By David Markovitch
Monday, 28 January 2008
The Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip has been dealt a major blow: Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, had to allow the starving Palestinian masses to cross the border into his country to get food, medications, clothes and other basic necessities.
Some 350,000 Palestinians poured out of Gaza and into Egypt early on Wednesday and more than half the total population of the strip managed to cross the border during the first days after the breach, the United Nations said. The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the Gazans rushed to purchase food, fuel, and other supplies made scarce by Israel's blockade of the Strip, after militants detonated 17 bombs in the early morning hours, destroying some two-thirds of the metal wall separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt.
Hamas did not claim responsibility for knocking the border wall down, but Hamas militants quickly took control of the frontier, as Egyptian border guards took no action. Israel said in response to the chaos that it expects Egypt to solve the crisis, but it's evident that Egypt is in a difficult position where whatever choices are made will cause more instability.
Haaretz reports that "the destruction of the border continued late on Wednesday morning. Palestinians driving a Caterpillar bulldozer arrived at a point where the frontier is marked by a low concrete wall topped with barbed wire, tearing down the wall and opening a gap to allow easier access for cars. Hamas police channelled the crowds through two sections of the border, and inspected some bags, confiscating seven pistols carried by one man returning to Gaza.
"Others walked unhindered over the toppled metal plates that once made up the border wall, carrying goats, chickens and crates of Coke. Some brought back televisions and car tires, and one man bought a motorcycle. Vendors sold soft drinks and baked goods to the crowds".
On Monday, some 60 people were injured at a demonstration at the Rafah crossing as the crowd tried to break through the border gate, and Egyptian border guards used water cannons against them. This fact and the subsequent attempts to seal the border by Egypt, indicate that Mubarak was forced to allow people to break in because the Egyptian army was overwhelmed by the pressure of the crowd. Any attempt to resort to bloody repression would have opened an even more dangerous scenario for the stability of the regime.
Israel imposed a full closure on the Gaza Strip on January 17th in response to massive barrages of Qassam rocket fire on southern Israel. Defense Minister Ehud Barak allowed limited transfers of fuel Tuesday for the power plant in the Strip and medical supplies for hospitals.
Security sources told Haaretz on Tuesday that Israel intends to keep the crossings into the Gaza Strip permanently closed except when it is necessary to provide for emergency humanitarian needs. This new policy would have allowed, according to the Israeli government, the transfer of sufficient aid and materials to the Palestinians to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and minimize international criticism. What really happened was that the burden over the lives of the mass of the population was so heavy that the whole situation exploded.
Hamas politburo chairman, Khaled Meshal, declared that the attacks would continue until Israel "ended the occupation and the aggression, the resistance, including rocket attacks, would not cease." At least 20 rockets were fired against Israel on Tuesday, in addition to a handful of mortars. The Israeli ruling class on the other side welcomes these sort of indiscriminate attacks because they do not harm the power of Israeli state at all. On the contrary, they secretly welcome each and every rocket fired from Gaza because they leave ordinary Israeli people with little choice than to support the Zionist state.
What motivates Mubarak?
Mubarak has no special sympathy toward the Palestinians. When Yasser Arafat was hesitating signing on the second Oslo Accords with the late Prime Minister Rabin, Mubarak muttered angrily and whispered, "Sign, you son of a dog!" In fact, Mubarak has been striving for decades to do whatever he could in order to maintain his regime with minimum tension, attempting to present the Palestinian question as a problem that has no unique or close relation to Egypt. His country did absolutely nothing in order to help the Palestinian refugees, wallowing in terrible misery and tragic poverty in the camps.
Like the Jordanian Hashemite Kingdom and its leader Hussein, Mubarak was always seeking to play a role of disinterested conciliator between Israel and the Palestinians, enjoying the enormous financial support delivered to them by Uncle Sam.
The interesting question is, however, why did Mubarak decide to open the border and let the Palestinians cross? Did he find hidden humanity in his heart? Did he lurch to help the famished Palestinian people?
The main reason why Mubarak did not order the Egyptian army to carry out a bloody repression against the Palestinians is that he feared the army would not hold the line.
Furthermore, he feared that repression would have detonated an even more furious response from the Palestinian masses and eventually fail, opening up an even more terrifying scenario for the regime.
The third reason is related to the rising social unrest that is heating up in Egypt (see previous articles here and here). The conditions of Egyptian masses have been worsening in recent years, in spite of high rates of growth. The inflation rate is well above 10 per cent and price hikes between 30 and 50 per cent in all basic commodities like meat, fresh vegetables, wheat flour, bread, fuel, energy, etc., hit the poorer sections of the population harder than the rich. In the last two years a wave of strikes and workers' militancy has been rising. The regime had no alternative than concede to workers' demands, in the attempt to prevent struggles to generalize.
The Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported on January 14 that about 300 workers of Menotex factory demonstrated in the city of Menoufia over the failure to pay their salaries for two months, while about 200 others at the Aalaf Kafr Saad factory in Damietta threatened to go on strike in protest against the sale of the plant. On January 9, a member of the Coordinating Committee of Workers' Unions Rights and Freedoms, Khaled Ali, told al-Masry al-Youm that "it is unacceptable for the minimum monthly wage in Egypt to be 35 pounds when the price of a kilogram of meat is 40 pounds, and when the minimum for social security is 104 pounds".
Every strike collides with the official union's bureaucracy, which is a part of the state and through their own experience sections of the most militant workers are reaching the conclusions that independent unions have to be formed.
The blog 3Arabawy, written by an Egyptian journalist reported that The Center for Socialist Studies issued a statement on the victory of the two months long Real Estate Tax Collectors' Strike, asserting this will open new doors for the struggle of professional people and civil servants in other government sectors. He translated part of it: "Another fight is also looming... Once again it's over the unions... The strike all throughout was run by the Higher Committee for the Real Estate Tax Collectors' Strike, headed by the dynamic Kamal Abu Eita and in theory included one representative from each of the country's 26 provinces.
"Where were the state-sponsored Union Committee members? They were not involved. And as a humiliating proof of their illegitimacy and lack of credibility they were not even invited to the final negotiations between the Finance Minister and members of the Higher Committee for the Real Estate Tax Collectors' Strike, the true representatives of the civil servants..."
The same blog announced that the Egyptian Workers and Trade Unions Watch has issued a new report, citing 35 industrial actions during the first two weeks of November: 8,000 workers took part in strikes, sit-ins, or hunger-strikes, while 33,000 others threatened to go on strike or stage sit-ins.
The situation in Egypt is clear: the workers' movement is becoming a major force in the society, while the labor movement - apart from the trade union bureaucracy - is led by militant unionists. It is playing a crucial role in carrying forward the class struggle and laying the foundations for a mass political organization of the Egyptian working class.
The Egyptian toilers feel understandable sympathy toward their poor and oppressed brothers and sisters in Gaza. They watch the pictures at the Television, read the reports in the newspapers, get updates through the internet, and they become angry and furious. They are not directing their angry toward the Israeli ruling elite, which has always been regarded in great suspicion and hostility by the Egyptian masses. They expect nothing from the decaying Israeli liberal bourgeoisie and the Brown Shirts of the rising racist Israeli Right. They demand that the government takes action, while understanding its treacherous role, abhorring its policies as representing the interests of the US imperialism, and loathing it as the enemy of the workers and youth.
Mubarak fears the labor movement and it is no coincidence that after so many strikes and pressure from below to end his austerity policies, the Egyptian Bonapartist fears the reaction of the masses and allows the Palestinian impoverished masses to enter his country. Mubarak knows quite well that his rule is unstable, that after his retirement (he is almost 80 years old) the country might fall into chaos as the leadership the National Democratic Party has been losing the support of the masses. His son, Gamal, is not regarded as an authoritative figure within Egyptian politics.
At a certain stage this wave of anger towards the ruling NDP can be transformed into pre-revolutionary situation. Egypt has been leaning for years on the West. Since 1979, the country has been receiving $2.2 billion per year from the imperialist US ruling class. In return, Egyptian rulers have been enslaving the masses to the world bourgeoisie. Thus, in its annual report, the IMF has rated Egypt as one of the top countries in the world in undertaking economic reforms. A serious intensification of the class struggle can threaten the rule of the NDP and create an open conflict with masses. US and the EU imperialism would expect Mubarak to respond by oppressing the labor movement. Mubarak, who knows how fragile his rule is, doesn't wish to enter a situation in which his eroded regime could be undermined by his own people.
Egypt's road to Revolution
The Egyptian republic has travelled a long way during the last 50 years. The July 23 Revolution in 1952, by a group of young army officers who called themselves The Free Officers Movement, was a decisive step forward in which a monarchy became a republic through a bourgeois-national revolution. The reasons for the revolution resembles today's situation: The Egyptian ruling elite was corrupt and pro-British, with an ostentatious lifestyle, provocative and boastful; the masses lived in terrible misery. The masses considered the establishment as corrupt and had no trust in its institutions or in the political parties. The defeat suffered by Egypt in the 1948 war caused a national crisis in which the king was considered as a defeatist who lacked any program that could advance Egyptian society. As a result, Gamal Abdel Nasser was nominated as president.
A change in the course of Egyptian politics was occurring after the regime had been asking for loans from the World Bank in order to finance the construction of the Aswan High Dam. After the US and Britain withdrew from their agreement to finance the project, the Egyptian president pressed forward in the revolutionary process and announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company. Nasser promised that revenues of the SCC would finance the construction of the High Dam. Nasserism was a radical bourgeois nationalist who spoke about "socialism" (in some respects resembling Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in Pakistan). This created sharp tensions between Egypt and Britain and France. The British and French imperialisms decided to freeze Egyptian assets and put their armies on alert.
The Stalinist bureaucracy considered Egypt as an important country in consolidating the pro-Soviet camp in the Middle East, while Israel allied with US imperialism. The Soviet Union offered to fund the High Dam project. The Israeli ruling elite saw its opportunity in the rift between Egypt and the European imperialists and initiated a Tripartite Anglo-French-Israeli aggression against Egypt in 1956. Egypt responded to the war by nationalizing all British and French banks and companies. Later, other foreign and Egyptian firms were nationalized by Nasser.
The revolutionary process went deeper in 1962, as the Nasserite regime supported the deformed workers' state of Abdullah Al-Sallal in Yemen. The Yemenite Revolution overthrew Imam Badr and carried forward a revolutionary process that was aiming at building a "socialist republic" - that is to say, a deformed workers' state in the image of Moscow. As a result, Egypt entered a political conflict with Saudi Arabia, the committed supporter of the Yemeni royalists.
Egyptian industry progressed very much during Nasser's rule as capital Investment in industry and mining increased considerably. Nasser carried forward a major Agrarian Reform. By 1962, these policies had led to a minimum 51% government ownership of the economy. Egypt was moving in the direction of a deformed workers' state, that is, a state in which the means of production would be nationalized, but without proletarian democracy.
However, after the defeat in the 1967 war with Israel against Egypt in June 1967, Nasser decided to resign. Millions of workers and youth poured onto the streets in mass demonstrations in Egypt and across the Middle East. This was the moment in which Nasser could have finished the job of expropriating the capitalists, but the Moscow Stalinist bureaucracy, which had no interest in advancing the revolution in the Middle East, restrained him.
When Nasser died of heart attack on September 1970, more than five millions were present in his funeral. With all his faults, the masses admired Nasser for his anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist policies, and for reforms such as making education freely available to the poor, building Egyptian industry, removing the monarchist boot from the masses' neck. He also supported the arts, such as the theatre, the film and music industries, as well as Egyptian literature.
However, after the death of Nasser. Egypt swung in the opposite direction. It suffered another blow when it was defeated in the 1973 war, initiated by Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat. Its economy went through a period of serious stagnation. Sadat's turn to the right culminated in the Camp David accords with Israel, under the patronage of former US President Carter, which caused frustration among the masses. He even refused to insist that Israel should withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories and stop the settlements movement. The peace pact with Israel was regarded as terrible betrayal by the masses and led to his assassination.
For Egyptian workers' revolution
Nasserism had its own problems. First and foremost, its concept of socialism was nationalistic; there was no workers' democracy and Nasser took the degenerated Soviet state as his model of "socialism". This doomed the Egyptian Revolution, which did not even establish a deformed workers' state like the one in Yemen. Nasser had no idea of the permanent revolution, though he did have a very strong anti-imperialist stance. His policies fluctuated between revolution and nationalism, more accurately, Pan-Arabism - a tendency aiming at unifying the Arab masses of the region along anti-imperialist lines. In this "socialism-from-above" the masses didn't play any real role in politics, while a layer of bureaucracy, careerists, right centrists and opportunists was formed in the image of Moscow.
The defeat in the June 1967 War did not destroy the masses' trust in Nasser but it did encourage the bureaucracy to step backward and reverse the tendency towards greater statization of the economy. The formation of National Democratic Party in 1978 further deepened the retreat. Nasser was a petty bourgeois Bonapartist, who balanced between the working class and the bourgeoisie, and also between imperialism and the USSR.
Mubarak is a bourgeois Bonapartist who has abandoned all Nasser's "socialist" demagogy and openly allied himself to imperialism and the bourgeoisie. The Nasserite experiment thus came to a bitter end with years of stagnation, brutal dictatorship, open alliance with the US imperialism and, in recent years, privatization, anti-working class measures, the oppression of civil rights and the strengthening of an authoritarian regime.
The awakening Egyptian workers' movement has no trust in the bourgeois NDP. It has even less trust in the bureaucracy of the unions. It wishes to use the trade unions and the workers' power in order to change the course of the country. The compromising attitude of the ruling NDP reflects a recognition in its weakness. This weakness is now expressed in the decision of Mubarak to let the Palestinians enter Egypt and thus break the Israeli siege. The Egyptian ruler fears the masses.
But the most dangerous lesson (from the point of view of the regime) that emerges from the crisis in Gaza is that when the mass of the people are mobilized, they become such a powerful force that normal means to enforce authority become useless. Every attempt to seal the border after the break up has failed so far and it is clear that nobody can ensure that things go back to "normal" unless the mass mobilization steps back. We are sure that this lesson will not be ignored by the masses in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.
However, the labor movement in Egypt should not use the crisis in the country just to overthrow Mubarak. The reactionary Muslim Brotherhood movement, smashed by Nasser, has been long waiting to seize power. The Islamists are dying to take revenge, to crush bourgeois national secularism and build Islamic republic. This will be a disaster to the working class. The workers in Egypt should build their class organizations and strive for political independence. The most advanced workers and youth will defend the socialist programme and fight for a real workers' republic in Egypt and throughout the region. They will fight for a class programme, based on secular and democratic policies and develop solidarity with all the toilers of the region, building fraternal links not only with the Palestinian but also with the Israeli working class, advancing an internationalist agenda.
Through action, the Egyptian workers will sooner or later come to understand the need to establish their own Labor party. In a situation like that of Egypt, militant trade union activity will necessarily end with the workers drawing political conclusions. In the end there is no other way forward for the workers of Egypt except taking power into their own hands.
The most advanced sections of the Egyptians and youth will be interested in the ideas of Marxism. They will study the problems and achievements of the past, and they will draw the conclusions from the failure of Nasserism and turn to authentic socialism - to Marxism as it was elaborated by Lenin and Trotsky. Only in this way can a genuine revolutionary leadership be forged, as a truly socialist wing within the Egyptian workers' movement. Socialism is the only way forward to the Egyptian exploited and poor masses.RENEGADE EYE