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Alan Woods - Egypt: the moment of truth

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  • Cort Greene
    http://www.marxist.com/egypt-moment-of-truth.htm Egypt: the moment of truth Written by Alan Woods Tuesday, 01
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2011

      Egypt: the moment of truth<http://www.marxist.com/egypt-moment-of-truth.htm>
      Written by Alan Woods Tuesday, 01 February 2011
      [image: Print] <http://www.marxist.com/egypt-moment-of-truth/print.htm#>

      *The Great Pyramid of Giza has lasted for 3,800 years. Hosni Mubarak has
      lasted somewhat less, but he would like to survive for a little longer. The
      difference between his regime and the Pyramid of Khufu is that it is an
      inverted pyramid. All its strength is at the top, but there is only a tiny
      point at the bottom. The laws of gravity and architecture tell us that such
      a structure is inherently unstable. The slightest push can bring the whole
      structure crashing down.*

      *[image: Camp at Tahrir Square last night. Photo: 3arabawy.]*
      *The whole of Egypt is now in a precarious balance.* That same
      precariousness applies to the role of the armed forces, the sole remaining
      fulcrum of the regime. On paper it is a formidable force, as solid as the
      aforementioned pyramid. But armies are composed of human beings, and are
      subject to the same pressures as any other social stratum or institution.

      From one minute to the next the protesters awaited the order from the
      President for the army to disperse the crowds. "The soldiers are not out
      here for the people, they are out for the president," said a middle-aged
      man. As darkness fell, the loud whirring of military helicopters could again
      be heard above central Cairo. Despite this, the rebels continued to chant
      angrily for President Hosni Mubarak to step down, some waving the Egyptian
      flags. Air force jets made multiple passes overhead. But on the ground the
      troops made no attempt to break up the protests.

      The tanks that rolled into Tahrir Square were meant to intimidate. But they
      were immediately surrounded by a human mass that impeded their progress.
      There have been shows of solidarity with protesters sharing their food with
      soldiers and in one case, carrying a young officer on their shoulders. The
      longer the army is in contact with the revolutionary masses, the greater
      will be the effect and the more difficult it will be to use it to crush the

      The display of military might was meant to have a psychological effect on
      the tens of thousands of protesters gathering in Tahrir Square. However, the
      tanks have failed to stop the protests. Mubarak, a former air force officer,
      decided that fighter planes might get better results, since it is difficult
      to fraternize with a high-flying pilot. Yesterday fighter jets flew low over
      the protesters in an attempt to cause panic. But just as they had quickly
      adjusted to the presence of tanks on the streets, demonstrators were

      Instead of fear, however, this intimidatory gesture caused anger. �Look!
      They are sending the air force against us. From this moment we have no
      President. We will get rid of Mubarak or we will die here.� That was the
      reaction of one protester. "At first, I was frightened from the sound of the
      planes, but now it's as if I'm listening to music," commented a student who
      had come out to protest for the first time. "It's okay, they're not going to
      kill us," she said, then added, "although some people do say the president
      might kill all the country just to stay on."

      In a revolution, as in a war, timing is of the essence. The same is true of
      a counterrevolution. Decisive action is necessary if order is to be imposed
      by force of arms. But here there is no decisive action, only hesitation,
      prevarication and indecision. Mubarak is �willing to wound, and yet afraid
      to strike�. This is a sure recipe for undermining any authority he may still
      have had. Machiavelli said that it was better for a ruler to be feared than
      to be loved. Just one week ago Mubarak was not loved but he was feared. Now
      he is regarded with contempt. He has lost the initiative and it will be
      impossible to regain it.
      General strike

      It is obvious that society cannot continue like this. Either the old order
      will re-impose its authority � a perspective that is becoming increasingly
      unlikely � or the masses will impose a new order. There is talk of a general
      strike. Groups of protesters camped out in the capital overnight, determined
      not to leave until Hosni Mubarak goes. The momentum of the movement
      continues to grow as we write these lines. Thousands rallied over the
      weekend in Alexandria and there were also sizeable demonstrations in
      Mansoura, Damanhour and Suez.

      Crowds are again building in Cairo's Tahrir Square, despite army checkpoints
      designed to limit access. A march billed as the "protest of the millions" is
      taking place today (Tuesday). More than a million people are out in Tahrir
      Square, 300,000 in Suez, 250,000 in Mahalla, 250,000 in Mansoura, and
      500,000 in Alexandria. Protesters are out in every single city and town in
      Egypt, approximately four million all over Egypt. It is the moment of truth.

      Even without a general strike normal economic life has already ground to a
      halt. The Japanese car maker Nissan has announced that it is halting
      production at its Egypt plant for a week, and it has urged non-Egyptian
      employees to leave the country. The impact is already being felt in global
      markets. The Nikkei fell in early trading in Tokyo as the Egyptian unrest
      prompted investors to dump risky assets.

      [image: 'The Will of The Egyptian People is above you Mubarak'. Photo:
      Most shops and businesses in Cairo are closed. The middle classes are
      rushing to withdraw money from bank cash machines. The few supermarkets that
      are open are stripped bare by shoppers, stocking up with food. In the poor
      areas, the bakeries are running out of the small round loaves of bread that
      are a staple of the national diet. Streets are said to be piling up with
      rubbish as shops and hotels run out of basic supplies as infrastructure
      breaks down due to the unrest.

      In a further vacillation the police have been ordered back on the streets
      again. State television has warned there are gangs on the rampage, although
      some believe it is exaggerating the threat to scare people. The regime is
      trying to create an atmosphere of tension to justify a clampdown. Security
      forces in plainclothes are engaged in destroying public property in order to
      give the impression that many protesters represent a public menace. A recent
      Stratfor report indicated that plainclothes police from Egypt�s internal
      security apparatus are the main drivers behind the growing insecurity in the
      streets over the past few days. It says:

      �It is important to keep in mind that historically, animosity has existed
      between Egyptian police and army officers. The Interior Ministry, according
      to STRATFOR sources, wanted to prevent the military from imposing control in
      the streets. It appears that the absence of police on the streets Jan. 29
      was (at least in part) encouraged by the outgoing interior minister, who was
      sacked the same day along with the rest of the Cabinet. Egyptian
      plainclothes police allegedly were behind a number of the jailbreaks,
      robberies of major banks and the spread of attacks and break-ins in
      high-class neighbourhoods. The idea behind the violent campaign was to
      portray the protesters as a public menace and elicit a heavy-handed army
      crackdown to embroil the military in an even bigger crisis.�

      The reaction of the people has been to begin to take over the running of
      their areas. The protester are forming people�s committees to protect public
      property and also to coordinate demonstrators� activities, including
      supplying them with food, beverages and first aid. In some neighbourhoods,
      residents are erecting makeshift checkpoints. They arm themselves with
      sticks and pistols against looters. Some use equipment left by police
      officers after they abandoned their usual positions.

      Images of the scenes unfolding are being broadcast into homes across Egypt
      and the Arab world, and large audiences are watching and waiting to see what
      happens. The authorities are attempting to get a monopoly over the means of
      communication by restricting the printed media and the internet. The
      information ministry has closed the local Al-Jazeera office in a fresh
      attempt to control the message. However, such efforts seem futile. The
      ever-resourceful Egyptians are continuing to tune in to satellite television
      to hear the news.
      An �orderly transition�

      Amid growing fears in London and other European capitals that �extremists
      could try to exploit the situation�, British premier David Cameron spoke to
      King Abdullah of Jordan on Sunday about the situation in the Middle East and
      North Africa. (*) British foreign secretary William Hague told the BBC:
      "It's to avert those risks and meet the legitimate grievances and
      aspirations of the Egyptian people that we are urging the Egyptian
      authorities... to create a more broadly-based government." He said reforms
      should be "real and visible" and elections "free and fair".

      But there is one small problem with all this well-meaning advice. Mubarak
      seems determined not to run away as Ben Ali did. And in fact the Americans
      don�t wish that either. They can see that the resulting power vacuum would
      be very dangerous for them. The Americans have warned President Mubarak
      urgently that there must be no more killings. They know that one bloody
      clash would be sufficient to split the army in pieces. Then the floodgates
      would open. That is why the army has stated that it will not use force to
      suppress the demonstrations. This is the kiss of death for Mubarak.

      ElBaradei and the other �reformers� are pleading with the Americans to
      intervene: "It is better for President Obama not to appear that he is the
      last one to say to President Mubarak: 'It's time for you to go'." But Obama
      has not said this � not yet anyway. The masses want a complete
      transformation. But Barack Obama wants only an "orderly transition". An
      orderly transition � to what? We do not know. But we do know that Obama has
      called for Mr Mubarak to initiate it. That is to say, he is willing to give
      the old dictator a key role in making arrangements for the future of Egypt.
      We know also that Washington sees Egypt is a key �ally� in the Middle East.
      It has given it billions of dollars of aid, and it wants value for its

      The White House says Mr Obama made a number of calls about the situation
      over the weekend to foreign leaders including Turkish Prime Minister Recep
      Tayyip Erdogan, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and British Prime Minister
      David Cameron. The protests in Egypt are top of the agenda of a meeting of
      European Union foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday. All are terrified
      about the effect of �contagion� from Egypt.

      The BBC correspondent John Simpson says: �From the American point of view,
      the best thing that could happen would be a peaceful end to the protests,
      the retirement of Mr Mubarak and the continuation of some part (at least) of
      the system which he has created - shorn, hopefully, of its corruption.� But
      he adds a warning: �It won't be easy and it won't appeal greatly to the
      demonstrators, who have condemned Mr Mubarak's entire political structure
      and want to bring it down.�

      The strategists of Capital are relying on the fact that people will be
      tired, and that there will be a general desire to get back to ordinary life,
      and this will bring a gradual end to the protest. Then the system if not
      the president himself might survive. But everything depends on the
      demonstrators: if they hold out - an �orderly transition� will not be
      possible, and the movement could go far further than anybody suspects.

      Last night on (British) Channel Four News there was a debate between an
      American and a British �expert�. The American � a typically bone-headed
      right winger � was optimistic about a �managed transition to democracy�. His
      British counterpart was not impressed. �This is a revolutionary situation,�
      he replied with icy sarcasm. �You cannot hope to manage a situation like
      that.� There can be no doubt that the latter evaluation is the correct one.

      Meanwhile, China has added its voice to the chorus calling for a return to
      �order�. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said on Sunday: "Egypt is a
      friend of China's, and we hope social stability and order will return to
      Egypt as soon as possible". The Chinese regime is interested in global
      economic stability because it wants to continue to earn a lot of money from
      exports. But it is also afraid of anything that could provide an impetus for
      strikes and protests in China itself. That explains why the Chinese regime
      has blocked the use of search engines to find news on the events unfolding
      in Egypt!
      The masses fight, the politicians intrigue

      The Americans are desperately manoeuvring behind the scenes. For the last
      week there have been intense discussions with senior U.S. officials, the
      government and the tops of the army. The military is preparing the time for
      Mubarak�s political exit. Until this happens, the unrest in the streets will
      continue. But who and what will take his place?

      In its search for an �orderly transition�, the western media is trying to
      build up the figure Mohamed ElBaradei. The television cameras somehow always
      manage to locate him among a mass of demonstrators. But it brings to mind
      the following anecdote. A man was seen wandering aimlessly behind a crowd of
      demonstrators. When someone asked him who he was, he answered: �Me? I�m
      their leader.�

      Although he played no role in organizing the protests, he is nevertheless
      presented as the leader of a mysterious �opposition coalition�, which
      apparently includes the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which also played no
      role in organizing the protests and at first did not even participate in
      them. This �coalition� is calling for a national unity government to be set
      up. Who will be in this government? Nobody knows. Who elected this
      �opposition coalition�? Nobody knows. Yet behind the backs of the masses,
      these gentlemen are already making plans to seize the reins of power.

      The leaders are jockeying for power. The opposition is unified in its hatred
      against Mubarak, yet divided on almost everything else. Already there were
      signs of disunity within the �united� opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood is
      having second thoughts about its endorsement of leading figure Mohamed
      ElBaradei as a negotiator with Mr Mubarak. A spokesman for the Muslim
      Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsy, told the BBC:

      "The people have not appointed Mohamed ElBaradei to become a spokesman of
      them." That is quite true. The people have not appointed Mohamed ElBaradei,
      but neither have they appointed the Muslim Brotherhood. They have not
      appointed anybody because they have not been consulted. They are fighting
      and dying on the streets, and their objective is not to further the careers
      of opportunist politicians but to change their lives.

      The revolts in Tunisia and Egypt are largely secularist and democratic, and
      often deliberately excluding the Islamists. The conventional wisdom that
      only the Muslim Brotherhood can organise grassroots opposition movements in
      the Middle East is false, as is the idea that it is the �only real
      opposition�. The protests indicate the extent to which Egyptians have
      rejected jihadist ideology. They prove that Islamists do not have a monopoly
      on grassroots movements.* *The basic demands of the Egyptian demonstrators
      are for jobs, food and democratic rights. This is nothing to do with the
      Islamists and is a bridge to socialism, which has deep roots in the
      traditions of Egypt and other Arab countries.
      The moment of truth

      Tensions are growing between the army and the police and between the police
      and protesters. The revolution has provoked a crisis in the state. There are
      reports of a major confrontation that has been played out behind the scenes
      between the Interior Ministry and the military. The army must try to end the
      protests on the streets. But it will not be easy, now that the masses have
      got a sense of their own power.

      The political structure of the state is crumbling, forcing the army to
      assume direct responsibility for the running of society. The military is
      supposed to be the guarantor of the state. But the military is not a
      monolithic entity. The army in Egypt is not like the army in Britain or the
      USA. The lower and middle ranks of the officer caste reflect the pressure of
      the masses. The entire history of Egypt places the possibility of a
      colonel�s coup on the agenda. The result could be a nationalist regime like
      that of Gamal Abdel Nasser, a colonel in the armed forces, who overthrew the
      British-backed monarchy in 1952.

      *In the present situation, it is possible that history will be repeated. But
      whatever �transitional� government is formed will be under close scrutiny.
      It will feel the hot breath of the masses on its neck. The key to the whole
      situation is the mass movement. All the contradictions are coming to a head.
      The coming hours will be decisive. The moment of truth has arrived.*

      *London, on the morning of February 1, 2011*

      *(*) Note: No doubt Cameron was advising the King of Jordan on what to do to
      placate the masses. The latest news is that King Abdullah II of Jordan has
      now sacked his government. This has come after huge street protests inspired
      by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. This is confirmation that, after
      the protests in Yemen, Algeria and other countries, what started in Tunisia
      could engulf the whole of the Arab world.*

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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