A New Arab Awakening

People are rejoicing throughout the Arab world at the news of the departure of Hosni Mubarak, the hated Egyptian dictator who was forced to resign by weeks of protests on the streets. Thirty years of tyranny, thirty years of treachery to the Arab nation and thirty years of crawling to the Americans and Israelis went last Friday when Mubarak bowed to the inevitable and threw in his cards.

In Washington the lamps are burning through the night as the hidden hands of imperialism plot their next moves. America’s remaining Arab placemen now ponder when they should book their one-way ticket to Saudi Arabia while the oil princes themselves look nervously out of their palace windows fearful of the call for freedom on their streets.

Millions of unemployed Egyptians want jobs. Others are demanding higher wages. All want the social security they once enjoyed during the Nasser era.

But the army that gave Mubarak his marching orders has ordered strikers back to work, imposed martial law and suspended the constitution. True the military council has promised to pave the way to speedy elections but elections in themselves won’t solve Egypt’s massive social problems. Some 40 per cent of Egypt’s 80 million people live in poverty and their demands are quickly being forgotten by the self-appointed liberal bourgeois Egyptian leaders who see themselves as the natural heirs to the Mubarak regime.

These people, like Mohamed ElBaradei the former head of the International Atomic Energy Commission currently favoured in some quarters of imperialism, opposed the old regime because government office, and the power and wealth that goes with it, was monopolised by Mubarak and his cronies. They talk about democracy but what they mean is simply “democracy” for themselves and their class.

This was the sort of democracy that existed under the last king of Egypt, the worthless King Farouk, who presided over a parody of Westminster so loathsome that the chant of “down with democracy!” became popular in the run-up to Nasser’s Free Officer Revolution in 1952.

When Egypt was the United Arab Republic, led by Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Arab Socialist Union the people benefited from land reform that broke the back of the big landowners, public ownership to build a modern republic and a “safety-net” welfare state that subsidised food, redistributed wealth and provided free basic education and health treatment for the poor.

What the Egyptian masses want is, at least, what a previous generation once took for granted. They want a genuinely independent republic that can assert its sovereignty over every part of its territory working together with the rest of the Arab world to resolve the Palestine problem and build Arab unity. And what the workers, farmers and labourers who create the entire wealth of the country want is people’s democracy — not some cosmetic change that simply gives them the privilege of choosing which set of exploiters should run the country when it comes to election time.

What comes now nobody knows. Free elections will certainly provide an opening for the popular forces in Egypt to put the issue of social justice back on the agenda for the first time for decades. So we must continue to support all those fighting for a free and independent Egypt in the months to come.