Monday, April 07, 2008
Amid all the justified talk about Mugabe's repression in the face of rebellion, Mubarak's dictatorship has just passed through another of it's - I hope - terminal convulsions. It comes in the form of an apparently well-planned assault on what might have become a general strike, in part motivated by soaring prices. It turned into a riot, a full-scale intifada, as Egypt's police unleashed hell on Mahalla al-Kobra textile workers yesterday. Hossam el-Hamalawy has full details here, with photos. You can see further images here. Zeinobi at Egyptian Chronicles has ongoing updates. Agence France Presse also has a decent report with photographs.
From the early hours of the morning, it seems, the factory at the centre of the strike was occupied by plain clothes security forces, including figures from the mukhabarat. Tens of known labour activists were prevented from entering the building, and a great deal of pressure was put on union leaders to call off solidarity strikes. It looked as if the strike had 'fizzled out' as one report put it. However, when workers and local residents gathered in the main square to protest, they were met by ranks of armed guards and beaten and attacked with tear gas. With what can only be described as incredible courage, the protesters resisted instead of dispersing, and what ensued was a lengthy battle, with rocks hurled and trucks and cars overturned. Across Egypt there were hundreds of arrests, many of them random, and bloggers were nicked alongside activists and politicians in an effort to prevent the news about what was happening from getting out. At least two people are reported to have been killed by the police, with 100 more injured. In Cairo, it is reported, the traffic was light and schools empty as people responded to the strike call. But where protesters tried to organise, the police attacked them. By 10pm, Mahalla was entirely occupied by security forces, with announcements instructing citizens to stay in their homes and power to the city cut off.
The manner in which the Egyptian state aborted this strike and attacked protesters has prompted the Muslim Brothers to boycott upcoming elections. This is a landmark for the Mubarak state, in the context of a rising wave of rebellion against the government's neoliberal policies. Mahalla workers have been the most militant and effective fighters in the country, and their successes have enlivened the whole society. If this day of carnage and crackdown was supposed to put a stop to that, I doubt that it will be effective. But then I suspect that Mubarak knows that the issues over which people are protesting generalise very rapidly from apparently economic concerns into a critique of the regime and society. And do not forget the paymaster. The United States government has taken risks with its assets in the Middle East by gambling on the invasion of Iraq. Mubarak is significant enough for them that he is the second largest recipient of aid next to Israel. Like Iraq, Egypt has long been one of the major powers in the Middle East, and an obvious candidate to lead a regional insurgency against American hegemony should it fall into the wrong hands.