Socialist Worker

Protests defy Egyptian army in bid to take back the streets

Revolutionaries are fighting back against anti-protest laws to demand bread and freedom, writes Judith Orr

Issue No. 2377

Marchers in Talaat Harb Square, Cairo

Marchers in Talaat Harb Square, Cairo (Pic: Hossam el-Hamalawy)

 

Demonstrators defied Egypt’s military government and took to the streets in central Cairo last Saturday to oppose a proposed “anti-protest” law. This would give police the power to cancel, postpone or change the location of a protest. It would also create zones around public buildings where all protests could be banned.

The protest was organised by the Revolutionary Front, which unites the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) and other activists. “The protest in Talaat Harb Square turned into a march of over 1,000.” RS member Gigi Ibrahim told Socialist Worker. 

“We roamed the streets for two hours and ended up in Mohammed Mahmoud Street. We haven’t been able to march there for months.” Mohammed Mahmoud Street off Tahrir Square is a symbolic site for activists. 

Its walls are an ever-changing chronicle of the struggle of the revolution in graffiti, paintings and tributes to martyrs. Next month is the second anniversary of violent clashes there when the military killed 50 protesters. 

The Revolutionary Front wants to galvanise political forces who oppose the military and who campaigned against the ousted president Mohamed Mursi. The demonstration was part of that struggle to build unity and keep fighting for the demands of the revolution.

“People chanted for bread, freedom and the cleansing of the ministry of the interior—which rhymes in Arabic” said Gigi. Under the banner “the street is ours” workers, students and other activists denounced the military, police brutality and chanted against the return of Mursi.

Sacked textile worker Rageb el-Shimey joined the demo. He was victimised when he was part of a struggle to renationalise his factory after it was privatised under former dictator Hosni Mubarak. He said, “This government has no will to do anything about social equality.”

Gigi described people’s frustration at the lack of real change in their lives. The economy remains in crisis and the minimum monthly wage still stands at approximately only £63. Organised workers have played a critical role in key points in the revolution. 

When the military took over after Mursi’s fall it appointed former independent trade union leader Kamal Abu Aita as minister for labour. His appointment was a sign that the military recognised the threat that workers’ organisation posed against their hold on power.

They clearly hoped to placate trade unionists to have one of their own in government. But the regime also wanted to use him to more effectively hold back workers’ struggles and demands. Abu Aita has issued statements against strikes, saying Egypt needs “national reconstruction”.

But workers are not so easily fooled. As he demonstrated Rageb said, “Kamal Abu Aita is the one who taught us how to organise a protest outside the labour ministry. Now he is acting exactly like those in the office before him. He is denouncing all of us who want to fight.” 

The Revolutionary Front has pledged to hold more protests against the new law in other cities. The campaign is part of the wider struggle against the military government and its attempt to depict itself as the saviour of the revolution. As Rageb said the demands of the revolution still have to be fought for, “People do not have enough bread to eat. We are not free.” 


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