Egypt: Former dictator Mubarak on trial

Revolutionary and counter-revolutionary struggle continues

The court trial of deposed Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, resumed on 15th August. Two weeks earlier the first pictures of Hosni Mubarak and his sons in the courtroom metal cage gripped people across the Middle East and North Africa. Many passengers at Cairo Airport missed their flights while they watched the trial on TV monitors. Together with Mubarak’s Interior Minister, Habib al-Adly, who was in charge of the police and security services, they are on trial for ordering the killing of nearly 850 protesters and for corruption. The protesters were killed during the 18 days between the January 25th uprising earlier this year and Mubarak’s resignation.

On the first day of the trial (held in what used to be called the Mubarak Police Academy), several senior police officers shook al-Adly’s hand, their old boss for nearly 15 years. This was in sharp contrast to the treatment of countless thousands who were imprisoned and tortured for political opposition during Mubarak’s 30-year rule, often with no trial at all. Their ‘welcome’ to prison was more likely to be a brutal beating than a handshake.

Until the trial began many Egyptians doubted that Mubarak and his cronies would ever appear in court. It had looked as though the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), ruling the country but appointed by Mubarak, would let him spend his remaining life in his Sharm el-Sheikh holiday villa. But to head off growing anger at the slow pace of change after the revolution, Mubarak was arrested in May, although detained in a luxury hospital.

Protests grew in June and July, with the re-occupation of Tahrir Square on 8 July and a million gathering there each Friday, forcing SCAF to move further. If it had not done so, it would have been clearer to all that the old regime was still in place and protecting its former leader. Anger would have been increasingly directed against SCAF itself. Among the prosecution witnesses will be Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, now acting president.

On the first day of Mubarak’s trial, while stock markets all over the world were sliding, the Egyptian stock market rose. Bankers and businessmen hope the trial will deflect anger away from them and their economic system. The regime and their business backers are prepared to sacrifice Mubarak and a few of his cronies to keep control of their wealth and power.

Nevertheless, the old regime is not giving up without a struggle. While conceding that the Mubaraks’ trial would be merged with el-Adly’s, expected to make a conviction more likely, the judge has also ruled that remaining proceedings will not be televised. This makes a cover-up easier, with the possibility of some legal nicety to get them off the hook. In fact, the outcome of the trial will depend on the pressure that workers and youth maintain on the regime rather than the legal arguments inside the court.

A genuine examination of the record of the last regime is needed, exposing the corrupt links between Mubarak, his ministers and cronies, senior officers of the security forces and big business, and their murderous use of force to defend their wealth and power. This requires a trial by elected workers and youth representatives. The families of the 850 killed by Mubarak’s security forces during the revolution (and the 6500 injured) want justice, not the financial compensation that the government is now offering to try to buy off their growing opposition.

Growing pressure forces reforms

A survey in July counted 22 sit-ins, 19 strikes, 20 demonstrations, 10 protests and 4 short-term protest gatherings. Although the total number of actions fell slightly in July compared with June, the number of strikes went up. This was despite the strike ban brought in by SCAF in March and the first prosecution of workers under it, which took place in early July.

The government felt compelled to make further concessions. The privatisation programme was officially abandoned on 20th July. It was widely hated, because workers invariably became poorer when their industries were privatised and the new owners became richer, having bought the industries at a very cheap price. Many of Mubarak’s cronies profited from the sell-offs, steered through by his son Gamal.

A Cabinet reshuffle on 21 July gave the government a new look, with fourteen ministers pushed out, although eleven remained, including the Interior and Justice Ministers. Despite the more liberal reputations of some new ministers, the government remains completely wedded to the defence of capitalism. The new Finance minister promised, “Egypt will remain a free-market economy.”

The disbanding of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation was announced in early August. It was widely seen as a tool of employers and the Mubarak regime. Its last leadership election was in 2006 and was as fraudulent as the last parliamentary election held in November 2010. Workers are building new independent trade unions to fight for their interests, as the ETUF had never done.

On 11 August it was announced that Mubarak’s Emergency Law, in place throughout his rule, is also being lifted. This law allowed the police to make random arrests and to hold detainees indefinitely without charge. There has also been a suspension of some police officers accused of killing demonstrators, a restriction of military trials of civilians and replacement of some regional governors. These limited measures will not satisfy the just demands for genuine democratic and civil rights of the majority of Egyptian workers and youth.

Socialist programme to defeat threat of counter-revolution

On Friday 29 July, around a million filled Tahrir Square, in central Cairo, but this time the protestors were largely mobilised by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi Islamists. The demands included a call for Sharia law, breaking an agreement with other political movements they had been in alliance with. There were chants in support of Tantawi. A few days later, the regime felt confident enough to use the army to clear the square of those occupying it for three weeks. Many of the occupiers were families of the killed, demanding justice.

An opinion poll, carried out in April, found that 64% joined the January 25th protests because of “low living standards and lack of jobs,” 19% took part because of a “lack of democracy and political reform,” 6% because of the “recent events in Tunisia,” and another 6% because they were “encouraged by friends and family.”

The struggle between revolution and counter-revolution continues as the working class strives to complete what it began on January 25th – winning full democratic, social and economic freedoms by forming a government of workers and the poor and by nationalising the main industries and utilities that dominate their lives under democratic workers’ control. A democratically planned economy would ensure the resources needed to provide jobs with a living wage, decent homes, good education and health care for all.

A workers’ party putting forward a socialist programme, linked to the daily needs of millions of workers and poor, could gain mass support, undercutting the Muslim Brotherhood. Linking up with workers and youth across the region, such a mass movement could lead to a federation of democratic socialist states, ending poverty, corruption and oppression.

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August 2011