Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Egyptian revolution: phase two

My previous post looked at the first phase of the Egyptian revolution, and the struggles that led up to it, which has won significant political reforms--from the removal of Mubarak, to the promise of free and fair elections, to the partial opening of the Rafah border, to partial freedom of speech and assembly. But basic political reforms are not complete, and the social and economic demands tied to them have not been met. This is phase two of the Egyptian revolution.

Ganzeer's poster, "The Freedom mask"
     Despite the removal of Mubarak, his regime is still intact: the emergency laws and military trials of civilians are still in effect; police cracked down on demonstrators on Nakba Day and beat a bus driver to death in June; the regime arrested journalist Rasha Azab and interrogated journalist and activist Hossam el-Hamalawy; the regime censored murals commemorating martyrs and arrested the street artist Ganzeer (for his poster that says "New! The Freedom Mask! Greetings from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to dear Egyptians. Now available for an unlimited time").
     Like the decade of struggle leading up the revolution, these political questions are part and parcel of social and economic demands. Workers are demanding a minimum wage of 1200 Egyptian pounds ($200). Women demonstrated in Tahrir on International Women’s Day for government-funded child care, an end to discrimination in hiring and promotions, and an end to sexual harrassment and violence against women. Peasants have began reclaiming the land. This week families of martyrs demanding justice joined a sit-in by homeless people demanding housing. 
     But these demands challenge the military regime and the corporations that support them, which persists despite Mubarak’s overthrow. As a striking doctor said, “Every percentage point for increasing health care will come from the budget of the Ministry of Interior and other parts of the oppressive machine.” The same economic crisis that contributed to the revolution is driving a deeper wedge between political reforms gained and the social and economic demands that have yet to be met. The stock market even panicked at a raise in the minimum wage to 700 pounds.

British PM concluding weapon sales to Egypt's regime
     The Arab spring is a huge threat to Western imperialism in the region, and the counter-revolution is taking a variety of forms: direct military intervention in Libya, indirect intervention through Saudi Arabia in Bahrain, and a combination of weapons sales and  “financial aid” in Egypt. But with the Eurozone in crisis, the funds are relatively small for such a large and strategic country as Egypt, and the government was just forced to reject the loan--citing the "pressure of public opinion". Meanwhile the internal counter-revolution in Egypt is based on a combination of co-opting and attacking the revolution.
     While corporations and the regime are claiming the mantle of the revolution—on murals and posters—they are attacking the strength and unity on which the revolution depends. One of the first acts of the military regime after the fall of Mubarak was to ban strikes that helped drive him from power, and since then it has broken up sit-ins, and harassed union activists in education and transportation. It has also overseen attacks on the International Women’s Day March--including subjecting women to virginity tests--and the burning of a Coptic church.
     The regime has accused striking doctors—who earn less tan $3/day of being traitors to the revolution, while the state-controlled trade unions have accused the independent trade unions of being "counter-revolutionary among the workers". Just as Stalin’s counter-revolution used the language of socialism, so the military regime in Egypt is using the language of revolution in an attempt to undermine the movement for change. The leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood is complicit with the military regime in its quest for power, using religious language to call off demonstrations. But many of its membership, particularly the youth, were radicalized by the revolution and continue to demonstrate.

     In this context workers struggles are key to counter divisions and push the revolution forward. As Hossam El-Hamalawy wrote last month in The Guardian,
May Day in Tahrir: "Workers of Egypt, unite"
“Many are disappointed with Egypt's progress – me less so because I never had high expectations from an army takeover. But two things have changed in Egypt in the past 100 days which give me hope, and both relate to the fact that the revolution is unfinished. The first is that mass strikes are continuing. The second is that workers have taken the step of establishing independent trade unions, which I believe are the silver bullet for any dictatorship.
Attempts are already under way by middle-class activists to place limits on this revolution and ensure it remains only within the realm of formal political institutions. But the main part of any revolution has to be socio-economic emancipation for the citizens of a country. So this is phase two of the revolution, the phase of socio-economic change. What we need to do now is take Tahrir to the factories, the universities, the workplaces. In every single institution in this country there is a mini-Mubarak who needs to be overthrown. In every institution there are figures from the old state security regime who need to be overthrown.”
     In neighbourhoods, the Popular Committees to Defend the Revolution have continued to advocate for better services and to remove corrupt officials. In workplaces, more than 150 independent unions have formed since the fall of Mubarak—from textile and aluminum workers, to postal and hospital workers, and even workers who issue marriage licences. In March, doctors organized national strikes demanding better wages for all workers, the removal of corrupt officials, and an increase in the health budget from 3 to 15% of GDP. On March 25 an independent union uniting all hospital workers was launched in Cairo, and 3 days later the hospital director resigned. In April postal workers from across Egypt met to organize an independent union. According to Adil Hisham, a postal worker,
“Alongside supporting workers’ demands, we’ll be working on setting up our independent union as quickly as possible. … Now is the time for workers in Egypt to set up independent organisations to defend themselves from the bosses’ attacks, and to unite their demands in the wake of the victory of the revolution which opened the door to all workers to get organised and speak with one voice.”
May Day poster in Tahrir Square
     On May Day, the Egyptian Federation of Independent Unions mobilized the first national public demonstration for workers in over 60 years, and a Democratic Workers Party was launched to represent workers demands—from raising the minimum wage to 1200LE, removing corrupt managers renationalization of privatized industries, and ending Egypt’s ties with Israel. 
    In the first week of June there were strikes or protests by flight attendants, petro workers, subway workers, and Parliament workers, while a pharmacists union formed. Meanwhile, protesters marked the anniversary of the death of Khaled Said by chanting outside the Interior Ministry and spray-painting his face all over the notorious building--while vans full of riot police watched passively. For the past two weeks Suez Canal workers have been on strike. This week hundreds of British trade unionists sent a solidarity message, demanding the Egyptian regime respect the right to strike and protest, and the British government stop selling weapons used to suppress strikes and protests.

     The Egyptian revolution is inspiring people all over the world. Shortly after the fall of Mubarak workers in Wisconsin occupied the capital building, inspired by the Egyptian revolution and received solidarity messages from Egypt. Then Tahrir arrived in Madrid as tens of thousands occupied the main square against austerity. In Canada, Parliamentary page Brigette DePape interrupted the throne speech calling for an Arab spring in Canada. 
     Though our conditions are different, we too have been inspired by Palestinian resistance and mobilized against the Iraq War; we too are mobilizing against police indifference and injustice, from the missing and murdered aboriginal women to the mass arrests at the G20; we too have lived through a generation of neoliberal policies, and are facing an austerity agenda; we too are facing attacks on our trade unions, but are starting to fight back. 

     That’s why we need to learn more from the Egyptian revolution. As an Egyptian activist said recently, "If you're inspired by our Arab revolutions, do as we did. You need one, I know you need one. And we need you to do one. It's not just an Arab spring, it's a world spring."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Egyptian revolution: phase one

This week marks 5 months since the start of the Egyptian revolution on January 25. Though Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper compared the liberation movement of 80 million people to toothpaste, most of us have been incredibly inspired by one of the most significant developments in our generation. While the media have stopped reporting on it, there was a renewed debate when Parliamentary page Brigette Depape held up a “Stop Harper” sign during the throne speech, and called for an Arab Spring in Canada. She was falsely accused of equating conditions in Canada and in Egypt, and for even suggesting that we have anything to learn from Arab spring since we already have parliamentary democracy. I think we have a tremendous amount to learn from the Egyptian revolution (and so do Egyptian activists) and was fortunate to visit Cairo to learn.
     This blog entry will focus on the first phase of the Egyptian revolution--the 18 days that shook the world, ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak, and won political reforms--and the struggles that led up to it. The next entry will look at phase two of the Egyptian revolution, which seeks to extend these reforms and connect them with longstanding social and economic demands.
     Egypt is the largest country in the Arab world and has been used, along with Saudi Arabia and Israel, to enforce US imperialism in the region. For 30 years the people of Egypt lived under the repressive Western-backed regime of Mubarak, who has used a vicious state apparatus to enforce neo-liberal policies keeping more than 40% living on less than $2/day. This view of Cairo--where a few nice hotels overlook a vast expanse of slums--provides the context for the Egyptian revolution. While it has been presented as a spontaneous event organized on social media on January 25, it is the product of a decade of struggle for political, economic and social reforms.
      In 2000 the second Palestinian intifada provided inspiration to resist imperialism. In 2003 Tahrir Square was briefly occupied as part of the international protests against the Iraq War. In 2005 the Kifayah movement emerged to speak out against the Mubarak dictatorship. In 2006 strike waves emerged, starting with women textile workers of Mahalla.
     Independent trade unions have been at the heart of movements against repressive regimes—from the Solidarity movement in Poland to the overthrow of Apartheid in South Africa, and began forming in the lead up to the Egyptian revolution. Since 1957 Egyptian workers have been ruled by the state-controlled General Federation of Trade Unions, which undermines their ability to fight, but this began to change after Mahalla. As Egyptian journalist and activist Hossam El-Hamalawy said in a videotaped speech in 2008
Mahalla strike
"Mahalla showed us the hope...If Egypt falls the entire Middle East is going to fall. We have the biggest working class in the region with a long and militant history of industrial struggle, and we are very optimistic about the developments in the future...We hope in the near future that we're going to witness the revolution."
In 2007 there were more than 500 strikes in Egypt, including the property tax collectors who struck for 3 months--including an 11-day sit in by 5000 women and men in downtown Cairo--and won a significant wage increase. The democratically elected strike committee became a permanent structure, forming the first independent trade union, and in July 2010 the Independent Teacher’s Syndicate was formed.
     Meanwhile global food prices rose dramatically from 2006 to 2008, and since then the great recession has worsened unemployment especially for youth. When the Mahalla workers planned a strike on April 6 2008, there was solidarity from youth who formed the April 6 Youth Movement, advocating for free speech and democracy. In June 2010 the brutal killing of Khaled Said prompted a surge in opposition to police brutality. In November 2010 rigged elections increased resentment over the most basic lack of democracy. On December 17 Tunisian university student Mohamed Bouazizi triggered an uprising; when Tunisian workers organized a general strike, the dictator Ben Ali was driven from power on January 14.
     So the fusion of a decade of political and economic struggles—sharpened by the economic crisis and inspired by the Tunisian revolution—led to the first phase of the Egyptian revolution, beginning January 25.

Christians protecting Muslims praying in Tahrir Square
     Social media certainly played a role in the beginning of the uprising, as the video by April 6 Youth Movement leader Asmaa Mahfouz—calling on people to go to Tahrir Square—went viral. But with mass poverty and illiteracy, many Egyptians have neither the resources nor the ability to navigate social media, and the mobile phones and the internet were shut down on Janary 26-7. Yet the uprising intensified through traditional mobilizing techniques in the streets and mosques. People went through their buildings and streets calling to their neighbours to join them, and when churches were closed on Friday many Coptic Christians went to mosques to hear about the mobilizing—analogous to the way churches were used in the American Civil Rights Movement as organizing bases. One of the workers at our hotel described hearing thousands of people outside, and when he went into the streets he was carried by a wave into Tahrir Square.
     The revolution was a combination of spontaneity and self-organization. Having failed to quell the revolution by shutting down social media, the regime tried to create panic by shutting down the banks and businesses, and sending plain clothes police to attack the demonstrators. But popular committees formed to organize security, sanitation, childcare, literacy and health care in Tahrir Square. On January 30 the Egyptian Federation of  Independent Unions was launched in Tahrir Square, uniting 14 unions.
     Women played leading roles in the revolution—from the workers struggles that preceded it, to the youth like Asmaa Mahfouz, to the countless protesters--and unity was built between Muslims and Christians. On Friday February 4 Christians protected Muslims for Friday prayers, and Muslims reciprocated the solidarity during Sunday Mass. And while the cameras were on Tahrir, the workers were taking the revolution to the factories. This followed the pattern of the Tunisian revolution, where workers were not the first organized force but were the most decisive by the role through the use of mass strikes, as El-Hamalawy documented:
“All classes in Egypt took part in the uprising. Mubarak managed to alienate all social classes in society. In Tahrir Square, you found sons and daughters of the Egyptian elite, together with the workers, middle-class citizens and the urban poor. But remember that it's only when the mass strikes started on Wednesday that the regime started crumbling and the army had to force Mubarak to resign because the system was about to collapse...
From the first day of the January 25 uprising, the working class has been taking part in the protests. However, the workers were at first taking part as "demonstrators" and not necessarily as "workers" – meaning, they were not moving independently. The government had brought the economy to halt, not the protesters, with their curfews, and by shutting down the banks and businesses. It was a capitalist strike, aimed at terrorising the Egyptian people. Only when the government tried to bring the country back to "normal" on 8 February did the workers return to their factories, discuss the current situation and start to organise en masse, moving as an independent block…
Suez Canal workers strike February 9
On Saturday I started receiving news that thousands of public transport workers were staging protests in el-Gabal el-Ahmar. The temporary workers at Helwan Steel Mills are also protesting. The railway technicians continue to bring trains to a halt. Thousands of workers at the el-Hawamdiya sugar factory are protesting and oil workers announced a strike on Sunday over work conditions. Nearly every single sector in the Egyptian economy has witnessed either strikes or mass protests. Even sections of the police have joined in.”
On February 11 Mubarak was forced to step down. 
     The first phase of the Egyptian revolution has won significant political reforms--from the promise of fair elections, to the partial opening of the Rafah border, to partial freedom of assembly and speech that are obvious on the walls and streets of Cairo. But these political reforms are not complete nor guaranteed, nor do they represent the full demands. The revolution is continuing as a battle between those trying to restrict the gains to minor political reforms, and those trying to deepen the revolution to achieve the social and economic demands that have been at the heart of the revolution and the struggles that preceded it. The next blog entry will look at this, the second phase of the Egyptian revolution.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The revolution will be painted: Cairo street art

A blossoming of street art on the streets of Cairo celebrates the first phase of the Egyptian revolution. But as corporations and the military regime attempt to co-opt and undermine it, graffiti is also reflecting efforts to continue the revolution.

     This mural recently appeared in Cairo a few blocks away from Tahrir Square. On a wall scarred by street fights--punctured with bullet holes and charred by molatov cocktails--a piano has emerged. This is reminiscent of a slogan that appeared on the walls of Paris during the uprising in May '68--"Sous les pav├ęs, la plage." (Under the paving stones, the beach.)--and speaks to the spirit of collective optimism of the Egyptian revolution, which toppled a tyrant and is creatively reclaiming the streets. 

     There is also more direct celebrations, like this one in Tahrir Square: "Enjoy the revolution". On the left hand side in faint letters is another message, "long live freedom". This graffiti is not only a celebration but an act of ongoing resistance. As street artist Ganzeer explained, "Creating graffiti involves taking ownership of the streets, just like we did during the uprising. And so of course it's political, and illegal." The wall has also become a place to mobilize for further protests continuing the demands of revolution: it includes posters mobilizing for May Day demonstration for workers rights, and rallies in solidarity with Palestine.

     The revolution is not simply about a ballot box--as Egyptian activists recently explained in a video--but is about justice, dignity, fair wages, accessible healthcare, and other socioeconomic issues. This is obvious from the new walls of Cairo, where one of the most popular signs on the street art is not the ballot box but the fist--a sign of united struggle against injustice. The fist appears on many walls of Cairo--from a stencil showing a red fist (including a cross and a crescent on the fingers) smashing a tank, to a poster for May Day protests--reflecting the strength of the revolution, from the unity built betweem Muslims and Christians, to the emergence of strikes that finally drove Mubarak from power and that are continuing to push the revolution forward.

     But the military regime and corporations are trying to limit the scope of the revolution to the political reforms that have been won, divorcing them from the social and economic demands that were part and parcel of the revolution and that continue to be raised. The regime is attacking the strength of the revolution--banning strikes and demonstrations, and overseeing attacks on a women's rights march and the burning of a Coptic church--yet still claiming the mantle of revolution. While the May Day poster was recently taken down from Tahrir Square, the Egyptian tourism industry has taken up the fist to promote itself. Meanwhile corporations are making use of the revolutionary spirit to market themselves: a mural showing demonstrations rising out of Egypt's flag has been replicated by a Kleenex company.

      The ongoing revolution--a battle between the regime and the corporations they serve on the one hand, and ordinary Egyptians on the other--is reflected on the walls of Cairo over the memory of those who died in the uprising. A mural commemorating the martyr Islam Raafat was erased by the government, prompting outrage over censorship  and a remake of the mural (the photo to the right is the second version).
     The same regime that is censoring street art depictions of martyrs (which show them as vibrant and active participants in the revolution) has plastered Cairo with posters and stickers depicting Tantawi, head of the military regime, claiming to honour the martyrs (depicted as passive victims, while ignoring that it was the military regime that killed them). This reflects broader attempts by the regime to co-opt the revolution: the military regime has claimed that Egyptian doctors are traitors to the revolution by striking for better health care, while the state controlled unions have labeled the emergence of independent trade unions as "the counter-revolution among the workers". Just as Stalin's counter-revolution used the language of socialism, so the military regime in Egypt is using the language and symbolism of revolution in an attempt to reverse the new movement for change.

     It's in this context that the work of street artists like Ganzeer is so powerful. He has criticized the "mindless nationalism" of some graffiti, and instead used street art to expose the regime and continue the revolution. One of his largest works of street art, under the 6 October Bridge (location of a key point during the uprising when protesters successfully fought back police and joined Tahrir Square), shows a military tank heading towards an Egyptian cyclist carrying a breadbasket. The soldier in the tank has his visor down, a sign of imminent confrontation, while the breadbasket looks like a city full of people. This mural challenges the myth that the people and the army are one, and raises questions over the future of the Egyptian revolution as these two forces--the people and the military regime--face a collision course.
     Ganzeer has also been much more direct in criticizing the regime, with this mural--"the people want to bring down regime lovers". The work (see the original here) features Mubarak arm in arm with Tantawi, the culture minister, and future presidential candidate Amr Moussa--a visual depiction of the continuity of the Mubarak regime that the revolution has yet to change. No sooner had this appeared that it was defaced. Ganzeer was also arrested after putting up posters depicting someone blindfolded and gagged with the words, "New..the Freedom Mask! Greetings from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to the beloved people. Now available in the market for an unlimited time".
     While the regime is trying to undermine the revolution, the fact that it must present itself as the defender of the revolution is a sign of weakness. Its caution was on display June 6, on the anniversary of the killing of Khaled Said: when demonstrators covered the Interior Ministry (where the regime tortures dissidents) with stencil's of Khaled's face and even posed for pictures, half a dozen vans full of riot police passively looked on.
     Street art, reflecting the political freedoms won during the first phase of the revolution, is raising people's confidence for the second phase. As Egyptian journalist and activist Hossam El-Hamalawy wrote in The Guardian,
"This is phase two of the revolution, the phase of socio-economic change. What we need to do now is take Tahrir to the factories, the universities, the workplaces. In every single institution in this country there is a mini-Mubarak who needs to be overthrown." 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

ACT NOW to support Egyptian hospital workers

Poster for Egyptian doctors' strike
The Egyptian healthcare system only receives 3.5% of GDP. Doctors work under state-controlled unions led by corrupt officials with ties to the Mubarak regime, which have prevented them from advocating for better healthcare and working conditions. Most Egyptian doctors work in public hospitals or charity clinics, working up to 100 hours/week for less than $3/day—forcing many to look for other work or leave the country. But the Egyptian revolution has united doctors with other hospital workers in a movement for change. 
            On June 4, 2011 I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Mohamed Shafiq in Cairo, Egypt. He is a member of the Higher Strike Committee of the Doctors’ Strike. As he explains in the interview transcript below, Egyptian doctors joined the revolution in Tahrir Square, and through the process became politicized. In May they organize two national strikes—demanding an end to corruption in the Health Ministry, a fair wage structure for all workers in Egypt, hospital security, and an increase in the budget for the Ministry of Health. Egyptian doctors are also uniting with other hospitals workers—nurses, porters, and technicians—in independent trade unions to push for better healthcare and working conditions, and this new model is starting to spread. On June 10 they will march to Tahrir Square.
But the military regime is trying to undermine the doctor strikes and the independent trade unions to divide the movement for change, restricting the Egyptian revolution to political reforms and preventing the social and economic demands that are at the heart of it. Now is a key time to support Egyptian doctors and the emergence of independent hospital trade unions, and their united efforts to improve health care for all Egyptians, working conditions for all hospital workers, and wages for all workers.

Act now to support Egyptian hospital workers:
1) Send solidarity messages to Messages will be translated, compiled and sent to hospital workers, and those received by Thursday night will be sent by Friday when they return to Tahrir Square
2) Ask your trade union or community organization to do the same
3) For updates from Canadians building solidarity with Egyptian workers visit the facebook group “Solidarity with Egyptian trade unions”:
4) For updates on international solidarity, visit the Solidarity with Middle East and North African Workers Network at
5) To read the transcript of the interview with Dr. Mohamed Shafiq, read below

Can you describe the role of physicians during the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square?
The physicians were the only profession that joined Tahrir Square in a collective way. We were not just protesters, we made six field hospitals in Tahrir Square and joined the revolution from day one until the removal of Mubarak. We joined in a way that were helping the protesters, healing the wounds, the casualties we were removing from Tahrir Square to other hospitals. Some of our friends in the general hospitals were protecting them. In the field hospitals we managed to keep all the protesters in the field safe who suffered form high blood pressure, from diabetes, any kind of disease we received them and gave them medication. We had many contributions and donations form people all over Egypt and continued our work until the step down of Mubarak.

Can you describe the impact of the revolution on the physicians?
The impact is just revolutionary. Doctors used to study a lot of time. We spend most of our time in hospitals, we don’t get in contact with reality that much, but it was out duty. There were many casualties of our citizens in Tahrir Square, and associations decided rapidly that we would help to save our citizens. What we saw while healing the protesters was a revolutionary experience.
I will give one that I had myself. There was this protester who was killed by a sniper bullet in the head, so we searched for his mobile and checked for his brother. So we called him and he came to receive his body. The very next day his brother came to the field hospital with an injury of the skull. So I asked him, you received your brother just yesterday, you are married, you have children. He said, really I didn’t care about politics, I don’t know about Mubarak, but I know that my brother was right and he died for this cause and I will continue to raise this cause myself. And he mended his skull and went back to join the protests.
So we had many, many, many experiences. We saw people who lost an eye and then they go back and fight. We saw people, he received his son—this is story a friend told me—the father came to take the body of his dead son, and after two or three days he came back for his second son. So the experience we have taken was shocking, just revolutionary.

You recently organized strikes. Can you talk about the strikes and their demands, both in terms of physicians and for the broader healthcare system?
This is the first strike to be in the Egyptian country [national strike] ever. We started in our syndicate on the 25th of March and we had some demands due to our revolutionary experience. Our demands were democratic and social demands. The first was the removal of the Minister of Health, which is a prominent figure of the NDP [Mubarak’s party]. He was the director of a hospital which we saw with our own eyes was carrying rocks to join those who attacked us and our brothers in Tahrir. We wanted to remove him because he cannot be in a revolutionary government. We also wanted to remove all the corrupt figures in the Ministry of Health who conducted an organized corruption of the Ministry of Health and the health of poor Egyptians during the reign of Mubarak.
Our second demand is a just and fair wage structure for all the workers of Egypt, physicians included. Our third was to provide security in hospitals because we work with no security whatsoever. Our fourth and most important demand was to increase the budget of the Ministry of Health from 3.5% of the total budget to 15% of the total budget, which is our main fight now because we think what is happening in Egypt is some sort of tragedy or comedy, I don’t know which.
We have no supplies in hospitals, we have nothing to offer, the health care service is ridiculous. People are dying because we don’t have a bed in the ICU. They don’t have the price to buy medicine. And we are just pretending as if we are giving real services. This is something that we have protested against several years before, but now we are raising our voice.
So after the ignorance from the government we decided to make a partial strike which would only be for the outpatient clinic, not the ICU or Emergency or emergency surgery. And we did it twice, on the 10th of May and the 17th of May. And in spite of all the prosecution from the ministry, from the government, it included 85% of all hospitals and health care centres in Egypt. We have several experiences, that in the strike day we greeted the patients with chocolates and juice, and tried to explain why we are not seeing them today and they should come tomorrow because we want to improve the services given to them, that the medicine that is given to them is poor quality and that we won’t accept this injustice anymore. Because the victims we have seen in Tahrir Square have given us a message. They died for this cause.

Can you talk about the challenge of building solidarity form physicians to the revolution and other causes, and the challenge of building solidarity amongst other groups for physicians?
This is the main issue because we are now facing many difficulties. We have been fought by the regime. We have been portrayed as traitors for the revolution, striking against the benefits of the patients and their rights to receive medication and treatment, which is very ridiculous our demands our demands is in the heart for those patients. But you know the media is very powerful, the mass media is a very powerful weapon and is used against us. So we are trying to reach out more for the people.
We are trying to make contacts with our colleagues, other healthcare providers. There are strict divisions between physicians, nurses, porters, technicians. We are trying now to break all these limitations. The independent trade unions starting in every hospital is a good start, and we are just beginning. On the 10th of June, this month, we are preparing to launch a march to Tahrir Square with doctors and other healthcare providers, and we are trying to call for all the medical forces, civil society and of course our patients to join us in Tahrir Square.
Because the coming budget is still the same, it’s still 3.5%. Still for Egyptian citizen health is not cared for. But all they [the military regime] care for is security and police forces. So we are trying to change, otherwise nothing we’ve done will be benefit for the normal citizen, who does not care about elections or constitution, but he cares about getting a decent meal and decent healthcare service.

Can you talk about your new independent trade union and the relationship between different hospital workers?
            There was a complete separation between the physicians, nurses, technicians. Everybody had his role. Don't cooperate or chat, even though we work for long hours together. So the idea that we work together to fight for the same rights is a bit bizarre. It just started after the revolution, it is spreading by the minute.
             In our trade union we had a good experience. What we did is make the consultant, the specialist physicians sit at the same table as the porters and the nurses and the technicians. And we decided that we vote how we would manage our hospital. We voted to kick out our old hospital manager and to elect a new one. And we voted, everyone of the profession had only a single vote. And we fought that those who humiliate the workers, the porters, would be expelled from the union. And we fought and won this fight. We have changed our manager and we have elected the one that everybody selected. Not only the doctor, everyone selected the new manager. And we have a union that now runs that hospital how it should be run, and decides what to do with the money we have.
We no more have a manager who just orders and we obey. No more have a consultant who shouts at the nurse or shouts at the porter or a manual worker. This spirit, which I find the most inspiring, is one of the most refreshing experiences I’ve had. I’ve been to Tahrir Square for 18 days, but I have never felt as the first day that the council met, where the gynecological consultant, the head of the department sat, and behind him was a manual worker, and they were debating how the money of the hospital should be spent. This is a feeling I have never had before, and this is what we have in our hospital, and I hope we transfer this to different hospitals.
We have now about six independent trade unions in hospitals in Egypt, and we have about 700 or 800 hospitals in Egypt. What we are trying to do now is transfer this experience to every hospital in Egypt. It is already taking place and already arguments are going in every hospital on how things should be run, how to deal with the shortage of supplies, how to deal with the escape of doctors from shifts because we are not paid, how to deal with the corrupt old managers, how to deal with officials and deputes of the managers and the managers who are taking thousands of Egyptian pounds while we are taking pennies, how to decrease what they are taking and increase what we are taking. That’s why we pushed in the syndicate for a minimum and a maximum wage, and for a wage structure not only for doctors and nurses and healthcare providers but for all the workers of Egypt.

What can people outside Egypt do to support Egyptian hospital workers?
This interview is a start. We are trying to reverse the bad propaganda that is made against us in the doctors strike in Egypt. We are trying to reverse this picture. We are trying to reach the most backwards sections of the Egyptian population—which is agitated by this propaganda, which in turn agitate some of our colleagues—to call for a complete strike. Not a partial strike but a complete strike, which of course we can after it gain all our rights in a couple of hours, but of course there will be many victims, our own citizens, and we are against this utterly. And so what you can do, and every union and health care provider in the world, is to give us letters of solidarity, come to us with Tahrir Square on the 10th of June, if it’s possible. Whatever support we can have will be beneficial. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Harper stunt interrupts Canadian statement delivered by DePape

In a politically-motivated protest, the Harper government interrupted a statement of Canadians delivered by Brigette DePape. The Parliamentary page held up a sign summarizing the 60% vote in the recent federal election—Stop Harper—and elaborated on the views of the majority of Canadians:
“Harper's agenda is disastrous for this country and for my generation. We have to stop him from wasting billions on fighter jets, military bases, and corporate tax cuts while cutting social programs and destroying the climate. Most people in this country know what we need are green jobs, better Medicare, and a healthy environment for future generations.”
     But in a show of disrespect for democracy, she was removed from Parliament and fired from her job. Stephen Harper is welcome to his own political view, but while he has been in office expected to serve he has consistently bent the rules—proroguing Parliament rather than addressing allegations of torture, doctoring Parliamentary reports to deny funding to aid groups, and issuing a manual on subverting Parliamentary committees. There are also concerns that the government is trying to smuggle in minority conservative views like opposition to abortion, women's rights and gay rights. DePape outlined Canadians response to this inappropriate behaviour: “Contrary to Harper's rhetoric, Conservative values are not in fact Canadian values. How could they be when 3 out of 4 eligible voters didn't even give their support to the Conservatives?”
     The Harper government took advantage of the throne speech to bury its own record, disrespecting the intelligence of Canadians—claiming to pursue a “principled foreign policy” (despite occupying Afghanistan against the wishes of its people, and ignoring Israeli and Sri Lankan war crimes), “support all veterans” (despite gutting their benefits), “protect civilians in Libya” (despite NATO bombing civilians), “address the problem of violence against women” (despite eliminating funding for women’s groups), “made it a priority to renew and deepen our relationship” with First Nations (despite denying Canada’s colonial post and ignoring missing and murdered aboriginal women), and "expanded protected lands" (despite expanding the Tar Sands). This stunt continued as the speech was used as cover for an inappropriate political agenda—continuing its hysteria over human smuggling and crime to criminalize refugees and build expensive unnecessary prisons.
     While Stephen Harper showed disrespect for the democratic process of the Arab spring—by being the last to support Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, and then comparing the revolution to toothpaste—DePape’s statement represented the democratic needs of Canadians, and outlined an action plan for the next four years:
“This country needs a Canadian version of an Arab Spring, a flowering of popular movements that demonstrate that real power to change things lies not with Harper but in the hands of the people, when we act together in our streets, neighbourhoods and workplaces.”

Friday, June 3, 2011

Mladic, war criminals and "humanitarian intervention"

Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic is sitting in the Hague for his role in the siege on Sarejevo and the massacre at Srebrenica during the Bosnia war of the early 1990s. He certainly belongs in the Hague but so do Western war criminals like Henry Kissinger and George Bush. As NATO extends its 3 month war in Libya and  there are growing calls for Libyan dictator Muamar Gaddafi to join Mladic, the history of NATO wars in the Balkans offers lessons on "humanitarian intervention".
While justice has finally come for Mladic, it is still long awaited for other war criminals. Earlier this week an American tried to carry out a citizens arrest of Henry Kissinger for his role in an almost endless list of war crimes. As Richard Marini explained:

“When he got up on stage, I stood up and tried to place him under citizen’s arrest for the murder of innocent civilians in Cambodia, Vietnam, Chile, Iraq, east Pakistan, East Timor. The list just goes on...People like this need to be confronted, so people need to get out in the streets and demand that war criminals like him and war criminals of the Bush administration are prosecuted. I mean, even today, these war crimes still continue. Obama is still continuing it. People need to demand that these criminals are prosecuted.”

     The illegal Iraq War has killed a million people, including torture at Abu Ghraib and the siege on Fallujah, the Sarejevo of Iraq. The Afghanistan war has killed countless civilians--including by US kill teams--and drone attacks have spread to Pakistan. The illegal occupation of Palestine continues, and as the media are focused on Mladic the US-backed regimes in Yemen and Bahrain are massacring demonstrators. While there are growing calls for Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to join Mladic in the Hague, NATO is burying its role in arming him from 2004 to 2010. Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper wanted to join the illegal Iraq War and is criminalizing war resisters, supported Israeli war crimes in Lebanon as a "measured response", and prorogued Parliament to distract from the Afghan detainee scandal.

     The narrow focus on Mladic not only ignores other and ongoing war crimes, but obscures the lessons from Western “humanitarian intervention” in the Balkans. The fall of the USSR gave US imperialism access to Caspian oil, and it used civil war in the Balkans as an excuse. As Ivo Daalder, an adviser to former US President Bill Clinton explained, “So long as the war festered, it proved impossible to exploit the opportunities created by the dissolution of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe.” NATO imposed “no-fly zones” supposedly to protect the Bosnian Muslim population. These morphed into an open air war that failed to stop Mladic from committing his crimes, gave the green light to Croatia to cleanse its Serbian population, and ended with an ethnically-cleansed Bosnia under NATO control.
     This was repeated in Kosovo in the late 1990s, another “humanitarian intervention” based on geopolitical interests. As US energy secretary Bill Richardson explained at the time,

"This is about America's energy security. It's also about preventing strategic inroads by those who don't share our values. We're trying to move these newly independent countries toward the West. We would like to see them reliant on western commercial and political interests rather than going another way. We've made a substantial political investment in the Caspian, and it's very important to us that both the pipeline map and the politics come out right."

The war claimed to be protecting Kosovar Albanians and is credited with getting rid of Milosevic, but NATO bombs precipitated further atrocities by both Serb forces and KLA, killed many more and contributed to a refugee crisis. Despite NATO bombs, the people of Serbia liberated themselves through a revolution in 2000, the first step to bringing Mladic to justice. 

     Like Bosnia, NATO is using conflict in Libya to reassert control of an oil-rich region, this time one that is being rocked by popular revolutions. Like Bosnia, “no-fly zones” have morphed into an air war spreading depleted uranium without protecting people from Gaddafi. Like Serbians, the people of Libya and the broader Arab world have the ability to liberate themselves, and the best way we can help is by ending war and occupation in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya; stopping military sales and political support for Yemen, Bahrain, and other repressive regimes; welcoming war resisters, and one day sending our own war criminals to share a cell with Mladic and Gaddafi, beginning with Kissinger who's been invited to speak this month in Toronto. As Gerald Caplan writes,
"Unless some will attend in order to issue a citizen’s arrest against Dr. Kissinger – it’s been attempted in London and Dublin, and international arrest warrants were issued by judges in Spain and France – that means 2,630 Torontonians are prepared to pay good money to listen to a man responsible for untold human misery. This number is somewhat smaller than the 3,200 people murdered by the Pinochet regime in Chile that Henry Kissinger did so much to install and support."