February 14, 2011

The Next Big Test of Egyptian Democracy, Today

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: — Russ @ 2:59 am


The Egyptian Revolution got off to a great start by forcing out Mubarak, but so far the main significance of that is the moral and tactical example the movement has provided. As far as the freedom and prosperity of the Egyptian people, it’s nothing but a start.
The country is now nominally under the power of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The extent to which this Council does hold the real power of the country and dispenses its will from the top down going forward depends upon the continued resolve of the people.
The Western media, having failed to subvert the revolution previously, will now go with the theme that with its ouster of Mubarak the democracy achieved its goal and can adjourn. Even many liberal commentators who cheered on the democracy now seem sick of it and want it to go home. Once again, it’s time for Leadership to take over. Adults.
The workers of Egypt didn’t get this memo. The strikes which broke out last week and which seem to have put the demonstrations over the top were not a new development, but a great escalation of several years of intensifying strike action. Although most strikers intermingled their pre-existing economic demands with the demonstrators’ political demands, they were really continuing this existing economic movement. Today they will try to maintain this new level of strike action. They plan to continue the strikes of last week, and there are new calls to strike. This is the logical continuation of the democratic movement. Its real basis was in economic grievance, it remained in economic grievance even as the movement was temporarily lofted euphorically on political aspirations (a common revolutionary development), and will continue to be an economic movement for as long as these grievances aren’t resolved. I don’t know to what extent the workers can be appeased with reforms the way most of the political protestors have been. 
But at the moment it looks like even that’s not on the table for the workers. The army has granted another political demand of the protestors, dissolving the recently “elected” parliament. This parliament was the result of massive electoral fraud, absurd even by the normal standards of rigged elections. The Council is also claiming it will accede to the basic demands for new, more clean elections and constitutional reform. It still refuses to lift the state of emergency, however. So there’s the state of the political demands.
But at the same time the Council wants to crush the strike movement before it continues to intensify. It wants to ban all strikes and worker demonstrations. This is an assault and an affront which will be rejected by anyone who’s truly a member of the democracy, and by anyone who truly supported the movement. We’ll now see the true mettle of the democracy, as the going starts to get tough. The workers will continue to strike, and the military threatens to use force to break up those strikes. Will millions surge back into the streets? Will ongoing democratic assemblies outside the designated forms and parallel to them condemn such repression and demand it stop?
The early indications are mixed. As many of us predicted, the middle class “leadership” of the movement has been saying in effect “Mission Accomplished, now it’s time for everyone to go home.” In Liberation Square thousands of demonstrators want to stay and have so far resisted army attempts to push them out. But they’re not just facing army pressure; a new gang of goons has appeared, chanting “They want the Square cleared!” Whoever’s chanting this may or may not have been protesting last week, but in that case democratic action has already crossed the line those people set for themselves, and they’re now on the side of the thugs. We in America who truly opposed Bush policy saw in 2009 how that happens. “They want the Square cleared.” – That can go down as an iconic slogan of cheaply bought sellouts everywhere.
Liberation Square remains contested ground, but for the moment is still in the hands of the people. But the Square is also everywhere a strike continues, and everywhere a new one is launched. No democratic politics worthy of that name will fail to see this as its own struggle, or will fail the call to support it.
If the repression units target the strikes, the people must go to the streets. And the democratic council forms must be organized to coordinate this support and formalize the economic demands of the democracy. Certainly this won’t be effectively done by constitutional reform delegates meeting someday (days from now? weeks? months?) with military representatives to plan elections. The new democracy is under assault right now. 


  1. Nicely done, Russ. Here is what the Muslim Brotherhood is advocating:

    “The MB calls for a simple draft and a set agenda which will benefit all and will not take time to implement including:

    The immediate release of detainees arrested for participating in the demonstrations which began January 25.

    A general pardon to all political prisoners sentenced by exceptional courts.

    The annulling of the 30 year state of emergency.

    The formation of a new and efficient cabinet acceptable to all people.

    Immediate investigation to those responsible for the needless deaths of demonstrators and aggression, chaos and destruction of public and private institutions and bringing them to trial, as well as the investigation into the crimes committed by state security in light of the previous regime.”

    Comment by black swan — February 14, 2011 @ 10:43 pm

    • That’s similar to what others are demanding, as far as the immediate political measures and goals.

      Here’s one I haven’t seen anything on yet – what’s the position (or likely position) of the MB and its constituency regarding the strikers and their economic demands? I’ll have to look that up.

      Comment by Russ — February 15, 2011 @ 5:25 am

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