The biggest demonstrations against the Egyptian government in over 30 years have stunned President Hosni Mubarak’s repressive regime. The demonstrations were called on Police Day, January 25, a national holiday that marks the 1952 struggle by the Ismailia police against the British Occupation. Mubarak’s police force today is the very opposite of a liberation movement! It is used to violently prevent workers and youth from demonstrating their anger against the corrupt and fabulously wealthy ruling elite.
Directly inspired by the magnificent movement of the Tunisian youth and workers, those calling for the 25 January demonstrations included the ‘April 6th Youth Movement’ and the ‘We are all Khaled Saeid’ Facebook group, named after the young Alexandria man who was brutally murdered by police in 2010 after exposing police corruption.
An estimated 15,000 people took part a protest in central Cairo, starting in different parts of the city and converging on Tahrir Square. Hundreds of protestors broke security cordons and were joined by passersby — including families with their children. Banners reading, “Tunisia is the solution” were held aloft. Others called for the removal of the Egyptian regime and dismissal of the interior minister. Posters showing Hosni Mubarak and his hated son, Gamal, were ripped down.
At first, police appeared unsure how to respond, faced with much larger numbers than the few hundred who usually appear on protests. They then used tear gas and water cannon on the marchers. But the demonstrators attacked a water cannon vehicle, opening the driver’s door and ordering the man out of the vehicle. The youth, in particular, showed great bravery in confronting the police, standing their ground and chasing the police back on several occasions
There were also reports of protestors clashing with security forces in Cairo’s northern Mattariya district, 15,000 protesting in the northern town of Kafr El-Sheikh, 2,000 in al-Mahalla al-Kubra, where there was a big strike in 2008, and more protests in Alexandria, Dar El-Salam, Boulaq, Maadi, Ard El-Lewa and Imbaba. In Sinai, the Al-Goura airport road in Rafah and Al-Mahdiya road were blocked with cars and burning tyres. In Suez, two demonstrators were killed by police firing rubber bullets and tear gas.
Previous protests called by Facebook sites and youth groups, on 6 April 2009 and 2010, were met with mixed responses. Usually the police successfully swamped city centres and prevented large groups from gathering. Protests in Cairo normally last about an hour, but yesterday’s continued late into the night, until the square was eventually cleared by police. Twitter and Bambuser, which streams video from mobile phones, were blocked.
Protestors burn image of Mubarak
Some opposition parties had supported the call for protest – the Nasserists, Ayman Nour’s al-Ghad and al-Karama. Others, including al-Wafd and al-Tagammu, the ex-workers’ party, did not. The largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, appeared confused as whether to support the movement or not. Its leaders prevaricated in the days leading up to the 25 January, while youth members set up Facebook pages in support of the protests. A Muslim Brotherhood spokesman said: “The protest in Tahrir Square erupted spontaneously… (we) did not send anyone. The government knows exactly who’s staging these demonstrations. We hope it heeds the people’s demands."
The Coptic Church called on its members to avoid the demonstrations, just three weeks after hundreds of Christians protested on the streets after the Alexandria New Year’s Eve bomb and were met with police attacks. A bishop said: “The Holy Book orders us to obey our kings and rulers; calls for protest are destructive so we are praying for Egypt’s safety.”
Of course, the government has no intention of heeding the people’s demands for jobs, a living minimum wage, and an end to corruption, police torture and repression. It may make concessions in the heat of mass protests, but as Tunisia showed, each concession will increase the confidence of workers and youth to increase their demands.
The determination of workers and youth to stand up to the regime marks a new stage in Egypt. Never again will the Mubarak regime be able to maintain its grip by the exercise of fear. So far, the Egyptian working class has barely flexed a muscle, but already the mood of the country has been electrified.
What is urgently needed is for workers to form their own party with a socialist programme to transform society. Socialist call for a living minimum wage of at least LE1200; guaranteed jobs for all; the right to strike and organize democratic independent trade unions; a massive programme of house building, education and health; an end to police torture and brutality; free elections to a democratic constituent assembly and for a majority workers’ and rural workers’ government. These must be linked to the nationalisation of the big corporations, the banks and large estates and their democratic planning to meet the needs of workers and the poor.
The spark lit by the Tunisian revolution has lit a flame now spreading across the Arabic world. Events in Egypt will fan the flames until every rotten regime in the region is overthrown and the resources of the region are used to end the poverty and repression its people have suffered for so long.