The Task Facing The Egyptian Working Class

Up to two million Egyptians attended yesterday’s monster demonstration

There is no doubt that people facing tumbling living standards around the world have been inspired by the demonstrators’ sudden loss of fear. Images such as the young girl leading chants atop her father’s shoulders, and the former cop beating his old uniform with a shoe, will certainly last long in my memory.

The secular nature of the uprising has given the lie to the idea that Western stooges are preventing Islamism from gaining a stronghold in the Middle East. As Egypt’s Muslims prepared for ‘Angry Friday’ in their mosques last week, there were reports of Christians standing guard. The events of the last couple of weeks have proved – if proof were needed – that social class, not religious or ethnic identity, is the fundamental division in all modern societies.

Though much remains in flux, for now it seems that the United States has decided to take the opposite tack to the Tunisian case, and stand by their man. Hosni Mubarak has been a loyal servant of US imperialism for the last thirty years, which is more than can be said for the none the less thoroughly bourgeois Mohamed ElBaradei, who occasionally contradicted American propaganda in his former role as Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Before Mubarak announced his intention to stay on as President until the autumn elections last night, his regime had been in day-long talks with representatives of the Obama administration.

Mubarak’s appointment of Omar Suleiman as Vice President was likely dictated by Washington. Recent WikiLeaks cables have shown Suleiman to be a ruthless operator, with strong links to US policy since at least 1993. In summarising the cables, Jane Mayer of the New Yorker has told of how Suleiman “was the CIA’s point man in Egypt for renditions – the covert program in which the CIA snatched suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances”.

Mubarak is protected by the army, who are aided and equipped by the US

Suleiman’s ties to the Egyptian army are also important, in the context of the military’s pledge “not to resort to the use of force against our great people” in the current turmoil. An unnamed US official told Associated Press that the military leadership is allowing protestors to “wear themselves out”. Behind the scenes, generals are preparing to issue orders when they judge that the time is right. Already this afternoon, an army statement has called for protesters to go home and return to ‘normal life’. In the past couple of hours, plain clothes police in the guise of pro-Mubarak demonstrators have attacked anti-Mubarak demonstrators on horseback. Massive state repression will be necessary to keep Mubarak in power for six more months.

But whichever combination of Mubarak, his cronies, the army, and the official opposition holds power in the coming period, the state’s main goal will be to suppress the working class, and restore profitability, while safeguarding American interests. As much as Mubarak is personally despised by Egyptian workers, it is their immediate and long term material interests that drive them forward into battle. As Jack Ray observes:

“…a lack of political freedom is a terrible thing, but if you have to live with it, you live with it. On the other hand, something you absolutely can’t live with, is lacking the ability to make a living. That directly affects your ability to get by, to exist, to live in the day to day. It’s no coincidence that this is happening during an economic recession. Unemployment rises, prices rise, the value of wages falls, state assistance decreases. People see other people in the same situations, and the see the people running the country continuing to prosper (because they’re always prospering!). The lack of freedom, the lack of right to get angry at these bastards starts to pick at you that much more. It overcomes your impulse to keep quiet, to keep your head down, to get on with your life. Then all it takes is the realisation that we have the power to change all this.”

Over the coming weeks, months, and maybe years, the task facing Egypt’s workers is therefore to advance a class-based programme, independently of any ruling class forces. Reports of wildcat strikes must be welcomed as a good start, while the reported founding of a new ‘Egyptian Federation for Independent Unions‘ will be an extremely positive step, if the new Federation is to be controlled by its rank and file.

Egyptian workers will no doubt find allies in Tunisia, throughout the Arab world, and even across continents if their struggles bear fruit. The time really has come for workers of all nations to unite.