Events are moving at breathtaking speed in Egypt once again.
Following president Mohamed Mursi’s announcement of sweeping new powers on 22 November, huge protests convulsed the country.
Mass mobilisations in the capital Cairo brought hundreds of thousands to Tahrir Square to reject his constitutional declaration.
Sections of the judiciary have walked out. As Socialist Worker went to press, 12 national newspapers and five TV channels were on strike. Revolutionaries prepared to march on the presidential palace.
The protesters camped out in Tahrir Square have announced their rejection of the referendum Mursi has called to approve his new constitution on 15 December. But unlike the generals who confronted the revolutionary movement in the streets last year, Mursi has a popular base.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which Mursi represents, and its Salafist allies, brought tens of thousands to rally in support of the constitutional change outside Cairo University last Saturday.
His opponents include revolutionary youth, the independent unions, the left and the liberals. But figures from the old regime and leading judges have also attempted to attach themselves to the movement.
Leaders of the Salafist movement and other conservative Islamist groups see the crisis as an opportunity to win revolutionary legitimacy for their cause.
Meanwhile the Brotherhood has partially implanted itself in some of the institutions of the state. It hopes to put down deeper roots. Workers and the poor who are drawn to its religious slogans will gain nothing from these moves.
The crucial question is, which side is continuing the revolution? Mursi wants to freeze the revolutionary process and consolidate a new political system including the Brotherhood. But he is telling Egyptians that his decisions were aimed at breaking the influence of the Mubarak-era judges.
He argues that the constitution will defend the gains won by the martyrs whose sacrifices achieved the revolution. The religious agenda is not currently enough on its own to mobilise the masses.
The intervention by organised workers is crucial, because it undermines attempts by others to seize the mantle of the revolution. Already, there has been a march of thousands of textile workers in Mahalla al-Kubra against Mursi.
Millions of Egyptians face enormous pressure on their living standards. Workers who strike have faced arrest, beatings and intimidation by the police.
Workers have the collective social power to drive this movement forward. If their strikes and protests bring the constitution down, rather than manoeuvres by the judiciary or the military, this will begin a new phase of the Egyptian Revolution.
‘Workers’ issues were part of revolt’
Tareq el-Beheiry from the Independent Union of Public Transport Authority Workers in Cairo spoke to activists from MENA Solidarity Network during a visit to Egypt last month.
On 25 January 2011 the Egyptian Revolution began with a mass mobilisation in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. I am a Salafist, and I heard our Salafi sheikhs telling us not to join in. But my conscience said I must, because the issues facing workers were part of the revolution.
On 10 February the Public Transport Authority (PTA) workers went on strike, and there was a state of civil disobedience in the city of Mahalla. This speeded up Hosni Mubarak’s downfall.
Then we organised a strike in September 2011. We demanded a decent end of service bonus and for the PTA to return to the Ministry of Transport. On 1 March I was ambushed and attacked with a machete inside the police station at the PTA headquarters.
As soon as I came out of hospital we organised a lightning strike and began to escalate the action.
We had a protest planned outside parliament, but the Coptic Pope died, and his funeral was scheduled for the same day. Out of respect to our Christian brothers we postponed our protest until the following day.
We won big concessions from the government. Then we started negotiating about the issue of returning the PTA to Ministry of Transport control. There is massive corruption in the PTA administration.
When the presidential elections took place I helped Mohamed Mursi from the Muslim Brotherhood get a huge vote from the PTA workers.
A few days before the election he sent high-up party officials to pray with me in the mosque in the bus garage. A couple of months later we walked out on strike again, and I was arrested by police on the picket line.
A large proportion of strikes want to get rid of the Brotherhood. I won’t vote for them again. I believe that genuinely religious people won’t stand for tyranny and repression. The worker is stronger than the ministry, the government and the corporations.
Workers at the Dubai World port in Ain Sukhna on Egypt’s Red Sea coast defeated the company on the 14th day of their strike. There have been strikes in the intercity buses in the West and East Delta bus companies.
We know it is important that the public support us—we made 100,000 leaflets to give out to passengers. The leaflets say the PTA is the property of the people, not the government, and explain that we are campaigning for a better bus service.
When I came out from jail, I said “the strike is going on—the issue is workers’ rights. Mubarak could not stop the revolution so don’t try to break up strikes by repression.”
We are hungry, and hungry people eat revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood want to make a new pharaoh and we won’t allow this.
Thanks to Mary Compton for transcription and Anne Alexander for translation