A new step forward for Egypt’s struggle

February 9, 2011

Millions of Egyptians took to the streets again on Tuesday in some of the largest demonstrations yet demanding the end of Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship--and there were reports of strikes and sit-ins spreading in some crucial Egyptian cities and towns.

After a weekend in which U.S. and other Western leaders put their weight behind attempts by Mubarak's new vice president Omar Suleiman to preserve the regime and keep Mubarak in office until September, the Egyptian people answered with another day of mass protest. The message is clear: The uprising against Mubarak won't be derailed by negotiations with a few opposition leaders or promises from the regime.

SocialistWorker.org contributor Mostafa Ali is in the region to report for this Web site. He discussed the latest developments in the struggle on Tuesday with Sean Petty.

IN THE last few days before Tuesday, it seemed like Egypt's democratic revolution might have reached a stalemate, at least in Cairo. Hundreds of thousands of people continued to occupy Tahrir Square, demanding the ouster of the regime. But the government had shifted to a strategy of waiting out the protesters.

On Monday, for example, Hosni Mubarak's Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq went on Nile TV after a cabinet meeting and made sarcastic remarks about the protesters in Tahrir Square. He said that they could make speeches and chant slogans for as long as they wanted, and that Tahrir could become like Hyde Park in London, where demonstrators can speak, and no one pays them any mind.

These remarks angered protesters, who found them quite condescending and dismissive. But they also reflected the fact that the movement to get rid of Mubarak needed to answer the new strategy of the regime of stalling for time.

As Ahmed Shawki reported in his articles from Cairo, protesters have been discussing what can be done to increase the pressure on the regime. On Tuesday, we saw some of the answer.

Protesters gather outside the parliament building in Cairo on Tuesday
Protesters gather outside the parliament building in Cairo on Tuesday

First of all, the numbers of protesters in Tahrir Square exceeded the expectations of all the organizers who called for another day of millions against Mubarak. One of the speakers celebrated in the square was Wael Ghonim, the young Google executive who was released from detention by the regime and has since spoken passionately for the uprising.

Far from the demonstrators being satisfied by the government's offer of negotiations, this was one of the biggest mobilizations yet.

There were also reports of groups of workers participating in the demonstrations at Tahrir Square and organizing other actions.

For example, in the afternoon on Tuesday, tens of thousands of faculty members and workers from Cairo University marched from the Giza section of the city to the parliament and cabinet headquarters, which are located five minutes from Tahrir Square.

As they surrounded the parliament and cabinet headquarters, they blocked Prime Minister Ahmed Shariq's car from reaching the cabinet building. Security forces pleaded with them repeatedly to allow the prime minister's convoy through, but the protesters refused, and the prime minister had to turn around and leave.

At the same time, on the other side of Tahrir Square, in midtown Cairo, hundreds of angry members of the journalists' syndicate chased the pro-government chairman out of the syndicate's headquarters, drowning him out with chants of "Regime agent out the door!" And according to reports, a few minutes away from there, journalists and workers at the pro-government Rosa Al-Yousef prevented the newspaper's pro-Mubarek CEO from entering its headquarters.

There were also reports later on Tuesday of preparations for a mass march on the Maspero Building--the headquarters of the state-run radio and TV stations that have been airing the regime's lies, with the aim of surrounding it and eventually attempting to take it over.

As the day was ending, Ahram English Online, a semi-government paper, reported that 6,000 workers at five service companies owned by the Suez Canal Authority began an open-ended sit-in protest in all three of the major canal cities, Port Said, Ismaïlia and Suez. The workers are protesting substandard wages and poor working conditions, according to Ahram.

According to press reports, the workers' action hasn't affected the operation of the Canal, but it's certainly a sign of what's possible in the future if workers begin strikes and occupations as part of the struggle.

The rest of the country also mobilized in massive numbers. In Alexandria, the second-largest city in Egypt, protesters have been occupying not just one big square, but several major squares, from one end of the city to another for the past week. Demonstrators have held huge mass marches that roam through the cities, and plans are being made for a march on the presidential palace in that city.

On Tuesday, demonstrations were bigger than ever in the industrial Delta region in the north of Egypt, including the cities of Damanhour, Tanta and Mansoura. In the south, where things have been relatively calm in the last few days, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Sohag, Bani Suwaif, Asyut, and Aswan. In the Sinai, there are big rallies in Arish near the Gaza border. El-Kharga, the oasis in the middle of the vast Western desert, is also seeing demonstrations.

SO THIS was the answer of demonstrators to the attempts by the regime to give minor concessions that they hoped would slow the momentum of the demonstrations.

Mubarak's newly appointed vice president Omar Suleiman held a dialogue with so-called leaders of the protest movement and opposition parties. Also in the past few days, the regime fired several people in the ruling National Democratic Party, getting rid of a number of hated figures, including Mubarak's own son, Gamal. The attorney general was instructed to begin investigations into long-known cases of government corruption, and various former ministers and businessmen were forbidden from leaving the country.

Of course, the biggest example of corruption is at the top. Recent reports on the net worth of the Mubarak family put the total at $70 billion--a mind-shattering amount. Everyone knew the family was enormously rich, but no one guessed that outrageous sum.

The protesters are livid and demanding that, one way or another, Mubarak and his family be put on trial and the money returned to Egypt. But believe it or not, Mubarak's wealth is only a drop in the bucket compared to the untold billions stolen by hundreds of businessmen who benefited from his regime.

None of the moves to placate the protest movement have succeeded. In fact, the intransigence of the government and the too-little-too-late attempts at reform only further infuriated millions of people. There's also anger about the opportunistic attempts by unrepresentative opposition figures to put themselves in the spotlight.

On Tuesday, you could see the renewed confidence of the protesters that the momentum is on their side. Protesters in Tahrir and those blockading the parliament building called for the prime minister's resignation. They also reject Omar Suleiman and are calling for the head of the Constitutional Court, considered a relatively independent figure, to assume the presidency immediately and lead a transition.

All this represents a further political and organizational step forward for the revolution in Egypt. We can expect events to move even faster in the days ahead.

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