Thursday, February 03, 2011
The January 25 protests that began the current stage of social revolt were organized by several groups, including the April 6 movement, a wide-based group with overwhelmingly young leadership that emerged to mobilize support for the April 2008 strikes at Mahalla al-Kubra, a textile manufacturing center in the Nile Delta. In Mahalla, 25,000 workers went on strike amidst deteriorating standards of living as the prices of basic foodstuffs careened upwards. The workers won their demands - their strike was the crest of a massive wave of labor unrest that has hit Egypt hard since 1998. Between 1998 and 2008, two million Egyptian workers participated in over 2,600 factory occupations. In the first five months of 2009, over 200 industrial actions took place, a trend that continued through 2010. Stanford historian Joel Beinin calls it the largest and most sustained social movement in Egypt since the campaign to oust the British occupiers following the end of World War II.
The success of this campaign catalyzed other independent labor activity, spurring the formation of Egypt's first independent union in over a half century - the Independent General Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Workers. Beinin adds that the labor movements, alongside those organizing opposition to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, inculcated a culture of protest in Egypt. This has contributed to the formation of a consciousness of citizenship and rights in a far more profound manner than anything that has happened in the arenas of party politics or nongovernmental organization work.
UPDATE 2: Journalist Hossam el-Hamalawy has posted some striking photographs of the last couple of days of protests at 3arabawy. Hopefully, he won't be upset that I posted one of them here to induce you to go over to his blog to look at them:
Some are in black and white and others are in color. I selected this one because of the feeling of immediacy and the bond with previous generations of protest created by the absence of color. A similar dynamism permeates all of his photographs, a sensation of movement that radiates throughout the frame. At the risk of offending him, I suspect that many of his images will become iconic.
UPDATE 1: Robert Fisk does have a tendency to embellish, but I thought that I would pass along what he says that he experienced last Friday in Tahrir Square:
So, as one of my old gambling friends used to say years ago, use your own best judgment as to whether you consider it credible.
The key that I’ve seen over the last few days has been the way in which the army on Friday was told by Mubarak to clear the square, and the individual tank officers refused. I actually saw them tearing off their tank helmets, where they were receiving orders on their own military net, and using their mobile phones. And in many cases, they were phoning home, because they come from military families. They wanted to know from their fathers what they should do. And, of course, they were told, You must not shoot on your fellow citizens. And that, I think, was the actual moment when the Mubarak regime broke. Or if we look back historically, that’s what we’ll believe. So I think it is broken, it’s finished, whatever Mr. Mubarak may dream about in his pantomime world. And I think that was a very critical moment.
INITIAL POST: Work and family obligations impaired my ability to post today as I have done in previous days, and, in any event, Rojo has filled in admirably. It appears, however, that Mubarak has failed to present himself credibly enough to remain as the public face of the orderly transition for Egypt sought by the Obama adminstration. Interviewed by Christiane Amanpour, he insisted that Egypt would descend into chaos if he resigned, but even the most inattentive American knows that the violence in Cairo has been instigated by his police and security services.
For, in this instance, it was necessary for Mubarak to persuade Americans, not Egyptians, that he can legitimately administer the reform of the country's political system. He needed to conduct himself in such a way so as to facilitate the Obama administration's deceptive presentation of counter-revolution as a liberatory transformation of Egyptian social life. State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley sought to preserve Mubarak's viability when he finally begrudgingly conceded today that supporters of Mubarak were responsible for the violence but that it was unclear how far up the chain it went. Reminiscent of the Bush administration's initial efforts to insulate Deng Xiaoping from the attack upon Tianamen Square in 1989, until he appeared on Chinese television and embraced it, Crowley was seeking to protect not only Mubarak, but his possible successor as well, our Pinochet in waiting, Vice President Omar Suleiman.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played a supporting role in this farce when she requested that Suleiman conduct an investigation of those responsible for the violence. And, Vice President Joe Biden, exiled to the golf course for several days after pronouncing that Mubarak is not a dictator, entered stage right briefly to call Suleiman to discuss the implementation of reform measures. Apparently, if one is to believe the press release, he did so with a rhetorical polish that one rarely encounters when Biden speaks in real life, as he purportedly urged that credible inclusive negotiations begin immediately in order for Egypt to transition to a democratic government that addresses the aspirations of the Egyptian people. Perhaps, someone wrote it out for him to read over the phone as he talked to Suleiman.
Of course, the more serious point is that, even as the administration has strove mightily to characterize Mubarak as something he clearly isn't, someone responsible enough to continue to govern Egypt, it has already lined up an alternative in Suleiman, and worked to legitimize him through reports of public communications with Clinton and Biden. So, we should not be shocked to discover, as already posted by Rojo, that the Obama administration may have finally decided to cut the cord with Mubarak in light of his mediocre performance with Amanpour:
Yes, yes, I know, the story could be the sort of disinformation for which the New York Times is notorious. But it does have a surface plausibility. The groundwork has been laid for the succession, and the Times has been kindly enough to identify the participants in the junta that will rule Egypt after Mubarak's departure. Apparently, the Times believes, as Marx said of the peasantry during the French revolution of the 1848, that the Egyptian people cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. Naturally, the US will decide those who will be allowed to do so.
The Obama administration is discussing with Egyptian officials a proposal for President Hosni Mubarak to resign immediately, turning over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military, administration officials and Arab diplomats said Thursday.
Even though Mr. Mubarak has balked, so far, at leaving now, officials from both governments are continuing talks about a plan in which Mr. Suleiman, backed by Lt. Gen. Sami Enan, chief of the Egyptian armed forces, and Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the defense minister, would immediately begin a process of constitutional reform.