Egypt: the anger explodes/ FRFI 224 December 2011/January 2012

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 224 December 2011/January 2012

egypt_violenceThe Egyptian masses’ demand for democracy has confronted the Egyptian military command. That command is the main agent of imperialism in Egypt. Having presented itself as on the side of the revolution by getting former President Mubarak to resign on 11 February 2011 and restraining the use of troops, the army is now exposed as a murderous instrument of oppression. After seven days of protests in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other Egyptian towns and cities, 41 people have been killed by riot police and soldiers and 2,000 have been injured. 80% of Egypt’s 500,000 soldiers are conscripts. Imperialism – and the generals _ will calculate how reliable they are as the masses mobilise with tremendous determination and courage for an end to military rule. TREVOR RAYNE reports.

Over 100,000 people gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on 18 November to protest at the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). This was the biggest demonstration in months and was supported by protests in several other Egyptian cities. Parliamentary elections are due to begin on 28 November. Parliament was intending to draw up a new constitution. However, the SCAF proposed that only 20 of the 100 members of the committee to draft the constitution would be chosen by Parliament; it would select the rest. The military said the army should be the guardian of ‘constitutional legitimacy’, claiming the right to intervene in politics when it wishes to. The SCAF also said that any legislation affecting the military should be put to it before being issued and that the military would control its own budget.

Protesters targeted the use of military trials where procedures from arrest to sentencing take a few hours. Over 12,000 civilians have been tried in military courts since Mubarak’s removal. At least 8,000 people have been given prison sentences and 18 received death sentences. During Mubarak’s 30-year rule only about 1,000 cases were sent to military trials.

With the scale of the protests and their sustained resistance to armed attacks, the SCAF was forced into concessions; on 22 November it declared an immediate ceasefire, pledged to release thousands of protesters detained since 18 November and to bring to justice those responsible for the violence. It dismissed the government, pledged to hold free and fair elections and to hold a presidential election no later than 30 June 2012. The revolutionaries responded, vowing to remain in Tahrir Square until the military stands down.

The military’s ties to imperialism

The Egyptian army controls up to a third of the economy. It produces chemicals, fertilisers, gases, household appliances, hotels, chicken farms, car repairs, optical equipment, child care facilities, water and fuel tanks, as well as explosives, tank shells and small arms. It is part of the Egyptian bourgeoisie. The military commanders have been in post for 20 years. The Vice President, Omar Suleiman, who announced Mubarak’s resignation, has been intelligence chief for 20 years, during which time he has worked closely with the US CIA and Israel. He supported the Gaza blockade, saying he wanted Palestinians to ‘be hungry but not starving’ as a punishment for voting for Hamas. At the end of May the Egyptian military briefly lifted the Gaza blockade. It took a few members of the US Congress to threaten removal of the $1.2 billion that the Egyptian military receives each year from the US to see the blockade re-imposed.

According to the US State Department the US gave Egypt $1.2 billion in 2009 for ‘tear gas, riot control agents and associated equipment’. Protesters have presented tear gas canisters marked ‘Made in the USA’ to cameras. They have also shown the rubber bullets and live ammunition used to attack them. The tear gas comes from Combined Tactical Systems of Jamestown, Pennsylvania, whose headquarters flies the Israeli flag next to the Stars and Stripes.

Thus far the IMF, World Bank, G8, Gulf Cooperation Council, the US and other imperialist states have provided Egypt and Tunisia with aid and credits worth up to $15 billion to promote ‘democracy’. This aid is conditional on promoting private enterprise. The Egyptian military command and the ruling class are dependent upon imperialist loans and aid. Between 2000 and 2009 Egypt repaid $24.6 billion of foreign debt but its total debt rose from approximately $25 billion to almost $31 billion over the same period. Since 2008 tourism is down by 80%. This year Egypt has lost a third of its foreign exchange reserves. Standard and Poor’s downgraded Egypt’s credit rating in October. This increases the cost to Egypt of borrowing. Imperialism is directing the SCAF as it seeks to suppress the people’s struggle. The Egyptian masses are fighting not only their generals but the parasitic imperialist banks behind them.

The Egyptian people’s conditions have not improved since Mubarak’s removal. Unemployment has officially risen from 9% to 12%. Inflation is put at 12% but food and non-alcoholic drinks have risen in price by 22%. This is in a country where 40% of people live in poverty and 80% spend the majority of their income on food. 61% of Egyptians are under 30 years of age and the majority of them do not have formal employment. The Egyptian people are confronting the crisis of capitalism.

The military rulers outlawed strikes and made them punishable by prison terms and fines of up to $84,000. Nevertheless, strikes preceded Mubarak’s removal and have continued, including teachers, textile workers, transport and dock workers, civil servants, doctors and academics. The military has extended emergency laws used under Mubarak’s rule and continues using torture. It has also attempted to fuel sectarian divisions between Muslims and Christians.

As November’s attacks on the protesters escalated the US government urged ‘restraint on all sides’, as though the state forces and protesters were equally culpable for the violence, adding ‘These tragic events should not stand in the way of elections.’ On 21 November British Foreign Secretary Hague said, ‘We don’t take sides on the intricacies of Egyptian politics’, and that the Egyptian military should remain in charge to oversee elections. The very point that the protesters are making is that the elections are rendered meaningless by the military – but then that is what imperialism intends. The Egyptian masses will shake Hague and his class out of their feigned and arrogant aloofness. Decisive battles are underway.