This is the slogan of the Egyptian people, a chant echoed by other popular movements in the region. Not so-called ‘peaceful transitions’ or ‘reforms’, as announced by Mubarak and other authoritarian regimes supported by western imperialism.
The revolutionary movements in these countries are not ready to step down from pushing their demands, in favour of so-called ‘concessions’ from authoritarian and corrupted regimes complying with foreign political and economic interests.
The success of the Egyptian popular movements is so great that the Mubarak regime has decided to use all available counter-revolutionary forces to put an end to this revolutionary process. The Mubarak regime is now playing its last cards to weaken and divide the movement of protest.
This is mainly due to Tuesday’s massive turnout: a ‘march of the millions’ that surpassed all expectations, with 2 million protesters in the Tahrir square and Cairo neighborhoods, while millions more Egyptians demonstrated throughout the country.
According to an unconfirmed report of the UN, the clashes of the first week of protest have left at least 300 dead and thousands injured.
On Tuesday night, Hosni Mubarak said that he will not run for another term, but will nonetheless stay in office until September, the date of the previously scheduled presidential contest. In his speech, he declared that he would amend Articles 76 and 77 of the Egyptian constitution, which concern the rules for running for president. At present, Article 76 stipulates that candidates must be members of the highest council of existing parties that are legal, which currently doesn’t include the Muslim Brotherhood.
This provision is expected to be altered to allow Suleiman or fellow generals, who cannot belong to political parties at present, to run for presidential elections as well.
Article 77, governing presidential term limits, will likely be revised in order to impose a time limit on serving as president.
The National Coalition for Change, which groups several opposition movements including the Muslim Brotherhood, has firstly rejected Mubarak’s speech and reiterated that it would not negotiate with the current government until President Mubarak resigns from power, despite calls from the Vice President, Omar Suleiman, for dialogue. On Saturday night, the opposition political parties, including the Muslim Brotherhoods and Mohammad Baradei, have accepted to start a dialogue with Omar Suleiman, and this against the will of a majority in the popular movement.
The protesters have largely remained unified and uncompromising in the position that Mubarak must leave immediately. As the Mubarak regime has not met their demands in any way, they have organised further demonstrations since Tuesday.
Mubarak’s attempted counter-revolution
The Mubarak regime therefore started, from Wednesday, to launch violent counter-revolutionary measures, as well as at the same time organising a so-called opening towards the opposition. Mubarak has called on Egyptians to make a ‘choice between chaos and order’. The Mubarak regime has organised its gangs of regime-recruited thugs (baltagiyya) to attack the protesters on Tahrir square.
The regime has used them to rove around Cairo and other cities, smashing shop windows, stealing goods and terrorising passers-by. Human Rights Watch revealed that the multiple prison breaks reported last week were “unexplainable” without state security complicity. The clear goal of the baltagiyya (or thugs) and jail emptying operations last week was to frighten protesters into hurrying home to protect their families, but on Wednesday the objective was to create real chaos in the streets of Egypt and a new Tiananmen massacre.
Hosni Mubarak said, in an interview with a journalist with ABC on Thursday, he had ‘had enough after 62 years in public service’ and that he would leave, but he fears that Egypt will fall into chaos if he resigns now. Omar Suleiman had also said in an interview on state television that ‘the call for the resignation of Mubarak is a call to chaos’.
The chaos is actually the strategy chosen by the Egyptian regime to hold power. Most of the regime-recruited thugs appear to have been policemen or security forces in civil dress, paid by the regime to attack the protesters. Many of them were riding horses and camels; they charged the protesters in Tahrir square on Wednesday morning. Clashes have been ongoing since then. Reports of more than 10 dead and more than few thousand people injured were announced on Friday.
Many foreign journalists covering the events were the target of aggression; some have been beaten or arrested by the thugs of Mubarak. The vice President Omar Suleiman has actually criticized foreign press, targeting especially Al Jazeera, for allegedly creating tensions between Egyptian people and portraying Egypt negatively.
The security forces also arrested seven young leaders of the protest movement after they met with Mohammad el-Baradei. The military did not initially intervene to stop the clashes or the attacks on the protesters. The armed forces actually called on Wednesday for an end the demonstrations to restore security.
Nevertheless, we have observed from some soldiers on Tahrir square frustration with orders to not intervene to protect the protesters from the attacks of the thugs. We may see increased tensions inside the army, especially from soldiers of the field towards their generals, if the situation continues the same way.
People nevertheless came in their masses to Tahrir square and other cities throughout the country on Friday, despite the attacks on them the past few days, to show their will and determination to continue the revolution until its full and complete achievement. They called the demonstration ‘the Day of Departure’, a clear message to President Mubarak. It’s the eleventh day of unrest and mass mobilization against the Egyptian regime.
On Tahrir square, protesters organised up to five layers of checkpoints at some entrances, with makeshift barricades to protect themselves from Mubarak thugs. Thousands also gathered in the city of Alexandria, holding up placards and chanting “He must go!”. Protesters in Alexandria said they will march to the city’s main train station and stage a sit-in until Mubarak leaves office. Three thousand people also joined demonstrations in Giza.
In Cairo, about 200 regime thugs gathered on the 6th of October Bridge, near Tahrir Square, with another 200 below the bridge. They were chanting pro-regime slogans, and holding up posters of Mubarak.
Egyptian Minister of Defence Mohamed Hussein Tantawi visited Tahrir Square on Friday, where he addressed the protesters and told them to stop the demonstrations in order to start a dialogue with the regime.
The Egyptian regime has also used so-called “soft” measure to try to appease the protesters. The Egyptian Parliament a few days ago decided to suspend its sessions until the revision of the results of the parliamentary election, marked by accusations of fraud and violence. They have cancelled election results in many constituencies, after the elections that took place November 28 and December 5. The Prime Minister Ahmad Chafic has announced on national television an investigation of the violence between “pro” and anti Mubarak supporters in Tahrir Square.
The regime’s counter-revolutionary measures have been assisted by Western countries. Washington and other western capitals have called for a “peaceful transition” but they have spoken less about meeting the demands of the protesters. Western imperialism is actually trying to keep the system intact with its basic authoritarian features.
Suleiman and his entourage intend to stage an “orderly, peaceful transition” (to use the Obama administration’s words) with the help of western imperialism from the reign of one corrupted autocrat to another, adorned with the trappings of more liberal democracy. US officials announced officially on Thursday that they were discussing with Egyptian officials the means to achieve an orderly transition of power that could lead to an early departure of President Hosni Mubarak. This is despite Obama’s speech declaring that ‘Now, it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders’.
Omar Suleiman and the armed forces have been closely linked to different US administrations for a few decades now. According to the Congressional Research Service, total aid to Egypt has averaged $2 billion annually since 1979, the year of the Camp David peace agreement with Israel. This assistance is Foreign Military Financing, a programme whose terms dictate that the recipient nation, unless it happens to be Israel, must spend the package’s full dollar value on American-manufactured weaponry.
In addition to this economic assistance, Omar Suleiman was in charge of the Palestine issue since 2000, where Egypt did not react to the severe repression of Israeli occupation forces against the Palestinians during the second Intifada, or when Arafat was under siege in the Mouqata in Ramallah. Omar Suleiman and the Egyptian regime were above all complicit in the siege of Gaza and collaborating with the Israeli state on security issues.
US imperialism is clear: they want to protect their political and economical interests in Egypt, as well as the interests of Israel, and they do not want the popular movement to achieve its revolution, because this would mean the end of US control of Egypt.
US imperialism does not wish an independent Egypt that would reject serving as a hand for US foreign policy in the region – and refuse to be an ally of Israel.
The revolutionary process in Egypt must continue, and be permanent, in order to free the Egyptian people from imperialism and neo liberal policies that have impoverished Egyptian society as a whole.
The revolutionary process in Tunisia
The Tunisian revolutionary process is still ongoing despite the fact that Mohammad Ghannouchi, a symbol of the former regime of Ben Ali, is still Prime Minister against the will of large sections of the Tunisian people.
The Tunisian government has decided since last week to purge different departments of Ben Ali followers. They started with the police where thirty senior police commanders were sacked. A military man has been appointed director of national security, new directors have been placed at the head of police in seven key regions and the former Minister of Interior of Ben Ali, who was arrested since January 13th, is remanded in custody.
The government continued to bleed in large companies and administrations throughout the country, including the replacement of 24 governors. The diplomatic corps should come soon as well according to reports.
The Tunisian government has taken several decisions to try to appease the protesters. Mr. Ghannouchi promised special programmes of assistance and investment to disadvantaged areas of the centre-west, stronghold of the uprising that swept away the Ben Ali regime. Following a Council of Ministers on Tuesday, the government approved the country’s accession to the International Convention against Torture and three other international protocols relating to human rights.
More specifically, it has announced an increase in police salaries, a first in 23 years. Two banks held by relatives of Ben Ali (Zaytuna and Bank of Tunisia) and threatened with bankruptcy came under the control of the Central Bank of Tunisia.
Yet no plans have been announced to nationalise the companies of Ben Ali’s family and to regulate the informal sector, which is around 36 to 40% of non-agricultural jobs and between 10 and 15% of the GDP. Neo liberal policies of the past, which created high unemployment and high cost of living, have not been challenged yet by the current government.
The government is actually assuring foreign countries, especially the European Union, that it is business as usual and everything will come back to order very soon.
The movement of mass, militant protest, which demonstrated as well to denounce the consequences of neo liberal policy, will probably remind this government very soon of its demands to change the economic policies of the past.
Jordan, Yemen and Algeria
King Abdullah II of Jordan finally sacked his government on Tuesday, in the wake of street protests, and has asked an ex-Prime Minister and ex-ambassador of Jordan in Israel, Marouf Bakhit, to form a new cabinet.
The opposition political parties criticised this appointment and have accused the new Prime Minister of being involved in municipal and legislative election fraud in 2007. Around 150 young members of the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood and of the left-wing movement gathered on Wednesday, outside the Presidency Council office, to condemn the appointment by the King of Marouf Bakhit.
They chanted slogans such as ‘No to Bakhit, the people demand change’. New demonstrations were called by the opposition for Friday.
The Muslim Brotherhood has declared that it does not call for an overthrow of the kingdom, but for political reforms. Their main request is actually the amendment of the electoral law which is considered to be to their disadvantage, which led them to boycott the elections last November. Left-wing political parties have called for a real change of the system and not for so-called reforms.
Up to 50,000 demonstrators rallied on Thursday in the Yemeni capital Sana’a, demanding a change of regime. They chanted that the President’s promise to leave power in 2013 is not sufficient.
Counter-revolutionary demonstrations were planned across Yemen by supporters of the regime. It is important to remember that Washington relies heavily on the work of the Yemeni regime against so-called Islamic extremists whose activities extend beyond the Saudi border and threaten the stability of the entire region.
Barack Obama has actually called his Yemeni counterpart Ali Abdallah Saleh to salute his initiative on Wednesday, to not run for the presidential elections in 2013 and not organise a hereditary transmission of power to his son, and the US president added that President Abdallah Saleh handled the situation well – and he looks forward to cooperating with him in a beneficial partnership for both countries.
In Algeria, president Abdelaziz Bouteflika has declared that the 19-year state of emergency will be lifted in the “very near future”. He added that protest marches, banned under the state of emergency, would be permitted across the country except in the capital. The lift of the state of emergency was one of the demands of the opposition, which plans a demonstration called ‘departure of the system’ on the 12th of February.
“If we want everything to remain the same, everything must change”
The behaviour of the authoritarian regimes, assisted by western imperialism, is reminiscent of the movie version of Visconti “the Leopard”, which portrays an aristocratic society threatened by the winds of change and the emergence of the people as the main actor of society.
A conservative aristocrat, so tied to maintaining the situation in Italy in which the nobles had the starring role, says: “If we want everything to remain the same, everything must change”.
In other words, Western imperialism and authoritarian regimes must give the illusion of change for the order of things to remain the same. The popular movements in Egypt and elsewhere are leading the revolutionary process to change the system, not for “reforms” or “peaceful transition”. They must struggle for a continual and permanent revolution to achieve their democratic and social rights and to put an end to the old order.
Article also available on Counterfire: http://www.counterfire.org/index.php/articles/international/9838