Aug 1, 2011
On Friday, July 29, tens of thousands of people filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square, calling for an “Islamic state.” It was the first time that this slogan has led such a large demonstration in Tahrir Square – and it was, no doubt, a response to earlier demonstrations.
In recent weeks, tens of thousands of people have been demonstrating in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez against the military and police. Camping out in Tahrir Square, protesters have been demanding that those responsible for killing more than 900 demonstrators and injuring another 6000 last January be held accountable. The protesters have been demanding a cleaning up of the police and military, and that Mubarak’s generals, who are still in power, be removed from their posts and be tried with him.
Some demonstrators have also been calling for social justice – for putting “the poor first.” And this is a reflection of an ongoing strike movement which, in recent weeks, has touched the workers of the Suez Canal Zone – where private subcontractors pay workers as low as 23 dollars a month! At the Suez Canal Shipyard Co., strikers have been demanding a 40% pay raise, decent living conditions and sanitary measures. Here and there, striking workers have also been demanding that protesters who were arrested during recent demonstrations be set free.
In fact, Egypt’s industrial workers have organized, demonstrated and struck their companies over the last few years. In doing so, the workers effectively loosened the grip of the dictatorship and paved the way for the demonstrations in Tahrir Square. And after Mubarak’s fall, strikes have continued despite the generals’ open threats.
Forced into the defensive by demonstrations and strikes, the generals and bosses are playing the religion card. Are protesters calling for a democratic state, where the generals could be punished for their crimes? Call for a religious state, in which any brutal military man – or crooked boss, for that matter – can have his place by professing “piety”! Are workers demanding better wages? Call for charity for the poor, which every organized religion in history has used to gain the allegiance of the poor!
And sure enough, the big demonstration in Tahrir Square was organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, a religious political organization which is an ally of the generals. Since Mubarak’s fall, the Muslim Brotherhood has consistently called for “order,” just like the generals themselves, and it took part in writing the new constitution that the generals hastily pushed through last spring. And the Brotherhood also has a long history of sending thugs to strikes and protests to attack workers – especially women workers – in the name of “morality.”
If the Muslim Brotherhood decided to bring tens of thousands of people to Tahrir Square in the name of religion, it’s because the generals gave it their OK. And if the Muslim Brotherhood is capable of mobilizing so many people, it’s because, despite being called “illegal” on and off during all the decades of military dictatorship, it was helped to take root in the population, especially in the middle class. The Brotherhood has a solid, even controlling, presence in practically every organization of professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, university professors. And it controls the biggest organization of university students.
For the millions of Egyptians who are condemned to abject poverty today, liberation means, above all, decent jobs and decent wages. So the strike movement represents a great hope for the poor. To the extent that there is a pro-democracy movement in Egypt today, its fate too is tied to the workers’ movement. The organized workers, with the crucial part they play in the economy, represent the only social force capable of bringing the combined forces of the military and bosses to their knees.
The big Muslim Brotherhood rally in Tahrir Square is another reminder that the Egyptian Revolution is under attack. The only hope for the revolution to move forward is for the ongoing fight of the Egyptian working class to succeed.