Letter from Cairo: the liberals, the Brothers, and the poor

on 19 Comments

Voting in Egypt
Salafist campaign workers in Cairo’s Shobra district (@mmbilal on Twitter)

So this is what violence in Cairo is like now: the city has grown inured to it. You can stroll down a sidewalk in perfect serenity, and ignore the fact that a few blocks away lies what the foreign journalists call a “war zone.” Tuesday night — the end of the first round of the parliamentary elections — I was wandering Mahmoud Bassiouny Street downtown. I reached street’s end and a tangle of highways by the Egyptian Museum, and suddenly there were people rushing across the pavement and screaming, and bright crashing flashes that I recognized as Molotov cocktails. Behind me, abruptly, aggressive young guys in leather jackets had built a makeshift barricade across the street and were diverting traffic, and waving large knives. Among their shouts, I could distinguish “Eid wahda” —“One hand.” A few shopkeepers motioned me to get the hell away. For months crowds have targeted foreigners amid gathering xenophobia, reviling them as spies. There was, however, no obvious place to run. I walked as calmly as I could back past the barricade and the multiplying mob, and it was only at Talaat Harb Street, as the usual bustle of the city settled in, that I checked Twitter and called my friends and realized I’d been in the middle of the latest installment of the Battle of Tahrir. By night’s end, around sixty people, democratic protestors attacked by their opponents, were in the hospital. At midnight, I watched demonstrators carrying their comrades, swathed in bandages, across the square.

I’ll say more later about exactly what was going on. First, though, the elections.

The returns have been dribbling in for two days. This was the first round of three: a third of Egypt’s governorates, including Cairo and Alexandria, cast ballots. The sweep of the Islamic parties’ victory surprised everyone, including some wings of the Islamists themselves.

Freedom and Justice (FJP), dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, carried about 40% of the vote. More shockingly, el-Nour, the main Salafist party — representing literal, puritan, right-wing Islamists — won about a quarter of the ballots to come in second overall. The Egyptian Bloc, a coalition of liberal and largely secular parties, placed third, slightly behind it. The next election rounds will largely be held in more conservative parts of the country. Unless the Coptic vote in Upper Egypt shows unexpected strength, Freedom and Justice will hold close to a majority of seats; with el-Nour, they could control the new parliament completely.

Most people expected the Brotherhood to win, though by a lesser margin. At a polling place downtown I visited on Monday, Freedom and Justice organizers swarmed everywhere, flush with leaflets and paraphernalia, while the other parties were pretty much invisible. Several observers heard the same comment over and over from FJP activists: “We’re confident because we’ve been organizing for this moment for 80 years.” Certainly, for at least two decades the Brotherhood have been the only opposition force with a real grassroots presence. This time, they had the chance to try it out in a fair election. On the other hand, the Salafists’ success seems to have shocked even the Freedom and Justice Party. Mubarak jailed and tortured the ultraconservative Islamists with still more fervor than he devoted to repressing the Brotherhood; driven underground, they had few of the Brothers’ opportunities to organize in cities or villages. Their ability to pull millions of votes out of a hat this time shocked many across Egypt.

In the US, naturally, neoconservatives bray that Egypt is the new Iran, making up in population for what it lacks in plutonium: “Egypt’s turn toward Islamic revolution would be catastrophic. As the largest country in the Arab world, it has influence that Iran could never hope to achieve.”

I spent most of the last week talking to “liberals” in Egypt — a catch-all term defined quite differently than in the West. It includes Communists of various sorts, socialists, social democrats, anarchists, and free-market liberals, most but not all secular, united by a commitment to democracy, divided by disparate beliefs in what it means — some wedded to the parliamentary process, some dreaming of direct self-governance. Few, though, had an apocalyptic sense about the Islamists’ victory. They talk about three key things. First, as democrats they can’t reject out of hand the outcome of a democratic election. Second, the parliament will have little power in a government still run by a military junta. And third, the junta remains the real enemy.

The generals are killing people. I spoke last night to two gay friends who have been committed revolutionaries since January. Both were in Midan Tahrir the week of November 20, and their rage against SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) was palpable. That week, the junta reacted to a renewed sit-in in the square with brute force. They sent Central Security police down Mohamed Mahmoud Street, leading from the Ministry of the Interior, to beat and abuse protesters. The protesters fought back, blocking the street and throwing stones at the police. The police in turn soaked the street in tear gas, till mushroom clouds of it loomed above the city; they fired at the demonstrators with rubber bullets and birdshots — aiming, it’s clear, at the eyes to blind them. The square these days is full of people with bandaged sockets, bandaged faces; friends of my friends lost their eyes. One police marksman, Sobhi Mahmoud Shenawy, became known as “the eye sniper.” Forty-three dissidents died. “This was a deeply personal fight,” Ahmad told me. “You could see they would kill you in a minute.” And Yehia, one of my gay friends, added, “You felt that such people, who would fire to blind you, didn’t deserve to rule a city block, much less a country.”

Wounded warriorspaper-bird.net/2011/12/02/from-egypt-the-class-impasse/
Wounded protesters, Nov. 20 (@NadimX on Twitter)

As gay men, my friends don’t much fear the Brotherhood or the Salafis. They remember that the worst persecution of gays in Egypt’s history, and probably anywhere in the region, happened under the secular Mubarak regime, from 2001-2004. The FJP could hardly augur anything worse.

To be sure, the Brotherhood, always opportunists, sold out in the last weeks, giving their support to SCAF. But the new Prime Minister whom SCAF plans to puppeteer, Kamal el-Ganzouri, is a Mubarak veteran who presided over mass torture of Islamists during his last term as premier in the 1990s. The Islamists have long memories; they will not forgive him. Already, the FJP has announced it expects a government responsible to the parliament. SCAF quickly warned them the new cabinet will answer to the generals alone. “The Brotherhood can mobilize a million people in the street if they want,” my friends told me. “If it comes to a face-off with SCAF, they’re almost the only political force with a chance to win.”

Still, liberals — and feminists, and gays, and Egypt’s large Coptic minority, and many others — hardly trust the Brotherhood. And the Islamists’ triumph raises serious questions about where the revolution is going.

Back to last Tuesday night’s violence — because it illuminates those questions. How did the fighting start? On Tuesday morning, the revolutionaries in Tahrir decided to expel some of the vendors who populated the place. The square has become a market; in addition to tea, juice, food, and fruit, hawkers pitch T-shirts, flags, and souvenirs. The vendors have a bad reputation; they’ve been accused of peddling drugs; the dissidents thought they might besmirch the image of the revolution. Out with them!

This has happened before, once over the summer; back then the vendors got violent, and they did this time as well. In the evening, they counterattacked, assaulting the square with stones and Molotov cocktails. Or somebody counterattacked. The men I saw blocking traffic didn’t look like vendors; it’s possible SCAF took advantage of the situation to send in its own provocateurs. (Their battle cry, “One hand,” was SCAF’s own slogan: “The army and the people are one hand.”) What matters, though, is that the revolutionaries decided to turn on Egyptians who were using the revolution to scrape by. A protester I met in Tahrir two nights ago said plaintively: “We fought the revolution for the poor. And why should we throw them out of here so shamelessly? Just so we would look more clean?”

Yehia told me last night, “On the front lines at Mohamed Mahmoud, it was mostly poor people. They were fighting bare-handed, bare-chested; they couldn’t even afford gas masks on their faces.” And Ahmad added,

They’re the ones exposed to daily insults from police officers more than anybody else. And I don’t think they take values as relative, the way we usually do as part of the middle class. Sacrificing your life — we calculate about it: it this the time, today? Maybe this battle isn’t worth a life. But they have more absolute values of sacrifice and courage. For them, being on the front lines was a matter of human dignity.

But the revolution has failed to do justice to their dignity. The poor may be at the forefront of the battles, but the revolution’s leaders are overwhelmingly middle-class. The front lines of democracy and the front lines of class are not the same. And the bourgeois leaders have failed to reach across Egypt’s yawning class divide.

Some of the failure has been programmatic. Over the summer, as revolutionary groups struggled to agree on a list of demands, they found consensus on democracy and civil liberties easy — but their concession to addressing economic issues dwindled to an anodyne promise to raise the minimum wage. Strikers from factories to public services who had put their bodies and jobs on the line for Mubarak’s overthrow felt ignored.

But some of the failure was more physical. The revolutionaries failed to leave Tahrir, failed to go into the neighborhoods and towns and villages, to talk to workers and peasants, to organize. The Salafists, despite years underground, didn’t make that mistake. They spent the summer recruiting a third of a million active members for el-Nour. The revolutionaries waited for the masses to come to them. The result is written in the election returns. Even Zamalek, the liberal island of the haute-bourgeoisie in mid-Nile, went for the Brotherhood. The doormen and maids and porters who slave for the wealthy live in Zamalek too, shunted to cellars and rooftop shacks — but they emerged, and they voted for the FJP.

The encampment in Tahrir is an ideal and almost a fetish for many leftist Egyptians. You can see why if you’ve been there: it’s an Arab Woodstock and Brook Farm, an alternative space to a corrupt society and state, a place where diverse identities can meet and share, where unities grow out of differences and one can imagine a new way of life, a new world. It’s beautiful. But too much time, many feel, was wasted this summer and fall defending Tahrir against the military, and too little speaking to the rest of society. An alternative community may represent the dream of comprehensive change, but does little to realize it. The hard work of talking across class boundaries and building solidarities to encompass the rest of Egypt fell by the wayside.

There’s still time to recuperate the revolution. But it will take hard work. It will take dialogue. It will take renewed respect for the multiple meanings of dignity.

Over the summer, revolutionaries tried to stage a march on the Ministry of Defense in Cairo’s Abbasiyya district. Together with an Egyptian friend, I got there late; the marchers had been stopped several blocks short of the ministry, surrounded on three sides by massed troops and tanks. We tried to go through the surrounding neighborhood, and get into the demonstration from the fourth side. The rundown, impoverished streets teemed with tense, angry citizens — enraged at the marchers, whom they regarded as invaders. And at one point we found ourselves suddenly in the midst of a river of running people, men and women pouring out of buildings, armed with big knives that glinted in the light of Ramadan lanterns strung above. They were shouting: “They’re attacking us! Strike back! Defend yourselves!” They could easily have turned on us, but somehow they raced past us unseeing. They engulfed the protest, and beat and brutalized many demonstrators. We couldn’t break through to join our friends; shaken, we limped home.

It was a fine example of false consciousness, you could say: the poor enlisted to defend an arrogant and indifferent regime. But the protesters too had their arrogance. When they first met the residents of the neighborhood, who blocked the way and demanded why these outsiders were marching through, many shouted back “It’s a public street! We have the right to march here.” That claim of possession is not what you say to Cairo’s poor, whose back streets and close communities are all they have. The revolutionaries are learning about dignity the hard way.

About Lizzy Ratner

Lizzy Ratner is a journalist in New York City. She is a co-editor with Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss of The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict.

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19 Responses

  1. seafoid
    December 2, 2011, 12:16 pm

    When the Salafis turn up in local politics it’s the equivalent of a cockroach infestation in an apartment. Things have to degrade very seriously before the Salafis emerge.

    And Egypt’s Islam was never Salafi. It was always more optimistic than that.

    • Walid
      December 2, 2011, 3:07 pm

      “And Egypt’s Islam was never Salafi. It was always more optimistic than that.”

      It is now, seafoid, with the Brothers getting 40% and the Salafists getting 20%, the Egypt you knew is in for a bumpy ride and the nice thing I see about it is that it’s going to be a bumpy ride for Israel too because they hate it even more than they hate the Shia.

      More about Brothers winning elsewhere, Bernard-Henri Lévy is now upset with what has just happened in Libya. He’s disappointed that after all he and NATO did to dump Gaddafi and supposedly bring democracy there, AbdelJalil flipped the country into an Islamic republic with Sharia law and the first change he announced was the return of polygamy. Same stuff happening in Tunisia with the Brothers there already asking for the women to be put back in their place and same stuff will be happening in Egypt.

      • seafoid
        December 2, 2011, 5:43 pm

        20% Salafi is the product of 63 years of Zionist hegemony, I’m afraid.
        I went to Damiat on the Delta in 2003 a few weeks before the war in Iraq and remember one teenage girl who came up to us screaming about the Jews and the Americans.

        The brothers got most of the women in Egypt higabbed up while the Pharoah was in charge so when your wife is muhagibah why wouldn’t you vote Brothers ?

        The sad thing is that neither of these groups of clowns has any answer to Egypt’s deep structural problems. Egypt is one overpopulated river valley that faces huge challenges if the sea level rises with global warming. Islam will not be the answer . Allah is not going to get involved in the climate.

        Ya Hafiz. He who repeats this 16 times every day will be spared calamities.

        Ya Muzill – he who repeats this 75 times will be free from harm by those who wish to harm him.

  2. Chaos4700
    December 2, 2011, 12:22 pm

    As gay men, my friends don’t much fear the Brotherhood or the Salafis. They remember that the worst persecution of gays in Egypt’s history, and probably anywhere in the region, happened under the secular Mubarak regime, from 2001-2004. The FJP could hardly augur anything worse.

    THIS IS WHY it is so important to talk to real, actual gay people in the Middle East and find out what their circumstances are really like and just as important, what they really want.

    Israeli pinkwashing isn’t geared toward Arab gays, it’s geared toward Western gays so that we ignore Arab gays (and Persian gays and Kurdish gays, etc). That’s what makes it so heinous.

    • Walid
      December 2, 2011, 3:34 pm

      “As gay men, my friends don’t much fear the Brotherhood or the Salafis. ”

      They should fear, Chaos, the Muslim religion has zero tolerance for them and the brothers and Salafis are very religious and are not at all into any flexibility of any kind on anything to do with the religion; their fundamentalism is all about going back to the fundamentals of Islam as it was introduced 1400 years ago. Don’t believe the West’s crap about there being any “moderate” fundies such as is being pretended about in Morocco or Tunisia. There’s no such thing as being half pregnant..

      • Avi_G.
        December 2, 2011, 5:22 pm

        Now in all seriousness, the Moslem Brotherhood will quickly realize that in the new Egypt they have to build bridges across political and religious lines in order to survive. Should they become the majority in the new parliament, they will still be subject to a system of checks and balances, one in the form of dissent from secular and liberal parties and a second in the form of protests in the streets. In short, there are dynamics at play here that have been absent in the last several decades.

        In addition, the rise of religious parties in the region is a direct result of the suppression of nationalism. When the West crushed all forms of pan-Arab nationalism, the only outlet, the only avenue for political expression was through religion.

        In the 1960s, it wasn’t common to see Egyptian women, especially young women, with hijabs. Most wore pencil skirts and short sleeve tops.

      • Keith
        December 2, 2011, 7:25 pm

        AVI_G- “When the West crushed all forms of pan-Arab nationalism, the only outlet, the only avenue for political expression was through religion.”

        Exactly! The rise of religious fundamentalism throughout the Middle East was an inevitable consequence of US/Israel policy. It also appears to have been intentional since it reinforces the “clash of civilizations” meme. Secular, democratic “us” versus theocratic, fundamentalist “them.”

      • dahoit
        December 3, 2011, 11:25 am

        As in all societies under attack,religion goes to the mattresses and becomes more fundamental,witness the American religious conservative revival.Witness the rise of the rabbis in Israel.
        It’s all self defeating,this 60(our watch,it was there prior also of course) year repression of freedom in the Muslim world which creates this fundamentalism.
        But true followers of faith and Allah scare me not,compared to the irreligious monsters who have US in a stranglehold.

      • gamal
        December 3, 2011, 7:48 pm

        “the Muslim religion has zero tolerance for them” really Xanith? it is a wikipedia bit below and the gulf no less, why not check out the late egyptian scholar Dr. Zaki Badawi, Azharite, about homosexaulity,

        “any “moderate” fundies” ok well if we replace fundies with islamist and leave aside the vagueness of moderate, what about the wassatiya movement. Who like stuff like this : “Extremism is condemned as the Prophet said; I warn you regarding ghuluww/extremism, because communities before you were destroyed due to extremism [Nisa’i] Greater still is the warning against extremism in religion, as Allah warns “la taghlu fi dinikum” / do not be extreme in your religion. [Qur’an 4:171] yeah i know but that is what they saying, why so lafif lakhdar about it all,

        the problem westerners have is that it is hard to understand the utterly unidealistic approach Islam and muslims take to this stuff, we are, well, apalling hypocrites, in a sense, public decency is expected what you do behind closed doors is your business the public stuff will be condemned, its funny that all the anti-gay legislation in the ME is from the napoleonic code, etc. whats the opposite of pink washing, i do not speak a word of arabic anymore but all this whining about the MB strikes me as odd, my family seem resigned to their election but only because as my azharite professor cousin says (i have got boat loads of cousins) “we will be electing america and israel, pharoah and haman”

        rhetoric is mostly what the MB do, and some very good social services the young brothers were very brave facing down the police by the husseiniya in azhar, they marched up and down in front of massed ranks of armed soldiers protecting us we went to pray. also my oldest daughter is gay and hasnt had any problems she and her irish girlfriend were objects of some interest and not a little consternation but again no biggy, laments about children from my 103 year old great aunt, but they survived the village.

        “the Muslim religion has zero tolerance for them”
        what were all those gay white guys in the 20’s and 30’s, 40’s’,50’s doing in tunis and morroco, just as muslim back in the day.

        and also, but, but… isnt Islamism precisely an egyptian ideology, Abduh the original modern salafi was of course a modernizer who accepted britsh rule and was very co-operative, but the radical kharijite types, note: no egyptians are wahhabis due to saudi’s being like our embarrassing uncouth cousins, no really. but in fact that name “Islamic Jihad” the trademark name of combat fundamentalists was first an egyptian group wasnt it?

        finally cant be bothered to look it up but maysani arabs were also quite in to gender bending both sexes, still muslims, there were women who dressed as men and did not observe the restrictions placed on women, some of whom slept with men and some with women. their sheikhs seemed ok with it.

        and actually finally Siraj ud-Dawla, big into islam, entertainingly called Sir Roger Dowley, by the brits absolutely f**ed everything that moved much to british satisfaction as they had come to conquer and were a bit sniffy about pederasty and his many other diversions. the identity gay however is part of european culture, tell me do we always need to plead before a liberal tribunal?

        the gay scene in lower egypt is quite alive one of my other cousin tells, he doesnt approve but its no big deal, why all the hysteria, the main problem is not the muslimness of the MB, its the comprador shit especially as now the populations of the west are going to get a taste of the Austerity structural adjustment stuff etc you can just imagine what we will get. i was in cairo and sharkiyya in 2007, i got to celebrate eid-ul-adhaa the day Saddam was hung, on a cold cairo street we prayed fajr which is early, the sheikh spoke for along time about the hanging, my butt froze on the cold road and that city stars mall is just awful what happened to the bread where is the khubz of 30 years ago.

        Xanith, and so to wiki, and this is the gulf where the creator seized with a need for simplicity gave full vent to his naive period:

        The xanith form an accepted third gender in Oman, a gender-segregated society. The xanith are male homosexuals (some work as prostitutes) whose dressing is male, featuring pastel colors (rather than white, worn by men), but their mannerisms female. Xanith can mingle with women, and they often do at weddings or other formal events. Xaniths have their own households, performing all tasks (both male and female). However, similarly to men in their society, xaniths can marry women, proving their masculinity by consummating the marriage. Should a divorce or death take place, these men can revert to their status as xaniths at the next wedding.[24]

      • Chaos4700
        December 4, 2011, 1:56 am

        I will say that the quality of “gayness” making one almost a quasi-ethnicity in its own right (as opposed to being considered a matter of gender distinction) is a distinct problem of the West. And it creates some strange artificial barriers. I have to confess, I’m not sure I could ever date a bisexual man — I’d always have the (admittedly unfair) prejudice in the back of my mind that he might suddenly decide to “go straight” and abandon the relationship. And over the course of my lifetime I developed a lot of artificial behaviors so I could “fake straight.”

        I’m also not sure it’s necessarily hypocrisy to respect the privacy of the bedroom. Ultimately, there are Gulf countries that are probably safer to live as a homosexual than, say, Texas in the US, where I believe homosexual acts are explicitly illegal and enforced to some (ridiculous) degree by law enforcement.

      • annie
        December 4, 2011, 2:42 am

        it is not hypocritical to respect the privacy of the bedroom. there is no more (or should be no more)of a social obligation for a gay person to expose his/her sexual preferences or ambiguities or fixations (or whatever) than there is for any other person. that is why we reference it as ‘in the bedroom’, it’s private and should remain so unless someone chooses to blather it all over hell and gone. that is not the same for a minor. minors are societies business and we should look after them diligently. but adults? it is nobody’s business

      • gamal
        December 4, 2011, 7:52 am

        The main point is of course is that Egypt in particular has been frustrated in its attempts to modernize. the chinese buddhist monk Taixu undertook a thorough modernization of buddhist education, coining a new term for it.
        But china was independent, Egypt ruled by Britain, was not able to pull it off.

        It would take some time to explain the reality of the social and gender relations in Egypt, but suffice it to say the main division is class, Egypt is class ridden to an horrific extent, you remember that scene in the Yackoubian Building, where the guy goes for a job with the police and the key question is what does your father do, ah a janitor the lowest job available, they laugh and dismiss him.
        Egyptians are very politically aware, and were like most 3rd world people a generation ago very socialist and this remains, but the terrible situation of feminists and others caught between huminatarian interventionists and no nothing proscriptive “scholars” is getting worse by the minute.
        Lets just look at the role of “political” islam.

        The muslims are of course well aware that “fundamentalist” islam is always associated with imperial penetration, the wahhabis were exterminated, twice, by the sublime porte and found shelter in the deobandi madrassa’s of british india, before being reintroduced to the region, with brit support.

        This merry band of brothers being flown all over, bosnia, iraq etc, by the American government, were deployed in Iraq, not to fight against the occupation but to effect a sectarian war, which they did, didnt they. The utter nonsense about the sunni/shia divide is deeply unconvincing to us, except as gulf propaganda. If clinton was the first black president, bush was the first gulf potentate president so perfectly does reprise the act of the emirs and sultans. Americas fundie allies are terrifyingly brutal, favouring acts of astonishing cruelty, i watched so many beheading videos over the course of the last few years, quite a few from our noble allies in Libya, i think i am ready to be a fully islamophobic anti-arab racist, i can only imagine how it must seem to euro-americans, they are like grinning demons, on youtube you can watch the extraordinarily brave and dignified moutassim ghaddafi dismiss them contemptuously before his murder.

        Political islam is a disaster for us, true, but its dynamics are quite complex, it is obscurantism in the service of empire, in egypt class consciousness is intense, and those fighting for social justice find themselves caught between no nothing regressive ‘islamists’ and humanitarian interventionists, to repeat myself, Imperial powers just love the fundies, Afghani, Abduh, Rida, Kawakibi et al were responding to the limitations of wahhabism and other revivalist movements by advancing the idea that modern science and other innovations should be made generally available to the arabs through education, and many of the Ulema adopted a kind of simple positivism and faith in science.

        Frankly the islamic parties have little to offer us but Islam in the service of neo-liberalism is a gift to the empire, i have not been impressed by the ‘arab spring’, for various reasons, suffice it to say that saudi is the regional model favoured by the American regime and we will no doubt conform. The vice president of the FJP, the brothers political party is a copt, rafiq habib, associated with the wassatiya trend, i think its doomed but we may need to go through a period of faux islamism before a socialist trend reasserts itself.

        The arabs are exhausted, resistance is being stymied, and any attempt at independence is being thwarted by total destruction of the states, social space etc, our world is turning in to gaza, the hauteur of outsiders is frankly misplaced, we have many resources that could effect a social transformation, idiot islamism is not one of them however, but not all islamists are stupid or regressive.

        Here mutassim tells the adherents of ‘american islam’ to go to hell before they murder him.
        link to youtube.com

        and Abdul Bassit recites al balad much favoured by socialistic and humanistic muslims, i first heard humanistic used as pejorative by an israeli rabbi, during a dialogue meeting it non-plussed me and i wrote an article for the FT called ‘secular christian muslim’ about it, when i used to give a damn and could express myself clearly those days are gone because what is there to say any more, now it will be war. Incidentally it really is worth checking out Smadar Levy about right wing arab jews in Israel, and the impasse we all face now.

        link to youtube.com

        we do realize that our sorrows are about to get even worse, the getting of wisdom is a bloody business, and we are very dumb at the moment.

  3. Avi_G.
    December 2, 2011, 2:19 pm

    Anwar Sadat reversed many of the egalitarian policies that Gamal abd al-Nasser had put in place. And like Sadat, Mubarak was corrupt and selfish. He squandered Egypt’s resources for his own family’s benefit. Together, all this led Egypt to become a nation where the gap between the wealthy and the poor was vast. Cairo’s cemeteries, for example, are home to two million homeless people who live there amid the gravestones and the tombs.

    So it’s going to take some time and a lot of hard work to shrink these class differences.

  4. MHughes976
    December 2, 2011, 5:45 pm

    BBC radio news has just carried an interview with someone from the American University of Cairo, mentioning that there has been some Saudi influence – and presumably money – but that the real reason is the rise of religious sentiment in Egypt itself. The liberal young are shocked and astonished, he said. Depressing.

    • Taxi
      December 3, 2011, 2:22 am

      Wherever there’s islamic extremism, there’s sure to be saudi money And backdoor USA meddling on behalf of israel.

      The middle east needs to be rid of zionism AND the house of saud.

      This is very difficult indeed, but it ain’t impossible.

      • seafoid
        December 3, 2011, 4:50 am

        I couldn’t agree more, Taxi. Saudi Wahhabism is as bad as Zionism.

      • dahoit
        December 3, 2011, 11:32 am

        Zionism creates Wahhabism.Or is it that they are just backward?Does the caliphate scare you?(yeah,like anything resembling a caliphate being enacted on such diverse peoples could ever be realized,and America in any case is exempted,so it is irrelevant to US,only to Israeli paranoids)
        Here in our secular paradise?we have a collection of the most backward people who ever existed.

  5. kalithea
    December 3, 2011, 4:06 am

    There is a great deal of logic in this letter. The poor should never be underestimated. Bringing dignity to the poor and including them in the revolution is the way forward to making positive change happen. That being said. Although, I’m not thrilled with the Salafists gaining ground in Egypt and especially now Syria, in the case of Egypt there is a positive side to this conservative wave. The military is too domineering. The fractured liberal side would be unable to handle the military and put them in their place. It’s going to take the kind of grassroots movement and political capital the MB has acquired to get the military to back off and do the job they’re supposed to be doing: defending Egypt from foreign interference rather than killing their own brothers and sisters.

    The MB together with the Salafists can handle the challenge of wrenching control away from the military while at the same time ensuring that foreign meddling in Egypt’s new democracy is restricted.

    This conservative phase will be necessary to ensure the military know their place in this democracy. The military generals are definitely out of control and a dangerous threat to the revolution and democracy.

  6. seafoid
    December 3, 2011, 5:22 am

    The Marxist analysis of what has been happening in Egypt since Sadat is worth following

    link to mrzine.monthlyreview.org

    The onset of neoliberalism in Egypt is associated with the series of policy measures known as infitah (opening) that were launched in the 1970s under President Anwar Sadat. After Mubarak came to power following Sadat’s assassination, successive governments continued the policy trajectory set by infitah. There were two prongs to this policy, particularly as it unfolded under the aegis of an IMF structural adjustment programme in 1990-91. First, a series of policies began to transform social relations in the rural areas. In 1992, Law 96 of the Egyptian Peoples’ Assembly liberalized agricultural rents and allowed for the eviction of tenants by landowners after a five-year transitional period. Rents were raised threefold and — with the encouragement of international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, and U.S. government bodies such as USAID — Egyptian agriculture shifted toward the type of export-oriented production that typifies much of African agriculture today.5 Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians lost their ability to survive on the land and streamed into the informal sector of urban centers — particularly, but not only, into Cairo.

    Second, state employment began to be cut back dramatically with the privatization (wholly or in part) of 209 public sector companies (out of a total of 314) by 2005.6 The number of workers in these public sector companies was halved from 1994-2001. In the banking sector, nearly 20 per cent of the banking system was transferred from public control to the private sector. The consequence of this wave of privatization — hailed by the IMF in 2006 as having “surpassed expectations”7 — was a massive downgrading of working conditions and the further impoverishment of wide layers the Egyptian population. This was another contributing factor to the expansion of the army of informal workers that characterize Egyptian cities and have played such a critical role in the recent uprising.

    It is in response to these neoliberal measures — and the complicity of the official state-linked trade union movement — that independent forms of worker organizing emerged in an important wave of strikes in 2006-08. During 2006 there were 220 major strikes involving tens of thousands of workers in the largest strike wave that Egypt had seen in decades.8 These strikes linked up with peasant movements, which aimed at resisting the loss of land due to the neoliberal measures described above. These earlier forms of organization and struggle have been a key element to the historical experiences underpinning the current wave of protests.

    But accompanying these neoliberal measures was its natural corollary: the concentration and centralization of wealth in the hands of a tiny layer of the country’s elite. As Tim Mitchell has thoroughly described, a key feature of the 1990-91 IMF structural adjustment was the transfer of wealth to the private sector. The result was the strengthening of a handful of massive conglomerates — such as the Osman, Bahgat, and Orascom Groups — whose activities stretched across construction, import/export, tourism, real estate and finance.9 It was this class that benefited from the privatization process, the access to cheap labour, the government contracts, and the other forms of largesse distributed through the channels of the state.

    So while the outrage at the wealth of Mubarak and the state officials associated with his regime is well deserved, we must not forget that Mubarak — and the Egyptian state as a whole — represented an entire capitalist class. The result of neoliberalism was the enrichment of a tiny elite concurrent with the immiseration of the vast majority. This is not an aberration of the system — a kind of ‘crony capitalism’ as some financial commentators have described it — but precisely a normal feature of capitalist accumulation replicated across the world. The repressive apparatus of the Egyptian state was aimed at ensuring that the lid was kept on any social discontent arising from these worsening conditions. In this sense, the struggle against the effects of the economic crisis would inevitably be compelled to confront the dictatorial character of the regime

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