Early this morning (3 February) the situation in and around Tahrar Square is still very tense and dangerous. I heard gunfire. There are crowds in the streets but it is not always possible to know if they are pro or anti-Mubarak supporters. Streets are still blockaded.
Egyptian newspapers this morning are divided about yesterday’s bloody events. The pro-regime papers are trying to distance the regime from the assault by Mubarak’s thugs on opposition supporters in Tahrar Square. An opposition paper warned of ‘civil war’.
Events over the last days moved with incredible speed. On the evening of 1 February, President Mosni Mubarak announced on TV that he would not stand in the next election due in September. But this far from satisfied the protestors in Tahrar Square, who insisted they would stay until Mubarak goes. But as people started arriving in the square yesterday, it became obvious that Mubarak’s supporters were already gathering.
They came in small groups. I was surprised at first at how they dared to get so close to the demonstration. Then it became clear that there were lots of these groups coming down all the side roads and forming a sort of chain around the square. I saw a number of civilian cars carrying pro-Mubarak supporters. Some even turned up on horses and camels. When the clashes grew violent, they were used to charge into the crowds to cause chaos, terror and confusion.
When I tried to get into Tahrar Square there were already clashes taking place along the perimeter and I ended up among supporters of Mubarak. Some of them told me that they had intended to have a “peaceful” demonstration in support of Mubarak, but they were not let onto the square. But they were armed with truncheons, pipes and metal bars, which they claimed to have “found” not far away. And obviously they could not count on the protesters simply letting them onto the square with weapons.
Around about mid-day, having surrounded the square, Mubarak’s goons went on the attack. They tried to clear the protestors from the square; the symbol of their struggle. They started to tear up the paving stones and throwing them at the demonstrators. This was a crazy scene, with rocks flying like hailstones. Many people were wounded. The attackers are acting with discipline, seizing people, cutting off groups, surrounding them and beating them before clearing off. This went on for two hours. The bands of presidential supporters attacked and retreated, before attacking again.
It is obvious that the attacks were planned. They chose the most advantageous time to make the bloody assault, when there were not so many anti-Mubarak people in the square. Just the day before, there had been at least half a million anti-Mubarak protesters. But those in the square yesterday had been there all week and were tired. Of course, that is why the regime went onto the attack. I do not know how the anti-Mubarak protesters held out for so long.
The protesters think that the attackers were organized by the security forces – police ID was found on many of the attackers. On Egyptian radio it was reported that one of the pro-presidential demonstrations was led by the Minister of Labour, who is well known for his anti-worker position. It was clear that Mubarak’s party functionaries played an active role. But this is not the whole story. It was not just bureaucrats or police, let alone hired mercenaries, that accounted for all the attackers. The regime succeeded in sowing confusion and misunderstanding. I saw ordinary people involved in the violent attacks. They simply said that the anti-Mubarak protest movement had got as much as it could, the government had changed, the President would go, and now they want an end to the chaos. They used slogans like, “Mubarak yes, instability and confusion no” and ‘Mubarak yes, corruption no”. But, as a result, these people fed up with disruption succeeded in causing outright chaos, scenes that were impossible to envisage on the square yesterday when it was defended by volunteers.
Conscious tactics by authorities
Mubarak’s supporters were also actively shouting out slogans against Al-Baradei – “Baradei’s a coward and an American agent”. That, of course, is ironic, as for the past thirty years Mubarak has been one of the most loyal servants of American imperialism. Obviously they made these sorts of anti-Al-Baradei comments to try and win over those protesters who are sceptical about the role of the opposition ‘leaders’.
What is happening is the result of the conscious tactics of the authorities. From the start, the Mubarak regime has implemented a curfew and created difficulties with the transport of foods and other necessary goods. This heightened tension and made people angry. Mubarak is trying to create a situation where people will conclude, “Let Mubarak stay, just don’t let things get worse. It would even be better if the situation just returns to a week ago!” This mood has already captured a section of Egyptian society and it was such people that the regime used against the protestors yesterday. Mubarak is hoping that where the police and army have ‘failed’ him, he can rely on others to do the job.
Of course, if he has managed to break the opposition in the Tahrar Square, this will be a big blow against the movement. If on Tuesday’s mass demonstration people felt that the regime was falling, it is possible now that the sense of the balance of power has changed. It is difficult to say what will happen next – it is impossible at this stage to have a full picture and it is not yet clear what happened in other cities. But already the opposition is talking about building for another huge protest on Friday.
On Tuesday’s huge anti-Mubarak Tahrar Square demonstration, there were middle class people but mainly working class people and youth. The potential of the movement to sweep away Mubarak’s regime was clear. But the working class was not present in an organised manner. I did not see any banners with clear class, left or socialist slogans and demands. For the working class to decisively put its authority on events requires a mass party of the working class, with an independent class and socialist programme.
There was carnival atmosphere on Tuesday, even euphoria, and perhaps a feeling that the task of removing Mubarak was going to be accomplished very soon. But although Mubarak later announced he will step down from office in September, the regime been in power for decades and is not going to leave without a fight.
The army facilitated the entry of Mubarak’s thugs into the square yesterday. The state machine is badly shaken by the last week but remains fundamentally intact. The mass movement cannot be passive; it must go on the offensive! The opposition movement must appeal to the rank and file army conscripts to side with the masses – their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters! Conscripts also face high prices and need a living wage. The army can be split and neutralised if a class appeal is made, calling for rank and file committees of soldiers, a purge the reactionary officers and hierarchy and for trade union and democratic rights for soldiers.
The Mubarak thugs caused havoc and terror but they did not succeed in taking Tahrir Square last night. The situation now is very confusing, with all sorts of rumours flying around. The regime’s crackdown could continue, perhaps using the army now to ‘restore order’. Yesterday’s events could also act to provoke renewed mass opposition. Friday’s planned mass demonstrations could be a turning point.
Maybe Mubarak will be sacrified by the regime, to allow a new army-based ‘national salvation’ regime to be formed. Today the prime minister “apologised” for yesterday’s the fighting between pro- and anti-government demonstrators, calling it a "fatal error". There are reports that the army is using its vehicles to “separate the two sides” on the streets of Cairo.
Self defence against Mubarak thugs
The working masses need to defend themselves from the counter revolutionary thugs, including forming armed militias, run democratically. Mass committees of action in the workplaces, communities, schools and colleges, linked on local, regional and national scale, can spearhead the resistance.
Food shortages are now really biting and prices rising. The big traders are profiteering from the crisis. As one left activist told me, Mubarak is trying to “lock-out” the entire population. Working people need to seize the food producing factories and places of food trade and distribution, and democratically organise their own distribution and supplies for the masses. Such a programme could also appeal to at least some of those who have been mobilised by the regime against the developing revolution.
The masses need to go on the offensive, organising mass workers’ action, including a general strike, for the immediate overthrow of Mubarak and the whole rotten, brutal regime. An insurrectionary movement of the masses, led by the working class and appealing to the army conscripts to join them, would march on the presidential palace and other key institutions of the state, and take the power. Mubarak and his cronies should be put on trial in front of popular tribunals to answer for their crimes against the Egyptian people. The obscene wealth of the ruling elite should be taken from their greedy hands and used for the benefit of the majority in society. Socialists call for the nationalisation of Egypt’s big corporations, the banks and large estates and their democratic planning to meet the needs of the vast majority.
There can be no trust in any new ‘national salvation’ regime based on the interests of the ruling class and imperialism. The key is not just to remove Mubarak and his immediate clan, but to sweep away the entire rotten regime. The mass opposition can have no trust in any more regime manoeuvres that are intended to thwart real democratic gains and social change. Imperialism is looking for some kind of “unity” or “transition” government to limit the movement and safeguard the future of capitalism in Egypt.
To ensure a clean break with the regime, a government representing the mass of Egyptians - a workers’ and poor government - is urgently required. Such a government would guarantee the popular demand for immediate and free elections and take urgent measures to improve living standards.
Socialists call for a revolutionary democratic constituent assembly and for a majority workers’ and rural workers’ government. This is the only way to win long lasting full democratic rights, including the right to assemble, to strike and to organise democratic independent trade unions. It is the only way to ensure a living minimum wage, guaranteed jobs and decent homes, education and health for all. The revolution movement needs to be extended across the region and developed with a socialist programme - for a socialist Egypt and a socialist confederation of the region, on an equal and voluntary basis.