THE EGYPTIAN state is persecuting anti-war activists it claims are part of the Revolutionary Socialists group.
It is currently trying Ashraf Ibrahim for this. Four other activists are also being charged with being members of the Revolutionary Socialists group. AZZA RAAFAT is a socialist activist who is in hiding from the state. He spoke to Socialist Worker in Cairo
'THE LAST few years have seen the revival of the movement in Egypt after a long period of stagnation. There were lots of spontaneous popular outbreaks in solidarity with the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, when it began in October 2000.
The movements reflected the economic and social crisis within society. The movements brought people back to the political scene and opened a window for people to act. They also brought a new generation of activists onto the political scene and created a new wave of anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist feeling in the population.
This threw the regime into a bit of a crisis. It was facing a mobilisation that it was not strong enough to suppress outright.
Two years after that we witnessed a number of initiatives by different currents within the movements. They created a common space where people could work together on issues.
At the end of 2002, as the US preparations for war on Iraq increased, campaigns against the war began to emerge. The left played a prominent role.
Activists got together to organise demonstrations of hundreds of people on the streets despite the security restrictions. There were six protests from December until war broke out. This helped to create space for a wider movement.
The call went out that when the war began we would demonstrate in Tahrir Square, the most important part of Cairo.
On 20 March, the day the US attacked Iraq, the wider population joined the movement. Tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets. This demonstration occupied Tahrir Square from noon to midnight. The size prevented the security forces from suppressing it. It was a "freedom carnival". It was unique for Cairo.
I left the square that night feeling intensely optimistic. We were to protest the next day too. But the regime sensed the danger. It was determined to repress as much as possible so 20 March was not repeated. If we had succeeded there would have been a high possibility of a real intifada in Egypt.
From early in the morning the police started beating and arresting activists. There were tens of thousands there again. The police arrested 800 people. People were radicalised by the oppression.
As much as people were against the war on Iraq, they were also chanting against oppression, exploitation and poverty in Egypt.
In the following weeks there were a number of arrests. The police occupied Cairo for three weeks.
Something important had happened in the protests. The Revolutionary Socialists were present in the actions. They were the only political group introducing itself to the people. It was saying that this regime has to change. This was coming out of the real feeling in the country because of the entry of imperialism into Iraq and the decline of social and economic conditions.
The left came together in the Towards The 20 March Movement which calls for change. Since the intifada the Revolutionary Socialists have been more and more visible. The state has decided to hit them because of this.
Nobody has the answer to why they target a particular five anti-war activists.
The Mubarak regime has been called the most "despotic Egyptian regime since the French came in 1798". There are around 30,000 detainees in prisons without charge or trial. The military courts have sentenced hundreds of Islamists to death. The state tortures many prisoners. It has always repressed popular and workers' movements.
The last time it targeted the left on such a scale was in the "iron and steel" strikes in 1989 when tanks raided the factories.
I understand that being forced to live in hiding from the state is strange for British political activists. But for Egyptians it is our heritage. I have known friends and comrades who have had to live like this for some time.
Cairo is a big city. It is possible to find space for political and personal interactions. You can identify spaces where you can live.
British activists can help our campaign. The more solidarity protests there are outside Egyptian embassies there are the more it helps us. The more pressure on the Egyptian government, the better. I believe that the questions go beyond our case. The Egyptian government is a decadent dictatorship.
We need a campaign of solidarity against imperialism, and the oppression that is taking place in Egypt.'
Send messages of protest about Ashraf Ibrahim and the other activists' trial to: Mr Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Abdeen Palace, Cairo, Egypt, Fax 00202 390 1998 or Email [email protected]