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Jihan Hafiz: Egyptian workers say military trying to reconstitute old regime without Mubarak

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CROWD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Leave! Leave! Leave! Leave, Field Marshal! Leave! The people don’t want you! Leave! Leave, Essam!

JIHAN HAFIZ, TRNN: The ghosts of Egypt’s political past still haunt the revolution. Where Egyptians once chanted the army and the people are one during the initial stages of the revolution, now they denounce the interim military regime, a force many Egyptians associate with former president Hosni Mubarak.

(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Anyone in the military council or in the government would not be there unless the intelligence agency signed on to it, and the intelligence agency would not accept anyone into leadership or political position unless they were certain they would be loyal to the NDP (former regime). All of those who participate, whether they are presidents of companies, presidents of factories, members of the board, any powerful or political position had to be approved by the NDP. The system is not predicated on Hosni Mubarak. Hosni Mubarak is gone, but the system remains.

HAFIZ: The source of their contention? The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and this man, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the longtime defense minister of Mubarak. After months of promising a quick transition into civilian rule, setbacks and contradictions keep Egyptians in the street. A demonstration dubbed “the reclaiming of the revolution” called on the Military Council to terminate the emergency law, which was reinstated after thousands of protesters destroyed the Israeli Embassy two weeks ago.

(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I’m not only here for the martyr Ahmed Abdel Karim. I’m here for all of our children. Say no to the emergency law. No to the emergency law!

HAFIZ: Many Egyptians say life hasn’t changed under the military regime. The much-hated emergency law was initially scaled back after the revolution that started in January took down Mubarak. But the military council has since brought back and expanded the law, which spanned three decades under the Mubarak regime and led to human rights abuses throughout the country. Many insist torture is still a key component of the state security apparatus and is routinely practiced on detainees. Abdel Azeem Ahmed Azza, an engineer, told us he was tortured during the Eid holiday, before the emergency law was restored.

ABDEL AZEEM AHMED AZZA (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I was arrested the third day of Eid. I was given electric shocks all over my body. When the judge acquitted me last Saturday, the police officer arrested me again. Field Marshal Tantawi rules the courts, and what he commands is maintained. They’ve electrocuted me, and my body is ruined.

HAFIZ: Protesters vow to stage a week-long sit-in in the iconic Tahrir Square this weekend, but it did not last long.


(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We came to stage a sit-in inside the square, but they beat us. Look. They came into the square this morning.


(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The security forces.


(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Because we’re here, and they don’t want us to continue our strike.


HAFIZ: The violent removal of the participants of the sit-in came as Field Marshal Tantawi met with political parties and agreed to amend the election law. But these men, who call themselves Tahrir diehards, say the concessions mean nothing and that the military council has been scheming with key political parties to build a new power structure in Egypt.

(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): This is my evaluation of the political situation [in Egypt]. The military council will take the biggest piece of the pie, the presidency. The ministries will miraculously go to the Al Wafd Party. And the Parliament will go to regime leftovers, those from the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, the Egyptian people will get a bar of soap. We have one demand: that the military return to the barracks.

HAFIZ: On the surface, it would seem the concessions recently made by the interim military regime are answering the demands of the people. But here on the streets, many continue to strike. Unrest has been boiling over on a daily basis, especially in the private sector. Teachers and university professors have been staging strikes for nearly 2 weeks, threatening to bring the school year to a halt unless their demands for better wages and benefits are met.

(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Up until now, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is postponing the process and won’t agree to the demands. The teachers, however, are responding by striking during exam week to force the military council to take the teachers’ demands seriously.

HAFIZ: Public transportation workers have been disrupting the city’s massive bus system for nearly a week. The head of the public transit authority claims the budget was too low to accommodate demands to increase wages by 200 percent.

(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I have been here for three days. I feel sorry for my son. What’s harder is that my husband is a driver and his base salary is EGP 198 ($33). Once he goes into outside districts, he comes up with EGP 450 ($75). My son, he has hepatitis C. He’s receiving treatment for hepatitis C. We are constantly seeking treatment for him, and we live in Imbaba. So, with my husband’s salary, EGP 450, we choose to either pay our rent or get medicine for the boy. There is still theft in the country; the stealing is still happening. From a budget of EGP 128 million, we get EGP 45 million only?

HAFIZ: Their anger isn’t only directed at the Transportation Ministry, but the whole system, which they say is still riddled with corruption.

(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Who will prosecute the governor? And who will prosecute Essam Sharaf? And the military council … what is their role in all of this? What is the role of the military council who claim they will hand the authority to civilian rule? Military council, what have you solved for the poor people? You have only served for the big people. From a colonel who gets EGP 70,000 ($12,000) a month–and this is from the horse’s mouth–EGP 70,000 a month, how much does the poor guy take home? That’s why there is no budget and there is no money in the country. If there is no money in the country, how do you take home EGP 70,000 and this poor man takes home EGP 220 ($32)?

(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): What can EGP 250 in monthly salary bring?

HAFIZ: Middle-class pro-democracy activists from Cairo, many of them English-speaking and media-savvy, have been portrayed as the catalysts of the Egyptian revolution. But it was the workers strike in the city of Mahalla in 2008 that sparked the movement that eventually ignited the revolution, and many believe the explosion of strikes during the uprising last February were decisive in toppling Mubarak. Eight months later, while sporadic protests filled Tahrir, worker strikes shut down Cairo’s main streets on a daily basis. Jihan Hafiz for The Real News in Cairo, Egypt.

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Jihan Hafiz reported for The Real News Network while in Libya in February and March 2011