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Ezzeldin: Egyptian uprising is the product of years of workers’ strikes and student protests – now inspired by the Tunisian people

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. The people of the world are watching the people of Egypt and Tunisia as they shake the very foundations of Arab regimes and US policy in the region. Amongst the people watching the events in Egypt, perhaps none are more focused than Egyptians abroad, especially students like the guest in our studio now. His name is Mohammed Ezzeldin. He’s a graduate of political science at Cairo University currently completing his master’s degree in history at Georgetown. Thanks for joining us.


JAY: So I guess you wish you were there.

EZZELDIN: Actually, it is a glorious moment. I wish I were there in the Cairo streets. I just came to DC to continue my study, actually, ten days ago, and I can’t believe what I have seen on TV, beginning from Tuesday. This moment I have been–I kept dreaming of, I kept participating and doing my best to witness this moment, me and millions of Egyptian youth. And now it’s–we just–we find the dream coming true.

JAY: Did it come as a surprise to you? I mean, you saw the events in Tunisia, and you know everybody was saying what will happen in Egypt, and the regime is so repressive. On the other hand–and the extent of the force of repression so powerful. And there’s sort of a facade. There’s elections, the facade of democracy. Did you expect something of this scale?

EZZELDIN: Two points I would say here. First, in terms of number, terms of scale, in terms of the demands they have been calling [for], and these radical demands calling against the regime, it was really surprising. It was–in terms of–.

JAY: To hear the words “Mubarak out”.

EZZELDIN: Yes, yes, from laymen in the street, people who are just ordinary people, people who are not activists, who are not part of political opposition or syndicates, people just coming, seeming from everywhere in the city, and calling, “Down to Mubarak”. So this was surprising and was for far extent unthinkable, till–at least till Monday. People were calling for a big strike, a bigger demonstration in Cairo for January 25, but nobody expected this scale. But what make this moment is really glorious, actually, is it refuted all the stereotypes [that] has–have been said about the Egyptian people, about the Egyptian opposition, about the real grassroot democracy, the possibilities of this democracy to be happening in Egypt, regardless of the American support for the regime, regardless of the very weak opposition movements and very weak stand took by many opposition parties in Egypt. So this what make this moment —

JAY: So how did this moment arrive? How did we get here?

EZZELDIN: Yes. This is my second point, that this moment, we have to understand this moment in terms of accumulation. This not just–didn’t come out of the blue. This moment was the manifestation, this moment unfolded after a manifestation of different opposition movement, basically three circuits or three rounds of opposition to Mubarak regime, beginning from 2004, 2005, when Kefaya movement rised up the famous slogan la ilI tadid. la lil tawrith,“no for continuation for continuation for Mubarak, no to inheritance of power to his son Gamal Mubarak”. And then this movement took a momentum in 2005 and people made renewed the hope for a real change. After 2005 we have witnessed a huge wave of strikes–included workers, bureaucrats, included people working in the state apparatus and business. For example, in Mahalla, industrial city in Delta, witnessed three successive and successful strikes in 2006, 2007, and 2008.

JAY: Strikes at what kind of places?

EZZELDIN: In one place. This city, actually, it include–.

JAY: You mean the city–people of the city went on strike.

EZZELDIN: City and factories. Like, it’s industrial city, based on huge compunds of factories of textile industry. And it’s–like, you can find, like, almost 30,000 workers working together. So imagine when for a moment 30,000 people are striking and supported by the residents in El-Mahalla. So three times they made successful.

JAY: And what years were the–?

EZZELDIN: 2006, 2007, and April 2008.

JAY: And were they met with police repression?

EZZELDIN: In 2008, April 6, 2008, they met with huge and brutal repression by the police, and it was like a street war. So this was–this moment actually made a new hope, that first it delivered a new culture, a new experience for ordinary people about the strike. So it was followed by estimated, almost estimated 800 strikes in two years, which [is] unprecedented in Egyptian history.

JAY: This is the last two years now.

EZZELDIN: No, in 2008, 2009. Okay? So we had first a political movement 2005, social movement, spread all over Egypt, in 2008 manifested by Mahalla strike and the tax [textile?] workers strike, who called for independent trade union. And both experiences [inaudible] many of Egyptian workers and people who are protesting against the regime and the–it paid a lot of attention to what these people can do and how powerful they are. Okay? It was followed later, last year, in 2010, by a youth movement. This youth movement [inaudible] after the brutal death of Khaled Saeed. Khaled Saeed was a young man, a university graduate in Alexandria, and he was tortured in the street and he was killed by the police inspectors. And after–like, who was ordered by the police to kill this man, and he was killed. And after the murder of Khaled Saeed in June 2010, there was a huge and massive opposition between the youth [inaudible] the people who are vulnerable to unemployment, people who are facing the police in daily interactions, and people who feel that this country is theirs, this country is ours, but it has been hijacked, it has been captured by this repressive regime and the political and economic figures who are supporting this regime and who are depriving them from a new future. So we have three moments manifested in what happened. And, of course, this wouldn’t happen, I would say, this wouldn’t happen, at least unless we have kept watching the great and glorious revolution of the Tunisian people, which actually broke any barrier of fear [inaudible] just fearing to go to demonstration and continuing and insisting on the demands. So Tunisia, of course, played a huge role in what–to make what happened in this shape, in this —

JAY: How important was social media? We’re–you know, from the Western coverage there’s kind of this sense that Egyptians were doing nothing, Tunisia happens, social media, and now you get this. So now what–you can understand there’s years of development. But that being said, did social media play an important role?

EZZELDIN: Yes, it played an important role. But we have to understand there’s a sort of difference between Egypt and Tunisia. The Egyptian regime, the dictatorship in Egypt, is supported, basically, by the American aid and supported by American regime, American [inaudible], American administration, and of course supported by Israel. The geographic and strategic status of Egypt in the region made the Egyptian regime quite different from other regimes in the region, okay, w hat made the mission and the task of the Egyptian opposition is really hard. So this is number one. Number two–.

JAY: But just to add, because there’s so much at stake for Western interests, Egypt is like the pillar of this US policy for this region.

EZZELDIN: Sure. Sure. Sure. This first. And this not–by any means, this–I don’t mean to reduce anything of what happened or to underestimate what happened in Tunisia, which is beyond imagination, beyond recognition, something really incredible, something great. But I would say, first, Egypt is quite different in terms of population, in terms of strategic importance to United States. And second, regarding the media, the media played important role, because, first, the government and the state media lost its legitimacy since 2005. Al Jazeera and all independent bloggers and websites, Facebook, all this new social media played a significant role in networking and in, like, calling for strikes. For example, in April 6, 2008, it played a magnificent role. So social media played very important role. And people now, like, we–I expected that what happened in Tunisia is going to influence people in Egypt, but I didn’t expect that it’s going to influence–me and many people didn’t expect it will take this short an–it was with this–in this quick way, this very fast way. So media, basically, the coverage of events in Tunisia last month, played a major role in bringing the potential for change in Egypt to a moment, a momentum.

JAY: So do you get a sense now that–both in terms of the workers movement and the unions and the student movement, that this is going to give rise to new forms or more developed forms of organization? ‘Cause right now it looks very spontaneous.

EZZELDIN: Yeah. It’s completely spontaneous. The opposition movement, the legitimate, legally, opposition movement can’t claim anything of what’s going on now in Cairo streets. And Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday, they denounced what happened. They said, we didn’t participate; we are going–. They said they are going to participate, but they didn’t participate actively in what happened Tuesday. Okay? So this actually is really inspiring. First, those people are having spontaneous motivations. They were going after an–because of unemployment [inaudible] economic and political social grievance, because of dictatorship, because the suppression, the oppression of the police, okay, they are just–they are done. They are done. They have nothing to lose [inaudible] People are going to change. Okay? So this is number one. There’s–they are not consolidated by foreign influence or foreign support. In terms of money, in terms of organization, like what happened in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, for example, it’s quite different. People are not supported in Tunisia and Egypt; they are not supported from outside. And all the stereotypes in Western media about the potential threat of Islamist and all this stuff and they are going to take over the power [inaudible] only potential or only alternative to the recent regime in the region. Now it’s–it doesn’t has–it lost all of its credibility, because people are going and challenging the regime.

JAY: So, in other words, $1.3 billion of military aid isn’t to stop Islamic extremism. It’s being used to stop popular resistance.

EZZELDIN: I would say so. For almost 30 years in Egypt it did so. Yeah.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Mohammed Ezzeldin is a graduate of political science from Cairo University, and is doing his Masters' Degree in History at Georgetown University.