BASICS interviews Montreal activist Mostafa Henaway
Jan. 30 – Hundreds of Egyptians and their allies have been demonstrating outside the Egyptian consulate in Montreal for the past several days. They are out in solidarity with the uprising of hundreds of thousands of people in Egypt, calling for the ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak and his regime. Mubarak has ruled Egypt for thirty years, under a “state of emergency.”
“We are just organizing solidarity demonstrations to shed light on what’s taking place in Egypt,” says Montreal activist Mostafa Henaway, reached by phone Friday evening. “We want to make sure the issue isn’t dropped in the international and Canadian media.”
Henaway is a member of the Middle East social justice collective, Tadamon! (Solidarity! in Arabic), which has played a role in organizing protests in Montreal.
“We are trying to be in touch with the people on the ground, but today it’s been impossible to get a hold of people. In the past few days, though, we have been in touch with friends, cousins and activists there.” The Egyptian government literally turned off the Internet to try and ward off the protests on Friday.
Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have been demonstrating since Tuesday, January 25. “Their demands are in two main categories, political and economic,” says Henaway.
“Politically, they are demanding an end to Hosni Mubarak’s thirty-one years of power, of the National Democratic Party and his ruling elite. It’s time for them to go and to create a new constitution and political reform.”
Under pressure from former U.S. President George W. Bush, Mubarak’s regime held parliamentary elections that were widely viewed as rigged. “The protesters want to rebuke last year’s parliamentary elections, which the government showed to the West,” Henaway asserts. “And the West gave the green light to them, saying, ‘Let’s not have real democracy, because we don’t want Israel’s neighbours to be unfriendly.’”
Despite proclaiming itself to be democratic, Israel has long relied on U.S.-backed dictators in the region—and neighbouring Egypt especially—to support what many call its apartheid state, based on the oppression and occupation of Palestinian lands. “The only people who have come out to support Hosni Mubarak have been in the Israeli Knesset,” notes Henaway.
Mubarak’s government has helped Israel maintain a crippling siege on Gaza, collaboration which is widely opposed by the people of Egypt. As a result, “Egypt is the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world,” after Israel.
“Economically, protesters are demanding a raise in the minimum wage, an end to price hikes on basic foods—bread, vegetables, meat, are all unaffordable,” he adds. “Egypt exports bread but its own population cannot afford it for consumption.”
For twenty years, Mubarak’s government has implemented economic policies referred to as neoliberalism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, and under the auspices of U.S.-backed international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, neoliberalism has been the dominant economic policy in virtually all countries of the world over the past twenty to thirty years.
“The privatization of gas, electricity, hydro, all of these things, made them extremely unaffordable,” says Henaway. Additionally, privatization of other state-owned industries has meant thousands have lost jobs. Although these policies have led to considerable economic growth, it has been concentrated among the elites. The rich have gotten richer, but the poor have gotten poorer. Youth unemployment in Egypt is extremely high.
“One must consider the protests in Tunisia and Egypt as part of a fight-back against the global economic crisis,” Henaway notes. “Although many people are looking at Greece and other countries in Europe, what is happening in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen and Lebanon is part of the first large wave of struggle against ‘austerity’ in the Middle East.”
Henaway cautions against looking at Egypt in isolation, “We can’t remove the nature of the Egyptian regime and state from the global state, the role that it plays in the region in terms of U.S. policy.” It implements U.S. policy at home in the guise of neoliberalism, and abroad by supporting Israel’s apartheid state.
Although mainstream media has made much of Twitter and Facebook, Henaway adds that the protests have not taken place in a vacuum. “Although this is, for the first time, a very spontaneous youth-led revolution, other elements of society are on board. Over the past five years, there has been the formation of a new, independent labour movement involving large sectors, such as the textile industry—who have led strike waves over the past five years—garbage collectors and tax collectors.”
The key, Henaway notes, is “bridging the gap [between the youth and the independent labour movement] to make an explosive mix. Them, hopefully joining in with these demonstrations will turn the tide, maintain pressure and end the regime.” In Mahalla, the city where the textile industry is based, there has been a massive uprising not reported in most mainstream media.
The youth revolt must connect with this independent labour movement so that it can become more coherent and sustain opposition to Mubarak and build anew, according to Henaway. “In Tunisia, they simply replaced one figure [Zinedine Ben Ali] with another of the same ruling party. This is beginning to take place in Egypt.”
Friday night, Mubarak reported the sacking of the prime minister and cabinet, and on Saturday morning he appointed a new prime minister and, for the first time in thirty years, a vice president. However, these figures are very much part of the NDP establishment.
“But in Tunisia, the massive movement continues to demonstrate day in and day out on the streets of Tunis and across the country to build democracy and justice, to not let the new puppet regime take hold,” Henaway points out. In Tunisia, the labour movement has sided with young demonstrators against the ruling party. “They remain an inspiring factor for Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon—it spread, the domino effect really did work.”
“We can’t turn back, we have gone past a certain point now,” say the people of Egypt, according to Henaway. “If we get crushed now, we will get crushed severely. It is a defining moment. People will have to surpass [repression] to win a real people’s revolution.”A revolution that can fulfill their political and economic demands.
“Revolution across Egypt.Revolution until victory.”
For reliable and independent updates from on the ground, Henaway encourages people to check out arabawy.org and almasryalyoum.com.