The unprecedented events in Egypt during the past few days have caught US imperialism unprepared. Having poured $1.3bn a year into propping up the Mubarak regime US imperialism has finally realised that the time has come to find an alternative for continuing its long-term interests of exploiting and oppressing the Egyptian masses and preserving the rule of reactionary regimes in the region.
As the protests enter their eighth day momentous events are taking place in Egypt – events that will have a big impact on the whole of the Middle East. Following on from the Tunisian uprising that toppled Ben Ali (but not his regime); the Egyptian masses have in the space of a week (rather than months) brought the thirty-year rule of Hosni Mubarak to the brink. This is because Egypt has a much stronger tradition of protests, particularly against price rises, in which workers have played a major role. In addition to the strike wave that began in 2004, one of the most notable was the April 2008 strike in Mahalla al-Kubra, where 27,000 workers of the state-owned Misr Helwan Spinning and Weaving Company were at the centre of the struggle against price rises. There were frequent clashes with the riot police, especially when the workers tried to take control of the textiles plant and attacked shops.
The dictatorship’s desperate measures
After the brutality of the first four days, which cost over 100 lives, the hated police suddenly disappeared. This was a very strange development in a police state! Taking their place – after a few days’ delay! – was the army which mounted checkpoints and took positions inside the squares and streets of many cities. The absence of the police also went together with the most sinister and desperate move by the dictatorship: the release of criminals and thugs from prisons with the specific task of creating mayhem, confusion and fear. All of these were aimed at creating a sense of personal insecurity instead of a collective consciousness, purpose and struggle.
During the few days when the police disappeared off the streets the rampaging looters attacked shops, hospitals, museums, and many other public buildings. To begin with it was middle class people who armed themselves with knives, sticks and makeshift weapons and erected checkpoints to stop looters coming from ‘poorer neighbourhoods’. Then as the regime’s thugs went into full action people in all areas had to take similar steps to safeguard themselves and their homes. (There are rumours that some of the police have taken part in the looting.)
The end for Mubarak
When Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Authority and an opposition figure, returned to Egypt a few days ago he was put under house arrest. Then, suddenly on Sunday, January 30, he was in Tahrir Square using a loud hailer to address the crowd. The fact that he was doing this after the curfew had come into effect made it a doubly important development.
Taken together with the fact that that Hilary Clinton began calling the Egyptian people’s demands “legitimate grievances” and urging for an “orderly transition” it was clear that the US was looking to ‘switch horses’ in Egypt.
ElBaradei has called for a “national unity government” and is reported to be forming a ten member committee together with the Muslim Brotherhood to talk to the government and army. ElBaradei has said: “we have an essential demand, the departure of this regime and we will start a new phase, a new Egypt where every Egyptian will live in freedom and dignity.” Many members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have now been set free and are playing catch-up with the mass movement.
The appointment of Omar Suleiman as Vice President, the first time that the post has been filled during Mubarak’s presidency, meant that the regime was preparing for its future without Mubarak as well. Now that the army has ruled out the use of force against the demonstrators it is clear that both the military elite, the backbone of the regime, and US imperialism see Mubarak as a spent force.
The general strike
Members of the opposition initially called for a general strike on Tuesday, February 1, which now seems to have developed into a call for a “million man march” against the regime and a general strike. Organising a general strike is the central demand for the workers’ movement. It can develop the mass movement and put the workers at its leadership. Workers in Suez are already on strike and many across the country are planning to join them. Indeed, a number of workers’ organisations, including the newly formed Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions (or Egyptian Federation for Independent Unions) have called for a general strike. The Federation’s founding document has many positive demands including “a minimum wage no less than 1200 LE, with a yearly raise proportionate to inflation”.
US imperialism has now dispatched Frank Wisner, a highly experienced ex-ambassador to Cairo, to tell Mubarak that it is over. Officially he is to meet senior Egyptian officials and report back to Washington. This is a clear attempt by the imperialists to stitch together a pro-imperialist and anti-working class regime -whether with or without the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood – in Egypt after they dispose of Mubarak. Only the Egyptian working class can blow these plans apart by being resolute in organising an open-ended general strike against the regime and against the whole bourgeois opposition.
30 January 2011