Huge protests, strike wave topples dictator — ‘we will keep fighting’

Egyptians celebrate Mubarak’s resignation. Photo from Al Jazeera.

Two articles are posted below on the historic toppling of United States-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak in Egypt — and on the continuing struggle of the Egyptian people for economic, social and political change.

For more coverage, see Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

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`We will take five minutes and celebrate, then start building our new Egypt!’

By Jane Slaughter

February 12 — Labor Notes

Shortly after the news came that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had resigned on February 11, Labor Notes talked with teacher and trade unionist Abdel Hafiz in Cairo, amid sounds of joyous celebration.

The regime's collapse came amid a huge series of strikes.

Asked what will happen next, Hafiz said, “What will happen next is people are going to take five minutes and celebrate, and then we will start building our new Egypt.

“Everyone wants to be in control now. We know tomorrow there will be a big debate in Egypt about the future, about how in our new Egypt we will have democracy and civil rights.”

What about the military being in charge — is this a good thing or dangerous?

“The military promised to be in charge for the foundational period and to guard the democracy. They know that from the first day the military, the army, came to the streets, people are celebrating the military coming.

“They were shouting every day, every day, ‘The army and the people is one hand!’

“The military got the message. They know the requirements of the new Egypt—freedom and democracy. They promised and we believe them.

“Of course, everyone will be very careful.

“[The people] now just feeling they have their own ability to resist and that is the most important guarantee.”

Strikes broke the camel's back

As Egyptian citizens celebrate their first victory on the way to democracy, some are asking whether the fast-spreading strikes of February 9-11 were the straw that broke Mubarak’s back.

More than 20,000 workers walked out on February 9. Kamal Abbas, director of the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers Services in Cairo, told Labor Notes: “This day in the revolution could be named for the labour unions.”

On the morning of February 11, the day Mubarak stepped down, the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center reported, based on local reports from Egypt that in Mahallah 24,000 textile workers walked out demanding raises and calling for solidarity with the protesters in Tahrir Square.

Some military equipment factories, owned by the military, were struck over wages and benefits.

Subway workers walked out. Postal workers walked out. Workers at Egypt Air headquarters walked out. Laid-off workers from the famous Alexandria Library demanded to be rehired.

The main shipping agencies in the ports saw walk-outs. Al Azhar, the oldest university in the world, saw strikes at all the hospitals it operates.

And employers rushed to meet the demands of workers. Public and private employers were all caving on the major demand that temp/contract workers be made permanent.

The government began studying budgets to figure out how to make temps permanent throughout the government sector.

Leaders of the official government-controlled union federation, the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, were not involved in the strikes and negotiations. Workers were ignoring the existing structures and forming their own committees to negotiate.

They had ample precedents. Though invisible outside the country, more than 2 million Egyptian workers had struck, sat down and protested for higher pay since 2004, when a neoliberal government stepped up privatisation.

[This article first appeared at the US-based Labor Notes.]

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From day of challenge to day of victory

US Socialist Worker reports on the fall of the Mubarak regime

February 11 — Hosni Mubarak is gone. Hours after a televised speech in which he defied the mass uprising against him and declared he would remain as Egypt’s dictator, Mubarak stepped down.

His newly appointed vice-president, Omar Suleiman, appeared on state television on February 11 to announce that authority had been transferred to a council of military leaders.

The streets of Cairo and every city in Egypt, filled with protesters furious about Mubarak's speech the night before, erupted in jubilation. News channels with their cameras trained on Tahrir Square gave up trying to make themselves heard over the joyous demonstration.

Reporters described deafening chants of “Egypt is free!” and “You’re an Egyptian, lift your head”.

Many questions remain about the shape of the new regime under the military — and what role, if any, Suleiman, who infuriated Egyptians over the past several weeks with his defence of Mubarak's continued reign, will play.

The military has been at the centre of the Mubarak dictatorship for 30 years and also bears responsibility for the regime’s crimes. In fact, military police have been involved in arresting key activists.

Now the struggle will have to continue to make sure that the military establishment — which is also deeply involved in the country's business affairs — doesn’t consolidate power in the hands of the armed forces.

But it's already clear that the people of Egypt have changed the course of history in the Middle East — and the world beyond.

They have overcome the violence of police and thugs, the regime's attempts to co-opt parts of the opposition, and the double-dealing of Western leaders who put “stability” ahead of Egyptians’ demands for democracy.

The emergency laws that enabled Mubarak's police state to rule for 30 years are still on the books. But the millions of people who engaged in this revolutionary struggle — with the sacrifice of at least 300 lives, with thousands more injured and arrested — weren’t intimidated.

They will continue to press for genuine democracy.

And workers — whose strikes pushed the regime to the breaking point — will continue to press for wages that can put food on the table, as well as the right to organise independent trade unions.

Egypt’s revolution has taken a giant leap ahead, opening the way for a struggle that can reshape all of Egyptian society.

And the monarchs, dictators and US stooges who hold power across the Middle East are terrified that they — following Mubarak and the ousted Tunisian autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali — could be next.