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Egypt: Gaza conflict fuels anti-Mubarak opposition
THE HORRIFIC events in Gaza have caused fury throughout the Middle East. Fuelling this is the collaboration of the ruling classes with US and Israeli big business.
Nowhere is this clearer than in Egypt. Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, visited President Hosni Mubarak just two days before the Israeli attack began. Mubarak must have been told what was about to happen. He has long been opposed to Hamas, which is linked to Egypt's largest organised opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).
Since the Gaza massacre began, demonstrations have grown. Protesters risk beatings, imprisonment and torture. The government has not felt able or confident to try and completely stop them. But it is increasingly turning to violent repression to prevent them broadening into an anti-Mubarak movement.
On 28 December, 800-900 marched in Cairo, led by the MB. The police allowed them to march a ten-minute route, but in silence. MB stewards prevented anti-Mubarak chanting. The marchers joined a further 1,500 protestors called by the doctors' association.
The next day 4,000-5,000 demonstrators chanted: "We are all Hamas," and "Don't put down your gun, Haniyeh" [the political chief of Hamas in Gaza]. As before, protesters who chanted "Down with Hosni Mubarak" were silenced by MB stewards. It looks as though the police and MB came to an agreement about what would be tolerated.
The closed Egyptian border with Rafah in Gaza has stoked up anger. Mubarak refuses to allow through desperately needed food, fuel and medical supplies. Mass action is needed to break down the Rafah border to allow in urgently needed supplies and allow out the wounded for treatment.
A year ago, the crossing was forced open for a short time by such a movement from within Gaza. A similar movement could develop in Egypt. Even Mubarak's state machine would crumble if faced with a massive and determined workers' movement.
Many other demonstrations broke out on 31 December. Reports suggest as many as 500,000 took part. The police responded with baton attacks, tear gas and arrests. Larger demonstrations occurred after Friday prayers on 2 January and anti-Mubarak chants were heard.
Mubarak and French President Sarkozy's ceasefire plan increased anger. On 9 January, in Alexandria, 50,000 took part in a demonstration after Friday prayers, led by the MB.
In a sign that it is coming under increasing pressure to openly oppose the regime, protesters chanted: "Down with Israel, and with it every collaborator," and "Gaza excuse us; opening Rafah is not in our hands" - clearly aimed at Mubarak. Elsewhere, demonstrators pelted baton-wielding police with stones.
Egypt supplies natural gas to Israel at below market prices. A $2.5 billion 15-year deal was struck in 2005 by Eastern Mediterranean Gas. This is co-owned by Egyptian businessman Hussein Salem and the Israeli Merhav Group. Salem is a long-standing close friend of Mubarak and one of Egypt's wealthiest capitalists.
At present, Mubarak fears upsetting his American backers and rich friends more than he fears Egyptian workers and youth. But protests are growing, becoming more militant and could lead to a crisis for the government.
"Covering social protests in Egypt since autumn 2006," writes a Swedish journalist in Cairo, Per Bjorklund, "there is one phrase that I've kept hearing again and again: 'The government is treating us in the same way as Israel is treating the Palestinians!'"
In December the first independent trade union for over 50 years was formed. 55,000 property tax collectors struck in 2007 for three months, winning a 325% pay rise. The democratically elected strike committee organised a successful conference to found the new union. They see this as the first step in building an independent trade union movement.
This is needed to struggle for decent pay, jobs and working conditions. An independent workers' party is also needed to link different sections of workers and youth, with a socialist programme - to end the rule of Mubarak's cronies, nationalise the large companies, banks and land, and plan Egypt's wealth and resources.
The most effective way Egyptian workers and youth could support those suffering in Gaza would be to bring down the corrupt Mubarak regime and replace it with a democratic socialist government. That would inspire workers throughout the Middle East to rid the region of every rotten ruling class.
In The Socialist 21 January 2009:
War and occupation
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Socialist Party feature
International socialist news and analysis
Environment and socialism
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