Egypt: Which Way Is the Way Forward? Interview with Hossam el-Hamalawy


Saturday, February 5th, 8 pm (Egyptian time)

What are some of the hurdles the protest movement is facing?  Are there divisions emerging while trying to find common ground?

Yesterday the square was completely packed with more than one million protestors and Alexandria witnessed similar protests as well as the other provinces.  But there are definitely big problems that the protest movement is now facing.  Which way is the way forward? . . .  It is true that virtually all the opposition groups, whether they are the traditional political parties or the youth groups, have taken part in the uprising but the protests still remain spontaneous.  Which means, on the one hand, the people always surprise you by their militancy from below that exceeds all expectation, but, on the other hand, there is always confusion about what is the way forward and what the clear alternative is.  This could pose the threat of this revolution being hijacked.  At the moment we have many people claiming to represent the downtown occupation and some of them are even engaged in negations with the government.  Some groups say they will not negotiate until Mubarak goes, some think that if Mubarak goes we can negotiate with Omar Suleiman [vice president appointed by Mubarak on January 29th, ex-director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services and the CIA’s go-to-guy on rendition], others say both Mubarak and Omar Suleiman have to go.

Is there momentum towards protestors taking over the means of production and other institutions of Egyptian society?

On the ground, organizing mechanisms are evolving slowly.  Protestors have set up security committees to watch the exits and entrances to the square and to defend it from attacks by Mubarak’s thugs.  There are makeshift hospitals that have also been erected in the square to treat the injured form the clashes with the thugs.

Discussions continue in circles that the protestors have put together in order to try to reach some unified demands and people take the platform where there is a mic and address the protestors.  Whatever resolutions that the people like they cheer and whatever they don’t like they boo.  The uprising up until now contained elements from all Egyptian society . . . the urban poor, the working class, and even sons and daughters of the Egyptian elite could be seen in the protest.  But as the revolution continues, some polarization has started to happen naturally.  Between those who are tired, meaning the middle class and the upper middle class who are saying that we should stop now and try to reach some compromise with the government, and those who basically have nothing to lose and who have sacrificed a lot, like the urban poor and the working class.

The intervention of the working class in the movement is also another question mark, because definitely in some of the provinces where mass protests were organized they contained a majority of workers.  But we still haven’t seen an independent movement by those workers.  Except in very few cases.  For example I received a report about a textile mill owned by a company called Ghazl Meit Ghamr in Daqahliya, which is a province in the Nile Delta.  The workers there have kicked out the CEO, they have occupied the factory and are self-managing it.  This type of action has also been repeated in a printing house south of Cairo called Dar El-Ta’awon.  There as well the workers have kicked out the CEO and are self-managing the company.  There are two other cases in Suez, where the clashes were the worst with the security forces during the uprising.  The death toll is very high in Suez, we don’t actually know the real death toll. . . .  In two factories there, the Suez Steel Mill and the Suez Fertilizer Factory, workers have declared an open-ended strike until the regime falls.  Other than that we have not seen, at least to my knowledge, independent working-class action.

The last thing I would like to note is that the so-called popular committees have been springing up in the neighborhoods here in Cairo and in the provinces.  This happened following the collapse of our police force and their cowardly withdrawal in front of the people last Friday [January 28th].  The government started whipping up the security paranoia amongst the citizens in addition to sending plainclothes thugs who were affiliated with the security services, just as it happened in Tunisia, to attack public and private property and fire shots in the air.  Citizens immediately stepped in and started forming these popular committees to protect their neighborhoods.  They have set up checkpoints, they are armed with knives, swords, machetes and sticks and they are inspecting cars that are coming in and out.  In some areas, such as the province of Sharqiya, the popular committees are more or less completely running the town, organizing the traffic etc.  But in many cases they also work in coordination with the army.

Hossam el-Hamalawy is an Egyptian socialist, journalist, and photographer.  Visit his blog: <>.  Follow Hossam el-Hamalawy at <>.  The text above is an excerpt from an interview “‘We’re Not Leaving Until Mubarak Leaves'” published in “The People Want to Bring Down the Regime: Reports from the Egyptian Uprising on 6 February 2011; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.

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