US Fears Egypt Democracy
- Middle East Democracy That The US Fears
By Simon Assaf
03 April, 2005
Cairo, in Egypt, is at the heart of the Arab world. The talk in the
city is of coming change. For nearly 25 years Washington's ally,
Hosni Mubarak, has ruled the country. In each of those years
emergency laws have been in force.
Last week delegates from across the Middle East, Europe and North
America gathered in Cairo at an international conference on
globalisation, imperialism and Zionism.
The gathering mood for change meant there was a fascinating mixture
of Islamic, nationalist, socialist, peasant and trade union
activists from across Egypt. On the first evening over 1,000 people
crammed into the opening rally, which was followed by three days of
The dominant theme of the conference was the urgent need to oppose
the occupation of Iraq and how real reform could be achieved in
The democracy hailed by George Bush and the Washington neo-cons is
not the democracy people in the Arab world are fighting for. In
Egypt a new campaign called Kifaya "Enough" in Arabic has been
launched, calling for real democracy.
The campaign is demanding the end of Hosni Mubarak's reign as
president and opposes plans to nominate his son as the next
Marwana, a young lawyer, was arrested while handing out Kifaya
leaflets at the Cairo Book Fair. "George Bush talks about spreading
democracy in the Middle East," she says.
"But we know the type of democracy Bush is talking about it is the
democracy that answers only to Washington. The democracy we want is
one that serves the people."
Marwana was held for ten days in a police station. "The cells were
full of poor women, many of them seized in the regular police
sweeps. The women often had no idea why they were there, and had no
lawyers to represent them and often not enough money to pay fines."
Dina is a member of the anti-globalisation movement in Egypt. "There
is rising struggle in Egypt," she says.
"The vast majority of Egyptians want an end to corruption that
allows billions of dollars to be salted away by officials and their
hangers on. We want an end to the emergency laws that have been used
to keep people down. We want an end to laws that outlaw independent
political organisations and trade unions, and ban public gatherings.
In the last 24 years over 20,000 people have been killed by the
"Every day in Cairo the police sweep through the underground Metro
or stop minibuses heading to the slums that ring Egypt's capital.
They seize young men on the pretext that they are cracking down on
Islamic militants, or looking for drugs. They seize you if they find
a piece of hashish on you, or if you have forgotten your ID papers.
"Every night they pack off hundreds of young men to police stations
and state security centres. If you are lucky they might hold you for
a couple of hours, or a couple of days. If your luck is rotten they
will beat you, or torture you with electric shocksa facility
available in all of Egypt's police stations.
"The police have to fill a daily quota of arrests, so they seize
people at random. Torture under Mubarak's regime is routine."
The most severe repression under the present regime is often meted
out to those who dare to oppose the government's links with the US
Ali Abdul Fattah, from the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, is the
director of the Egyptian Media Centre for Culture and Development
and general secretary of the Popular Committee for Supporting the
Iraqi and Palestinian People. He says, "I make a link between the
liberation of the land and the liberation of the people.
"The Arabs are under occupation, the degree of freedom in Arab
countries is very restricted. Demonstrations are banned, going out
in the streets to protest is banned, raising political slogans is
forbidden. All this affects support for the cause of Iraq and
Palestine across the whole of the Arab world. If the people were
free, that would be the end of the matter.
"We have previously had rulers who expressed our aspirations. But
now all the regimes try to keep the people down. I was imprisoned 12
times because of my support for the Iraqi and Palestinian cause. I
was accused of `opposing a friendly country', in other words,
Ali says people in Egypt find strength in the anti-war
demonstrations across the world "I respect the British people who
came out and demonstrated and who are sympathetic to the cause of
humanity in Iraq and Palestine. We need a humanitarian project, not
linked to any particular religious creed, to promote truth, justice
and equality for all the peoples of the world."
The democracy movement has been boosted by a rise in struggle among
Egyptian workers and peasants. Anti-globalisation activist Dina
says, "Workers at the Ora Misr factory have occupied the factory
after the asbestos they use to manufacture drainage pipes has
claimed the lives of four workers. Their workmates asked for
protective clothing, and occupied the factory when their demands
Strike leader Sayid Abd al-Latif Ibrahim tells Socialist Worker that
the strike has highlighted the plight of workers in the new
privately financed industries.
The factory occupation has won widespread support across the country
and the strikers have survived attempts by the security forces to
break their strike. "This occupation is important because it is
taking place in a factory that is considered vital for the Egyptian
economy where workers are banned from taking industrial action,"
"The second important strike over the last six months took place at
the ESCO company in the historic industrial centre at Mahala al-
Kubra," he adds. "This strike was against the privatisation of the
Dina says, "The most important development is the re-emergence of
the peasant movement, around the village of Sarando in Egypt's
agricultural heartland, the Nile Delta."
"The landowner, Salah Mandar, owned the14,000 hectares of fertile
lands prior to the land distribution in the wake of the 1952
revolution. Fifty years later that same landowner's family has
unleashed a wave of repression on the villagers to drive them off
"But the peasants have stood up and said they will not give up their
lands, despite the killings and state repression. The peasant
resistance has begun to spread to other districts where the old
landowners are trying to seize back land and has relaunched the
militant peasant organisations that were crushed in the 1970s."
Last week the Sarando peasants seized and killed one of the
landlord's goons. The goons have been spreading terror in the
countryside. Movements in solidarity with the peasants have spread
to other rural areas and to the cities.
Abdul Maguid al-Khoury, from the village of Tamshish, is one of the
most vocal leaders of the militant peasant movement. He opened the
session on the struggles of Egyptian workers and peasants at the
"The Tamshish peasants drove out the landowner in 1952 and forced
the government headed by Gamal Abdul Nasser to instigate a
countrywide redistribution of land," he tells Socialist Worker. "In
the days before the revolution 35 rich families owned over 50
percent of the land, while 25 million peasants eked out a living on
the rest. Tamshish has a special place in our history because we
seized our land ourselves, we did not wait for the government.
"We grow wheat, maize and cotton, although with globalisation we are
finding it difficult to sell cotton because of cheap American
imports. The ugly face of new technology means they are also trying
to force us to grow genetically modified crops.
"They say we have to abandon the seeds that we have sown for
thousands of years. Now with the privatisation laws the old
landowner's family are claiming that they are the rightful owners
and are saying we must hand the land back to them. Even though they
came with their thugs and are backed by the state security forces
they have been met with determined opposition."
Political and economic issues are fusing in Egypt. Dina
says, "People have had enough, and the rising struggle is opening up
space for ordinary people to voice their opposition. The Kifaya
campaign is finding an echo on the street. For the first time in 24
years we can organise demonstrations calling for Mubarak to resign.
"The future of the movement in Egypt is to rebuild the rank and file
unions and peasant organisations. For too many years we have been
hampered by the suffocating hold of the yellow unions and state-
sponsored peasant organisations. This is now beginning to change,
and we are begining to see how the struggle in the countryside and
the factory is fuelling and giving confidence to general discontent."
On the last day of the conference, news came of the arrest of over
200 Islamic opponents of the regime. Some 400 delegates took to the
streets in solidarity with them and with peasants facing attack in
the Nile Delta.
For an hour delegates faced riot police. The chant "Down, Down Bush,
Blair, Mubarak" was heard on the streets of Cairo. British delegates
agreed to organise an international campaign in solidarity with all
facing repression in Egypt. Rush protests at the arrests to the
© Copyright Socialist Worker
WORLD VIEW NEWS SERVICE
To subscribe to this group, send an email to:
NEWS ARCHIVE IS OPEN TO PUBLIC VIEW