions.
The protesters are fine with free,independent, supervised elections. However, the military council had no intention of holding a fair or democratic election.
In Tahrir Square, the protesters are chanting for the end of the military regime and even for the execution of Tantawi, the head of the military council.
The chants are very clear: we are not having a military dictator determine the path of democracy because they are incapable of acting in a democratic manner.
Do you think the protests have the power to take down the military regime, given its deep roots in the Egyptian state?
In 18 days, the people took down Mubarak, who had a 1.7 million-strong security force. When you have 20 million people out on the streets, you outnumber the security forces.
However, the human cost could be huge if the military regime is not restrained by its Western backers. The people on the ground will fight to the death, but they are taking on a military that's armed.
But, eventually, this regime will be crippled like the previous one was. Truly, this is a fight the military cannot afford to engage in any further. If they had any sense, they would look around them and see that those before them who took this path lost.
Ultimately, I think the power is in the hands of the masses in Egypt. What concerns me is the civilian casualties.
SCAF could not survive without US support. It's an opportunity for the US to forge a new relationship with the people of Egypt and indicate very clearly which side its on. Is it on the side of the 85 million people or the side of oppressive rulers brutally repressing the population?