The Egyptian Revolution one year later / Occupy Detroit defends the Egyptian Revolution

The Revolution summed up

January 25th was the first year anniversary of the revolution which swept across Egypt and toppled the US-backed dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in only 18 days.  This victory, however, was only the first phase of the revolution in Egypt.  In Mubarak’s place arose a council of his closest military leaders, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), who have acted as the most counter-revolutionary and reactionary force in Egypt, with backing from the US military.

Since last February, SCAF has ruled over Egypt, promising to eventually hand power over to a newly elected civilian government.  Despite the popular view that the military is an ally in the revolution against Mubarak — one of the most popular chants in the square was “the army and the people are one hand” — revolutionaries have approached their pledge with extreme skepticism.

Not only has the military dragged their feet in completing a transition to civilian rule, but they have continued and expanded several neoliberal and authoritarian Mubarak-era policies.  Since last February, the Egyptian government has continued the privatization of state-owned industries and the dismantling of organized labor (one wonders how much further these policies will go, now that the EU, World Bank and International Monetary Fund have all pledged to get involved).  The military has also reinstated the state-of-emergency laws, a focal point of resentment during January’s revolution, and expanded them to ban all strikes and protests.  After last November’s uprising and subsequent parliamentary elections, the ruling military council announced that it will constrain parliament’s influence in drafting Egypt’s new constitution, ruling that the new parliament will not be representative of Egyptian society.

Acting as the primary counter-revolutionary force in Egypt, SCAF has attempted to contain the revolutionary spirit of January with brutal repression.  Over 12,000 civilians have faced military trials since last February, and many of the captives have been tortured.  Dozens have been murdered by the military, most notably when the military killed almost 30 at a protest led by Coptic Christians at the Egyptian state news headquarters in what’s become known as the “Maspero massacre.”  Over 30 more protestors were murdered during the November Uprising, sparked by growing hatred for the military council and their reactionary measures.  Thousands have been wounded, many blinded from being shot in the eyes by rubber bullets.  Socialists and anarchists have been targeted specifically by the military dictatorship and its supporters (e.g., the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salifists) as wanting to spark violence and disrupt the revolution.  Women in particular have been a frequent target for the counter-revolutionaries.

However, in the face of all this Egyptian revolution has grown, expanded and deepened.  Despite laws banning strikes, a strike wave has erupted since the downfall of Mubarak, resulting in the renationalization of several industries.  Trade unions and workers organization have formed their first political party, the Democratic Workers’ Party.  Half a million workers went out on strike in just two weeks in September 2011.  Despite the brutalization of protestors on the streets, the protests in Tahrir Square, Alexandria, Giza and other major cities across Egypt have continued to grow.  In the face of brutal attacks against female protestors, the largest demonstration of women in Egyptian history was organized, denouncing both sexual assault and the military dictatorship.  On January 25th of this year, Tahrir Square was packed with over 2 million people by some reports, in the largest turnout of people since the revolution exactly one year before.  In the course of this post-Mubarak struggle, it seems that people are increasingly recognizing counter-revolutionary the  military, and its supporters like the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-conservative Salifists, are playing.

The Role of the US Government

Even though the US has called publicly on the Egyptian military to “restraint” itself, its policies suggest an altogether different approach to Egypt.  The US government continues to provide military aid to Egypt’s ruling-council, claiming it is an important force for the US’s “political stability and economic progress” in the Middle East.

As Stephen Maher puts it in “The Political Economy of the Egyptian Uprising,” in November’s Monthly Review, the US’s immediate, primary interest in Egypt is “to prevent the emergence of a regime that would challenge the hegemony of the United States in the Middle East.”  Mubarak and his military has been a longtime military and economic ally of the US, being the second largest recipient of US military aid in the world next to Israel, and has been very friendly to Western neoliberal economic interests since the reign of Anwar Sadat in the 70s and early 80s.

When the Egyptian people overthrew a dictator long trusted by the US as “an anchor of stability” in the Middle East (as former State Department spokesperson PJ Crowly put it to Al Jazeera during the January Revolution) they not only confronted their own political regime, Maher argues, “they also confronted an imperial United States and global capitalism itself.”  The US needs to ensure that whatever regime assumes power after Mubarak’s downfall will maintain Mubarak’s neoliberal agenda, e.g., the privatization of state-owned industries, reigning in organized labor and ensuring its docility, unregulated free markets, etc., which, as mentioned above, has been the modus operandi of the ruling military council.

Further, Egypt shares a border with the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (i.e., the Gaza Strip) and is a necessary ally in maintaining what’s often referred to as “the world’s largest open air prison” in Palestine.  Since the ascension of SCAF to power, the Egyptian military has kept (and in some cases strengthened) their troop presence on Gaza’s border.  Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salifists, according to former US President Carter, are “eager” to maintain the Camp David Accords.  Anticipating the Brotherhood’s future political role in Egypt, Sen. John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has already begun meeting with the party’s leadership in Cairo.

Given the deep political, economic and military connections between the United States and Egypt, the success of the revolution there hold deep and profound implications for the future of US imperialism in the Middle East.  The success of the revolution there holds our greatest hope at present for dealing a massive blow to US imperialism and the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Occupy Detroit’s Jan. 25th March & Rally

Last week on the 25th, Occupy Detroit along with leaders from local Arab and Muslim organizations, held a march and rally in defense of the Egyptian revolution, calling for an end to US military aid to the ruling military-council, and raising the revolutionaries demand for a civilian government and an end to military trials of civilians.

In virtually every way the Egyptians struggle is our struggle here.  Egyptians have been battling privatization, economic injustice, inequality and neoliberalism for the better part of a decade, policies imposed upon them by the US and the West.  Despite the mainstream media’s narrative, the revolution in Egypt was about much more than a few corrupt individuals, and the growing battle against SCAF is exposing that myth.  It was always about “bread, freedom and social justice.”

Virtually no place in the United States exposes the dead end of neoliberalism more absolutely than Detroit, a town crippled by jawdropping levels of poverty, racism, and inequality.  While the mainstream media, bloggers, journalists and so on praise Detroit’s much anticipated so-called “recovery,” the city government continues to shutter its schools left-and-right (under the imposition of a state appointed public school “dictator”); bust public employee and teachers’ unions; privatize public services; slash public spending; firing thousands of city workers; and, impose steep budget cuts to avoid being put under the dictatorship of a “Financial Manager” (or as a pastor who spoke at the march put it, “our own personal Mubarak”).

The state government has been just as oppressive, decimating much needed social welfare spending to the city’s residents, eliminating access to food stamps for many poor students and families, and demonizing welfare recipients, while giving tax breaks to major corporations and raising them on the poor and elderly.  The shells of abandoned federal housing projects, many of them built in response to the Great Rebellion of June 1967, the largest urban uprising in US history, are peppered across the city’s landscape, while thousands of homeless wander the streets and sleep in temporary encampments under expressway overpasses.

Organized labor has been rendered virtually powerless, finding itself under the leadership of all-too-often complacent officers who refuse to take on the auto-industry’s rapacious greed.  So Obama can stand up at the State of the Union and celebrate General Motor’s economic “recovery” from the crisis, but not mention that all the new hires are being brought in at less than half of the pay-and-benefits of their more senior coworkers, because the UAW conceded to a two-tier wage structure (under the leadership of a supposed “reformer,” Bob King).  Like the Egyptians, Detroit and the whole United States is in desperate need of a militant movement demanding “bread, freedom and social justice.”

There is an even more direct connection, however. Only 11 miles outside Detroit’s city limits, a General Dynamics tank plant received a $395 million grant to construct components for tanks going to the Egyptian military.  So while houses, schools and projects are shuttered across Detroit, public money is going to finance repression in Egypt.

Indeed, it is no secret that this empathy and recognition of common cause inspired much of the present uprising in the United States.  References have been continually made to Occupy’s inspiration from Tahrir.  References to how the “Arab Spring led to the American Autumn,” are frequent enough.  In Madison, WI, a “first shot” fired in the battle against neoliberal austerity, dozens of public workers held signs comparing Scott Walker to Mubarak.  Many Americans are finally waking up to the realization that “the 99%” here in America has more in common with “the 99%” in Egypt or Tunisia, than they have in common with the ruling “1%” here, their bosses, directors, Presidents or congresspeople.

That message rang out loud last Wednesday.  People from Occupy Detroit, the Arab-American Student Union at Wayne State University, and representatives from several other organizations, marched to the office of US Senator Carl Levin (a Democrat), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and demanded an end to the financing of repression in Egypt, and to use those resources to meet people’s needs here, chanting “Same Tear Gas; Same Fight! 99% Unite!” and “Money for schools; not repression!”  The march was wonderfully enthusiastic and defiant, refusing to move to the sidewalks when police asked us to.  The march also got coverage from the Detroit Free Press and the local Arab American News (the largest bilingual English/Arab Newspaper in the US).

We rallied at Senator Levin’s office, expressing our solidarity with Egypt.  Several speakers talked about their inspiration from the Egyptian revolutionaries courage, and their anger at the US government’s waste and greed.  We also read a letter from a friend in Egypt (I’ll post this on here later), getting ready to leave to Tahrir Square for the anniversary rally.  Several leaders from Occupy and various local Arab and Muslim organizations organizations thanked each other for coming out and standing up for the Egyptian revolution.  It hasn’t been long since the march and rally, but it’s my hope that this action has begun a deepening relationship between Occupy and the local Arab and Muslim community.

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