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Interview with Hisham Fouad from Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt.
It is sometimes said that a revolution is like a volcano because there is a sudden eruption. But before that there are rumblings beneath the surface. What were the rumblings in Egypt?
There were four main stages on the road to the Egyptian revolution.First in 2001, there was a huge demonstration in support of the Palestinian intifada. This led to clashes with the police and security forces in several cities.
Second, in 2003, there were big protests against the US war in Iraq. Tahrir Square witnessed a huge demonstration of 40,000 participants. The demonstration defied the emergency law which banned it. The demonstrators also pulled down a big picture of Mubarak and after that there was a mood for political change.
Third, in 2005 there were other large demonstrations in several cities under to the slogan ‘No to Mubarak and No to Gamal Mubarak’ – his son. These demonstrations succeeded in breaking the self-imposed fear among the people. Before this you could talk about anything else in Egypt except Mubarak and his son.
Fourth, in 2006 there were big strikes and sits ins against neoliberal policies. Two million workers were involved in this struggle for social justice. These movements all led to a new mood for change, especially among young people. They organized themselves into several committees and staged many other demonstrations against the Mubarak regimes, demanding change.
The Egyptrian revolution has been reported as a’ middle class’ revolt for democracy. Some left magazines such as New Left Review even claim that the informal working class of the slums did not take part – and, if they had, it might have split the movement. How do you respond?
Look from 2006-2011, 2 million people went onto the streets and took part in strikes and sit-ins to demand a change in policy. They demanded an end to privatization and called for democracy. They succeeded in organizing themselves into independent unions. On one occasion they organized a protest outside parliament and tried to invade it.
Then in 2008 you had the intifada or uprising in Mahalla, This is a big industrial complex with thousands of workers. The workers protested against the price rises and demanded a new system of salaries to compensate. So this is not just a middle class revolt – because there are millions of workers involved.
But what about the informal proletariat. The millions who lives in the slums of Cairo and survive in an ‘informal’ economy. What role did they play?
Ok. On 25th January, when it started, we can speak about young people mainly from the middle class – over 200,000 of them came out. By middle class I mean people who had gone to college and graduated – but when they came out there were no jobs for them.
But the next day, the revolution spread from Cairo to other areas, particularly to Suez. This is a workers city and there were big clashes with the police and several people were killed. The fighting was so fierce that the state was forced to call the army in.
Then on 28th January, the revolution spread to the popular districts where the poorest and most destitute live. The guys from the slums began to enter the revolution in big numbers. It was they who broke the police lines and cleared the way for many more to enter Tahrir Square.
Then finally on 7th February the revolution entered a new phase again when workers as a class joined in. There were then big strikes against the regime.
Let’s move on to the future. Can you say something about the Muslim Brotherhood? Will they win the elections? Might they develop in a manner that is similar to the Turkish Islamist party – pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist but emphasizing ‘Islamic values’?
If the elections were held in the morning the Muslim Brotherhood would win a third of the seats. This is because they are the one force that is well organized across the country. The others parties are still not organized very well.
The main aim of the Muslin Brotherhood is to stop the completion of the revolution. So they defend the army and the Supreme Council. They defend the new law which bans strikes and demonstrations. They say that people should go home and await the elections.
They say don’t move quickly – give the government time. We consider that they have become a counter-revolutionary force. We worked with them before the revolution in opposition to the dictatorship of Mubarak but now they have become counter-revolutionary.
But there has not yet been a counter-revolution. If there were, there would be a total crack down. You would not be able to demonstrate and many leftists would be locked up- or worse.
Yes, there is still a conflict between two forces and neither has yet prevailed. There are those who say ‘Enough’ and who want to control the process. And those who want to continue. On one side is the army, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists and some liberals.
On the other are leftists, the original movemenst that came onto the streets and the independent trade unions.
The Salafists are a movement of those who want to return to the pure Islam of the early period. They oppose the presence of the Sufi Islamic tradition and Coptic Christians. Can you say something about them?
The Salafists are bigger than the Muslim Brotherhood – there are five million of them compared to 1 million in the Muslim Brotherhood. One of the reasons why they are big is that, before the revolution, they claimed to be ‘above politics’. But their leaders had good relations with the state security. They advised people not to go to Tahrir Square, claiming that the Koran had forbidden the idea of overthrowing a regime.
After the revolution, the army has created a big space for them on television. They are presented as leaders with important opinions. The leadership of the army is using them to create tensions between Muslims and Christians.
Can you say something about the Egyptian left?
There are two tendencies reformists and Stalinists one side and revolutionaries on the other. At the moment, for tactical reasons, we work together in coalitions. So organizations like the Revolutionary Socialists, the Communist Party, the Popular Party, and the Democratic Workers Party all work together.
The Democratic Workers Party has come out of the independent trade unions and is being joined by hundreds of workers who want their own party. We support it fully. All of these forces have an understanding that we must fight together on the streets.
But when it comes to strategy, there are differences. The reformists and Stalinists fight to create a strong capitalist state in Egypt that takes the road of national development and gives some social protection to workers. We want to see a revolution that brings a new society based on socialism and workers control.
What solidarity can Irish workers give to the Egyptian revolution?.
Solidarity is very important. During the uprising in Malaha, there was much solidarity from foreign unions and political forces. We have seen how solidarity can have an important impact at crucial moments when the states uses repression to stop our right to strike.
So we ask Irish workers to listen and give voice to our struggles. But most of all we want them to learn that ours and theirs is one cause and one struggle.
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