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Adam Hanieh: Class struggle in Egypt enters a new stage

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PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. In Cairo today and in Egypt, more protests against the military regime. The struggle there is certainly not over. The military regime passed a law saying protests or strikes that get in the way of commerce are illegal. And last Saturday, they–military police busted up a protest in Tahrir Square. At least one or two people were killed. More people were arrested. An interesting side note to this Friday’s protests: apparently some of the protesters marched to the Israeli Embassy and called for an end to diplomatic relations between Egypt and Israel. This is a reaction to the recent Israeli bombings in Gaza. None of this is what I think. If the US tried to influence the leadership of the opposition movement, which–I think there’s good evidence they did–this can’t be part of the outcome they had hoped for. Anyway, now joining us to talk about the struggle in Egypt and further discuss the role of the Gulf Cooperation Council is Adam Hanieh. Adam is a lecturer in development studies at the School of Oriental and African studies in London. His forthcoming book is Capitalism and Class in the Gulf Arab States. Thanks for joining us, Adam.

ADAM HANIEH: Thank you, Paul.

JAY: So why don’t we start with just–again, let’s talk about recent events in Egypt, Cairo. Talk about what happened last Saturday and how things are–how the nature of the struggle’s unfolding.

HANIEH: Absolutely. As you mentioned in the introduction, what we’re really seeing here is some of the contradictions that come out of the situation following the downfall of Mubarak on February 11. We’re starting to see some differentiation between the demonstrators and the military, which really tried to put itself at the head of the protests in the lead-up to and immediately following Mubarak’s downfall. And we’re starting to see that those interests of the social movements that took to Tahrir Square in the early parts of 2011 have now starting to differentiate themselves from the military. And we’re starting to see splits within the military itself. On Friday, for example, there were a group of protesters in Tahrir Square who’re calling for Mubarak to be brought to justice, and joining them, interestingly enough, were some protesters who were dressed in–or military men, people who are enlisted in the military.


UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We have taken the decision to join the sit-in with our heroic people in Tahrir Square until our demands are fulfilled, which include: [Official source: investigations into truth behind Tahrir army officers affiliation to military service] 1) The dissolution and trial of the military council 2) The resignation of the Minister of Defense and Military Production Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi 3) The formation of a civilian presidential council which includes only one military person 4) The speedy trial of those involved in the killing and injury of 25 January revolution protesters..


JAY: And, in fact, one of the people killed apparently was one of the soldiers that joined the protesters, that he was targeted by the military police. And there’s even some report that he was killed with a sword, that they specifically went after him.

HANIEH: Absolutely. And this we can see very clearly, I think, that this is what has–the military, on one hand, is really trying–the leadership of the military’s really trying to emphasize that it is in control. And it is really, I think, unfortunately, not breaking with the legacy of Mubarak. But on the other hand, we do see the hundreds of thousands of people who continue to mobilize. We see strikes continuing, we see protests continuing, really trying to push the uprising and the end of Mubarak as far as possible, to fulfil the demands that were really behind the uprising in the first place.

JAY: Well, let’s talk a bit about that, ’cause the lens the US policy seems to use, and certainly American media, was Mubarak had outlasted his stay; down with the dictator. And the Egyptian story, you know, is kind of over in the American media. And this kind of–this also points to how they saw the nature of the struggle. So talk about that.

HANIEH: Well, absolutely. You’re totally correct. I mean–and you could see in the first weeks of the demonstrations that took place in Egypt an attempt by the American government, and the European and most of the regimes in the Middle East, to really demobilize, to weaken, to deflect the revolutionary impetus of the struggle itself. So while the demonstrators were out on the streets looking for answers not just to the question of democracy in Egypt, but also real social issues–. Egypt has been a place of strikes and demonstrations for many years now, looking at improving the living conditions of Egyptian workers and the poor in Egypt. Egypt was very severely hit by the economic crisis that began in 2008. It was hit by remittances that were lost from workers, Egyptian workers overseas who lost their jobs. It was hit by a lack of exports or a fall in Egyptian exports. And these–the crisis really did impact the Egyptian people quite severely. So it’s important to see the demonstrations that led to the ousting of Mubarak not just through the lens of democracy or a question of regime change, but also a broader social transformation that was looking at questions of social justice, questions of improved conditions, questions of privatization, really trying to turn back some of the neoliberal reforms that were seen implemented in Egypt over the past few decades that were really part and parcel to what the Mubarak regime was about.

JAY: Well, for certainly a section of the protesters and the democracy movement there, the target is–was this dictator/crony capitalism. It was a whole class of people who had concentrated political power but enormous wealth in very few hands, and the struggle was about that. But focusing on Mubarak became a very broad-based united front of all kinds of classes. Now Mubarak’s gone. The divisions are fracturing, and in many different ways. There was a report (and I’d be very interested in your take on what this means), the debate that took place at the Egyptian Journalists Union, where some people, apparently, from the journalists union were critiquing the activists for calling for the resignation or firing of the new leader of the army, Field Marshall Tantawi, and they were saying, by calling for his ouster, you’re deflecting the focus on making Mubarak and his sons accountable, who are now–are being held by Tantawi. Talk about what this means in terms of the form the class struggle is taking as they enter the next phase.

HANIEH: Absolutely. It’s–I think the question really is: is this going to be a fundamental break with the regime and the class that ruled Egypt under Mubarak? Or is it going to be a continuation of that regime with a new head, a new face, under the domination of the military? And, unfortunately, what we can see is that the Egyptian military, the higher echelons of the Egyptian military–and it’s important we don’t see it as a homogenous block. But certainly the leadership of the Egyptian military is keen on preserving pretty much the status quo that existed prior to the downfall of Mubarak. And they’re being supported in this very strongly by the US government. Let’s not forget, Clinton visited Egypt over the last couple of weeks. They’re being supported in this by the European governments, the IMF, the World Bank, and the GCC or the Gulf states as well. So this is really the axis of the struggle. Is it going to be a fundamental transformation, or is it just going to be a face change? The end of Mubarak, the end of Mubarak as a president, but a fundamental continuity of the regime, that’s what we’re seeing being played out in both Tahrir Square in the events on Friday, as well as the broader strikes and demonstrations that continue, and the attempts by the military to place laws in effect that will ban and prevent these demonstrations and strikes from occurring.

JAY: And one of the interesting developments is the way the Muslim Brotherhood seems to be saying, if you give us some more space, we’ll help you maintain the status quo.

HANIEH: Of course. I mean, this contradiction is being played out in all of the political organizations. And the Muslim Brotherhood, which was not prominent in the first days of the uprising, seems to be, in the recent period, pretty much moving along with the military. But certainly within the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly among the youth forces that are associated with the organization, there is discontent and there is an attempt to try and move and push the uprising and the revolution further than [incompr.] But it’s important to see that in the post-uprising period there have been a range of new political forces that have emerged that are attempting to organize and regroup the left and–as well as new independent trade union forces, youth organizations, women’s organizations that have arisen in the past few months.

JAY: Now, what was the interest in the US in all of this? There’s not more than evidence. I think it’s fairly conclusive now that some of the young people involved in some of the internet Twittering, Facebook activity, that that certainly played a role in sparking this. I think it–maybe it’s been overplayed, from what I understand, because the trade unions and the workers particularly had been waging very fierce struggles for years leading up to this. But still, it was a factor. What is the US interest in this? ‘Cause they seem to have created a situation–or, I should say, facilitated creating a situation where there’s much more room for the workers to get organized for a much more progressive student movement, young people’s movement. Why would they want any of this?

HANIEH: Well, I think the first point to make very clearly is that to [incompr.] call these uprisings in the Middle East, which the mainstream media and the American government and some commentaries have tried to do, as some kind of Twitter revolution or Facebook revolution is really to dismiss the hundreds of thousands of people that have come out onto the streets and really made these uprisings what they are. Of course, people will use whatever tools are available. And, you know, no doubt, new technologies have played an important role in the process. But it at heart is the struggle of people themselves. It’s a struggle of students, of workers, poor people across the region for a transformation in the regimes, as well as the broader social transformation. So I think that’s the first point to make. In terms of what the US interests in this, I think the US interests are pretty much unchanged from what they were prior to the uprisings. And that is, they’re looking for a stable government that they can be allied with that will ensure US interests across the broader Middle East. And really this means that we need to see the US interests from the perspective of the Gulf area in particular, the GCC states, which is really what drives, I think, US foreign policy across the Middle East as a whole. So they’re looking for stable regimes–which in the context of the Middle East generally means military-backed regimes–with which they can do business and with which will continue upholding their broader interests across the region as a whole.

JAY: So let’s talk about that a bit, because Saudi Arabia apparently has said to the US there’s been a lot of reports that the Americans bailed on Mubarak far too early. And I guess if you think the movement’s coming anyway and there’s enough anti-Mubarak sentiment in the country, it makes sense for the US to make sure they’ve got their hand in both sides and make sure they come out of this kind of looking favorable to whoever won. But Saudi Arabia didn’t like how quickly they bailed on Mubarak. On the other hand, Qatar, and Al Jazeera particularly, played an important role in the development of this movement. So how do all these interests play out?

HANIEH: Well, I think the point that the US from the very beginning was really looking at steering and preventing this from going too far–. You know, they were–at the very beginning of the uprisings, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia, were not at all in favor of Mubarak stepping down immediately. They were looking to negotiate, looking to some way to ensure stability and a continuation of the status quo that existed prior to the uprisings. That’s really been the tendency. And when it became clear that Mubarak had to go, they then changed the language to call for orderly transition. This was the phrase that was repeated ad nauseum [incompr.] US government spokespeople, you know, looking to see orderly transition, which means essentially the continuation of the status quo but without Mubarak in place. Now, the GCC states were, as you said, very much–particularly Saudi Arabia, very much in support of both Ben Ali and Mubarak. And, in fact, Ben Ali, when he left, took up residence, and as far as I’m aware is still in Saudi Arabia.

JAY: This is the Ben Ali from Tunisia, just in case anyone’s not following.

HANIEH: Yes, that’s right, the dictator overthrown in Tunisia. Qatar needs to be seen in relation to Qatar’s broader foreign policy objectives. And there’s some jostling of influence within the Gulf itself between Saudi Arabia [crosstalk]

JAY: Well, I tell you what. Let’s go to another segment, and we’ll focus more on Qatar, their interest in what happened in Egypt, but we’ll also talk about Qatar and the Gulf Cooperation Council and what’s happening in Libya. So please join us for the next segment of our interview with Adam Hanieh.

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