Egypt: ‘Determination Friday’ sees huge protests

Workers and youth say, “Save the revolution!”

July 8th, ‘Determination Friday’, saw one of the biggest demonstrations of workers and youth in Egypt since the downfall of the dictator Mubarak earlier this year. Around a million people filled Tahrir Square, in central Cairo, with big demonstrations also taking place in Alexandria, Suez and at least eleven other cities. Many of the 60 new independent trade unions were present, calling for the disbandment of the official union, whose leaders are linked to the old regime. Occupations are continuing in Tahrir and elsewhere. Today, 12 July, saw new calls for mass demonstrations and there are reports that more tents are being erected in Tahrir Square.

Over the last weeks, security forces encouraged thugs to attack peaceful protesting families of those killed during the 25th January revolution. The police also attacked, leaving over 1,100 injured. This served as a reminder that Mubarak’s police and security forces were still in place.

Only one low-ranking policeman has been convicted for the killing of 800 demonstrators following the revolution. Last week, ten policemen charged with killings were freed on bail. Three former ministers were also cleared of corruption charges. The former interior minister, responsible for the security forces, has had his trial postponed. Mubarak, his sons and his cronies have not yet been put on trial. Mubarak is in a hospital that many feel is luxury accommodation.

Police let off – workers criminalised

Meanwhile a military court on 29 June sentenced five Petrojet workers to a one-year prison sentence, suspended so long as they do not participate in any further strikes or protests. The Petrojet workers were protesting about the ending of their temporary contracts, despite some of them working for the oil company for ten years. This was the first time Law 34/2011, which was brought in by the ruling military council in March, was used. This law criminalises strikes and protests that ‘hinder production’ in any workplace. Military courts have also summoned five journalists over their reporting, including the host of a TV chat show, after a guest on the programme exposed continuing torture and repression.

The budget announced in May has been revised. Its final draft was announced last week, cutting education spending from £E 54.3billion [Egyptian pounds] to £E52billion. Health spending gets cut from £E24.3 to £E23.8billion, and unemployment benefits are halved from £E2 to 1billion. A minimum wage of £E700 a month was announced but will now be only £E684.

All these factors stoked the anger of millions of workers and youth who sacrificed so much during the 25th January revolution. The 8 July demonstrations show a growing mood for real change to take place. As on May 27th, the last massive demonstration, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) at first did not agree to participate. But unlike May, when hundreds of thousands, including MB youth, defied opposition from the MB leadership, this time the MB leadership agreed to join in, a few days before the demonstration. They must have sensed the angry and determined mood. Nevertheless, the MB announced they would leave the protests at 3pm and not participate in any square sit-ins.

Demonstration demands

A broad coalition of political and youth movements called the demonstrations, with seven demands: the release of all civilians sentenced by military courts and banning of military trials for civilians; suspension of all police officers charged with killing of protestors and a special court to try them; sacking of the Interior Minister and restructuring of the Interior Ministry; sacking of the prosecutor-general; trial of Mubarak and his clique for crimes against the Egyptian people; a new budget that responds to the basic demands of the poor; and limiting the power of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), purging the cabinet of the remnants of the old regime.

The following day, the Prime Minister, Essam Sharaf, announced the suspension of police officers charged with killing protestors and the payment of compensation to the families of those killed and wounded during the protests. However, the remaining demands have not been conceded.

A number of youth and political groups decided the sit-ins would continue until only four demands were met – the swift trial of those responsible for killing protestors; the Prime Minister to have real powers to govern instead of SCAF; sacking of the interior minister and his replacement by a civilian; and abolition of military trials for civilians. The demand for a new budget is not included in this list, making it less attractive to the workers and poor.

“Save the revolution”

Some youth groups are calling for unity to “save the revolution”. Some have raised the slogan of “the revolution first” in an attempt to side-step debate over whether a new constitution should be adopted before elections or afterwards. Having elections first is thought to favour the MB, who are better organised than other parties.

But if the ruling class keep their power, no constitution will stop them exploiting the people. The “revolution first” does not answer the question as to what sort of revolution is needed to meet the demands of the majority – the workers, small farmers and the poor. January 25th was the beginning, but to complete the revolution a mass movement is needed to fight for a £E1200 minimum wage, a massive expansion of education, health care, housing and other vital services, linked to the nationalisation under democratic workers’ control of all the major corporations, banks and large estates. A socialist revolution would enable the resources and wealth of the country are democratically managed and planned in the interests of the majority. It would give renewed inspiration to workers and youth throughout the region and around the world.

Activists in the many new independent trade unions that have formed, as well as in youth and community campaigns and from new left parties need to campaign for an independent class programme and to urgently set about building a new mass party able to win majority support for a programme of action and for democratic socialism.

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July 2011