They said they would be there, and they were. The 25 January was declared a “Day of Anger” by democratic and socialist forces a week beforehand. The significance of the choice of date cannot be overestimated—it is “Police Day— an occasion when the regime incessantly drums up the virtues of its patriotic police force.
This is the same force that has been increasingly the only mainstay of the regime. It is tarnished with unprecedented levels of crimes: illegal incarceration of thousands of political prisoners; torture and deaths as everyday practice in police stations (not confined to state security police anymore); attacks on workers’ struggles and shooting to kill on demonstrations; harassment and arrest of activists; unprecedented levels of corruption, drug dealing and petty theft .
And we are supposed to celebrate 25th of January. This year the masses chose different. A Day of Anger.
For years the resistance to Mubarak’s regime has been on the rise: a democratic movement feeding from the solidarity with the Palestinian Intifada, the protests against the occupation of Iraq, against the attack on Gaza, protests against fraudulent presidential and parliamentary elections; the second part of the 2000s saw a massive wave of strikes that demanded, and often won, economic demands and always called for the ousting of Mubarak. Step by step, workers and the political opposition have been increasing in confidence.
But so much has changed in the few days since the flight of Ben Ali in Tunisia. The euphoria among ordinary people in Egypt was everywhere to see. The Tunisian revolution was widely felt to be an “internal affair.” People felt that this great victory over dictatorship was theirs as well. And, of course, if it can happen there, so many people said, why can’t it happen here!
With Ben Ali, a dictator resembling in many features their own Mubarak on the run, the glass wall of fear was shattered. Those dictators can indeed fall. They can be made to run. In the here and now. All talk was that “After Tunisia will be Egypt.”
Against the background of the developments in the democratic and workers movement in Egypt in the past years, the Tunisian revolution can be seen as the raising of the curtain on seismic events in the region. The Egyptian protesters are starting off from where the Tunisian revolution left.
They have amalgamated the economic and political, the call for a better life and desire for freedom, and concentrated it all in the will to change the regime. On Thursday, tens of thousands took to the street chanting “Bread, Freedom, Human Dignity.”
Demonstrators in their thousands gathered and marched in all major cities with one goal: ousting Mubarak’s regime. Their slogans included: “Revolution until Victory”, “Revolution in Tunis, Revolution in Egypt”, “Oh Mubarak, Bin Ali is waiting for you in Jeddah.”
Thousands of residents in the poor areas where the marches passed joined in. The political prisoners in Abu-Zaabal prison started a hunger strike and are calling on political prisoners elsewhere to join them. A hundred thousand people occupied the major square in Cairo for a number of hours until the police dispersed them by force. Over all the police seemed overwhelmed. However, true to their ways, they arrested hundreds of activists and killed at least six people until now.
On Tursday, and despite a government ban on all demonstrations, there were protests in different parts of Egypt. The police broke up gatherings by force only for them to reform elsewhere. In Suez the protesters torched the main police station. Police cars were attacked in different places. And everywhere the protesters went the pictures of the dictators were brought down and trampled under their feet.
The prospect of radical change in the region has never been so close. It might not happen today, but this is definitely the beginning of the end.
In London, demonstrations are being held every day in front of the Egyptian embassy demanding regime change and supporting the protestors in Egypt. Echoing the slogans from the streets of Egypt the protestors outside the Egyptian embassy in London have been chanting: “The people want to bring the regime down”, “Bread, Freedom and Social Justice.” Last night, in front of the embassy, and to the tune of the national anthem, protestors chanted “My homeland, my homeland, You need a revolution, Oh my homeland.”
We have many ways of bringing the spirit of Egypt and Tunisia to Britain. On Saturday, students and workers will march on parliament demanding free education and jobs for all. Afterwards, the demonstration will be marching to the Egyptian embassy.
Everyone inspired by what they have seen in the Middle East should be on the streets tomorrow.
Assemble noon, ULU, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HY