Subject: [SocialistWorker.org] Conversation with an Egyptian socialist
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Interview: Sameh Naguib
======== CONVERSATION WITH AN EGYPTIAN SOCIALIST =============================
February 23, 2011
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Members of the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt endured years of
police-state repression while organizing for democracy and labor rights.
Because of these courageous efforts, the socialists were able to play a
critical role in organizing the first demonstrations on January 25 that
galvanized the successful uprising against dictator Hosni Mubarak. Their
central place continued as the movement grew.
Sameh Naguib is a leading member of the Revolutionary Socialists. He talked
to Mostafa Ali in Cairo about the dynamics of the Egyptian revolution and
what lies ahead.
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THESE ARE incredible times for all revolutionaries in Egypt. But as January
25 approached, did you expect any of this to happen?
OF COURSE, we understood theoretically that the political situation has been
volatile for a number of years, and that an outbreak of revolution was a
possibility. But we had no idea it would happen on the 25th. The massive
numbers of demonstrators who took part in the protests of that day and their
militancy was unprecedented.
We were used to people putting out calls for mass days of action, only to
have 100 or 200 people show up, and quickly get routed by the security
forces. But on January 25, the numbers of protesters swelled in Cairo,
Alexandria and city after city as the day went on.
Protesters successfully fended off one attack after another by police. They
were throwing rocks at the police. People were coming out of their homes to
join us. Women were ululating and throwing candy at us. By the end of the
25th, we realized that a revolutionary moment had begun.
WHAT WAS the role of Revolutionary Socialists and other left forces in
mobilizing for the January 25th protest?
WE AND the rest of the left, along with April 6th Youth Movement, played a
key role in mobilizing for January 25. The Muslim Brotherhood didn't support
the call for protests that day because as usual, they don't like to support
actions which they don't control. So the left played a leading role.
We and the other left forces met and developed a strategy for action on the
25th. For example, we decided to begin the demonstration in different
locations around Cairo, and then march on Tahrir Square. We did this so as to
preempt the security forces from concentrating their forces against any one
central location to break our action before it started, as they have always
done in the past. That was a useful tactic.
Plus, to be honest, the security forces were unprepared for the massive
numbers of people who turned out. They were caught off guard.
THE WESTERN and Egyptian media keep repeating that this was simply a youth
revolution organized through Facebook and other social media. Can you give us
a sense of the class nature of the revolution in those first few days?
YOUNG PEOPLE from different social classes, all with their own grievances
against the regime, did play a leading role in igniting this revolution. But
the role of the working class in the revolution was central from day one.
For example, the city of Suez, a working-class city with a long history of
anti-British and anti-Zionist struggles, was at the forefront of the
revolution. Workers in Suez poured out of the factories of the city and into
its streets, and they sacrificed the first martyrs on day one. Sheikh Hafez
Salama, a leader of the anti-British colonialism struggles of the 1940s in
Suez and later in the war with Israel was on the streets with the
revolutionaries. He even came and joined us here in Tahrir Square.
Similarly, workers in Cairo, Alexandria and Mansoura were key players in all
the events from the beginning. But workers couldn't participate as a
collective force in the revolutionary struggle at that point because the
capitalists went on strike and shut down production. That would change in the
days before the fall of Mubarak on February 11 and in its immediate
THERE WERE millions of people in Tahrir, in Alexandria and elsewhere in Egypt
taking part in the revolution. How did you, as Revolutionary Socialists, with
modest numbers, operate and intervene in this mass movement and what were
FROM THE beginning, Socialists, Nasserists and others on the left played an
important role in leading the protests. But as the numbers of those joining
the revolution mushroomed and reached over a million in places like Cairo and
Alexandria alone, we had to focus and prioritize. We chose four or five
things to focus on.
We argued for the continuation of the struggle to bring down the regime and
rejected all calls for negotiations with it.
We put workers' class demands front and center in all of our literature and
agitation. We talked to all of our contacts and allies in the workers'
movement, and we agitated for strikes to strengthen the revolution.
We called for the confiscation of the assets of big business connected with
the Mubarak regime and demanded that these assets be nationalized under
We agitated to transform the revolution from a political revolution into a
social revolution. We agitated for the popular demand for a 1,200 pound
minimum wage, independent unions, jobs and unemployment benefits for the
unemployed and other class demands.
We issued six statements to articulate our analysis and demands. We
distributed thousands and thousands in the squares, and we also used our Web
site to reach all parts of the country.
WHAT IS the role of the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest political opposition
group in the country?
THE MUSLIM Brotherhood leadership did not endorse the call for the January
25th demonstration. They usually don't support actions that they don't
initiate and control. But as it became clear after the first day that a
revolution was underway, they decided to participate.
They played an important role in Tahrir and elsewhere, especially on the day,
February 2, when the government sent its thugs on horses and with Molotov
cocktails to attack the demonstrators.
It wasn't necessarily their numbers that made a difference--they don't have
more than 15 or 20 percent political support on the street, and only one out
of the 13 martyrs that day was a member of the Brotherhood. Rather, it was
their level of organization that helped. They act in a highly disciplined
manner, and that helped in defending the square.
They now intend to announce the formation of a new political party. Some want
it formed on a civilian and non-religious basis. Others from the conservative
old guard will oppose that. In other words, we expect to see divisions in
We have seen the formation of a more liberal group, Etilaf Shabab Althawra,
the Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution, which formulated a number of
political demands and negotiated with the army last Monday.
This formation includes a number of activists who participated in the
revolution. But they represent a middle-class liberal wing that would like to
limit the revolution to a political revolution for democratic reforms,
without questioning or challenging the basic capitalist system. These
liberals see their role as advising and pressuring the army to replace this
or that corrupt person with this or that honest technocrat.
Many of these liberals are now opposed to workers' strikes. They say workers
are selfish. Some are launching an attack on strikers on Facebook. As I said,
they simply want political reforms. They oppose class struggle.
Of course, we support and demand democratic reforms. But we fight for a
radical democracy where the interests of workers are front and center. But we
as Revolutionary Socialists do not want to stop at a political revolution. We
are organizing for a social revolution led by Egyptian workers.
THERE ARE many other radical leftists and socialists in Egypt. What is your
relationship with the rest of that radical left? And are you taking any
WE ALWAYS coordinate with all other left forces. For example, we are part of
a front for the radical left. Together, we coordinate strike support,
demonstrations, media and public statements. That's important. It's a new
situation, and many forces on the left and right are taking initiatives and
forming political parties.
We also have to take our own initiatives. First, we helped form committees to
defend the revolution among students and workers. We are also in the midst of
collecting a thousand signatures from leading militant workers to form a new
workers party. This party can organize, represent and articulate the
interests of the working class and push the revolution forward.
THE EGYPTIAN working class is huge in size, and the strikes are massive and
widespread. Where do you start to build such a party?
YES, THAT is true. But we aren't starting from scratch. We have built
contacts and close relationships in the working class over the previous years
of struggle. At the same time, we are focusing on central sectors of the
economy: workers in textiles, post office, railways, transportation,
communications and cement industries.
I also think that the new movement to form independent militant unions to
replace the pro-government unions will succeed, and this will aid our effort
to build a workers party. It is a revolutionary moment. You take initiatives
and see what happens.
THE ARMY is running the country, issuing statements and making some
concessions such as dissolving the parliament. What do you expect from the
army in the next period? Will they use force against strikes?
THE ARMY is a key part of the Egyptian economy. It controls 25 percent of the
economy from industries, agricultural land and hotels, all the way to arms'
The army forced Mubarak out and took over in order to attempt to slow down
the rhythm of the revolution and save the system. The pressures of the
revolution from below caused a split in the army leadership. Mubarak, Defense
Minister Mohamed Tantawi and Vice President Omar Suleiman wanted the army to
use force to end the revolution. Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Anan, the army chief of
staff--who was in Washington on January 25, by the way--refused to use force.
At that point, there was no way out but to dump Mubarak.
Now, the army is calling on strikers to end their movement. That is all they
can do. They aren't in a position to ban and attack strikes at the moment.
The momentum so far is on the side of the workers. The army would need some
time to mobilize a majority public opinion against strikers--not just
middle-class liberals--before it can consider an attack on strikes.
Finally, the army is in a difficult position. The Egyptian revolution is
making a huge regional and international impact. The world is looking at us.
The revolution has deep causes, a tremendous breadth and a great potential to
turn into a social revolution. This is different from the revolutions that
took place in the Philippines against Ferdinand Marcos in the 1980s or
Indonesia against Suharto in the 1990s. The role of the working class in
Egypt in our revolution is more central than the role workers played in those
The Egyptian working class set the stage for January 25 through an intensive
class struggle that has been happening since 2004. Now, it is on the move.
Therefore, it is much more difficult for the ruling class here in Egypt to
limit the revolution to political reforms.
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