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community building | imperialism & war

egypt: factory occupations, self-management & popular committees

This interview with Egyptian revolutionary socialist journalist Hossam el-Hamalawy was conducted on Saturday, February 5th at 8pm (Egyptian time). Below el-Hamalawy comments on the current decisive moment faced by those on the streets of Egypt, working-class participation and action, and the role of the army amongst other topics.
Full interview, here:

Q: The situation in Egypt is developing incredibly fast, can you describe what's happening in the streets right now?

A: As I am talking to you there are more than 15,000 demonstrators in Tahrir square who are still occupying it. Earlier in the day the army came to evict the protestors by trying to destroy the barricades they set up near the Egyptian Museum and although the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in the square Dr. Beltagui had ordered and called upon everybody via the microphone to not resist the army, people shouted back at him including the base cadres of the Al-Ikhwān [Muslim Brotherhood] who were there. People ran and lay in front of the tanks in order to stop them which they managed to do. Later the army sent the commander of the central region, which is basically Cairo and the surrounding areas, along with three generals, to convince the protesters to leave but they shouted back at him saying "We're not leaving until Mubarak leaves."

Q: Is there momentum towards protestors taking over the means of production and other institutions of Egyptian society?

A: On the ground, organizing mechanisms are evolving slowly. Protestors have set up security committees to watch the exits and entrances to the square and to defend it from attacks by Mubarak's thugs. There are makeshift hospitals that have also been erected in the square to treat the injured form the clashes with the thugs.

Discussions continue in circles that the protestors have put together in order to try to reach some unified demands and people take the platform where there is a mic and address the protestors. Whatever resolutions that the people like they cheer and whatever they don't like they boo. The uprising up until now contained elements from all Egyptian society, whether it is the urban poor, the working class, and even sons and daughters of the Egyptian elite could be seen in the protest. But as the revolution continues, some polarization has started to happen naturally. Between those who are tired, meaning the middle class and the upper middle class who are saying that we should stop now and try to reach some compromise with the government, and those who basically have nothing to lose and who have sacrificed a lot, like the urban poor and the working class.

The intervention of the working class in the movement is also another question mark, because definitely in some of the provinces where mass protests were organized they contained a majority of workers. But we still haven't seen an independent movement by those workers. Except in very few cases. For example I received a report about a textile mill owned by a company called Ghazl Meit Ghamr in Daqahliya, which is a province in the Nile Delta. The workers there have kicked out the CEO, they have occupied the factory and are self-managing it. This type of action has also been repeated in a printing house south of Cairo called Dar El-Ta'awon. There as well the workers have kicked out the CEO and are self managing the company. There are two other cases in Suez, where the clashes were the worst with the security forces during the uprising. The death toll is very high in Suez, we don't actually know the real death toll until now. In two factories there, the Suez Steel Mill and the Suez Fertilizer Factory, workers have declared an open-ended strike until the regime falls. Other than that we have not seen, at least to my knowledge, independent working class action.

The last thing i would like to note is that the so-called popular committees have been springing up in the neighborhoods here in Cairo and in the provinces. This happened following the collapse of our police force and their cowardly withdrawal in front of the people last Friday [January 28th]. The government started whipping up the security paranoia amongst the citizens in addition to sending plainclothes thugs who were affiliated with the security services, just as it happened in Tunisia, to attack public and private property and fire shots in the air. Citizens immediately stepped in and started forming these popular committees to protect their neighborhoods. They have set up checkpoints, they are armed with knives, swords, machetes and sticks and they are inspecting cars that are coming in and out. In some areas, such as the province of Sharqiya, the popular committees are more or less completely running the town, organizing the traffic etc. But in many cases they also work in coordination with the army.