Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Cairo: revolution at the crossroads

I've just got back from Cairo. Here's the report I filed for Counterfire on Saturday night.

Alex Snowdon reports from the first international solidarity conference in Egypt since the revolution that began on 25th January. It draws inspiration from the earlier Cairo Conferences and has been organised by the Popular Alliance Party, Socialist Renewal Current and other left groups.

Egypt's revolution is at a crossroads. The military council and its moderate allies aim to curb the revolutionary process opened by the extraordinary 18 days of mass protests, occupations and strikes in January and February which led to the overthrow of Mubarak.

Some of those dedicated to extending and deepening the revolution are meeting in Cairo this weekend. Counterfire supporters and other UK activists are among a wide range of international delegates joining Egyptian socialists for the 'Long Live the Arab Revolution' conference.

It is a moment to reflect on the revolutionary achievements, but also to discuss the challenges activists face and plot the way ahead. As a speaker from Egypt's Socialist Renewal Current put it:

"The tip of the iceberg has gone, but the rest remains and resists being moved. Mubarak and close allies are removed, but most of the institutions remain."

The people who made and led the revolutionary events, in Tahrir Square and elsewhere, are not part of the new elite, which is dominated by the military council, elements of the old order and moderate leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The military council and its allies want to preserve relations with the US and Israel, secure its own economic interests and preserve influence after the planned transition to a civilian government. Left wing groups, youth coalitions and new workers' groups are organising to move beyond these limits. As we left Friday evening's session, the tear gas drifted from a confrontation at a nearby police station, where protesters were trying to free arrested activists.

There are continuing struggles over democratic rights. As one delegate posed it: their democracy or ours? A traditional parliamentary republic will not satisfy the aspirations of millions who - through their own historic actions - mobilised, fought for radical change and began creating new democratic forms.

The struggle for real democracy, women's rights, minority rights and freedoms like forming independent trade unions is ongoing. It is bound up with the movements for jobs and better pay.

A striking doctor spoke powerfully about the doctors' militant campaign, which is for improved conditions but also raises profound questions about how far democracy extends in the new Egypt. Many Egyptians now expect a say in all aspects of society, not merely the chance to put a cross on a ballot paper.

Delegates from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Iraq and elsewhere have shared their experiences of the 'domino effect' from revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Wider developments in the Arab region are a major theme, as is the relationship between Arab revolts and Western imperialism.

Egypt's revolution in particular has shaken Western states and weakened US imperialism, but the military intervention in Libya indicates the determination of US, UK and French leaders to reassert influence. Many delegates have reaffirmed the need to connect Arab revolutionary movements with anti-imperialism, and therefore opposing war in Libya.

How can Egyptians organise to defend and deepen their revolution? What new forms can be built to create a more radical democracy while challenging inequality and exploitation? How can the wider revolts help bring liberation for Palestine?

These are some of the pressing questions which have brought together such a range of activists in Cairo this weekend. They will continue to be the source of intense discussion as the popular movements develop.


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