Last Friday, 4 February, Cairo was once again filled with a million-strong anti-Mubarak demonstration. After traditional Friday prayers, a huge mass of people filled the Tahrir Square, and it soon became impossible to even walk through the crowds.
The mood of the protesters was buoyant. After the violent attacks from Mubarak’s thugs were seen off, people feel the balance of forces has shifted in favour of the protesters. Even the newly appointed Prime Minister and Vice President rushed to disassociate themselves from the events of the last week, promising to conduct a full “enquiry” and “punish” the guilty.
Judging by this, the so-called unshakeable regime appears to be being shaken by internal splits and conflicts. One of the ruling party’s functionaries has even accused another party member, a rich businessman, of organizing the pro-Mubarak marches and orchestrating the attacks on the Takhrir Square.
Last Thursday, 3 February, from early morning, clashes with pro-regime “supporters” continued but they had far less people on their side. They were soon kicked out of the square. The protesters restored full control of the square, the surrounding streets and the bridge over the Nile. It became the safest part of the city! In other parts of the city, the police and pro-Mubarak thugs attack foreigners, especially journalists, to try to make them leave the country. Every time I came and went from the square, I had to pass through three control points organized by the volunteers – but no-one threatened me.
The demonstrators’ successes last week in pushing back Mubarak’s thugs, succeeded in winning over a section of those people who were wavering. According to the press, there have been demonstrations in all the big Egyptian cities. There must have been several million people demonstrating across the country last Friday, demanding that Mubarak goes and his regime is removed. Demonstrations of solidarity took place in other countries.
Nevertheless the elderly dictator has still not left office, saying he is worried about “chaos” should he do so. Of course, from Mubarak’s point of view, he is correct to fear his whole regime collapsing. For over thirty years a huge bureaucratic system was created by the regime, full of people who rely on Mubarak’s patronage – ruling NDP party functionaries and other petty careerists. There are huge numbers of them and if the regime collapses, they fear a tough time ahead. Already there has been a ban placed on a number of former ministers from travelling abroad and their accounts have been frozen. Now the demonstrators demand the trial of all the leading figures of the regime, including Mubarak. When you see this huge wave of protest, it is impossible to think that Egypt can turn back the wheel of history; there is simply no way back anymore.
Maybe it is too early to expect this stubborn dictator to leave soon but the demonstrators are determined to see this through to the end. They believe they have to do this for the sake of those who have died during recent events. Now the “defenders” of the square declared that this week will be a ‘Week of Determination’, when the square will be defended, in shifts, by at 20,000 people. At the same time, they are not excluding the possibility of marching on the Presidential palace. But to do this, it will mean travelling 6 km and through narrow streets. Many demonstrators fear this would also mean leaving the square unprotected.
The demonstrators have not succeeded in building firm links with the rank and file soldiers. This is creating a potentially dangerous situation in which, if the balance of forces changes, the army officers could order the break up of the demonstration. If however the army comes out openly against Mubarak and the demonstrators rely on the army to overthrow the regime, then the army will move to take power fully into its own hands.
This shows the need for the movement to urgently create democratically-elected and run committees of mass struggle and defence against Mubarak’s thugs and state repression. The army rank and file can be won over, with a firm and decisive appeal to join the uprising. The soldiers’ grievances about low pay, bad conditions and treatment by their senior officers need to be addressed by the mass movement, alongside calling for the right of soldiers to organise a free independent trade union, to form soldiers’ committees and the election of officers. This can help win the rank and file of the army and sections of the police to the side of the masses. Mass workers’ action, including a general strike, to overthrow Mubarak and the whole rotten, brutal regime needs to be organised alongside an offensive to seize power. This would prepare the way for the formation of a government of the workers’ and small farmers and of all those exploited by capitalism and the current regime.
Proudly calling themselves ‘revolutionaries’, the demonstrators insist that their protests are peaceful. That is partly why no “march on the palace” was planned. The protesters have shown their power and courage.
So far, the millions-strong demonstration has not proved strong enough to topple the regime. The authorities appear to be waiting for the mass movement to tire and to lose momentum and confidence. In the absence of a clear leadership of the mass movement and without clear goals, tactics and strategy, the Week of Determination could start to slow down and melt away, allowing Mubarak room to manoeuvre and for the regime, as a whole, to remain largely intact, even if it is forced to create some new ‘government’, including opposition figures.
Illusions in the army as somehow ‘neutral’ or acting merely as ‘arbiters’, which is fed by opposition figures like ElBaradei, gives the generals space to manoeuvre to safeguard the vested interests of the ruling elite and to remain as the main source of power.
These real dangers and the lack of a coherent leadership representing the real democratic and social demands of the courageous mass movement powerfully shows the urgent need to build a mass party of the working class and poor, armed with socialist policies, to give a clear alternative and to meet the masses’ demands for democratic rights and fundamental social change.