Monday, January 28, 2013

Demand for social justice spurs Egypt's new street revolt

Events in Egypt are spiralling out of control of the Muslim Brotherhood government that replaced Hosni Mubarak’s regime. But behind the anti-Morsi movement in Egypt is something much bigger and deeper – the unfinished Arab revolution.

With the new government lacking legitimacy in the eyes of large swathes of the population, the street has defied the state of emergency and 30-day curfew in the cities of Port Said, Ismailia and Suez declared by president Mohamed Morsi last night.

The measure, which gives police sweeping powers of arrest, shows that nothing is settled since the Tahrir Square revolution of 25 January 2011. The high point of  of the Arab Spring inspired movements as far flung as New York and Wisconsin, London and Tel Aviv but has unfinished business.

The uprising that ousted Mubarak took place under the slogan “bread, freedom, social justice”. None of these demands have been met. The Egyptian economy is in free fall, with the currency rapidly losing value. One in four of the 15-29 age group is officially out of work, with real numbers much higher. The government is heavily in debt. A loan being negotiated from the International Monetary Fund will come with draconian conditions that will lead to food price increases (already cancelled once by Morsi).

During Friday’s anniversary celebrations, protesters demanded the establishment of a minimum wage and the suspension of the new constitution being forced through by the Muslim Brotherhood government. The shout “irhal, irhal!” – “leave, leave!” was directed at Morsi. 

After a Cairo judge sentenced to death 21 football supporters who were accused of killing local fans during football riots last year, demonstrators in Port Said directed their anger against Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government and the police.

They chanted “Down with Brotherhood rule!, and "Down, down Morsi, down down the regime that killed and tortured us!" as they carried the coffins of their dead through the streets of Port Said. It is widely believed that the violence at the 2012 football match was in fact orchestrated by the police or Mubarak supporters. Many died in street clashes.

As Egyptians and others around the world reflect on the second anniversary of the 25 January 2011, many are asking what was achieved and whether or not it can be defined as a revolution. In a group of articles called The Revolution Will Not Be Celebrated, the Jadaliyya website editors conclude that the conflict between the people of Egypt and the Morsi regime can only deepen.

The real danger, they write, comes from those who maintain that “the revolution ended with Mubarak’s departure and that what followed was ‘politics as usual’.” January 25 is reduced, they say, “to an event of the past... and not a living phenomenon and an ongoing struggle that has ways to go”.

It is not simply a battle against “the wielders of power”, Jadaliyya writes. Partisans of the revolution in Egypt “face a serious battle against the hegemonic narrative that the days of the revolution are over and that the country has re-entered a state of normalcy in which contentious political action is no longer deemed socially or legally acceptable.”

The notion that opposition to Mubarak was confined to Cairo is disproved. Amro Alim’s amazing photo essay shows how street art in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, reflected the mass movement against the regime.

Many are beginning to realise that protests are insufficient and that other courses of action are needed. Members of the Ultra football club took direct action on Saturday, occupying Cairo’s metro and Sixth of October bridge. Another group, the Black Bloc militants, have also appeared on the streets.

With its powerful history and huge population, Egypt occupies a pivotal position within the Arab world. The renewed revolutionary fervour in the country – coinciding with deep unrest in Mali, Somalia, Eritrea and Libya – points to the fact that there are no solutions within the old capitalist framework built by Mubarak. Social justice will require a social revolution.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

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