Egypt and the formation of a new left party: interview with Tamer Wageeh

The revolutionary process in Egypt is ongoing. Last Friday demonstrations gathering hundreds of thousands of protesters were in Tahrir Square demanding the dismantling of the regime and the former ruling National Democratic Party. The resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq is one step in the right direction. He was replaced by former transport minister Essam Sharaf to form a new government.

In Tahrir Square they demanded the dismantling of the regime and the former ruling National Democratic Party. Demonstrators chanted slogans like “Cleansing Friday… Protect the Revolution,” while many of the protesters were also waving Libyan flags and chanting solidarity slogans with the Libyan revolution and Yemeni uprising. Protesters are saying that the regime itself is not yet “cleansed” and many representatives of the old regime remain in power, despite the resignation of Mubarak.

The different leftist political groups and currents in Egypt, which played an important role in the demonstrations, are now trying to organise and gather their forces into one united left movement. Tamer Wageeh is a left-wing activist in Egypt. He is involved in this process of building this new left movement. He told Counterfire about it.

Developing a new left
“The last meeting, held on Saturday (26 February), at the Syndicate of Commercial Professions, which gathered around 500 people, was in many ways the beginning of the process of formation of a new and united left movement, expected to gather most of the progressive forces of society into it. A few smaller meetings had taken place before the meeting on Saturday between different leftist groups and current, and the need to gather all the progressive forces was indeed felt since the beginning of the revolution on the 25th January.”

But this new leftist movement is very much a product of the uprising and all its supporters have taken part in it, Tamer reminds us.

Saturday’s meeting was held in order to announce the new left movement, to gather the left and to build the institutions and organisations of this movement. The movement is still at its beginning. On Saturday people discussed the general rules and points of the movement.

This first phase, Tamer explains, will be more understanding between the supporters, especially considering they belong to different schools of thought and organisations. He nevertheless thinks that the next three months will be crucial for the development of the movement.
 

“The objective of this initiative is to build a vast and large united left movement gathering political current, activists groups, unions, workers, students, intellectuals, writers, artists, etc…” Tamer emphasised his wish to see all the popular strata to be represented in this movement.

The main political parties involved are the left current in the Al-Tagammu Party, the Democratic left and the Socialist Renewal Current in addition to hundreds of independent leftists and socialists. Tamer insisted several times on the inclusive nature of this new movement does not exclude any of the leftist groups. There is a need, as he says, “to create a wider gathering than those in the past – everyone will have a voice in this movement”.

Democratic organisation is very important in Tamer’s mind; each party will keep its independence in the movement and not dissolve in it. In the longer term, however, there is the possibility of new permanent organization and the radical and revolutionary left will have its own organized platform.  

He also puts a lot of emphasis on the need for the youth to participate and to lead this movement, just like they led the revolution.

Tamer explains that the new movement hasn’t yet planned anything for the upcoming elections, but he is sure they will run for it and present candidates. He stresses that in the meantime:

“The movement will still continue to encourage people to demonstrate and the workers to strike. All the different means and ways to mobilise the people will be used, whether being through legitimate and representative ways such as the elections or more radicals like strikes, occupation of workplaces and demonstrations.”

The revolution continues
Tamer rightly points out that “until now the demands of the 25th of January have not been met by the current regime and this is why the revolution is still going on and will continue”.

He adds that the workers have played a leading role in this revolution, through the strikes and their participation in the demonstrations. The workers will continue to be a leading class in the popular movement for the achievement of the democratic and social rights of the Egyptian population.

Tamer narrates how every class participated in the first part of this people’s revolution. Political parties joined in the uprising, from the liberals to the left to the Muslim Brotherhood. “The situation changed following the resignation of President Mubarak,” Tamer says.

“Elements of the movement considered the struggle to be over and eased down their participation in the demonstrations, including notably many of the liberals and the Muslim Brotherhood. These latter actually started negotiating their demands with the army which has been calling for the end of the demonstrations for a while now. The army, especially the high ranks, represents for many protesters and in the eyes of tamer the same regime than Mubarak’s one, but without this latter. This current regime led by the army is the same than the one of Mubarak.”

Tamer, like many on the left, opposes the call of the army to stop the mobilisation and the strikes until the demands of the 25th of January are met. The demands include the dissolution of the Ahmed Shafiq government, which has now been met, cancellation of the country’s state security intelligence, lifting the state of emergency, creation of a presidential council made up of two civilians and one army officer, and the immediate release of all political prisoners.

He says: “The movement is ready to continue and to increase the level of protests to achieve the demands of the movement of protest. The army is still protecting its privileges and interests, as well as the ones of the dominant class, against the interests of the majority of the population.”

Tamer insisted: “The movement will not step down in any way on their demands until they are met. There have actually been repeated calls from several youth and groups to continue the protests in Tahrir Square until all the demands of the January 25 revolution are met.”

The demands, aspirations and ideas of the revolution are formulated by classes other than the working class and the toiling masses. There is a need for a party to encapsulate the demands and represent the toilers, Tamer justifies.
There were several ideas in this regard. Some on the left said that they should now announce the workers revolutionary party. The stance of the socialist renewal current, which Tamer is a member, argued in a different way saying that the revolution opens the way for the formulation of a new political map in the country. The socialist renewal current also emphasized the fact that the masses are being radicalized and there is an opening and opportunity for their organization. Tamer and his party said that nevertheless most probably the majority of the radicalized workers and left leaning activists would not want to belong to a small Leninist revolutionary socialist group. Hence, when some important radical reformist groups and currents on the left, in conjunction with a number of socialist celebrities, decided to establish a new party, the socialist renewal current thought that this party will be the main pole of attraction on the left. The argument of the party was that most of the radicalized youth and workers will belong to that party rather than to a small revolutionary group. So the socialist renewal current decided to join and organize ourselves as an independent platform within. Tamer says that the party knows that such a party is not revolutionary and that some of its components are mild and reformist.  He adds that the members of the party are aware that it will not be decisive in its stances at some critical moments. But the socialist renewal current nevertheless also knows that it can attract most of those radicalized by the revolution. Their solution to this contradictory nature is to involve themselves totally in it, but at the same time to form a radical current within it that openly criticizes the compromises and that openly debates the tactics and strategies hoping that the radicalized youth will in the process see the logic of their tactics and ways and strategies, so as to make the radical current within the party a strong faction.



Workers, unions and the new left
The role played by the workers and the determination of the protest movement to continue the revolution can be witnessed every day.

We can observe how the current revolution in Egypt is led by the workers and the youth. The representatives of the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS) demanded, for example, for the immediate dissolution of the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF).

ETUF has actually lost all credibility among Egypt’s workers. CTUWS demands “that it be disbanded, all its assets frozen, its offices and documents sequestered, and that all forms of government funding directed towards it be halted”. The repeal of the Trade Union Act, which prohibits trade union freedoms and gives ETUF a monopoly on union organisation, was also advocated. Union members called upon the military to act to provide for full freedom of formation of independent labour syndicates to give workers the power and freedom to elect their own representatives (who defend their rights and raise their demands with management).

The Egyptian workers decided the creation of an independent trade union, regardless of the military, and on Wednesday the new Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions launched a labour conference on the premises of the journalists’ syndicate in Cairo.

They also invited the public to attend a conference called “What Workers Want from the Revolution.” Independent trade union representatives and labour leaders participated in the conference.

CTUWS demanded, too, the launch of a corruption investigation against Hussein Mogawer, chairman of ETUF, against whom there are many accusations of corruption and plunder of public funds.

Three main demands emerged in most of the protests which spread throughout the country after the overthrow of Mubarak. The first is to increase wages, usually in the form of a minimum wage of LE1200, or in some cases asking for a maximum wage to be determined in relation to the minimum wage within the same institution.

Another essential demand – one which, in most cases, is targeting the chairman of the company or head of a ministerial authority or syndicate – is the fight against corruption. Finally, the protesters also demanded the hiring of temporary workers as well as addressing the lack of job opportunities.

The popular movements of protest have also denounced the so called re-shuffle within the Ministry of Interior, arguing that the changes made are superficial and do not comply with their demands. The revolutionary process started on the 25th of January encouraged many to build new parties, not only on the left, in the hope that the political scene will open up and encourage increased political participation.

Prior to 25 January, most parties were banned and often forced to operate unofficially as a result. On 19 February, the Supreme Administrative Court approved the establishment of the Wasat Party (Centre Party), which has been trying to secure an official license for 15 years.

Misr for Central Clearing, Depository and Registry Company (MCDR) has announced the names of 25 Egyptian officials and their families whose shares have been frozen and under investigation because they were connected with the former regime.

The military council announced this weekend that parliamentary elections will take place in two months, following a referendum on proposed constitutional changes on 19 March.

We can observe how the revolution deepens and continues. As Tamer says several times during the interview the movement is ready to pursue further revolutions to achieve and protect the rights of the Egyptian people.

Tamer concludes our discussion by saying that the revolution “has to continue for all the sacrifices made by the Egyptian people, and especially for the ones who became martyrs for the success of this revolution”. In respect of their memory we have to achieve the revolution and not stop at this stage, otherwise they would have sacrificed their lives for nothing.

The potential, he says, “is still present and enormous to complete the revolutionary process and secure the democratic and social rights of the Egyptians. Tahya thawra mustamira! (Long live the permanent revolution!)”.


Article also available on Counterfire: http://www.counterfire.org/

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