After the world turned away and thought the protests in Egypt over and a smooth transition to democracy under torturer-in-chief Omar Suleiman assured, everyone forgot one thing: the view of the protesters. They have actually stepped up their protests, blocking the entrance to Parliament and forcing the new Mubarak cabinet to convene elsewhere. The biggest rallies were previously reserved for Tahrir Square, but the new focus on Parliament represents a change in tactics. In addition, workers have gone on strike across the country.
In the most potentially significant action, about 6,000 workers at five service companies owned by the Suez Canal Authority — a major component of the Egyptian economy — began a sit-in on Tuesday night. There was no immediate suggestion of disruptions to shipping in the canal, a vital international waterway leading from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.
More than 2,000 textile workers and others in Suez demonstrated as well, Al Ahram reported, while in Luxor thousands hurt by the collapse of the tourist industry marched to demand government benefits. There was no immediate independent corroboration of the reports.
At one factory in the textile town of Mahalla, more than striking 1,500 workers blocked roads, continuing a long-running dispute with the owner. And more than 2,000 workers from the Sigma pharmaceutical company in the city of Quesna went on strike while some 5,000 unemployed youth stormed a government building in Aswan, demanding the dismissal of the governor.
Workers from the state Health Ministry walked out in protest today as well. And outside of the media glare, demonstrations in smaller cities have taken an ugly turn. Police fired on protesters in Port Said, near the Suez Canal, killing several people. And two men died in the province of Wadi El Jedid, in the southwest, after gunfire from police.
If there weren’t cameras focused on Parliament and Tahrir Square, this would probably be happening there too. Omar Suleiman, now firmly in charge and the public face of the regime, warned protesters by calling the unrest “very dangerous” and saying that the only alternative to dialogue (on his terms) was a coup. He continued in an interview on state-run TV, “We don’t want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools.”
Don’t want to, or don’t want people to see it?
In the face of this, the other US allies in the Middle East are pressing Obama to back off of Mubarak and allow the “stable” process to take hold. They aren’t really talking about Egypt, but their own countries; they don’t want to see the same kind of unrest at their doorstep, and so they view Mubarak holding on as crucial to their continued survival. They say it would “destabilize the region.” But stability in this case is synonymous with autocracy.
The Administration message started out mixed, and has veered from decent to awful, especially with the support for Suleiman, who clearly wants to crush the protest movement underfoot. They went back on this a bit yesterday, with Joe Biden demanding “steps toward democracy” in a phone call. But they aren’t really following the lead of the people in Egypt, more of whom turn out at protests every day. They’re following their autocrat allies and clinging to older notions of the need for a strongman to keep order.