* * * * *
The Egyptian Revolution enters a new stage
By Alex Lantier
Date: 14th February 2011
The forced resignation of Hosni Mubarak, the dictator of Egypt who ruled the country for more than three decades, was a significant victory for workers and youth who have participated in their millions in demonstrations and strikes during the past several weeks. Subsequent events have shown, however, that this revolution is only in its initial stages.
With its series of communiqués issued over the weekend, the Egyptian military has made clear its response to the revolutionary struggles. Its aim is to divert and suppress the mass movement, while ensuring a tactical transfer of power to maintain the old regime in all but name.
The Egyptian army is highlighting its elimination of various legal fictions of the Mubarak regime—the rubberstamp parliament and the dictator’s constitution. In line with the Obama administration’s false claims that the army would lead a “democratic transition,” the New York Times praised these measures as “sweeping steps that echoed protestors’ demands.”
This is an absurd falsification. The army is trying to keep itself in power, while granting none of the basic demands that are driving millions of Egyptians into the streets. The country is now under the rule of a military junta, which is retaining all the emergency powers of the old regime, preserving the police, and attempting to rule through a network of old Mubarak cronies like Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq.
As for the Obama administration, having supported Mubarak for as long as possible, it is backing the military regime. On Saturday, the administration declared that it welcomed the measures taken by the generals and their supposed commitment to democracy. Having helped train many of Egypt’s officers, it intends to use them to secure its interests in Egypt and the Middle East. These include not only defending its strategic and military interests, but above all heading off a revolutionary challenge from the working class.
Deeply tied to Egypt’s business community, the officer corps is hostile to the wave of strikes that is shaking Egypt, and workers’ demands for improved wages and social conditions. While it does not yet feel strong enough to do so, the army is signaling its intention to move against strikers. In a statement denouncing “chaos and disorder,” the Higher Military Council said it would ban meetings by labor unions or professional syndicates, effectively making strikes illegal.
In six months, and perhaps longer, the army plans to hold elections on the basis of a constitution drafted exclusively by itself, and without dissolving Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP). That is, it hopes to use the six-month period to wind down the protests and give a pseudo-democratic cover to a regime no more responsive to the demands of the population than the one controlled by the hated Mubarak.
This basic political fact is summed up in the person of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi—now officially the ruler of Egypt—as depicted in cables by US Ambassador to Egypt Francis Ricciardone published by WikiLeaks. Describing Tantawi in March 2008 as committed to the 1979 treaty with Israel and firmly “opposed [to] both economic and political reforms,” Ricciardone summed up Tantawi’s politics thus: “He and Mubarak are focused on regime stability and maintaining the status quo through the end of their time.”
The claim that this corresponds to protestors’ demands is a repugnant lie. The millions of people now participating in strikes and protests—and the thousands who were killed or tortured—were not struggling to preserve the old regime.
Egypt’s official “opposition” is nonetheless signaling its support for the army. After stressing the need for “law and order” Friday, Mohammed ElBaradei declared yesterday: “We trust the army and call upon people to give them the opportunity to implement what they promised.”
Mohamed el-Katatni, a leading official of the Muslim Brotherhood, said: “The main goal of the revolution has been achieved.”
These statements clearly demonstrate that no constituency for genuine democracy exists in the Egyptian capitalist class, or its backers in Washington, or in the capitals of the other imperialist powers. The basic demands of the workers and oppressed masses—for better wages and living conditions, for social equality, and for an end to imperialist domination—fill all sections of the political establishment with dread. Faced with a mass upsurge of the working class, threatening their basic class interests, the pro-capitalist “opposition” reacts by backing the dictatorship.
This confirms a central tenet of the theory of Permanent Revolution elaborated by Leon Trotsky: the bourgeoisie of oppressed countries cannot lead a struggle for democracy and an end to imperialist domination. Any such struggle, Trotsky wrote in The Permanent Revolution, “is inevitably and very quickly confronted with tasks, the fulfillment of which is bound up with deep inroads into the rights of bourgeois property. The democratic revolution grows over directly into the socialist revolution and thereby becomes a permanent revolution.”
The continuation of the revolution and the fight for its interests is bringing the working class and oppressed masses into ever more direct conflict with the military, the official opposition, and US imperialism.
To carry forward this struggle requires the building of independent organs of workers’ democracy, in opposition to the military-police state, to lay the groundwork for a transfer of power to the working class. It requires the fight to unify the workers of Egypt with the working class of the entire region, along with workers in the advanced capitalist countries—above all the United States. The revolutionary uprising in Egypt is part of a global struggle of workers and oppressed around the world against a common assault of the corporate and financial elite.
Above all, it requires the building of a new party dedicated to leading these struggles to their necessary conclusion: socialist revolution. The WSWS calls on all its readers and sympathizers in Egypt and internationally to join it in the fight to build such a party.
* * * * *
Thousands protest, clash with police in Yemen and Algeria
By David Walsh
Date: 14th February 2011
Major protests took place in Yemen and Algeria over the weekend, as thousands took to the streets in rallies against government corruption, poverty and unemployment. Unrest continues to simmer in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa, including in Tunisia, Jordan, Iraq and, most recently, Bahrain.
In Yemen, Sunday’s demonstrations in the capital San’a were the largest so far in three days of continuing protest, which began Friday with a celebration of Hosni Mubarak’s downfall in Egypt.
On Saturday, a march of several hundred students on the Egyptian embassy swelled to several thousand people, according to the BBC, chanting, “After Mubarak, it’s Ali’s turn,” referring to President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The latter, a thoroughly despised despot, is a key ally in the US “war on terror.”
Pro-government elements attacked the demonstrators Saturday with knives and sticks, forcing them to flee.
By Sunday the protests in San’a had grown larger, and demonstrators, many of them young, scuffled with police and pro-government thugs. The Associated Press reported that “Yemeni police armed with sticks and daggers beat back thousands of protesters marching through the capital … uniformed police used truncheons to stop protesters, many of them university students, from reaching the capital’s central Hada Square. Witnesses said plainclothes policemen wielding daggers and sticks also joined security forces in driving the protesters back.”
The Xinhua News Agency reported that the security forces beat protesters in “the massive anti-regime demonstration” with electric batons and rifle butts. Many people were injured, commented a Xinhua reporter, and some 120 people arrested.
According to the Chinese news service, demonstrators were attempting to march on the presidential palace Sunday. They called for the ouster of Saleh and the expulsion of his family members from the military and security apparatus, including Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali, who heads the secret police.
The crowd shouted, “The people want the regime to fall. After Mubarak, it’s Saleh’s turn.”
Police have ringed San’a’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square with barbed wire and brought in government supporters to set up a tent camp in an effort to forestall protesters from occupying the area.
In southwestern Yemen, 5,000 people also took part in a protest in Taiz (population 460,000), near the Mandab Strait that connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden. Taiz and Aden (140 kilometers away) have been the scene of numerous protests in recent weeks.
Predictably, the Yemeni interior ministry, which presides over the brutal internal security forces, accused the mostly youthful demonstrators of “spreading sabotage and chaos” and “threatening security and stability.”
The caliber of the official opposition in Yemen can be gauged by its acceptance Sunday of a token political reform initiative offered by Saleh earlier in February, stipulating that he would step down in 2013 and not pass rule on to his offspring. The opposition coalition indicated as well its willingness to re-enter negotiations with Saleh.
Reuters reports that one of the coalition leaders is a former foreign minister, Mohammed Basindwa, and cites his conciliatory comment, “The opposition does not reject what came in the invitation by the president and is ready to sign an agreement in no more than a week.”
Poverty and wretchedness are the reality for wide layers of the Yemeni population, even as Washington continues to finance and arm the Saleh regime. More than 45 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day. The International Food Policy Research Institute reports that some 32 percent of Yemenis lack access to sufficient food and nearly 58 percent of all children are malnourished. The UN ranks Yemen 151st out of 177 countries on the human development index (HDI), a measure of life expectancy, education, and standard of living. Yemen has the lowest HDI rank of any Arab country.
Protest in Algiers
Government and opposition claims as to the size of Saturday’s demonstration in Algiers varied wildly, but the Associated Press (AP) reported that some 10,000 people rallied in Algeria’s capital Saturday before being dispersed by police. Demonstrations are banned in Algeria under a state of emergency in place since 1992.
The regime of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika dispatched some 30,000 police and security forces in a massive show of force aimed at intimidating the protesters. Armored vehicles were located at “strategic points” across Algiers, commented the BBC, “with water cannons on standby and a helicopter circling above” the city’s center.
Heavily armed police attempted to prevent any demonstrators from gathering in Algiers, lining up along the march route and setting up roadblocks to stop busloads of people from reaching the city. However, thousands managed to evade the police and express their opposition to the government in May 1 Square.
The Algerian newspaper El Watan described the scene at 3:30 in the afternoon: “The police are carrying out a veritable manhunt in May 1 Square. They have forcefully dispersed the demonstrators and seized many of them. The police are attempting to chase the demonstrators whose number is continually growing, but they have not counted on the determination of these young people, who have succeeded in taking back the field. The police and the protesters are playing cat and mouse. Groups of demonstrators stay on the move so as not to be caught between police units.”
El Watan also described a scene earlier in the day in blunt terms: “Blows from police clubs rain down on many demonstrators. No one is spared.”
The protesters shouted “Ouyahia thief!” referring to Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, as well as “No to the police state!” “The people want the fall of the regime,” and “Bouteflika out!” They also chanted, “We remain revolutionaries!”
Opposition spokesmen declared that some 400 people were arrested in the protest. Ali Yahia Abdenour, head of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, asserted that women and foreign journalists were among those detained Saturday.
This weekend’s rally was called by the National Coordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD), the bourgeois opposition that includes political parties, human rights organizations and trade unions.
“This demonstration is a success because it’s been 10 years that people haven’t been able to march in Algiers and there’s a sort of psychological barrier,” declared Ali Rachedi, the former head of the Socialist Forces Front, a social democratic formation. “The fear is gone,” he added.
Said Sadi, head of the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), a member of the CNCD, asserted that the size of the police mobilization showed “the fear of this government, which is in dire straits.… We’re going to continue to demonstrate and to defy the authorities until they fall.” The opposition has not called for the resignation of Bouteflika, who was returned to office for a third term in 2009 in a rigged election.
Smaller demonstrations were also held in Oran, Annaba and Constantine.
The CNCD has issued an appeal for a mass demonstration February 19 and agreed in principle on the call for a general strike in the coming days.
In another development in Algeria, more than 400 unemployed youth organized a sit-in Sunday morning at a government office in Mezaourou, 480 kilometers southwest of the capital. Protesters also blocked the main road between Mezaourou and Telagh with old tires and debris. The youth demanded jobs and denounced corruption.
An unemployed man of 36 died of self-inflicted burns in the town of El Oued, in eastern Algeria, near the Tunisian border. Lofti Maamir, father of six, doused himself with gasoline in a government office January 17, where he had gone to look for work and housing. Four individuals are known to have died by this method in Algeria since the crisis began in January. (In another desperate protest, an unemployed Iraqi man set himself on fire in the northern city of Mosul on Sunday and died from his injuries.)
Some 23 percent of the Algerian population lives below the official poverty line. Algerian youth in particular suffer from mass joblessness. The official poverty rate for young people is 23 percent (and estimated to be much higher), and 70 percent of the unemployed are under 30 years of age.
* * * * *