Egypt: Popular struggle scores fresh win

March 5, 2011
Protest at Tahrir Square, March 4. Photo from Sierragoddess/flickr

There was another win for “people’s power” in Egypt when interim prime minister Ahmed Shafiq resigned on March 3.

Shafiq was sworn in by the overthrown dictator Hosni Mubarak and is closely associated with the old regime.

He was replaced by former transport minister Essam Sharaf, who was asked by the military government to form a cabinet in the lead-up to elections scheduled for later this year.

The March 4 Economic Times quoted Bassem Kamel, a member of the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth that unites key activists in the pro-democracy movement, as saying: “First we ousted Mubarak. Second, we got rid of Shafiq.

“We have become again the owners of this country.”

Sharaf had served in Mubarak’s cabinet, but is a more popular choice for prime minister. He expressed support for the democracy movement and visited protests in Tahrir Square — the symbolic centre of the uprising that forced Mubarak to step down.

The Economic Times said: “Activists say they had recommended the choice of Sharaf.”

Shafiq resigned in the face of plans by the coalition for a mass demonstration the next day and the renewed occupation of Tahrir Square by protesters to force his ouster.

The coalition cancelled plans for the Tahrir Square occupation, but planned to continue with the mass demonstration as a victory rally. They have also invited Sharaf to deliver the prime minister’s oath in Tahrir Square.

Emad Gad, an analyst with the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said Shafiq’s resignation was “the first tangible response to a real demand” by the military government that took over from Mubarak, said on March 3.

There have been some changes in foreign policy decisions taken by the new government. Egypt has allowed two Iranian naval vessels to travel through the Suez Canal, the first time this has happened since the Iranian revolution of 1979.

The February 28 New York Times reported Egypt’s foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said his country would not endorse any foreign military intervention into Libya.

Under popular pressure, the military government said it would hold a constitutional referendum on March 19 on proposed amendments to the constitution.

The March 3 British Guardian said: “The amendments would limit presidential terms, make it easier to stand for president, ensure greater judicial oversight of elections and restrict the government's power to maintain emergency laws.”

The easing of restrictions on the Egyptian media, a product of the pro-democracy uprising, had an impact on Shafiq’s fall.

The “We are all Khaled Shalid” Facebook group said: “A three-hour program has just ended on an Egyptian channel in which the current (hopefully soon to be sacked) prime minister was questioned by some Egyptian pro-revolution intellects.

“The PM was nailed to the wall & attacked & criticised for every action he did in the month he has been in his place so far. Never ever happened before in Egypt history!”

The military government’s relationship with the mass movement has nonetheless been tense and uneasy.

When a rally was called for February 25 to demand Shafiq’s resignation, it was met with repression by the military police. reported on February 26 that “witnesses said that shortly after midnight, military police surrounded protesters, beating them with batons and using tasers to disperse the crowd of several hundred that had gathered to push for reforms”.

When protesters announced plans for a protest against the repression, the military quickly issued a statement insisting it did not order the attacks. It labelled the events “unintentional confrontations” between military police and “the youth of the revolution”.

Its statement said “measures will be taken to ensure this will not happen again”.

However, the next day, activist Amr Abdallah Elbihiry was arrested at a protest. A military tribunal that lasted five minutes sentenced him to five years in prison.

Demands of the popular movement yet to be met by the military government include: the release of political prisoners, the dissolving of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party; an end to the “state of emergency” imposed since 1981; and the prosecution of those responsible for the deaths of pro-democracy protesters — including Mubarak.

Since Mubarak’s fall, there has been flourishing of independent political activity. This has included independent trade union activity and the formation of new political parties.

Ahram Online said on March 3: “The newly formed Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions held a labour conference to announce and discuss the demands of the workers and their unions.”

At the conference, dubbed “What Workers Want from the Revolution”, workers rejected the pro-Mubarak union federation and announced the formation of a new independent union federation.

Crowd of workers chanted: “Oh Megawer (head of the pro-Mubarak federation), come on! Clear out!”; “Long live the work force!” and “Egypt, oh mother! Your workers are here! We will sacrifice our lives for you!”

Ahram Online said conference participant Abdel Salam “attacked Egypt’s labour and trade union laws which ‘denied us the right to strike, protest or establish our own independent unions’”.

He said “independent mobilisation and unionisation” could win a decent minimum wage.

Daily News Egypt said on February 28 that legal proceedings would soon begin to form two new political parties inspired by the revolution.

One of the proposed parties is called the Labour Democratic Party. Its founding statement said: “Businesspeople and political elites have their own parties and groups, while workers, despite their critical role in the revolution, don’t have a political party to represent and lead them in the struggle for power.”

Spokesperson Kamal Khalil said: “Our ideology is the same as the revolutions; we only paraphrase its demands of freedom, social justice and civil state from the point of view of workers.”

He said the existing parties were “state-made” and “never adopted or defended workers in their struggle”. As a result, “workers decided to form a party of our own”.

Daily News said a new party had also been formed by some dissidents from the Tagammu leftist party, along with other leftist and socialist activists. The new party will be called the Popular Coalition Party.

Tagammu was known for its cosy relationship with the Mubarak regime and for being marked by corruption.

Daily News said: “Both parties’ economic programs involve setting a minimum and maximum wage, putting an end to privatization and monopoly policies, and redirecting development plans to benefit underserved social classes.

“Workers called for the unconditional nationalization of major companies, as well as agricultural reforms in favor of peasants.”
The Muslim Brotherhood also said it would set up a new political party called the Justice and Freedom party.

The united front of the key forces in the pro-democracy movement, the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth, is continuing to use mass mobilisations as its key weapon to pressure the military government. reported that Coalition member Khaled El-Sayed said: “The only way to protect the achievements of the revolution and to realise more accomplishments is for the people to keep the pressure on.”

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