The future of the Middle East is being fought out in Cairo's Tahrir Square. The Egyptian people’s determined struggle for economic and political freedom against a regime of dictators and torturers goes on.
Their 14-day struggle is fuelling the flames of revolt throughout the Arab world, from Gaza and the West Bank where Hamas and the Palestine Authority have banned protests, to Yemen and Jordan.
So, is the drama being played out in Egypt and reverberating throughout the Arab world, a true revolution? The answer must be an unequivocal Yes.
Not only in Cairo but throughout the country, millions have been involved in demonstrations and, equally crucial, in organising barricades to enforce security and stop provocations by Mubarak and his secret police.
Does the revolution need to go further to truly succeed in its aims of bringing political and economic freedom to the majority of Egyptians? The answer is also a decisive Yes.
The Egyptian ruling classes backed by an equivocating United States, want to preserve Egyptian capitalism. They are playing a war of attrition, hoping that the “silent majority” will tire of disruption and will remain neutral or even back the ruling elite with or without Mubarak at their head.
The keys to real power remain in the hands of the regime. It controls the rubber stamp parliament, the television and official media and the army. Those occupying Tahrir Square are only too aware that the army is the decisive factor in Egyptian politics.
They have climbed up on the tanks and greeted the soldiers as their allies. At present protesters are sleeping and camping under the tanks. They see the army as their protection against Mubarak’s thugs. After all it was the army under Abdel Nasser who overthrew the Egyptian monarchy in the 1952 revolution. But the history of revolutions – and of Egypt itself – shows that this is a perilous path. In no way can the army, even though it consists mostly of conscripted workers, be relied upon to support those demanding the end of not only Mubarak but his entire state apparatus, including the hundreds of thousands of secret police, spies and torturers. The army has done very well under Mubarak. Last year the Egyptian armed forces received over $1.3 billion from his US backers.
Over the weekend, Vice President Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s intelligence chief, met with opposition leaders and is likely to announce that a new constitution is being drafted. Amongst the 50 people who took part in the discussions were members of the hitherto-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Many have suffered imprisonment and torture at the hands of Mubarak’s army of spies and torturers and had only just been freed last week. But the Brotherhood originally refused to support the anti-government demonstrations and is only now trying to regain its credibility.
Egypt’s uprising is indeed virtually leaderless. A new generation who have known nothing but Mubarak’s repressive regime broke unexpectedly onto the world stage. Initially inspired by the revolutionary events in Tunisia, young people have organised through Facebook, following the call of Asmaa Mahfouz and Ahmed Maher in the April 6 Youth Movement, which campaigned for the Million March on February 1. Many, including the newly-formed Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, are rightly demanding the dissolution of the current parliament, 97% of whose seats are controlled by Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.
The Egyptian revolution had to break free of its old leadership elites to challenge the dictatorship. The urgent need is for the spontaneous movements, including the community-run barricades, to develop a strategy for economic and political power through people’s assemblies.
A World to Win secretary