Egypt: five years on, discontent still flares

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On the fifth anniversary of the Arab Spring revolutions the rumblings of discontent continue to cause panic in the regimes. Arab rulers remain terrified of the ghost of revolution.

As Egyptian security forces moved to clamp down on any event to mark the uprising, protests in Tunisia erupted once again, sparking memories of the 2011 Arab revolutions. The demonstrations, which began in the city of Kasserine and spread to other Tunisian cities, demanded “Work, freedom, dignity”.

The conditions that led to the outbreak of the uprisings five years ago remain as harsh as ever. Despite surviving the revolutions, the regimes have been unable to solve any of the fundamental economic and social problems that lie at the root of the discontent.

In Egypt state security swooped on thousands of homes ahead of the fifth anniversary of the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak on 25 January, while heavily armed police blocked Tahrir Square, the focal point of the revolution in 2011.

Despite the crackdown the anniversary was marked by sporadic protests away from Tahrir, mainly in the working class neighbourhoods that remain the stronghold of the banned opposition Muslim Brotherhood.

The regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has much to fear. Despite two years of heavy repression he has been unable to lay to rest the memory of Tahrir. Sisi’s police have rounded up thousands of activists and condemned members of the Brotherhood to death. But his regime has been unable to damp down strikes.

Over the past year there have been 1,117 strikes across Egypt. Although a fraction of the peak at the height of the revolution, they point to continuous rumblings among workers. These strikes have involved tens of thousands of workers in the construction and gas industry, the military owned cement factories, civil service and tax collectors, as well as the aluminium and petrochemical industries.

In October there was a protracted strike by textile workers at Mahalla al-Kubra, one of the crucibles of the 2011 revolution. The strikes, which often spread across whole branches of industry, were primarily economic — demands for bonuses and unpaid wages — but also in response to arrests of leading worker militants.

On the eve of the anniversary leading Egyptian revolutionary socialist Mahienour El-Massry wrote from her prison cell: “Revolution is ongoing as life and dreams are ongoing. It does not stop for a person, and sooner or later…our revolution will be completed, because people deserve better, and ugliness, no matter how much it tries to disguise itself, will eventually reveal its real face.”