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Egypt’s workers take to the streets against Mubarak and Israel

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Hossam el-Hamalawy, an Egyptian socialist and journalist, on the impact the Israeli attack on the Gaza aid convoy had in Egypt
Issue 2205
Egyptian tax collectors join a demonstration for a national minimum wage
 (Pic: Hossam el-Hamalawy)
Egyptian tax collectors join a demonstration for a national minimum wage
(Pic: Hossam el-Hamalawy)

A domino effect is taking place. People are linking the causes of freedom for Palestine and freedom for Egyptian workers.

Huge demonstrations of tens of thousands of people in Cairo, with others in the Nile Delta, Alexandria and the southern provinces, were the immediate response to the attack.

People denounce the Israelis in the chants before moving on to chanting about vote-rigging in the elections and police brutality here.

People are drawing parallels between Israel’s actions against peace activists and the Egyptian government’s treatment of elections and campaigners.

This movement has put huge pressure on the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. That is why it has opened the Rafah crossing into Gaza. It wants to stop the criticism.

But the Rafah crossing is only designed for people to cross, not goods. There are other crossings that equipment could get through but the government allows Israel to control them. It has now been forced to say the Rafah crossing will stay open indefinitely.

More demonstrations took place on Friday of last week, after prayers.

The Muslim Brotherhood—Egypt’s largest opposition movement—is mobilising for Gaza. Its chants are directed at Israel, which is where the leadership wants all criticism to be directed.

But on a demonstration last week, socialists chanted, “Down with Mubarak”, and the younger members of the Muslim Brotherhood joined in, only to be silenced by their elders. So there is a tension there, and a new militancy among some sections.

This has to be seen in the context of the strike wave that has swept Egypt since September 2006.

For the past six months, until last week, there was a permanent protest camp in the parliamentary area of Cairo. Workers came to this area to air their grievances with the government, more or less liberating it.

There were around ten different groups of workers there—textile workers, agricultural and land reclamation workers, telephone manufacturing workers and so on. But some other elements were added. There were people with disabilities and special needs there.

This is probably the first time that disabled people have come together to organise a protest in Egypt.

They were campaigning for the enforcement of the law that states that 5 percent of all public and private sector jobs should go to disabled people. This ruling is ignored.

Textile workers and others demanded justice after being beaten up by the police. The government cracked down on the protests and banned people from gathering there.


The links between local struggles and regional ones—and the economic and political battles—are coming closer together.

A group of strike leaders representing textile workers from nine companies broadcast a condemnation of the attack on the freedom flotilla last week. They attacked the Egyptian government for being complicit in the siege of Gaza.

These strike leaders became active over bread and butter economic issues for themselves and the workers they represent. But their consciousness has developed over the past two years. They are politicised and talking about wider issues, and linking them together.

The economic is feeding into the political and vice versa.

Along with this there is confusion at the top. Mubarak, the dictator since 1981, is dying and looks like a corpse.

Our regime is less transparent than in Britain so we don’t get leaks of documents or news of the infighting, but the cracks are starting to show.

Mohamed El-Baradei, the former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has just joined the opposition. The rats feel like the ship is sinking.

What we need is for people across the world to spread the word about our struggle here. Our strategy is to reach out to the organisations of the working class—the trade unions, community groups, people’s representatives—and keep up the pressure.

The regime is used to more middle class movements against war and so on, but they do not know how to react to this joined up movement from below.

The strike leaders are now playing a role in the political debate in the country, and our rulers don’t know how to handle that.

One of the first convoys to reach Gaza after the 2008-9 massacre was funded by striking workers from the city of Mahalla el-Kubra.

There are several aid convoys organised this time, with representatives from striking factories and delegations going to Gaza.

We are in a pre-revolutionary situation here. At any second these things can join together. People are taking on new roles and new ideas.

There has been an upturn in struggle since 2006 and I hope that the left gets its act together. I am proud of our achievements but it is not enough. Things are moving quickly and time is not on our side.

Read Hossam’s Egyptian struggle blog at »

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