Egypt: The Afterglow Has Faded

      A protester chants slogans during the demonstration in the Algerian capital, Algiers, on 12 February 2011, encircled by hundreds of riot police intent on preventing any repetition of events in Cairo, Egypt

In August, the General Federation of Trade Unions — an organization loyal to the state that, for decades, served to stifle worker dissent by condemning strikes and informing on labor leaders — was dissolved under mounting pressure from the labor movement. Meanwhile, the number of independent trade unions in Egypt grew from just four when the revolution began on January 25 to more than ninety within a matter of months.

But not everyone is ready to break with the military. In October, thirteen political parties signed on to an agreement with the military council that sparked broad criticism among their rank and file. The agreement outlines a timetable for presidential elections that would effectively keep the military in power through 2013 — a full two years longer than their original pledge to hand power back to a civilian authority within six months of taking control of the country.

More egregiously, the agreement includes no concrete promise to lift the draconian Emergency Law, in place since 1981, which denies the right of assembly and gives security forces virtually unrestrained powers of search, arrest, and detention. The agreement also called for party leaders to "declare their full support to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces" and thank the body for "protecting the revolution and working on handing over the power to the people."

"To sign on to this is to put your stamp of approval on the military's program, and that program is horrendous," says Hani Shukrallah, a prominent member of the Social Democratic Egyptian Party, who handed in his resignation to his party because its leader had signed the agreement. "What this document says is that you are willing to betray the demands of the revolution for party interests."

A number of revolutionary groups are mobilizing the resistance. Chief among them is the April 6 Youth Movement, one of the largest and most prominent youth organizations in the country. The group was founded in 2008 to support a planned strike by textile mill workers in the industrial Nile Delta town of Mahalla El Kubra on April 6 of that year. The strike was brutally suppressed by the Mubarak regime but the group continued to organize as a resistance movement in the years that followed and was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the January 25 revolution.

The group is launching a "black circle, white circle" political awareness campaign. Aiming to prevent former regime members from winning seats in parliament, the group is compiling a list of candidates with ties to the now-dissolved National Democratic Party or with histories of corruption, which will comprise the "black circle." Meanwhile, in the "white circle," rather than endorse specific candidates, the group will list a set of qualifications and characteristics they hope to see in elected officials.

The April 6 Youth Movement has also worked to organize with other grassroots groups to support continued street demonstrations during the transitional period. They fully participated in the second mass sit-in in Tahrir Square that began on July 8 and lasted more than three weeks. Many point to that mobilization as having pressured the military council into finally putting Mubarak on public trial on August 3 on charges of corruption and conspiracy to kill protesters. In mid-July, the Supreme Council singled out the April 6 Youth Movement in a statement that accused the group of driving a wedge between the army and the people. General Hassan El-Roweini, a member of the military council and the head of the Central Military Zone Command, also charged in a television interview that the group was receiving foreign funding. The irony of the Egyptian military, which receives $1.3 billion annually from the United States, accusing protesters of foreign funding was lost on the ruling generals.

"The military council is very afraid of our influence and that is why they leveled those accusations at us," says Mahmoud Afifi, a spokesperson for the April 6 Youth Movement. "In our view, the revolution is not moving on the right path and we hold the military council fully responsible for what is happening."

Resistance to the Supreme Council's rule may now be entering a new phase following the army's brutal crackdown on the crowd of largely Coptic demonstrators in front of the state television and radio building, known as Maspero, on October 9. It marks the first time soldiers are directly implicated in the killing of protesters. The army responded by claiming military police had come under attack first and by insisting that they exercised the highest level of self-restraint. They denied there was any evidence the army killed demonstrators despite clear video footage and eyewitness testimony to the contrary.

In the wake of the attack, large demonstrations and vigils for those killed have filled the streets in and around downtown Cairo. Protesters compare one of the Maspero victims, Mina Daniel — a young revolutionary and member of the Socialist Popular Alliance who was wounded in Tahrir during the eighteen-day uprising — to Khaled Said, the twenty-eight-year-old businessman who was beaten to death by policemen in Alexandria in 2010 and became a symbol of police brutality that helped to spark the Egyptian revolution.

"We have to rise up again," says Amal Sharaf, thirty-six, a founding member of the April 6 Youth Movement. "If we realize the military is just another face of Mubarak, and we are really ready to resist — to go through this again — I am hopeful. If not, then we're done."


Tags: april 6 youth movement, cairo, egypt, hosni mubarak, mubarak, no to military trials of civilians, revolution, supreme council of the armed forces, tahrir square

    • Sharif Abdel Kouddous
    • Sharif Abdel Kouddous is an independent journalist based in Cairo. For eight years he served as a senior producer, co-host, and correspondent for Democracy Now! and he remains a frequent contributor to the program. Originally from Cairo, he returned to Egypt in 2011 to cover the Egyptian revolution. He has written for The Natio...

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