While mainstream media and even some “progressive” media outlets in the US have minimized the Egyptian uprising to mere western style demands for “democracy” and often portray the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and the elections of November 2011 as the happy ending to the protests, the movement for a more radical change in Egypt is still developing. Luz, our collaborator in Egypt, spoke to Murraham X, a member of the April 6th Youth Movement, during a protest on the eve of the first anniversary of the revolution.
Luz: What is your political ideology?
Muharram: I'm a communist. I believe in the union of the hammer and sickle. It's a symbol of workers. And that's what Egypt used to be; a socialist country. During Abdel Nasser's rule , we were a socialist country.
Luz: Are there a lot of active Egyptian communists?
Muharram: Since the age of Sadat, the communist scene has diminished, but the liberal scene has expanded.
Luz: How do you feel about the fact that most of the activist groups are of a more liberal ideology as opposed to ones that pay due attention to economic injustice?
Muharram: Social liberalism I have no problem with. Economic liberalism—neoliberalism--is not suitable for Egypt. It has only increased poverty and we are an increasing population that does not have access to our own resources.
Luz: Why do you think Egypt is no longer a socialist country?
Muharram: Sadat, the second president, changed the economic structure of Egypt and introduced capitalist policies.We still have some things related to socialism; we have free education and subsidized bread, rice, oil, the basics. But, since Sadat, entire communities have been built for the bourgeoisie, the rich and the tourists; including those from the Gulf countries. Many songs by Um Kalthoum and Sheikh Imam [popular Egyptian singers] speak about the socialism that once existed in Egypt.
Luz: Do you think Mubarak change Sadat's policies at all or continue them?
Muharram: Mubarak appointed Egyptian bourgeoisie to different posts and they have a special interest in keeping “the masses” poor and unable to climb the social ladder. He does not oppose capitalism. For example, he sold agricultural lands to developers. He doesn't care for food production; he wants fancy shit, residential areas to show off. For example, 6th of October should be an agricultural city, but he sold it to rich businessmen with ties to the government so that they turned it into a residential area. He sold it for cheap, too. It would have benefited the entire country more if it had been land used for agricultural purposes. Maybe then we wouldn't have to rely on food imports, but then there is the issue of overpopulation and needing to build more residential areas.
Luz: So what, then, do you think the government should do?
Muharram: They should leave areas near the Nile for agricultural purposes and build housing elsewhere, on non-agricultural lands. It's a bad policy because we no longer produce our own food. We import our food.
Luz: So you think that if they established these agricultural sites Egyptians would be more independent from the “first world,” is that right?
Muharram: Right. This is one of the crimes of Mubarak because he sold these lands to the rich developers.
Luz: What do you think about the elections?
Muharram: I think elections are a fraud. I did not participate in the revolution for elections. We need to change the institutions. The institutions have not been replaced. We didn't change the laws. They are classist laws that keep the rich, rich and the poor, poor. It is the same system; Mubarak and Sadat's capitalist system and we have laws that prevent fanatical religious groups from coming into power. This is Abdel Nasser's law and I don't know why it isn't being implemented now, since the Salafis [conservative Muslims] have gotten 20% of the vote!
Luz: Why do you think they were able to gain the amount of seats that they did?
Muharram: After the 1973 war with Israel and infitah [introduction to neoliberalism in the form of an open-borders policy] there was a “bread revolution” and, in response to this revolution, he [Sadat] empowered the Islamists. He gave them free reign, because the Islamists he is backing have this belief that if the President is a Muslim, Muslims cannot revolt against him and if you are poor, it is because God made you poor. Stay at home and shut up. This is the Wahhabi mentality as exported by the Saudis. Sadat made this deal with the Islamists so that there has been a link created between Saudi Arabian Islamism and Egyptians' perception of Islam. For example, a lot of Egyptians think al-Azhar [renowned religious institution in Cairo] is a Salafi institution, and it's not.
Luz: And how did Mubarak build on this link that you talked about, between the Wahhabi ideology of Saudi Arabia and their influence in Egypt?
Muharram: During Mubarak's rule, there were religious channels that were made available. They are not just ordinary religious channels, but ones that are propagating the Wahhabi mentality. This mentality does not encourage truth-seeking. On top of this, we have a very bad education system where most students don't even attend their classes because they don't feel that they leave these classrooms with any knowledge. The colleges are worse than the high schools even. I learned more in high school than in college, but even there we didn't learn important information regarding science.
Luz: Tell me more about that.
Muharram: When I entered the college I found that everything was fucked up. There is no motivation amongst students on these campuses. There is no freedom of speech. The head of these colleges were appointed by Mubarak. You couldn't express yourself with words, music, nothing. When a doctor is giving a lesson you can't even challenge him. You are not protected as a student. The professor will fail you if you challenge him! During and after the revolution, though many students did protest to have these officials removed.
Luz: Which school do you attend?
Muharram: Cairo University. The president of Cairo University was removed. But the professors are the ones who choose the new president. The students have no say. Student government is useless. They are pseudo-representatives who have no decision-making powers. We can't even evaluate our professors. We used to be able to. Under Nasser and even under the monarchy we had these rights.
Luz: Tell me your thoughts on Nasser.
Muharram: After Nasser left the presidency, Egypt became poor and weak. People have changed, too. When I speak to my grandpa and grandma, they tell me that prior to Sadat no one asked about your religion. After him, this became a common question. Why? Under Nasser we set an example for other “Third World” countries. But after him, our art, our culture was destroyed and we have no rights to express ourselves against the system. Even non-Arab countries in Africa propped up statues of Nasser. Like in Ghana, he is an icon. People respected him. And you know what people found in his bank account after he died? He had 3,000 pounds total. That's nothing. He died a poor man! He did not steal from the Egyptian people. Although he did imprison people who challenged him. But when you compare his age to now, you can find that the thoughts of people in the world at this time actually suits this system of dictatorship. Now, we won't take it anymore. Still, we dream to have a leader like him now.
Luz: Do you think someone like him will come to power?
Muharram: Hamdeen Sabahi and Baradei are the best presidential candidates right now, if you ask me. But the military council will not allow them this position even if they are voted in democratically because the military leaders will then lose their power. That is the last thing they want.
Luz: What about anarchism?
Muharram: [laughs] I like the idea, but it's just not practical at this point. It would be perfect at a time when people recognized that imposition of anything on anyone is infringing upon the freedom of others. People don't think like that. Too many people are selfish and are only looking to benefit themselves. No one knows his priorities. One of his top priorities should be to eliminate poverty. We need to be able to feed ourselves, but we rely on food imports. Mubarak has put in place a policy that benefits the U.S.
Luz: And what policy is that?
Muharram: We cannot grow wheat in this country because of this deal made with the U.S. We import wheat from the U.S. and you know, people used to believe that it was shameful for a farmer to sell his land. Now, it is the norm. There were songs sung about the traitorous farmers who decided to sell their land to the rich.
Noor: What do you think will happen?
Muharram: I think that this coming January 25th [anniversary of last year's toppling of Mubarak] the revolution will be renewed. We will continue to protest and will continue to die for this cause. I think some soldiers may side with the revolutionaries, but it will take time. If this happens, the army will be weakened and a full revolution may be possible.
Luz: Do you know any soldiers who are against the SCAF? [Supreme Council of Armed Forces]
Muharram: There have been soldiers who have stood against the SCAF. They are now imprisoned.
Luz: How many soldiers?
Muharram: I think there are eight. They stood with us in the beginning of the revolution. They are low level soldiers. We know that there are good soldiers in the army, but they are afraid right now and will not side with us because of this fear.
Luz: I went to the women's protest last Tuesday I think it was. One woman was telling me that we have every right to oppose the military leadership, but cannot be against the army, “al geish,” itself. What do you think of that?
Muharram: The low-level soldiers of the army are not playing a political role. They are just following orders. There is a difference between the SCAF and low-level soldiers. Egyptian men are drafted and we all serve up to 2 years, sometimes less. There are exceptions, for example, if you are the only son in your family.
Luz: Don't you also resent the low-level soldiers who are attacking you?
Muharram: Yes. We fight these soldiers in self-defense. But I still believe they may join us later.
Luz: How do you think the SCAF will respond to the possible protest in Tahrir on January 25th this year?
Muharram: SCAF is trying to buy more time. They want people to forget the revolution. So if we are still determined to meet our target of full revolution, they will continue to attack us. But, as for the low-level soldiers, maybe some military men will see that this is not a problem that will disappear. And maybe this will convince them to join them; we will not let the revolution slip from our hands.
Luz: What about women in the revolution?
Muharram: They are stronger than the men in the revolution. They prove that they have more courage than us. They are not afraid of death. They play an important role. They are not afraid, despite the harassment they will meet.
Luz: But they have been harassed?
Muharram: They have. The army has harassed many of the women who have been active in the revolution.
Luz: Do you think the Salafis will strip women of their rights?
Muharram: Most Salafis are with the government. So, yes.
Luz: Tell me more about the link between the Salafi parties and the government.
Muharram: The government is using them to keep the people distracted. The Salafi sheikhs are supporting the military council and using religion to convince people to support the council. They are just a tool of the government and they will get their benefits for this alliance.
Luz: But some Salafis have supported the revolutionaries?
Muharram: Abu Ismail, an independent Salafi presidential candidate, has said that he is against the military government, but I think he is a liar. He says something different every day. He just wants the votes.
Luz: What do you think about the Salafi party “Hizb al Nour”? [“The Light Party”]
Murraham: Adal Abdul Maqsood is an importance official of the National Security Ministry, or “Amn al Dawla,” and he was working with the Interior Ministry, too. He formed two Salafi parties: Al Fadeela (Good Morals Party) and Al Asala. Hizb Al Nour is allied with these two parties. The Salafis are supported by the government and the reverse is true as well. There are Salafis who are not part of any of these parties and are with the revolution. But these are very few in number.
- Gamal Abdel Nasser reigned after the fall of the British-backed monarchy of King Farouk. His rule began in 1954 and ended with his death in 1970. He is seen by many as the father of pan-Arabism and the Arab strain of Third Worldism.
- Anwar Sadat succeeded Abdel Nasser in 1970 and was assassinated by Islamists in 1981. He introduced neoliberalism to Egypt with the “infitah,” or open door policy in 1975.
- The Salafis are not one and the same; there are some who oppose the Egyptian military junta and some who are actively working with the dictatorship to solidify parliamentary seats for themselves. Salafis are Wahhabi Islamists who are unlike the more “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood. Wahhabi Islam emerged from Saudi Arabia and is the official religion of the Saudi monarchy.
- Al Azhar University is a renowned Islamic institution traditionally opposed to Wahhabi Islam. It is one of the oldest universities in the Arab world, dating back to more than 1,000 years. It is located in Cairo.
- All heads of public universities were appointed by the Egyptian president until the 25 January revolution. Now, public universities appoint the administrators by elections. It is not, however, the students who vote. The professors hold decision-making power in deciding which one of them will become the president of the university.
- Hamdeen Sabahi is a Nasserist and the leader of the Nasserist party Hizb Al Karama (The Dignity Party). He was active in opposing Mubarak even prior to the start of the revolution and served in the Egyptian parliament from 2005 until 2010. He is still in the running for president.