Egypt - Year One Anniversary - "Day of Dignity" Friday; Some
Lessons; Generals Still in Charge
1. Excited Revolutionaries to Return to Tahrir With 'Day of
Dignity' Friday (Ekram Ibrahim in Ahram Online)
2. Year One of the Egyptian Revolution: Some Lessons (Roger
Owen in Egypt Independent)
3. Generals Still in Charge - Tough Days Ahead in Egypt
Excited Revolutionaries to Return to Tahrir With 'Day of
Political groups and parties call for a
demonstration on Friday to demand immediate transfer
to civil rule, a year on from the 28 January, 2011
police attacks on anti-Mubarak protesters
by Ekram Ibrahim
January 26, 2012
Following the success of the January 25 anniversary mass
protests on Wednesday, almost 60 political groups and
parties have announced their participation in Friday, 27
January protest called Friday of Dignity or Second Friday of
Rage. The main demands, the groups say, are the end to the
military rule and the immediate handover of power to a
Political groups calling for the protests include the April
6 Movement, Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the Wa'i
("Awareness") Party, the Popular Movement for the
Independence of Al-Azhar, the Justice and Freedom youth
movement, the Free Front for Peaceful Change, the
Participation Movement and the Maspero Protesters Movement,
April 6 Youth Movement and National Front for Justice and
Democracy have also stated that they will stay after the
Friday's demonstrations and stage an open-ended sit-in in
Following Wednesday's festivities, which saw hundreds of
thousands in the streets, tens of people decided to remain
on Tahrir until the expected demonstrations at the weekend.
Groups from the Muslim Brotherhood, who initially said they
would leave the square at 4pm, also stayed overnight.
"We are staying here to take care of our stage in
preparation for Friday," a member of Muslim Brotherhood told
an Ahram Online correspondent in the early hours of Thursday
morning. The Islamist group led the festivities on the
square yesterday, despite publicly distancing itself from
anti-SCAF sit-ins in July, November and December.
A smaller sit-in was also formed on Wednesday night in front
of Maspero, the state-owned television and radio
headquarters. Protesters marched to the television building
in the afternoon calling for the purification of state
media, which they believe, has been spreading lies since the
This Friday will mark the anniversary of the Friday of Rage:
one of the most significant dates of the ongoing revolution.
28 January, 2011 was the first instance that the Egyptian
military attacked protesters resulting in 20 deaths. The
police, who traditionally dealt with demonstrations, had
vacated the streets and many prisons were left open. In the
ensuing security vacuum the former president Hosni Mubarak
ordered the military to take control.
[Ahram Online is the English-language news web site
published by Al-Ahram Establishment, Egypt's largest news
organisation, and the publisher of the Middle East's oldest
newspaper: the daily Al-Ahram, in publication since 1875.
Ahram Online was launched 26 November 2010. ]
Year One of the Egyptian Revolution: Some Lessons
by Roger Owen
January 22, 2012
also posted on Jadaliyya - January 25, 2012
Revolutions, as students of the French and the Russian ones
know well, require an inflammatory event, something that
Vladimir Lenin described as a spark (the name of his
newspaper in Russian): something which poor Mr. Bouazizi
provided in Tunisia and the confrontation with the armed
security police in Cairo a month later. Sparks unleash an
unruly momentum in which more and more people are involved
on both sides, some as active revolutionaries determined to
root out all traces of the old regime, some as reactionaries
equally determined to defend the old order.
Just as important, the revolutionary tradition, as it was
expressed in both France and the ex-British states of North
America in the late 1780s, provides a program of political
action leading to elections and a new constitution, drawn up
in the name of the people. This is, by its nature, another
unruly process, in which representatives of various social
groups come together to try to agree on a framework for the
exercise of a more pluralist politics. It is best served, as
it has been in Egypt, by a timetable for the completion of
its various stages.
In ideal circumstances, the process of constitution-making
is a mechanism for creating a consensus between the most
powerful of the contending interests - in the Egyptian case,
the military, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the secular middle
class. But this requires a great deal of trust and good
faith as everyone jockeys for position in the new order.
Already we can see such forces powerfully at work, from the
bid by the military, somewhat constrained by American
pressure, to secure a supra-constitutional place for itself,
to the Brotherhood's advocacy of a sovereign parliament
which they would dominate, to the continued revolutionary
and long-term desire for an entire root-and-branch reshaping
of the Nasserist state, including its systems of law,
education, and security.
This is where the hard work really begins. On the table are
all the possible institutional arrangements for creating a
sustainable political order. Presidential or parliamentary?
Elections with or without party lists? Subject to
proportional representation or first past the post? And so
on. It is detailed and tricky stuff requiring an expertise
that few in Egypt possess after decades of authoritarian
rule and which, in the end, has to obtain enough popular
consent to claim, as with the American constitution, that
the outlines of the new order were written by "We, the
people" and not just a self-selected cabal of clever
intellectuals acting in their name.
The use of the word revolutionary to describe the Tahrir
events connects us with Egypt's own revolutionary tradition,
beginning in 1919 and re-inspired, if only briefly, in 1952.
From 1919, we can learn about the creation of the first
constitutional order by monarchists, and about a variety of
liberal and popular forces with an insecure electoral
system, which, eventually, was to lead to its discredit and
Already we can see something of the same process, as Egypt's
electoral results are examined by the contesting parties in
search of ways in which the hastily cobbled-together system
used from November to January might be amended to their own
future advantage. And this, in turn, highlights the need for
an agreed-upon procedure for constitutional and electoral
change which will allow the system itself to remain
substantially unaltered long enough for it to become a
regular and predictable part of people's lives, not just the
plaything of rival political forces. "Keep it simple" would
be my watchword, based on American experience. Find room in
it for a process of orderly interpretation and contestation
with significant input from Egypt's formidable
constitutional lawyers meeting in something like an American
The 1952 revolution has its own lessons too. Then, the
revolutionary fervor of 1953 and 1954 and the establishment
of a constitutional commission including, among others,
Tarek el-Bishri, was hijacked by Gamal Abdel Nasser who drew
up his own revolutionary constitution with very little
outside advice. Once again, events in the newly created
Tahrir Square, designed to be the focus for celebrating the
revolution and its achievements, provided salutary insights
into what was to follow. After the first attempt at popular
celebration there in July 1953, when a small motorcade of
free officers was mobbed by an excited crowd, the fearful
officers retired to the balcony of the Abdin Palace for
future celebrations, speaking to the crowd from on high.
Soon Tahrir itself became emptied of demonstrations, instead
dominated by iconic public buildings like the Mogamma, the
headquarters of the Arab League, and the Hilton Hotel used
to house visiting heads of state, with only occasional small
popular protests like those of the students against Sadat in
what proved his Year of Indecision against Israel in 1972.
The millions were only occasionally let in at the start of
public funeral processions of famous Egyptians such as Ahmad
Lufti-Sayyed, Mustafa Nahhas and, the largest of them all,
Cynics are already saying that, under army rule, all this is
about to happen again. The greatest challenge facing Egypt
is to turn revolutionary fervor into something like the new
type of constitutional order created after 1919 (although
without its flaws) and certainly not the authoritarian
pattern that emerged after 1952. Only then will the earlier
spirit of liberation from the British, the king and the
pasha class be allowed to evolve into the freedoms to live
their own lives for which the people of Tahrir demonstrated
so bravely in 2011.
[Roger Owen is currently the A.J.Meyer Professor of Middle
East History at Harvard University and a former director of
the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the same
university. He previously taught Middle East political and
economic history at Oxford University where he was also many
times the Director of the St Antony's College Middle East
His books include Cotton and the Egyptian Economy , The
Middle East in the World Economy: 1800-1914, and State,
Power and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East
(3rd revised edition 2004). He is also the co-author (with
Sevket Pamuk) of A History of the Middle East Economies in
the Twentieth Century.
He has just completed the manuscript - due to be published
by Harvard University Press in April 2011 - of a political
history of the era of Arab republic presidents for life
which came to an end, effectively, with the revolutions of
the "Arab spring."
He has written a regular column for the Arabic newspaper,
Al-Hayat, since the late 1980s.]
Generals Still in Charge - Tough Days Ahead in Egypt
by Carl Finamore
Published by Portside
January 26, 2012
Cairo, Egypt - The most populated country in the Arab world
took the day off on Wednesday, January 25.
Tahrir Square was overloaded with people stretching and
squeezing into every nook and cranny on adjacent streets,
storefront alcoves and building doorways. Still, thousands
were simply unable to ever reach the center.
But there was something equally noteworthy on this day - the
total absence of the police and army. In a country where the
army has far too much control in all affairs of state, on
this day they could not be found.
Nonetheless, it must be said that the army's presence was
very much felt. For example, the largest center stage in the
middle of the square was controlled by their key ally, the
Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Continuous "God is Great" and pro-
military chants were consciously intended to counter
opposition slogans of the protest movement.
Voices of the Youth and Workers
Beyond the center stage, however, were dozens of political
groups, student and youth organizations and independent
union contingents calling for a second revolution. They
completely engulfed the areas along the perimeter of Tahrir.
After a series of recent bloody attacks against young
protestors, along with continued repression of worker
protests, a clear statement was made on January 25 that
voices of the youth and workers, in particular, would not be
Nonetheless, Egypt's generals have shown themselves far more
astute in dealing with raging social unrest and complex
political issues than the ousted dictator.
For example, Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of
the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF),
announced on January 24 that nearly 2000 political prisoners
being held for military trials would be released and that
the repressive 30-year Emergency Decree giving the
government dictatorial powers would be lifted.
These and other calculated political gestures by SCAF
undoubtedly improves their public image and impresses large
sections of the population that desperately want to believe
things will improve now that Mubarak is gone.
But it doesn't fool seasoned political activists because it
contrasts so sharply with the brutal military and police
assaults in November and December. Those assaults left
several thousand young men and women injured and around 150
Plus, there has been no real improvement in the economy. The
demands of workers remain largely unaddressed except for a
modest increase in the minimum wage from around $53 a month
to $115 a month. Newly formed independent unions were
demanding at least $200 a month.
The Egyptian working class is quite large and remains the
most troublesome problem for the generals. They understand
the critical role workers played in ending Mubarak's reign
by conducting the largest strike wave in Egyptian history.
"Workers were in Tahrir, but as individuals," Marian Fadel
told me, "then, on February 7, 8 and 9, they began acting
like a class. Strikes occurred everywhere, leading the
generals to turn on Mubarak." Marian is an attorney with a
Master Degree in human rights. She is also Egypt program
officer for the U.S. AFL-CIO-supported Solidarity Center.
Since those heady days, Fadel continued, "the independent
trade unions have been obstructed at every step when they
try to organize. Organizers are transferred to different
locations, fired and even arrested and tortured."
In addition, she explained, "the law enacted in 1976
permitting only one union in a workplace and only one union
federation in the country is still on the books. It
obviously favors Mubarak's corrupt Egyptian Trade Union
Federation (ETUF), which is trying to regroup with support
from the military and the Muslim Brotherhood."
The ETUF supported Mubarak and, in fact, the former ETUF
president is now in jail for helping lead the grotesque
camel rider attacks against young people in Tahrir Square
The Economy is Killing People
Nonetheless, after one year of protest and even with so many
reforms left unaddressed, there is no doubt large sections
of the population are feeling exhausted and want all the
strife to end.
"The economy is killing people," Fadel observed.
"Many people are tired of Tahrir, tired of the protests and
tired of the battles with the military. They mistakenly
believe that everything will improve and get back to normal
if protestors just stop asking for so much."
I noticed this division last year on my first trip to Cairo.
Almost immediately after Mubarak was deposed, the army and
large sections of the middle and upper classes were calling
for a return to work. This is the drum beat continuously
echoed by the media and the military with their allies in
the Muslim Brotherhood.
But, slowing of the protests did not nor could not happen
immediately after the battles that toppled Mubarak. There
was too much enthusiasm and too many outstanding social and
economic issues left unresolved. The people had tasted
victory and they wanted more.
But, now, after one year of political maneuvers crafted by
the military, conducting elections, establishing a
parliament and promising the installation of a newly elected
president on July 1, an exhausted population is confused,
especially those influenced by the 70 per cent Islamist
majority in parliament.
Of course, there are still dissident voices. Nadea, for
example, is a 48-year old translator holding a sign in
Tahrir demanding the military leave the government. She was
with a group of friends who recently formed Woman for
"We all fought for a civil society and what we got is a
military government and an Islamist parliament. Neither of
them are civil," she told me as she threw up her hands.
Amid the absolutely critical political debate in Egypt
today, there is also, according to many political activists
I interviewed, some despair and demoralization. This is
particularly true among the impoverished vendors in the
informal sector who often earn only $2 a day and suffer
dearly from the 30 per cent drop in tourism.
Walking the streets of Cairo, you see vivid examples of
their wretched poverty. Children are everywhere working as
vendors helping their family earn an income. Of course, this
means they are not in school.
The United Nations records 40 per cent illiteracy rate and a
40 per cent poverty rate in Egypt.
It is somewhat different for the organized working class. In
fact, over the last several years, even under Mubarak, the
AFL-CIO recorded some 1900 mostly illegal strikes occurring
from 2004 to 2008. These actions earned some important
concessions from the government.
"Strikes continue today," according to 23-year old Nadeem
Mansour, executive director of the prestigious labor and
human rights' organization, the Egyptian Center for Economic
and Social Rights (ECESR). "But the new independent unions
put most of their energy, now, into strengthening their
local chapters still in their infancy."
Another 23-year old I met in Tahrir, Hussein, proudly
announced himself a revolutionary. He offered this analysis:
"The working class has a better sense of their own
collective power and does not feel the same exhaustion and
demoralization of their far more isolated brothers and
sisters in the informal sectors of the economy."
"And, of course, the other revolutionary factor in Egypt, is
the youth, who must continually ally with the demands of the
working class," he told me.
I heard this often. According to the World Bank, there is 90
per cent unemployment among those under 30 years of age, now
comprising 60 per cent of the population. Under these
conditions, the youth have set an example of committed
activism under the most violent of circumstances.
"I lost an eye on November 19 when I was hit by a rubber
bullet," 30-year old Malek Moustafa told me. He is media
director for one of the most prominent human rights
organizations in Egypt, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center.
"It was the first day of the month-long protests opposing
military rule and demanding real democratic and economic
reforms. Nearly 150 were killed by the military and police
assault on Mohamed Mamoud street right off Tahrir and in
front of the Ministry of Interior."
"It was like bloody Beirut, total mayhem with the army and
police dragging bodies into trucks probably to be dumped in
the desert. And, it seemed they were firing purposely at the
eyes," a veteran AP photographer I befriended in Cairo told
me in a separate interview.
"Among the several thousand wounded," Malek said, "are
another 35 who lost one eye like me, seven who lost both
eyes and many others with critical and permanent injuries."
The large, enthusiastic youth presence in Tahrir this
January 25, following the bloody days of the last few
months, certainly shows their passion and determination is
undeterred. Of course, the revolutionary youth know the
activist minority must ultimately win over the more
conservative majority who yearn for stability, and for that
challenge, they tell me, they are prepared.
The feeling at Tahrir was one of determination, a
recognition that the struggle for revolutionary change will
take longer. "We are not just fighting an individual now, we
are fighting an entrenched military institution and its
corrupt allies," said Fadel. "We are ready for the
[Carl Finamore is delegate to the San Francisco Labor
Council, AFL-CIO. He is in Cairo for eight days. He can be
reached at [log in to unmask] and his writings at
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