Judith Orr was in Cairo for the anniversary of the start of the Egyptian Revolution to report on how the revolt is developing
The one year anniversary of the Egyptian revolution has marked a new turning point in the struggle. It came in the first week of the newly elected parliament where the Muslim Brotherhood gained two thirds of the seats.
For weeks leading up to 25 January, Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) had been scaremongering. They claimed that Egypt was going to go up in flames on the day, that people risked being stabbed and shot, that it would end in mass violence.
But people were not intimidated. More people came out on to the streets across Egypt on 25 January than had been seen at any point in the revolution so far. Two days later hundreds of thousands took to the streets again on the anniversary of the “day of anger”.
It took only 18 days to bring down Egypt’s former dictator Hosni Mubarak. But this week showed that the revolution continues.
The slogans that dominated were directed against the military council. Millions of ordinary people made the revolution. Now they want to take it back from the military.
There are also tensions coming to the surface about the newly elected parliament. These were exposed by the extraordinary scenes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during last week’s demonstrations.
Muslim Brotherhood speakers were heckled and crowds shook their shoes at them to show their disgust. They accuse the Brotherhood of selling out and collaborating with the military.
The Brotherhood’s majority in the parliament is a sign of their deep roots and wide support. But this raises all sorts of contradictions for them. Parliament has only been sitting since Monday of this week, yet it is already seen as letting people down.
A key slogan of the 18 days in Tahrir Square that brought down Mubarak had been “Raise your head up high—you are an Egyptian”.
On Friday’s demonstrations this was turned against the Brotherhood. “Raise your head up high—you are only a chair,” protesters shouted—meaning the Brotherhood had sold out the revolution to gain seats in parliament.
Some even threw their shoes in bitterness and carried on marching in bare feet. “This is a revolution, not a party,” they chanted.
One speaker tried to calm the crowd with slogans about all Egyptians being “one hand”. He said, “We need to go back to how we used to be.” The crowd roared back, “We will never go back to how we used to be.”
When the Brotherhood played verses from the Koran in order to calm the crowd, one protester got to the public address system and pulled the plug. This is unprecedented. Yet people do still have expectations that the new parliament will deliver some improvements.
Egypt is in the middle of a severe economic crisis. It is the biggest importer of wheat in the world. Most of its food is imported and paid for in US dollars. So foreign reserves are being run down every month.
The only way out of this trap is to redistribute wealth, stop paying back debts to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—and to tax the rich. The demand for nationalisation has never been more popular. People want to take back what is rightfully theirs.
There are also the questions of Israel and of deals with the IMF. There are tensions among the leadership of the Brotherhood about what to do. Fault lines are growing between the leadership and grassroots supporters.
This means that the situation is volatile. The mass marches last week were important. They involved more people and pulled them into the struggle.
“Tahrir Square is important—we don’t want to lose square—but holding it does not guarantee victory.” said Dina, a socialist activist. “That’s why the slogan ‘the factory and square are one hand’ is so important.”
Every new political upsurge has seen a rise in workers’ confidence to fight. This week’s demonstrations can give confidence to workers in struggle.
One member of Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists spoke about the effect of the workers’ movement. “Last week dock workers struck. They cut off the main highway. Thousands of workers took the road, chanting slogans against Scaf.
“Many of the workers took part in a strike wave in August and September and won promises. But these promises have not yet been met. So I believe we will see workers mobilising again in the coming weeks.”
The stakes are high. People have seen what the regime that replaced Mubarak is prepared to do to hold back the revolution. That is why the mood against the military has become so intense.
Socialists have always said that people change the world—and in doing so change themselves. This is what is happening in Egypt.
There is an ongoing protest at the state television station at Maspero, ten minutes from Tahrir Square. Security forces murdered 29 Christian Copts on a protest here in October 2010.
Soldiers patrol the outside of the building behind high barbed wire fences. People say that it is still producing regime propaganda like it did under Mubarak.
The “kazeboon” (liars) campaign was set up to expose the brutality of Scaf and it gives outdoor screening of films around the county. At Maspero they project footage of the events of the revolution each night on the walls of the building.
Maspero has also become the focus for general discontent. On Saturday 28 January paramedics parked their 40 ambulances by the protest to demand permanent contracts.