Egypt: the revolution will not stop
The Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has reshuffled his government in front increasing popular pressure and mobilizations. The Egyptian people are now more and more targeting the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for their inability to implement the demands of the revolution, while protesters have repeatedly these past 10 days raised slogans for the toppling of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the SCAF. On Saturday 16th of July, a member of the SCAF was actually forced to cut short a visit to Tahrir Square after protesters drowned out his speech with booing and anti-military chants.
Since July 8th or as it was called “Last Warning Friday” and “The Friday of Implementing the Demands”, the country has witnessed intense and growing mobilizations and sits-ins across the country, from Cairo to Alexandria passing to Suez. The reshuffling of the government was made, according to the Prime Minister, in a need to focus on the national economy on one hand and establish a sound democratic system on the other, adding that the nominations of the new Ministers were based on their ability to work together and achieve the revolution’s objectives and people’s ambition.
Revolution’s objective and people’ambition?
Really? This is not what the Egyptians in the streets think. The main demands of the Revolution have actually not been met, since Mubarak was forced to resign amid 18 days of popular protests in the beginning of the year, whether in terms of democracy, social justice and on anti imperialist issues. In addition to this, justice for the martyrs of the revolution has not been made, and the criminals have still not been charged.
Revolutionary government? Unfortunately not!
The reshuffling of the government should first be analyzed carefully. The resignation of the Minister of International Planning and Cooperation Fayza Abouelnaga and Finance Minister Samir Radwan was demanded for a while by the protesters because of their past association with the dissolved National Democratic Party’s policies cabinet.”
In the new government we notably found the Egyptian Democratic Party’s Hazem al-Beblawy, who will be responsible for economic policies and the deputy head of the Wafd Party Ali al-Selmy who has been chosen for political development and democratic change.
Beblawi is a former undersecretary of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia and old adviser Abu Dhabi-based Arab Monetary Fund. He favors liberal economic policy, which will certainly not appease the demands of the protesters, while Selmy’s nomination has been criticized because neither he nor his party, the Wafd, participated in the revolution.
The Wafd Party was actually accused by many protesters and analysts to have been against the revolution from day one and that the head of the party, Badawy, enjoyed a close relationship with Hosni Mubarak stalwart and former speaker of parliament Safwat al-Sherif.
The new Foreign Minister Mr. Amr has on its side a similar background that his predecessor Mohamed El-Orabi who served as the deputy ambassador to Israel from 1994 to 1998, and has worked in the United States and Britain, while being one of the closest ambassadors to the family of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Mr Amr was ambassador to Saudi Arabia and also worked at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington while representing his country in the World Bank.
Let’s have a look now on the five ministers that were maintained in their posts despite the government reshuffle: the ministers of justice, interior, information, culture, and education.
Minister of Information Osama Heikal, who assumed office ten days ago, has also been subject to attack. Media workers object to his nomination, citing his history as a military affairs editor and presidential affairs correspondent for the Al-Wafd newspaper. In addition, many state-run media outlets, which have been working for years as the propaganda mouthpieces of the previous regime, seems unable to shake their pro-government bias according to many protesters.
The Muslim Brotherhood which mobilized for the Tahrir Square rally on 8 July but made a point to exit at 6 pm also joined in the campaign to delegitimize the protesters. They defied calls for a sit-in and leveled criticism at the political parties and groups who remained in the square. The group has launched attacks on the ongoing protest via its website, Ikhwan Online, which on 11 July reported that the sit-in had been infiltrated by “remnants of the dissolved National Democratic Party, the state security apparatus and their Zionist allies”.
Minister of Justice Mohamed al-Guindi faced sharp criticism from Egypt’s revolutionaries for the slow pace of trials of both former officials accused of corruption and officers accused of murdering protesters during the January uprising, while Interior Minister Mansour al-Essawy is slammed for the ongoing security void that began on 28 January. There have been repeated calls for the removal of Public Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud who served during the regime of Hosni Mubarak, and who demonstrators allege is implicated in the slow pace of trials of regime figures and members of the police accused of killing protestors.
What happened with the trials for the murders of the martyrs of the revolution?
The trial of former Mubarak regime figures remains a key demand for protesters, while protesters and human rights activists voiced mixed feelings over the recent police shake-up, which ended the service of at least 600 high-ranking officers. The “shakeup” has been criticized as inadequate, amounting rather to a routine annual pensioning-off of officers who have reached retirement age and that many officers accused of committing violations on 28 January remain on duty.
The protest movement advocated for immediate suspending of all officers accused of killing protesters until they can be tried in court, to ban any attempt to intimidate martyrs’ families to drop their charges, to remove members of the Supreme Police Council who were in office during the revolution and to refer them to a disciplinary council, to disclose investigations into the cases of snipers and to enforce a system in which civil society monitors police practices.
They also urged the immediate relocation of police officers working for the criminal investigation department to other divisions and their replacement with reputable colleagues.
Protesters and human rights activists also put forwards demands to abolish the Central Security Forces, which includes the riot police used by Mubarak to crush protests, to revise police academy curriculum, to give officers better training, to improve police working conditions and wages to ensure integrity, and to appoint an interior minister with no police background.
The right to protest has also been literally threatened by the military regime and the police. The military did actually not hesitate to break up few sit-ins around the country for example in front of Gharbiya Governorate headquarters last Saturday 16th of June and in Suez protesters who had been on a hunger strike in front of the governorate’s building were attacked by police at the town’s police station on Tuesday 11th of June. In Tahrir square, the last week a group of thugs attacked demonstrators with knives. Protesters had to protect themselves on their own as neither the police nor the military intervene.
Since the armed forces took power after former President Hosni Mubarak resigned in February, several reports have implicated the military in torture and other human rights violations
No signs of socio-economic rights advancement!
On the socio economic side, protesters demands have not been met, quite far from it. SCAF amended the budget expenditure prepared by the previous government from LE515 billion to LE491 billion. Expenditure on education from the initial budget proposal decreased from LE55 billion to LE 52 billion, health from LE24 billion to LE23.8 billion, and housing from LE21 billion to LE16.7 billion.
The minimum wage proposal was reduced from LE700 to LE684 per month as of July, with an annual total of LE9 billion to be paid in wages for two million government employees. The unions and workers have repeatedly said that they would not accept less than LE1200 as a minimum wage, which is a key demand in the social movement. This represents another example of the priority of the government to lean on the poor and working majority in order to protect the interests of businessmen and the established elite. Taxation for example on dividends from listed companies of big investors was finally abandoned only a few days after suggesting it in the budget.
The other problem also with the Egyptian labor market is that it is highly segmented into formal and informal sectors. Twenty to 25 percent of the private sector in Egypt is informal, and it goes up to 40 percent if you include the public sector. This large informal sector, which means that these workers are completely unprotected by the labor regulation framework, is the result of the previous government policies which decided that enforcing the labor law was not practical and served the interests of business to benefit to exploit workers. No dramatic improvement in the ability of the various governments or even in its willingness to enforce the law has been witnessed since the fall of Moubarak.
The new government should increase regulations and make them reasonably enforceable in a private sector economy, and there is also a need to reduce the corruption in enforcing the law.
Independent Workers Unions and some political parties such as the Popular Democratic Alliance Party have played a great role in the mobilization of workers these past few months on scio economic and democratic issues.
Raising and increasing slogans have notably been voiced to nationalize companies that have been privatized or liquidated through corrupt transactions and which witnessed the mass sacking of workers. They also demanded the prosecution of all those that were involved in these suspicious and corrupt transactions.
A very good example of these corrupt cases is Ghazl Shebin textile company which was privatized under the authority of the ex-minister of investment Mahmoud Mohieldin in 2006 to Indorama Corporation, for LE122 million. This Textile company of 5700 workers used to be one of the leading exporting textile factories to Europe with net profit of LE9 million in 2005-2006 alone, and the main competitor to Indorama Corporation. With the help of Nazif’s cabinet including Youssef Bourtros Ghali (ex-finance minister), Osman Mohamed Osman (ex-economy development minister), Rashid Mohamed Rashid (ex- business & industry minister), Farouk Okda (ex- head of central bank), and Esha Abdel Hady (ex-labor force minister), the factory now has 1200 workers.
The working conditions have deteriorated tremendously in addition to the thousands of workers that were laid off with no compensation. Some of the workers that have been hired back are hired under very strict contracts, where they are fired every year for 2 months and hired back so the employer can avoid paying pensions & benefits to the workers. This is one company out of thousands unfortunately in the same situation.
Nevertheless since the Revolution cases of solidarity between protesters and workers have multiplied, and even increased these past few weeks. Popular committees also played an important role to mobilize protesters and organize demonstrations, as well as for Unions that had similar functions.
An anti imperialist government?
On imperialist issues, we have seen the ex foreign minister Orabi reassure the Gulf leaders that Egypt will not pursue relations with Iran if it means risking stability in the region after Egyptian government turned down loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, but welcomed financial assistance from oil-rich Arab Gulf States to finance its budget deficit. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar consider neighboring Iran a threat to their security. During Orabi’s visit to the region, the Ex foreign Minister mostly assuaged the fears of Gulf leaders. Sharaf’s trip to the UAE struck the same tone.
In relation to the Gaza strip, despite previous declarations from Egyptian authorities that the border would be reopened on a permanent basis, they recently announced that no more than 400 Palestinians would be allowed into the country on a daily basis. A high number of Palestinians are still forbidden to travel because their names are reportedly on an Egyptian travel-ban list, while on daily basis hundreds of Palestinians are delayed, exceeding very often few days and sometime a week, or simply denied entry to Egypt. The whole road in direction of the Rafah crossing in the Sinai is filled with Egyptian military check points accompanied with tanks as a way to protect Israel and keep the border stable. A continuation of the revolutionary process and some victories of the revolutionaries would lead to a true opening of the Rafah border, and not a so called easing policy in regards to the blockade which still strangle the population of Gaza.
In conclusion, Egyptians are not going to let go their revolution in front of SCAF actions to stop the revolutionary process and maintain the Mubarak system. Egyptians have fallen short of patience and are now denouncing increasingly the counterrevolutionary role of the SCAF. This is why they are back in the streets all over Egypt demonstrating and chanting “the people want to topple the Marshal”. Egypt’s revolution is far from over and the Egyptians have understood better than anyone else the meaning of the sentence of the French revolutionary St Just: “those who make half a revolution dig their own graves”. Be the Revolution Permanent!