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THE GENERALS AND THE “DEMOS” February 26, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Middle East, North Africa.
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Now it seems the Egyptian Revolution has entered a second phase.

Egypt remains the main arena in the democratic revolution and Libya and other political systems although not unimportant, noting for example the demonstrations in Iraq and the reported support of Algerian Government for Gaddafi, are in effect side shows.

Al Jazeera reports that protesters were removed from Tahrir Square by the army, with soldiers wearing face masks and using cattle prods. Earlier in the week, three leading generals appeared on television and took questions from reporters.

Gregg Carlstrom at Al Jazeera writes:

But despite their pledges, and the endless chants of “the people and the army are one!” that echoed through Tahrir Square this month, there is a lingering unease about the army’s motives. It is the oldest pillar of the modern Egyptian state, after all, the source of all four post-revolutionary presidents and a powerful political and economic force in its own right.

Saturday’s crackdown, with its echoes of the repressive tactics used by Mubarak’s government, only deepened that mistrust.

“Can we now please stop this our-army-is-cute tune which everyone has been singing for a month now?” tweeted Hossam el-Hamalawy, an Egyptian journalist and labour activist. “Those generals are Mubarak’s, not ours.”

The military, for its part, seems to be trying to outmanoeuvre the protesters, by pledging political reforms while simultaneously casting the rallies as a drag on the struggling Egyptian economy.

The labour movement was a key force behind the protests that toppled Mubarak: Strike actions across the country siphoned off support from the country’s economic and military elite, which came to view Mubarak’s continued grip on power as a threat to the Egyptian economy.

Since Mubarak’s overthrow, organised labour has continued to rally for better wages and working conditions. Strikes since February 11 have affected textile mills, banks, public transportation and several other sectors of the economy.

The junta has seized on labour’s continued role to paint continued protests as a threat. It issued a statement last week warning that protests organised by the labour movement are “illegitimate,” and threatened to take “legal steps” against the demonstrations.

Egypt’s economy has undoubtedly suffered from a month of unrest. Tourism, which accounts for more than 10 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, is the most visible example: Hotel occupancy rates in places like Sharm al-Sheikh, which normally run 60 to 70 per cent during this time of year, have plummeted into the single digits.

But labour activists view this as a rare opportunity to win real economic reforms. Corruption and nepotism were hallmarks of the Mubarak-era Egyptian economy, which allowed a handful of well-connected cronies to enrich themselves through monopolies and back-room deals.

Average Egyptians receive few protections: The government guarantees them a minimum wage of just six dollars – per month – and even the average salary, LE300 (US$51), is hardly enough to provide for a family.

Strike actions are likely to continue, in other words, with a few activists even now calling for a nationwide general strike to oust the Shafiq government and the military junta.

The military has promised changes, but it is also keen to get Egypt “back to work” and restore much of the status quo. Opposing it is an energetic, organised protest movement, which does not entirely trust the military and will continue to agitate for far-reaching reforms.

This tension will probably come to define Egyptian politics over the next few weeks and months, and decide the (still uncertain) outcome of the Egyptian revolution.

The connection with the Greek World of thought and ideas is not wholly abstract. Alexandria is tangible evidence of that link. The “demos”, in Athenian Democracy related to a unit of local government and the people, as distinct from demo[stration]s. The Athenian concept explained.

While much will undoubtedly unfold elsewhere, not least Libya, the aftermath of next Fridays’s prayers in Tahrir will be awaited with interest.

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