First it started in Tunisia, where workers and the poor masses, after 28 days of massive protests and strikes, forced out Ben Ali, a brutal dictator of more than 23 years. Currently the revolution has not been defeated despite many attempts to form new governments run by the same old regime under new faces. Workers and the youth have stayed resilient and have remained in the streets, continuously pushing for their economic demands of employment, better wages, and decent living conditions while imposing full democratic freedoms of the press, unions, political parties, protests.
This revolution quickly spread into nearby Egypt, with a population eight times larger than in Tunisia. Egypt has been ruled by the regime of Hosni Mubarak for thirty years. Next to Israel, Egypt has been the main ally of the U.S., receiving $1.3 billion in military aid every year since Mubarak came to power. The majority of the military leadership and secret police in Egypt have been trained by the U.S. All in all, Egypt has carried out the orders of the U.S. for thirty years. And Mubarak has stayed in power through violence, torture, and corruption.
For thirty years, any form of resistance from the population, large or small, has been met with the violence and repression of the Egyptian military. The Egyptian regime maintained power through an iron fist – and the perception of the world was that the population as a whole wasn’t strong enough to bring the regime down.
On February 11, 2011 that perception was proven wrong. In just eighteen days, the mass of Egyptian workers along with active students and youth were able to send Mubarak packing. After thirty years of rule under brutality and violence, what changed?
Inspired by the workers of Tunsia, the workers of Egypt gained confidence in themselves and their power to change society. Workers, encouraged by millions of protesters in Tahrir square and other cities in Egypt, began to organize general strikes paralyzing the economy. Strikes broke out in all branches of industry: among telecom workers, railway workers, dockworkers at the Port of Said, and also tens of thousands of factory workers in coal, cotton, textiles, medicine, cement, and so on. In the last week of Mubarak’s rule, strikes spread like wildfire. Workers showed through their collective organization the power that is at their fingertips.
The powerful example of the workers of Tunisia and Egypt has continued to spread. Protests of thousands have broken out in Yemen, Algeria, Iran, Libya, Sudan and all over the Middle East. The same conditions that helped spread the Tunisian revolution to Egypt are now sparking mass protests throughout the region. Conditions of mass unemployment, low wages, extreme poverty, education with no future, rising costs of living, and a brutal regime run to protect the interest of foreign banks and corporations. “First Tunisia, Then Egypt, Now It’s Our Turn” – that is the mood spreading across the region.
But there is no reason these revolts must only stay in North Africa and the Middle East. Those who are responsible for imposing these dictators and maintaining policies that protect the ruling rich – they are the same class of people who are laying people off, slashing workers wages, cutting off funds for education and social services all over Europe. And they are the same class of people responsible for the attacks on workers here in the U.S. Everywhere the policies of the ruling elite are the same – to make us pay for their crisis.
And what’s beginning to bubble up and spread from one country to the next – is the confidence of working people, organized together, declaring that we will no longer pay for their crisis.
First Tunisia, then Egypt, and yes – now it’s our turn!