“We’ve been afraid for 30 years, and now no one is afraid” – Cairo demonstrator
Democratic revolutions are sweeping North Africa.
The majority is fed up with decades of corrupt, autocratic dictatorship. US military aid to the region ($1.5 billion annually for Egypt alone) has been used to repress civil rights and imprison, torture and murder dissidents.
This repression has enabled the ruling class to enrich itself at the expense of the working class. Despite Egypt’s wealth and resources, unemployment and inflation are rampant. In Egypt, the official poverty rate is over 40 percent. Unofficially, it is closer to 80 percent.
“The filth and the slums, the open sewers and the corruption of every government official, the bulging prisons, the laughable elections, the whole vast, sclerotic edifice of power has at last brought Egyptians on to their streets.” Robert Fisk
As demonstrations swelled from thousands to hundreds-of-thousands, the ruling class revealed its complete powerlessness. The army vacillated and then swung to the side of the revolution.
As it always does when faced with popular revolt, the mass media focused on looting and acts of vandalism, conveying the message that nothing good comes from ordinary people taking matters onto their own hands.
This is laughable, when you consider how the mass media (which is owned by the capitalist class), deliberately ignores the daily looting of the global economy perpetrated by the elite, and the daily destruction of people’s lives on a mass scale.
Unlike the elite, who need the threat of force to back their rule, the majority doesn’t need violence to exert its demands. Its sheer size and ability to organize are power enough. In all class conflicts, the most brutal and ruthless violence flows from the efforts of the ruling class to regain power.
While generals and opposition leaders struggle to “stabilize” the situation and the US urges “an orderly transition to democracy,” ordinary Egyptians are taking matters into their own hands, freeing dissident leaders from prison, directing traffic and organizing themselves, in shifts, to secure their neighborhoods.
In a situation that changes minute-by-minute, it’s impossible to predict what will happen.
“There are more than 80 million people in Egypt, 30 per cent of them under age 20. And they are no longer afraid.” Robert Fisk
One thing is certain – Mubarak must go. The longer he clings to power, the stronger, more confident and more organized the revolution becomes, and the harder it will be to contain it. There are reports of people taking collective control of their towns, and the call for a general strike is an important step forward.
Only one class can rule
If the generals and politicians prove incapable of ruling Egypt, the working class will be forced to step into the power vacuum and take on the daily tasks of organizing society – security, food distribution, communications, transportation, etc. To prevent that scenario, the army returned to the streets and army helicopters circled ominously over the crowds.
However, the ruling class remains divided on the way forward and, if the revolution deepens, military forces could lose the loyalty of rank-and-file soldiers who are as badly paid as the workers they will be ordered to shoot.
While the movement is united in wanting to get rid of Mubarak, it has not decided what it wants instead.
Revolutions that topple tyrants can transform themselves into revolutionary movements that challenge all tyranny. This is what the ruling class most fears, not only in Egypt, but also in the US and around the world.
In order to stuff this genie back in its bottle, the next Egyptian government must offer substantial reform (backed by the threat of military repression).
However, it will take more than reform to correct the deep structural problems in the economy. Whatever peace is achieved between the classes cannot be sustained, and the Egyptian masses will inevitably move back into action.
Whatever the immediate outcome – reform government or bloody military repression – Egyptian workers will not easily tolerate a pseudo-democracy, where they get to elect the tyrants that oppress them. Having tasted their own intoxicating power, they may choose to fight instead for a genuine democracy in which they collectively manage their own affairs.
Workers across the world are watching. What can happen in Egypt, can happen anywhere.
Follow the unfolding revolution on Al Jazeera Live Stream