[Translation of an article from La Jornada of Mexico City for February 2. See original here.]
By Alejandro Nadal
The popular uprising in Egypt has been portrayed in the international press as a surprising event. But the truth is that the revolt is the culmination of a process that has been developing for a long time. It is important to analyze it for its similarities and its differences with Mexico. In Egypt as well there was a façade of democracy, with parties and elections manipulated always to produce the results that the ruling powers wanted. Poverty is widespread and expectations for the youth have been deteriorating year after year. Scarce opportunities for employment, almost non-existent hope for education. Public services more and more deficient, while the regime’s repression against workers’ struggles grows.
In Davos too the uprising in Egypt has been discussed. But only to insist that the Mubarak regime failed because it did not undertake financial and commercial opening nor did it carry out the privatizations indispensable for the private sector to be able to develop its activities. In the midst of the worst financial and economic crisis in 70 years, to declare that neoliberalism is the recipe for “development” is absurd. But precisely because it is on the defensive, the neoliberal propaganda apparatus is more active than ever.
The revolt in Egypt is tied closely to the economy. But not as the international business press describes it. Poverty, unemployment, growing inequality and the inexorable deterioration of public services have disfigured Egyptian society. People are demanding a change now, but the struggle did not begin last week.
Industrial strikes have multiplied since 2006. Worker resistance broke out in the textile industries and spread to other branches of manufacturing in the private and public sectors. In many cases, factories were occupied, as in the case of the textile plants in Mahalla al-Kubra in the Nile Delta. The wave of stoppages took in railroads, construction, the food industry and some public services, like garbage collection. Repression followed like a shadow.
Another large textile strike broke out in Kafr el Dawar in 2007. More than 10,000 workers took part in the unprecedented spread of activism during the great worker resistance throughout the country. The demands, as in other cases, were related to low pay and working conditions in general, including long work days.
Between 2006 and 2010, the total number of strikes, in the private sector as well as in the public, surpassed one thousand. And in many cases, it was women who led the movement, since women are a large part of the work force. That explains why on numerous occasions the general population participated actively in supporting these strikes. The Islamic Brotherhood has played a key role for decades and its links with the union movements have been a key factor during these years.
The façade of democracy that Mubarak maintained for four decades does not change things. Repression has been savage but the population has been able to resist and has invented alternative forms of struggle. This includes the use of media like the internet to establish new modes of mobilization.
A week ago, tens of thousands came out to protest against the regime. The demonstrations continued growing and by two days ago hundreds of thousands were taking part in the struggle. The protest is not just to demand the resignation of a dictator. Opposition to Mubarak will not be satisfied by replacing him with Omar Suleiman, the colorful vice president and Washington’s key contact in Cairo, especially for the CIA. What made hundreds of thousands of people break out of their daily routines to demand profound change is something more complicated than hatred for Mubarak. And it is certainly not the aspiration of replacing his hated regime with an Egyptian version of neoliberalism.
The popular revolt in Egypt shows the way to what a similar process in Mexico could be. Armed struggle does not require an army or ten years of preparation. The people have had enough and they know they are not being listened to. They have also been struggling and resisting for years, in the fields and in the cities. Any spark could bring them out onto the streets and the plazas tomorrow. It could go from formless general demands to a sudden awareness of its power. This discovery would bring an inkling that the dismantling of this stupid, despotic and corrupt regime is not a chimera. The demands will be for profound change, not just a change of the current administration or the one to follow. Enough of the façade of democracy, of rotten parties and repression of popular struggles and the workers’ movement. The immediate project will be to halt the slow disintegration that Mexico is suffering through today. On the horizon is the building of a new country on the ruins of the illusions of the privileged groups.