: Mostafa Ali
The struggle to come after Egypt's election
November 28, 2011
After five days of mass resistance in Cairo's Tahrir Square and cities around
Egypt, the country's military rulers are hoping parliamentary elections on
November 28-29 will help them regain the upper hand--by co-opting Islamist and
liberal parties and isolating militants.
In reality, the weeklong mobilization--which included two days of protests
involving around 1 million people despite the killing of at least 40
demonstrators since November 19--marked a new phase of the revolutionary
movement in Egypt. Large numbers of people who greeted the ruling Supreme
Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) as heroes for ousting Mubarak in February now
see SCAF as a counterrevolutionary force.
The protests won a series of concessions, including the resignation of an
unpopular civilian cabinet that provided a fig leaf for military rule. But as a
replacement, the army appointed as prime minister a former Mubarak henchman,
The military is determined to hold onto power by proposing a new constitution
that would put the armed forces above civilian authorities. Despite an estimated
1 million people flooding Tahrir on November 25, the SCAF announced it would
hold parliamentary elections November 28 as planned, but extend the voting by
another day. Most Islamist, nationalist and liberal political parties agreed to
participate, angering many of their members, who felt the elections should be
boycotted to protest the military's repression.
Mostafa Ali, a member of Egypt's
Revolutionary Socialists and journalist for Ahram Online, spoke with about the mass protests, the elections and the
renewal of Egypt's revolutionary movement.
WHAT WAS the size and political character of the Friday protest on November
THE DEMONSTRATION on Friday was quite large. There were about 1 million
people in Tahrir. A number of demonstrations came from different working-class
neighborhoods--one of them was as big as 10,000 people. This is a new thing in
Tahrir. We have feeder marches that come from different working-class
The turnout was massive, as expected. The square was really roaring with
chants against SCAF and against its head, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi,
and there was a general sentiment that the military council must return to the
barracks. The consensus in the square was that a presidential council or a
salvation cabinet must take power--and that it should be made up of independent
people who have absolutely nothing to do with Mubarak and the National
Democratic Party that ruled under Mubarak's regime.
The most important thing here is that whatever form such a government would
take, it would be accountable to the people, not to the SCAF.
THE MUSLIM Brotherhood, however, remained opposed to the
THE BROTHERHOOD opposed the demonstration on Friday and boycotted it. Most of
the Salafists--a more conservative Islamist current--boycotted it, too, with
very few exceptions. But all the liberal and left parties and revolutionary
youth groups--about 70--supported the demonstrations.
This demonstration put pressure on a few liberal figures to put themselves
forward as being ready to form a national unity government or national salvation
cabinet. Mohamed ElBaradei, a key liberal figure, agreed to cancel his
presidential bid if he is asked to form a national unity government that would
include liberals, Nasserists and moderate Islamists.
That's generally what happened out of the big demonstration in Tahrir. But
there were other demonstrations in other parts of the country on the same day.
The new development is that there are also demonstrations in Upper Egypt [the
more rural, southern part of the country], which is more backward, less
industrialized. It wasn't fully a part of the January uprising. So this is a new
development. It is slowly catching up with the revolution.
ARE WORKING-class and economic demands coming to the fore in
these demonstrations, or are they focused more on getting the military out of
THE POLITICAL and the economic are completely intertwined. There is a general
unifying demand among the million people in Tahrir that the SCAF must go. But
the underlying reason is that the economic situation has deteriorated in the
last 10 months.
Many people tell reporters that life is getting harder, that unemployment is
unbearable, and that the previous government failed to improve their lives. The
SCAF has failed miserably on this. So the anger over economic hardship and the
yearning for political freedom are connected.
The independent unions had a contingent in the rallies, but it wasn't that
big--a few hundred people. They are still in a process of building and have just
gone through a number of setbacks. There isn't a working class movement that
could have an influence on the mass demonstration on Friday.
HOW WERE the marches from working-class neighborhoods
THESE DEMONSTRATIONS are organized by groups formed to oppose the military
trials of civilians, by popular committees to defend the revolution, by the
Revolutionary Socialists and hundreds of independent activists mobilizing in
their neighborhoods. They march to Tahrir, distributing thousands of leaflets
along the way to explain what's going on. It's an attempt to build a local,
ongoing presence in the neighborhoods.
IS THE political sentiment in Tahrir ahead of the rest of the
country? How will that affect the elections?
YES, THE political sentiment in Tahrir is ahead of the country. You can think
of it as the revolutionary vanguard in society among students and workers and
youth--but it is much larger than in January. Political consciousness has
These are people who understand that the SCAF is the continuation of the
Mubarak regime. They are beginning to understand the connection between
political and economic issues. They are beginning to grapple with the role of
police in society. And they are the ones who understand that the ruling class
played a trick on them by using Mubarak as a scapegoat in order to save the rest
of the political system.
So you have a minority in society--symbolized by Tahrir--which has advanced
politically and in terms of its consciousness. And it's ahead of the rest of the
country in that sense. Back in January, a majority of people in the country
wanted Mubarak to go, so they supported Tahrir. At this moment, that isn't the
case regarding the SCAF.
The revolutionary vanguard is much, much larger. Its willingness to fight is
unbelievable--it fought five days against the police. But the majority of the
workers and poor people have not yet concluded that the SCAF must immediately
return to its barracks. Or they don't think we have the power yet to push the
SCAF to return the barracks.
On a different level, you can think of it this way: It was much easier for
the ruling class to get rid of Mubarak. Getting rid of the SCAF, or pushing it
back to the barracks, is a much harder task. Many people outside of Tahrir also
want the SCAF to go back to its barracks, but they don't think there is the
organization on the ground to win something like that.
HOW WILL all this play out in the parliamentary elections?
THE TURNOUT in elections will likely be quite high. A majority of people
believe that elections will be the way to establish a civilian government and to
get the army out of political life. There is a majority consensus on this, other
than a crazy right-wing minority that wants the SCAF to stay in power.
The majority of the country wants a democratic system. They want a civilian
government. They want to be able to vote and to exercise political control over
their lives. And they believe this is the way to get the army out of their lives
for the first time in 60 years.
So even among people who are fighting in Tahrir and those who support them,
some of them will vote, because they don't want to leave the political scene to
the SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists. Yet the majority of the
people in Tahrir are more advanced than the rest of the country, and want to
actually boycott the election.
So you have a bizarre situation. The fact that people will vote in the
elections doesn't mean they want the SCAF to stay. They actually want the SCAF
out. They just think that voting will be the quickest way to do it. But the
majority of those who support the revolution are not necessarily against Tahrir.
There is just not enough organization or confidence to push the SCAF out
The SCAF wants this election to gain legitimacy on the ground. The military
is very weak right now, and it is determined that the election will take place
no matter what. They want to use this to bolster their credentials as people who
said they would bring about democracy--they want something to show they've kept
their word in order to use that to attack the growing revolutionary
That's what the people in Tahrir are saying--that this election will not
advance democracy, and it will allow the SCAF to gather the forces of
counterrevolution on the ground.
However, it's complicated. The SCAF has just come up with a new prime
minister--Kamel el-Ganzoury--a founder of the National Democratic Party and an
architect of privatization. Though he was ultimately pushed out by Mubarak, this
is someone who is on a no-fly list for leaving the country, because he is
implicated in a number of corruption cases in privatization schemes.
Even on that level, people are divided. A majority will go vote, but half the
people think that because this man was pushed out by Mubarak, we might want to
give him a chance, and the other half are beginning to learn that Tantawi and
the SCAF are bringing back the old guard of the NDP, not just the second
generation. Ganzoury, who is 77, is an architect of everything Mubarak did over
the last 30 years.
By appointing Ganzoury, the SCAF is sending a message that it will not
relinquish power. It has said that the new constitution won't change the role of
the SCAF by an inch. The SCAF will always have veto power over anything that has
to do with the army.
So on the one hand, the military is using the election to bolster its
democratic credentials. On the other hand, it is digging in. The members of the
SCAF are saying: "We are not going to relinquish power. No constitution, no
parliament and no mass movement is going to force us out of power."
Some 25 percent of Egypt's gross domestic product is directly under the
control of the SCAF. There was a handmade sign at the protest on Friday listing
the crimes of the SCAF. One of them was that its members supported Mubarak for
30 years. Another was that it turned the army into a big business to exploit
poor people. Companies owned by the army make macaroni, washing machines,
refrigerators and furniture--they build luxury resorts and a lot more. They own
a big chunk of agriculture, too, including hundreds of cattle ranches, and they
grow all kinds of vegetables and fruit.
That's why pushing the military back into the barracks and having a
constitution and parliament to make them accountable is much harder to achieve
than making them sacrifice a Mubarak. They have so much more at stake
economically and politically.
Then there is the international dimension. The West abandoned Mubarak, but
the West will never abandon the SCAF until the very last minute. The U.S. will
not abandon the army.
DESPITE THE protests against the SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood
has supported it, despite some tensions over the status of Islam in the proposed
constitution. Will that alliance continue?
THE GENERAL feeling in Tahrir is that the SCAF has cut a deal not only with
the Brotherhood and the Salafists, but also with the liberals and a section of
the left, a coalition called the Revolution Continues. They are going to divide
the seats in the new parliament among themselves.
So the Brotherhood opposed the demonstrations in Tahrir, and on Friday, it
actually sent many of its members to the square to try to talk people into
participating in the elections. They were chased out in many cases. But the
Brotherhood is still campaigning.
In the new constitution, the Brotherhood says it will not implement Sharia
law. But its version of Sharia is different from the Salafists, who have a very
reactionary view--against women and Coptic Christians, and for carrying out the
most brutal punishment for poor who break the law. The Muslim Brotherhood's
views are a lot closer to their Turkish counterparts. They are for censorship of
art and culture, and changes in some educational programs. The Salafists are
right wing and anticommunist.
So there are divisions between Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood. A very
popular Salafist presidential candidate, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, has a following
of millions, and he is all out against the SCAF. So a group of Salafists are
attempting to outflank the Muslim Brotherhood, and these people were supporting
the demonstration on Friday.
The Salafists believe the Muslim Brotherhood is cutting a deal that would
make it harder for them to implement Sharia. So they want the SCAF out faster.
That creates confusion on the ground, because while they want the SCAF out,
their ultimate goal is to destroy the whole revolution.
: Mostafa Ali
Egypt's revolution returns to the streets
November 23, 2011
A police attack on a small sit-in by 100 protesters in Tahrir Square November
19 has turned into a massive challenge to Egypt's military rulers as hundreds of
thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets of Cairo and other cities to
demand the ouster of the military regime.
The mobilization--which began just a week before scheduled elections for a
body to write a new constitution--was on par with the mass protests of January
and February that brought down the U.S.-backed regime of Hosni Mubarak.
After days of brutal attacks on demonstrators by the Central Security Forces
and military police that left at least 33 dead, Egypt's de facto ruler, Field
Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, promised a transition to an elected civilian
president by July, about six months earlier than originally proposed.
The military regime that has ruled Egypt since Mubarak's downfall, led by the
Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), also made other concessions,
including an order banning former members of Mubarak's National Democratic Party
from participating in politics for five years. Meanwhile, the civilian
government, led by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, resigned on November 21 under
pressure from the mass movement.
However, Tantawi refused to withdraw a plan to impose a constitution that
would give the military control over its own budget and ensure that the generals
remain the ultimate arbitrators of politics. That stance only further
antagonized protesters, who are arguing that the military rulers must go
Mostafa Ali, a member of Egypt's
Revolutionary Socialists and journalist for Ahram Online, spoke with about the dynamics of the movement and the
prospects for the renewal of Egypt's revolutionary movement.
WHAT WAS the trigger for this latest crisis in Egypt?
THE IMMEDIATE trigger was an incident last Saturday, November 19, when the
police went to break up a sit-in of no more than 100 people on the center
traffic island of Tahrir Square. Most of them had been injured in the January 25
uprising that led to the overthrow of Mubarak.
The sit-in followed a big march the day before that was dominated by the
Islamists, demanding that the Supreme Council hand over power to a civilian
administration by the end of April 2012. The day went just fine. But one
Islamist leader, a conservative Salafist, called off his plan for a sit-in and
left with his supporters, so just 100 people were there overnight. Police came
the following morning and began brutalizing them, and ejected them from the
But thousands responded to this repression by coming to the square to reclaim
it. By the next day, there were tens of thousands of people in Tahrir Square
again, and they kicked the police out. This is what started the showdown in the
The second factor is that there have been a number of protests against
military rule and military trials of civilians taking place steadily over course
of the last three weeks. They weren't massive--2,000 to 5,000 people at each
point. But they were picking up steam, indicative that something bigger might
In recent weeks, there has been a growing sense of confidence among families
of those in military jails and activists who have been fighting military trials.
You can look back on it and see that there was a readiness to go into the
square--to fight the police and reclaim Tahrir Square.
The underlying reason is that the government and the SCAF have failed
miserably in bringing about any economic or social reform that would improve
people's lives in the last nine months. They failed to raise the minimum wage,
as they promised in March, and they failed to institute any system of price
controls over basic foodstuffs.
In fact, for the last five months, the SCAF has decided that not only will it
refuse to make serious economic concessions, but it would slowly bring back the
entire repressive machine of Mubarak. Its leaders have been attempting to
rebuild the confidence of the police for months. The Central Security Forces,
the main repressive part of the police, have been let loose on strikers, people
sitting in, etc.
So instead of carrying out any meaningful reforms, the SCAF decided that it
would crack down on protests, demonstrations and strikes. And while it promised
that it wouldn't allow Mubarak's NDP to run in the elections as a party, NDP
members formed eight new parties. In other words, the SCAF was re-engineering
the political scene with all the old NDP people, who were going to make it back
WHAT WAS the popular reaction to all this?
A MAJORITY of those in streets today probably supported the SCAF in February
and believed that it would take side of the people and dismantle the Mubarak
regime. It has taken nine months of disappointments in the regime's economic
policies and increasing repression to change that. A lot of young people and a
lot of workers who believed in the SCAF have undergone a process of a change in
consciousness since February.
There is another reason for popular anger, which is that the liberal and
Islamist parties seemed to be looking for ways to share power with the NDP and
SCAF through parliament and the presidential elections.
So consciousness was changing under the surface, but people lacked the
confidence to fight back. But all of a sudden, unexpectedly, waves and waves of
people have come out of months of silence. Demoralization has suddenly turned
into its opposite.
WHAT IS the attitude of the Islamist parties toward the
government and the SCAF? How have they responded to the mobilization?
ISLAMIST GROUPS have supported the SCAF and said effectively that they won't
criticize the army and the military council. The Muslim Brotherhood in
particular has intervened in many social struggles to contain them--and in
strikes, to break them. The Brotherhood tried to break two doctors' strikes over
the spring and summer. It has been 100 percent behind the military council.
But then the military announced that it would control the process of writing
a new constitution, have veto power over any legislation that has to do with the
army, and its budget would remain secret. The debate over this lasted a whole
month, creating a fissure between the army and the Islamists.
For their part, the Islamists were afraid that the army would prevent them
from placing religious clauses in the constitution allowing for Islamist
jurisprudence--sharia law. That was the reason for the protest on Friday,
November 19--it was the Muslim Brotherhood's attempt to pressure the SCAF into
allowing sharia into the constitution.
On Friday, the Islamists demanded that the SCAF hand over power to a civilian
administration by April. By Tuesday, the chant in Tahrir Square was, "The people
want the field marshals out immediately." Plus, there is anger at the leaders of
the Islamist movement. One of them--a presidential candidate--was beaten up in
the square. Another, the number two figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, was chased
out of Tahrir.
So what we have is a new mass movement--and it all happened within 72 hours.
It's really driving a wedge between thousands of young Muslim Brotherhood
supporters and the leadership of the organization. Many young supporters have
joined the protests against the orders and the wishes of their leadership.
So there are liberals, independents, leftists and Islamists in the square.
This is creating divisions within the Islamist bloc. Their poorer and
working-class members feel they must come down to defend Tahrir Square against
police brutality. There were up to a million people on the streets on Tuesday,
November 22, and tens of thousands more across the country, all on less than 48
WHAT HAS been the role of the U.S. in this crisis?
U.S. OFFICIALS have said that they have been in constant contact and
negotiations with the Muslim Brotherhood. They've said they were preparing for a
coalition government of the Muslim Brotherhood, former members of the NDP and
some liberals. The elections were seemingly set up to bring in a parliament
almost identical to Mubarak's last one. The U.S. and the SCAF seemed confident
that they had been able to stabilize the situation--that they had pulled the rug
from beneath the revolutionary movement.
That's why police cracked down on the Saturday sit-in--just as they had done
with many previous ones. Break some heads, break some bones, and that would be
it--that was the thinking. They didn't expect the flood of anger and a
willingness to fight.
It looked like the Islamists were ready to form a government with the
agreement of the SCAF. But now the whole balance of forces has changed. It took
48 hours for the movement to win one demand that has gone unmet for nine
months--a ban on NDP members from participating in parliament for five years,
even though many of them are candidates for the election to be held in less than
More significantly, the SCAF said it would stop investigating crimes
committed by the military police and instead refer all accusations to civilian
prosecutors. This has been a key demand since October 9, when military police
massacred civilian police during a protest by Coptic Christians.
HOW HAVE the demonstrators been able to occupy Tahrir Square
despite the repression?
AS WE speak on Tuesday, November 22, there are a million people in Tahrir
Square in a peaceful demonstration. But the side streets have witnessed a
round-the-clock battle for 72 hours.
One street off of Tahrir Square near the old American University campus looks
like a battlefield from the First World War. Thousands of police are trying to
defend the Interior Ministry's headquarters. They have fired teargas into the
crowd every five minutes for four days straight, thanks to an endless supply
from the U.S. They're also firing rubber bullets.
But this isn't the usual police brutality. After the first police attack on
Saturday morning, they came again on Sunday at 5 p.m., when there were 30,000 or
40,000 people in Tahrir. But this time, they came with military police, and
that's when the massacre began. People were killed by rubber bullets and live
ammunition. This was the result of a shoot-to-kill policy by snipers and the
Central Security Forces--doctors said injuries were concentrated around the neck
After people were killed, the police lined up their bodies on the sidewalk.
They dragged one of the bodies a dozen yards and dumped it into a big garbage
can. At another point, they were hitting bodies on the head with clubs to make
sure they were dead--people say this is worse than the days of Mubarak.
The military's behavior shifted public opinion--it shocked people who
believed that the worst days of Mubarak were behind them. They might not have
liked the SCAF, but they thought at least it wasn't as bad as Mubarak. Now
people say, "We don't have one Mubarak, we have 16 Mubaraks"--a reference to the
number of people on the military council.
WHAT IS the social composition of the protesters in Tahrir
IT IS very similar to what it was in January and February, but less middle
class and more working class. Most people who died at the hands of police are
poor, young working-class people who have come from the shantytowns--young
people who have no hope after years of neglect.
One of those killed was helping a young woman who was breaking stones to
throw at police. He said to her, "I'm uneducated, I have no future. The police
will kill me someday anyway. I will die here--you go. You are educated, you will
help the movement."
If this mobilization continues, you can expect more young Muslim Brotherhood
supporters and Salafists to join in. Most of the doctors who are treating the
wounded are Muslim Brotherhood supporters who say that they have come on their
own because of their conscience.
SOME HAVE raised the possibility of a general strike as the
next step in the struggle. Are we close to that?
IN SEPTEMBER, we came close to a general strike situation when there was a
national strike of teachers (the first since 1951), a strike of bus drivers in
Cairo for almost 20 days and two big national strikes by government doctors. At
least three-quarters of a million workers in key sectors of the economy were on
strike at some point in September. A lot of people on the left thought a general
strike could happen then.
Those strikes didn't lose, but they didn't win, either. That was demoralizing
for a lot of people. Workers are not well enough organized to deal with the
SCAF. Today, if you strike, it isn't the police, but the army who comes in to
break or contain your strike.
Today, there aren't any massive strikes, but there are a lot of strikes all
the time. And there is no doubt that the last 72 hours will give people
confidence to take on the SCAF. The number of independent unions has jumped from
about 90 in the early summer to 250 today. But while there are lots of unions,
there is no political organization for workers in the country.
WHAT'S NEXT? Can the elections be held as planned?
THE LAST five months have been a period of ebb in the revolutionary momentum,
despite the strikes and the near-general strike in September. The SCAF had the
upper hand, and there was mass demoralization. But all of a sudden, the
situation has changed.
Can they hold an election in five days? The battle is still going on. But it
is already a big victory that the government of Essam Sharaf has fallen. Sharaf
promised to be the prime minister of Tahrir Square, but he brought people from
Mubarak's NDP into all but three or four positions.
Right now, the demand of the movement is for a unity government with no NDP
people. The negotiations are for a new government that will have Islamists,
liberals and maybe even people from the left.
This new government will take over in very different conditions. People are
saying that when we put in the Sharaf government in March, we gave them a blank
check, and they stole the revolution. This time, we will hold them
This isn't just a demonstration against the SCAF. All this is taking place
with a much higher level of consciousness.
"[C]apital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt."
--Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, Chapter 31