Feb. 3, 2011
Support the revolutions of Egypt and Tunisia!
When Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak unleashed his plainclothes security agents and hired thugs against the freedom fighters in Tahrir Square Feb. 2, it was not only to support his shaken and discredited 30-year regime. He was serving the interests of all rulers, in the Middle East and beyond, that are terrified by the international wave of freedom struggles which broke out in Tunisia just weeks ago. Mubarak met their heroic spirit with gunfire, machetes, whips, dogs and Molotov cocktails. This echoed previous violence against the regime’s political prisoners. Altogether, hundreds have been killed and thousands more injured in the last week.
News and Letters Committees stands in solidarity with the masses of people fighting for freedom against the corrupt, long-entrenched regimes of Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mubarak of Egypt and other authoritarian dictators long supported by the U.S. government. What is decisive is not oil, not religion, but masses in motion fighting for self-determination and freedom–what Karl Marx called “the absolute movement of becoming.” Thus it is no accident that the current struggles build on a long history of labor activism and movements for freedom–including those by women.
The Egyptian army, despite the sympathy many soldiers clearly felt for the demonstrators, stood by and let the thugs operate. In the attacks upon the peaceful occupiers of Tahrir Square, comparisons with China’s Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 could not be avoided. Nothing could more definitively illustrate the old truth that there are two worlds in each country.
Fear of genuine revolution is seen in how demonstrations in support of the Egyptian movement were suppressed by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Protests in Algeria, Yemen, Sudan and Jordan have brought out both repression and government concessions. Journalists are under physical attack to keep the world from knowing about, and therefore solidarizing with, the people of Egypt. The U.S. government has tried to derail the revolution, struggling to find a “compromise” that would preserve the status quo, which fooled no one on the streets.
In Tunisia, protests coalesced around the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) and beyond this, councils were spontaneously formed to manage daily life within the rebellion. As one resident of Kasserin in Tunisia described, “After the withdrawal of the special forces, the city could turn and function without the presence of the state apparatus, which had also fled… We have been in a situation of permanent, open general strike for 15 days… It’s the local committee, which is basically a strike committee, that makes all the decisions… During the most difficult days, the bakeries distributed bread for free and we all took to the street to chase off Ben Ali’s police.”
In Egypt, the current rebellion builds upon years of profound labor unrest. This could be seen in the youth who had their first political experience protesting the jailing of workers who had called for a nationwide general strike following the huge strike of textile workers in Muhalla al-Kubra in 2008. That strike was initiated by working women. Muhalla is seeing mass protest now as well. The depth of passion in the movement was well expressed by one man who said, “This isn’t about cutting some branches. This is about tearing up the tree by the roots.”
The rebellions across the region are fueled by economic crisis–unemployment, lack of food and housing–but also represent a clearly articulated desire for a new way of living. The demonstrations have been organized by youth, who make up a huge percentage of the population. They include women, who are also determined to take control of their own destinies. Women, who are evident everywhere in the struggle in Tunisia and Egypt, and men as well are determined to stop religious fundamentalists from hijacking their revolution as was done in Iran 1979. Crowds in Tahrir Square chanted, “No to the [Muslim] Brotherhood, no to the parties. Revolution of the youth.”
Conspicuous by their absence from the early demonstrations was the Muslim Brotherhood. At first they didn’t participate because the demonstrations were called on “Police Appreciation Day.” This was not lost on those who were beaten that day, or after the police were defeated roundly, only to reappear as plainclothed thugs.
The current movements across the Middle East build on a long revolutionary history and yet represent a new chapter, from Egypt in 1919 and 1952 to Iraq in 1958, to Iran in 1979. The Tunisian revolt once again transformed the dialogue from a focus on oil and imperialist war to one of social revolution.
We reject all tendencies to box in these revolutionary upsurges, confining the new within old categories. These revolts are both new and, at this moment, independent–they can’t be confined into East/West or Arab/Israel as if these represented absolute opposites. The revolutionary history of Iran since 1979 has shown that the drive to freedom must not be diverted. What Karl Marx named “revolution in permanence” is the challenge to all those forces which will try to co-opt or divert the current uprisings, be they the U.S. government, national or world capitalism, or reactionary religious fundamentalism.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. The current freedom struggles in the Middle East can directly challenge the structure of world capitalism. In its depth, its spirit, and its idealism, this movement from below can also challenge the entire stage of political and philosophic retrogression the world has suffered through since Reaganism and the transformation of the revolution in Iran into Ayatollah Khomeini’s reactionary theocracy.
Support the freedom fighters defending Tahrir Square in their efforts to deepen the revolution! Oppose the U.S. efforts to stop the revolutionary events now taking place in the Middle East!
–The Resident Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees
Some recent related articles from News & Letters:
World in View: Egyptian textile workers’ actions spread (News & Letters, October-November 2009)
World in View: Egypt labor clash (News & Letters, April-May 2008)
World in View: Tunisia: a revolution? (News & Letters, January-February 2011)
Muslims protect Coptic Christians (News & Letters, January-February 2011)