Socialist Worker

Middle East round-up

Issue No. 1942

Revolt in Egypt grows against president Mubarak

Last week Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak asked parliament to change the constitution to allow more than one candidate to stand for election as president.

The US declared the move was part of a growing “movement for democracy” and a “more open political system” in the Arab world, triggered by the invasion of Iraq. But the proposed reform is only cosmetic.

Mubarak is trying to deflect a growing popular movement against his regime and its policies that keep tens of millions of Egyptians hungry and impoverished.

The real significance of the reform is not what it promises, but what it means for our movement.

Mubarak has been forced to respond publicly to a growing movement for change. His climbdown exposes a weak and hesitant regime, terrified by the rise of the new political movement and growing public anger.

The Egyptian regime is of course also under pressure from the US government to offer some reforms. The US senses the threat to its interests in the Arab world if Mubarak’s regime loses control.

The past few months have seen developments that give a signal that the country is ready to explode. The movement for change was born during the campaign for solidarity with the Palestinian intifada and the anti-war demonstrations.

This movement has succeeded in bringing together opposition activists from different political currents. It has mobilised demonstrations — calling for Mubarak to go — on the streets of Cairo for the first time. It has rejected the transfer of power to his son, Gamal.

Social struggles have also increased in recent months.  The impoverished majority in Egypt are suffering from the effects of privatisation and neo-liberal policies.

The past six months have seen three times as many strikes as took place over the previous five years. During the same six months, in a number of peasant areas, groups of poor people have begun to occupy land which large landowners are trying to seize with the help of the Egyptian state.

In addition, a number of cities have seen protests by poor Copts — members of Egypt’s Christian minority — against the oppression that they face from the regime.

Mubarak’s compromise will only be welcomed by the regime’s supporters and their hangers-on. We want wider reforms. Militants in the movement for change have announced that they will step up the struggle in order to make genuine gains.

Socialists have begun to argue openly that the task facing us is the overthrow of the regime. The next few months in Egypt will see the upsurge of the political movement and the mass movement alike.

Yussef Galal Egyptian socialist

The third Cairo Conference, bringing together activists from the anti-war and anti-globalisation around the world, will be held from 24-27 March. For more details go to:

Turkish police attack International Women's Day protest

Police, armed with truncheons and teargas, attacked a demonstration in Istanbul, Turkey. The demonstration was in celebration of International Women’s Day, but was declared illegal. Some 63 people were detained.

Anger is growing in Turkey, one of the US’s key allies. On Friday of last week, 500,000 workers held sit-ins in support of the occupation of the state owned SEKA paper-making factory, which the government wants to close.

Workers occupying the factory fear an all-out assault by police and have raised the slogan, “The only way we’ll leave is if we are dead.”

For more on Turkey see letters

Still more deaths in Palestine

The palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has pledged to help Israel hunt down militants he says are behind a suicide bombing that killed five members of an elite Israeli army unit on 25 February. Basim Sbaih of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society told Socialist Worker that despite the ceasefire the Israelis are continuing to kill Palestinians:

“The Israelis have killed ten Palestinians since the declaration of the ceasefire on 8 February. Two were members of the al-Aqsa Brigades, part of the Fatah movement, who were shot dead at close range.

“The others were civilians, including two teenagers. Alaa Hani Khalil from Betunya, near Ramallah, was just 15 and Sabri al-Rajub was only 16.”

The Israeli state and settlers are also continuing to seize land on the West Bank. “Where I live in Bethlehem there are already 22 settlements,” says Bassim.

“And the town is completely surrounded by the Israeli wall. It’s just like apartheid — the area where we can move freely is only four kilometres square and Bethlehem is a town of 100,000 people.”

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Sat 12 Mar 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1942
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