There are hundreds of thousands of people on the streets today, Friday. People are marching on the presidential palace right now, while the army is trying to close off all access.
They are protesting against President Mohamed Mursi’s plans for a new constitution that will give him exceptional powers—including the ability to dissolve parliament and announce martial law. These demonstrations aren’t just happening in Cairo—there are clashes in several other regions.
It’s a very complex situation. And we have to be careful with the simplistic view that these protests are just about secular forces versus Islamists.
Even when things are articulated in that way, they can be more complicated. Many Salafists say they are fighting against the secular state and for sharia law. But they see Mubarak’s regime as a secular one and see sharia as the only way that the poor will get justice and equality.
Also it is obvious that there are elements of the old regime—the “feloul”, or “remnants”—who are trying to use this mass movement. Some liberal leaders have unwisely made alliances with former Mubarak people—and this is used by the Muslim Brotherhood in their propaganda. The Brotherhood says, “Look—these people want the old regime back,” which isn’t true of course.
The latest protests are being portrayed as being controlled by the “non Islamist” parties. But this movement is out of their control. They didn’t want there to be a march on the presidential palace—but they couldn’t stop it.
New layers of people are being radicalised by these events. There are thousands of poor Christian Copts on these demos—some protesting for the first time.
There has clearly been a pact between Muslim Brotherhood and the military, since the new constitution gives the army massive powers. There will be no parliamentary oversight on the military budget. The army just needs to say “we need this much” and parliament is obliged to hand it over. Most importantly, the army’s business interests continue to be unchecked.
And the constitution enshrines neoliberalism. In terms of workers’ rights it is terrible. You have rights to form a political party but not a trade union. There’s full protection for private property. It’s anti-redistribution and anti-nationalisation.
As far as public services go the constitution is very limited. It says healthcare will be free for those who can’t afford it. But how do people prove that? Effectively it means the government will not provide full healthcare for people.
So far workers have not taken part in the demonstrations in an organised fashion. There have been attempts to push for action. Trade unions have produced statements against the constitution. But such developments take time.
Mursi is pushing this through because he is under pressure. Egypt is in a severe economic crisis. Mursi wants to clamp down so that loans from the IMF and Europe can come through. Reserves are running out and there is huge pressure on the Egyptian pound.
The Islamists are isolated. They had a demonstration on Saturday of over 100,000—they claimed six million. But many people were bussed in from the countryside. The support for the Brotherhood and the Salafists is strongest outside the cities, in rural areas and small towns.
There have been no clear official splits in the Brotherhood yet. What happens will depend on how events develop. But Mursi is in a difficult position. If he backs down he will be seen as a weak president and will give protesters more confidence. If he doesn’t, the protests will escalate.
The pressure on him is enormous. What started as demands to go back on the constitutional amendment have become mass demands for the regime’s downfall.
The Revolutionary Socialists are doing well. We are in the leadership of all the big demos, we are winning people and we help cleanse the demos of any feloul elements. We are producing new leaflets every day.
We say the constitution is pro-business and pro-army. People feel this is not what the revolution is all about. That’s why people are on the streets. The revolution is still on.