The tide of resistance rises again in Egypt

April 5, 2016

Sameh Naguib, a leading member of the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt, describes the renewed confidence of people taking to the streets to protest deteriorating economic conditions in defiance of the repression carried out by the regime of Gen. Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, in an article written for Socialist Worker (UK).

IN EGYPT, something very important has been changing in the last few months. And the pace of change is accelerating.

Egypt has a terrible regime run by Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi. There are hundreds of disappearances, tens of thousands of political prisoners, death sentences and torture. But the regime faces big problems.

First, there is an unprecedented economic crisis.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states paid over $30 billion to support the el-Sisi regime.

But now they're in crisis because of a drop in oil prices and are unable to continue paying the amount of money they were paying before.

Egypt's dictator el-Sisi is struggling even to pay the interest on loans given to him by these states.

Secondly, the policies of the regime have been extremely neoliberal.

The government has spent a lot of money trying to re-stimulate the economy. But it is doing that with a parallel system of austerity, with severe cuts to subsidies and public spending. It is also attempting to cut down public-sector employment.

Protesters in Cairo defy the regime's ban on demonstrations
Protesters in Cairo defy the regime's ban on demonstrations (Sebastian Horndasch)

In Egypt, we have over 6 million civil service workers and public-sector employees. Sisi has openly said we only need 1 million of those, basically threatening to fire 5 million workers.

This whole strategy is not working anymore. The central bank is losing control of the Egyptian pound, and they're running out of their reserves of foreign currency. At the time of the 2011 revolution, Egypt had $2.8 billion in foreign reserves. Now it has less than $1.3 billion.

Egypt is the biggest importer of wheat in the world. They need money to pay for that wheat on a monthly basis.

Reserves are only enough for three months of importing essential goods, including cooking oil and wheat. There are already severe shortages of several essential goods.

Because of the economic crisis there are also serious splits between the Sisi regime and the business class that supports him financially inside Egypt.

Billionaire families that grew rich during the era of ousted dictator Mubarak were central in financing the military coup of 2013 and supported the government until now.

They now have serious trouble in getting foreign currency to buy things for their factories--necessary raw materials and so on--and are starting to show opposition to the regime.

ONE OF the other effects of the 2011 revolution was the creation of serious cracks in the state. Police forces were practically destroyed for quite a while. The balance between the different state institutions was called into question.

In Egypt there are several important security apparatuses. There is state security, which is the interior ministry police force. There is military intelligence. And there is general intelligence, which is more connected to the president.

Each of these institutions follows people around, tortures to gain information and has its own prisons. Usually the president balances between these different forces to keep control.

You can see very clearly now that these different institutions are starting to compete. There are cracks within the regime that Sisi himself has not been able to stabilize.

The balance between all these factions within the state is extremely difficult to maintain. The different security forces also play a central role in choosing people for the parliamentary elections.

So the different state security forces each have their people in parliament, meaning the parliament represents the different security forces of the regime, not the people.

There are cracks in that system, and people see that those at the top are not as solid as they were before.

In the summer of 2015 there were serious mass demonstrations by civil-service workers on the streets for some time.

This is despite laws against demonstrations. You can get up to five years in prison for going on demonstrations. But they blocked a main road in Cairo a few hundred meters from Tahrir Square.

Because of police brutality in one of the hospitals, there was a huge meeting of the doctors' union.

Over 10,000 postgraduates promised jobs by the government that were never given to them protested outside the higher education ministry. Again, this was on the street leading to Tahrir Square. Some 10,000 doctors from all over the country blocked a main street 500 meters from Tahrir Square.

The ultras--young working-class football fans who were central to the Egyptian revolution--have had two major demonstrations for the first time since 2013.

Over 10,000 Al-Ahly club supporters went into Al-Ahly stadium by force and held a huge rally, demanding justice for those killed by police in 2011. And over 15,000 Zamalek fans gathered in a major park just over a mile from Tahrir Square.

Earlier this month, thousands of newlyweds who were promised houses by the government in 2012 demonstrated because they didn't get them.

ALL OF these are examples of people occupying public space, breaking the anti-protest law. The police could do absolutely nothing to stop them.

The revolution in 2011 was about people occupying public space. The whole counterrevolution was about preventing people doing that.

Now people are occupying public space again. It's started to create a kind of momentum that we've seen before.

We saw that kind of momentum in 2010 and in the months leading to the revolution. This is extremely significant. The possibility for change is enormous.

People are starting to move. There are strikes by textile workers, bus workers and public-sector workers all over the country. Workplaces have been occupied by the thousands.

With the economic crisis and inflation, workers' demands are becoming louder.

Every time people occupy a space or have a strike, their confidence increases. We're not starting from zero again. We're starting with a working class that has the experience of 2011. It's starting to use that experience to move again.

The question is, how do you organize politically to make use of this new momentum? This is a vital question, particularly for the left and everybody who was part of the revolution.

There is a big space for the left in Egypt. This is good and bad. Good in the sense that there is space to build a left, but bad because organizationally, that's a very difficult task.

There is a growing realization that the regime uses the same tactics against the strikes as they did against the Muslim Brotherhood and the political movement.

Because the state is so violent in its approach, the connection with police brutality is not difficult to make.

There is an audience for left ideas. Ideas about freedom and social justice are very central now in Egypt. People have become very tired--they don't believe the regime any more.

AS THINGS change, people start organizing--but this time with the experience of 2011 behind them.

It's crucial to build links between different groups such as the ultras, the doctors, textile workers, public-sector workers. We've done this before in Tahrir Square.

There's a question of how to approach the Muslim Brotherhood, which has members and leading activists in prison on hunger strike.

What attitude do you take towards this hunger strike? How do you build opposition to this military dictatorship?

The problem is that parts of the left are unable to take a consistent position towards people in jail, towards the torture and terrible conditions in which Muslim Brotherhood are being kept.

The secular opposition betrayed the revolution on the basis that the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamism is worse than anything.

The Brotherhood leadership sold out and went into alliance with the military. Instead of using that to build opposition from below, the secular opposition basically competed with the Brotherhood.

They also formed an alliance with the military and ended up supporting the coup and the military regime.

For us, the Revolutionary Socialists, we support the hunger strikers 100 percent. We are part of a campaign to free all political prisoners in Egypt, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

We need united opposition to the military dictatorship, including the left and the Islamists and all those elements that were essential parts of the revolution.

If we get this right, we have the opportunity to build a secular alternative. Only through this will we be able to make use of this new momentum and start preparing for the next Egyptian revolution.

First published at Socialist Worker (UK).

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