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Who is the Real Opposition in Egypt?

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shamus cooke
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The revolution in Egypt erupted like all revolutions do, from the bottom
up. It was unemployment and high food prices that propelled working and
poor people into action. Now, the media reports that the "opposition"
in Egypt is a group of well-to-do folks who have very little in common
with the poor of Egypt. 

This top down takeover of the revolution is being engineered with the
support of the U.S. and European nations, the same allies of the
dictatorship that lasted three decades. If this elite group of Egyptians
manages to gain power, they'll soon find themselves confronted with the
real opposition of Egypt, the overwhelming majority of working and poor

Who are these upper-crust oppositionists? Middle East journalist Robert Fisk explains

"[the oppositionists] include Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the
Arab League, ... the Nobel prize-winner Ahmed Zuwail, an
Egyptian-American who has advised President Barack Obama; Mohamed Selim
Al-Awa, a professor and author of Islamic studies, ... and the president
of the Wafd party [a tiny political party], Said al-Badawi...Other
nominees for the committee...are Nagib Suez, a prominent [super-wealthy]
Cairo businessman... Nabil al-Arabi, an Egyptian UN delegate; and even
the heart surgeon Magdi Yacoub, who now lives in Cairo." (February 4,

What is the task of this committee? Al-Jazeera reports

"The committee -- which was formed last night... proposed that vice
president Omar Suleiman [the head of the brutal secret police] preside
over a transitional government, and that he pledge to dissolve
parliament (whose lower house was elected just last year) and call early
elections." (February 4, 2011).

Are these oppositionists so naive to believe that a "pledge" from a
snake like Suleiman is worth anything? Is this a man that any
respectable person should be negotiating with?

And herein lies the problem. There can be no smooth "peaceful
transition," as Obama and other politicians would like to see, unless
nothing in Egypt changes. This is because the ruling political power in
the country, the National Democratic Party (NDP), has extremely deep
ties to the rich and powerful in Egypt, backed up by both senior
military officials and the U.S. government foreign aid program, which
enriches various sections of the NDP. The New York Times explains

"Since the revolt, the military has surged to the forefront, emerging as
the pivotal player in politics it long sought to manage behind the
scenes. The beneficiary of nearly $40 billion in American aid during Mr.
Mubarak's rule, its interests span the gamut of economic life -- from
the military industry to businesses like road and housing construction,
consumer goods and resort management. Even leading opposition leaders,
like Mohamed ElBaradei, have acknowledged that the military will have a
key role in a transition." 

To summarize, U.S. aid to Egypt has been the lifeblood of the
dictatorship and the ruling party associated with it, while leading
opposition figures have no interests in confronting these powerful
interests, only removing their current figurehead. The opposition group
that plans to negotiate with the NDP must know that any agreed to middle
ground will be unacceptable to the majority of Egyptians, since the NDP
will work to maintain their own privileges and wealth. 

If the ruling party stays intact, then so will the ruling security
apparatus, which will eventually steer the wheel of history backwards
again. The party of the dictatorship must be crushed and dismembered, so
that real democracy can have room to grow. The official "opposition"
has no interest in doing this, because they have no interest in real

What would real change look like? It would require a drastic departure
from the free-market policies that have been implemented for years,
including privatizations of state run industries, lowering taxes for the
rich and corporations, eliminating regulations, subsidies, and tariffs,
etc. These policies were required by the IMF and World Bank, U.S.-led
institutions that created in Egypt what exists in the U.S. -- an
incredible gap between rich and poor. 

None of Egypt's "respectable" opposition are mentioning these policies, because many benefit from them. 

If an anti-Mubarak, pro-free-market opposition gains power, they will
collide immediately with the majority of working and poor Egyptians, who
want a change in the above policies that brought about their misery. 

The only opposition group that is expressing the economic demands of the
people seems to be the newly-formed Egyptian Federation for Independent
Unions, which broke away from the government dominated unions to demand
that a "... a minimum wage no less than 1200 LE, with a yearly raise
proportionate to inflation; guarantee workers rights to bonuses and
benefits according to work value, especially work compensation for those
facing work hazards."


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Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org)
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