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North Africa: the revolutions rage on

The revolutions sweeping North Africa and the mass protest movements across the Middle East are a sign of the times. For too long, people in the world have been living under the boot of western imperialism and authoritarian dictatorships. Now across the globe they are beginning to rise up, writes Simon Hardy

Protests have spread beyond the region, also being reported in Gabon, Cameroon and Zimbabwe. They have even erupted in Sinuiju and two other cities in North Korea, as well as Vietnam. In China, where the economy is still booming, dozens of democracy and human rights activists have been detained or put under close surveillance.

Everywhere, young activists who face regimes that condemn them to hardship, hopelessness and enforced silence have been planning to repeat Tahrir Square. Clearly this revolutionary year has many more surprises in store for the world’s corrupt and brutal rulers. There is a new mood in the air – that great things can be achieved.

Lessons for the future

The Egyptian and Tunisian movements show how a courageous minority can spark a mass movement by facing down the bullets and batons of the police, and how to make use of the new social media to overcome state censorship. They show how important it is to remain intransigent when rulers offer compromises or deceitfully appeal for talks.

But there are negative as well as positive lessons. In Tunisia and Egypt, despite the fall of the dictators, the military regimes have not gone. In Egypt, the state of emergency is still in force, elections are postponed till the autumn, and “experts”, not the peoples’ representatives, will amend the dictators’ constitutions. These facts indicate that the regimes have had only a thin veneer of democratic cover over them.

Complete the revolutions

The unfinished character of the revolutions was given a practical demonstration in Tunis and Cairo on 24 and 25 February. In Tunis, riot police and masked police in civilian clothes fired shots and tear gas, after 100,000 demonstrators demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi. The next day Ghannouchi resigned.

In Cairo hundreds of thousands gathered in Tahrir Square on 24 February. But late in the evening the army turned off the lights and sent in soldiers, wearing masks and wielding electric cattle prods to clear the square. The army has since apologised, but at the same time continues to denounce the wave of strikes that is sweeping the country.

It is plain that – in spite of the power of the masses on the streets to force continued concessions – the main demands of the democratic movement remain unfulfilled. The states of emergency must be ended. The right to strike and the freedom of the press, the broadcast and online media must be established. All political prisoners must be released, the desert torture camps of the secret police opened to inspection and all banned parties legalised. Those accused of crimes against the people under the old regimes must be arrested and tried by juries of working people and youth.

Constituent assembly

Last but not least, the attempt to amend the constitution by the Army High Council or a commission of experts must be abandoned, and elections to a sovereign Constituent Assembly held. This assembly must not be restricted to drafting the basic law. It must tackle the burning problems of ordinary Egyptians: mass unemployment, soaring prices and hunger, villagers robbed of their livelihoods by former landowners and the terrible slum condition in Cairo and other cities.

If such an assembly can be convened, millions discover what democracy can do for them then no collection of geriatric generals will be able to restore a dictatorship, and the masses will surge forward to find revolutionary solutions to these problems. The youth who led the revolution thus far must fully recognise that the key revolutionary force is the working class.

Control society

In Egypt and Libya at the height of the revolution, the people formed neighbourhood committees to organise security, clean the streets and distribute food and water. The workers need to form their own delegate councils that can fight for control of the factories, docks, towns and cities.

Plan

The peasants too must organise against the landlords. In Egypt workers have already formed factory councils and new unions in order to advance their demands. These workers’ councils are the embryos of a new from of democracy, superior by far to parliaments and millionaire politicians: a new form of a state which can take the economy out of the hands of the capitalists and plan it to meet people’s needs.

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