While social protests continue, ignoring the demands of protesters has evolved to distorting their image – either by doubting the integrity of those calling for protests or condemning the protesters’ inconsiderate attitude towards economic conditions. These are all accusations that hide economic biases which are the root cause for escalating protests.
Last week, physicians began a partial strike because their demands were not met, namely raising the healthcare budget, and restructuring wages and hospital insurance. Before that, Egypt Air cabin staff went on strike demanding wage restructuring and better schedules. Other professionals also went on strike for similar reason: public bus drivers, the police, university administrators, and so on.
Method of dealing with these protests evolved from ignoring them at first, then warning protesters of penalties (in the case of bus drivers), and ending with distortion (the chairman of one political party described instigators of strikes as “remnants [of the former regime] and extreme leftists.”) At other times, protesting movements sometimes forced negotiations as equals and some of their demands were met.
The authorities do not hide their fear of protests. Al-Horreya wa Al-Adalanewspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling Freedom and Justice Party, accused elements of the National Democratic Party and state security of instigating protests at Al-Mahalla in its 22 July edition. Several party leaders asserted that the protests were “fabricated to obstruct the renaissance project”, according to independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm on 18 September.
A key figure described the physicians’ strike as based on “unreasonable demands” and “aggravating the suffering of patients” (Al-Horreya wa Al-Adalawebsite on 1 October). Statements by Muslim Brotherhood leaders persisted on social network websites condemning sit-ins and doubting the intentions of all or some of those participating in them.
Hostility towards protestors and accusations of sabotage were fruitless as protests expanded because of genuine and serious demands. These are independent of the ongoing struggle among parties on issues that are unrelated to these battles, but rather because of the failure of the protest movement once its goals were diverted into a comprehensive political project represented by one party or another. It remained, nonetheless, beyond the powers of parties in deciding its priorities and managing it.
Finding it difficult to undermine and sabotage protests, the authorities (in the wider sense) used another excuse not to meet the demands of demonstrators. While admitting the fairness of the demands, they proposed postponing them to protect “the public interest” because the economy is in crisis and we must close ranks to rebuild it. Thus, resources would become available and then distributed fairly.
This excuse is based on the assumption that the state is neutral in the battle of competing interests of social groups, which is an impossible notion in modern societies where there are classes with conflicting interests and any authority would have difficulty not being partial to some of them – albeit to different degrees.
The state of Egypt is entirely prejudiced towards the interests of businessmen and senior bureaucrats at the expense of the working classes. This is clearly evident in President Morsi’s electoral platform (which he promised to revise before the run-offs), as well as how these protests are being handled. While workers are being asked to be patient because of lack of resources, the state continues to spend lavishly on businessmen by subsidising energy in factories that use high volumes of energy (most of these factory owners were Mubarak’s cronies who were given licenses because of their close relationship with the regime), and in tourist facilities, as well as subsidising higher octane gasoline, and providing other forms of subsidies to those who don’t deserve them.
This bias also prevents it from taking the necessary measures to save and increase resources either by incorporating private funds into the general budget, or monitoring the application of maximum wage (maximum wage is easily circumvented with income categories that are not calculated in the wage), or eliminating the armies of advisers in ministries and organisations, or seriously seeking to confiscate the wealth of the corrupt and recover the monies that were smuggled abroad.
Also, repossessing state property that was licensed illegally (such measures worry the business community) or restructuring the tax system to be progressively proportionate with income brackets, or exercising state control on public sector companies. These include factories and companies run by the armed forces in order for their profits to serve society, not a particular category.
Continuing to ignore protests and circumventing their demands is futile. The demands of protestors are based on genuine social grievances that touch their lives on a daily basis and they cannot free themselves of them. Thus, their demonstrations will not fade away like the mirage of unfulfilled promises, and their resolve will be fuelled by attempts to ignore or manipulate them.
The only way to end these protests without meeting their demands is through the use of force, which is an impossible option after the revolution. The revolution also proved that the success of such methods is only temporary.
Dealing with protests without violence requires effective negotiation mechanisms for protestors that would be an alternative to sit-ins, and from the perspective of advocates of “the wheel of production”, it is also an alternative to halting productivity. Such a mechanism would branch out of independent unions representing the interests of all workers in various institutions. This requires speeding up the process of ratifying the law on union freedoms that the former labour minister said in August 2011 “would be issued by decree of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces within one week.”
But as a result of the state’s bias restricting union action, the vote was postponed and then replaced – under the incumbent minister – with another draft law that places unfair restrictions on union action in a manner that does not maintain equilibrium between business owners and employees. Workers are left no other choice but to continue escalation through strikes and sit-ins.
Asking the working class, which lives an ongoing struggle to survive, to postpone their justified economic demands and pay the price for rebuilding the economy, instead of asking the business elite who refuse to sacrifice even a margin of profit, demonstrates the bias of the political regime that is identical to the bias of Mubarak’s regime.
The main difference between revolution and democratic transition is that the former goes beyond regulating democratic measures that guarantee that those with louder voices win in the elections and rise to power; it also requires reforming the governing regime’s structures and biases.
A true revolution will succeed in imposing its will to change the economic system and make it more biased towards the majority of workers, and make the state more independent of the narrow interests of the business class.