Egypt: Interview with Hossam el-Hamalawy


Interview with Hossam el-Hamalawy by Mélanie Souad and Kevin Vay

 Yoshie Furuhashi has posted another interview with Hossam el-Hamalawy at MRZine:

Hossam el-Hamalawy is a member of the organization Revolutionary Socialists as well as of the Center for Socialist Studies in Cairo.  A journalist and blogger, he is one of the “cyberguerrilla” youth at the heart of the revolutions underway in the Arab world.  While constantly occupying Tahrir Square, he seeks to regularly disseminate alternative information to the whole world, via his blog, his Twitter account, and his Facebook page.  He agreed to answer some of our questions by phone on Sunday, 6 February.  We hope we will be able to hear his views on the mobilization soon again in the coming days. . . .
How is the atmosphere at the beginning of another week of mobilization?
Today, the streets were jubilant.  In Tahrir Square, half a million to a million protesters chanted against Mubarak.  A massive funeral was held in memory of a man killed by police during a demonstration.  There was also a concert: it was a carnival atmosphere in Tahrir Square.  That wasn’t always the case — there were days when we were continually attacked by police and groups of thugs on horses sent against us.  It felt like we were in a movie about the Middle Ages.
Are you confident about the coming week?
A high level of determination here is encouraging.  People are confident that Mubarak will leave soon.  Especially since he has made one concession after another, we think that we are going to succeed in kicking him out very soon.
Was the call for a general strike last Monday (31 January) followed up?  More generally, are strikes among the key tools of the struggle?
It’s true that the opposition called for a general strike.  In reality, if the country has been more or less shut down, that’s not so much due to the mobilization as because of the military curfew and government repression.  Among the millions of Egyptians participating in the demonstrations, opposition activists numerically represent a minority.  Workers have taken part in mass demonstrations as citizens, not as workers.  It’s been two days since the workers said that they wouldn’t return to work until the fall of the regime.  There are four hotbeds of economic struggle: a [steel] mill in Suez, a fertilizer factory in Suez, a textile factory near Mansoura in Daqahlia (the Mansoura-España garment factory in the Nile Delta region) on strike — they have fired their CEO and are self-managing their enterprise.  There is also a print shop in southern Cairo called Dar al-Matabi: there, too, they fired their CEO and are self-managing the enterprise.  But, while workers are participating in the demonstrations, they are not developing their own independent action as workers.  We still have not seen workers independently organize themselves en masse.  If that comes, all the equation of the struggle will change.
But it’s still real and significant. . . .
Yes.  But we are talking about only four factories, and there are hundreds of them in Egypt.  The maximum number of demonstrators on the 1st of February estimated by BBC was 8 million Egyptians nationwide.  It’s important to remember that a majority of them are workers and urban poor.  The problem is that they don’t have their own leadership.  That’s what we are pushing for right now.
What role has Web 2.0 technology played in the unfolding of the mobilization?
The Internet and 2.0 technology (use of social networking tools, blogs, Skype, etc.) have been instrumental in diffusing information.  I know that the MSM have called this a Facebook revolution, but it’s flesh-and-blood people who took to the streets and confronted the police, and while the government cut off the Internet for four days, as well as shut down SMS and other communication networks, the mobilization continued.  So, it’s true that Web 2.0 has been a very important factor in diffusing information about the demonstrations and encouraging people to join them, but it’s not the only factor that pushed people into the streets.
Considering that Web 2.0 has become an information source alongside the traditional media and an organizing tool, has theCenter for Socialist Studies developed a new propaganda strategy?  What’s your position on this topic?
Socialists in Egypt are using Web 2.0 tools like other political currents.  We haven’t had our own unique way of using the Internet so far.  Nearly 20 million out of 85 million Egyptians have access to the Internet, but its strength lies in the fact the traditional media have themselves begun to use it as a source of information.  If the best known bloggers or online activists post something on their blogs, read by some thousands, it’s more or less guaranteed that BBC, Al Jazeera, or other traditional media will grab the info and it will be read by millions.  Information is thus going to spread.
Getting back to the mobilization: what are the Center for Socialist Studies and you, as an individual, advocating in this movement right now?
Right now, the socialist movement is trying to push the situation forward, since there is now a huge occupation of Tahrir Square and yet there is no leadership.  There are popular committees in neighborhoods who ensure security and who also often provide supplies and direct the traffic.  The Egyptians outside Tahrir are not necessarily familiar with what’s going on there.  The government broadcasts lies: one day it accuses us of following foreign agents, then of being agents of Al Jazeera, and then of being Al Qaeda agents.  They make stupid statements like we are under the control of Israel.  What we are trying to do right now is to push our contacts in industrial centers to begin to launch their own workers’ unions.  It’s the only way to save the revolution — especially since a majority of the trandiitonal opposition are trying to steal it.
What do you think of the fact that there were three days of action this week?
Actions are happening every day.  I know that the media are talking about the three specific days of action, but they don’t know what they are talking about.  In fact, protests are really happening daily.
All these calls for actions, demonstrations, etc. — where are they coming from?  Who is organizing these calls?  Who is initiating them?
The occupation [of Tahrir Square] don’t have a unified leadership, but there are megaphones in the square where people can take turns and express their demands, and there are constant discussions among the protesters about which direction to take.  The media have probably conveyed what the traditional opposition were saying, but there is no consensus right now among the millions (!) of protesters in the square.
Are you participating in the National Coalition for Change?
We are not part of it, but at the same time, as activists participating in the demonstrations, we are side by side with it, but that doesn’t mean that we support ElBaradei.
How does the Center for Socialist Studies intervene in the movement?  By what means?
I can’t go into details on this question, for security reasons.
We are inviting people to a Mediterranean anti-capitalist conference on 7-8 May in Marseille, and we are excited about hearing the echoes of the Arab revolutions.  Do you think it can be useful?
Any international meeting can very much help the Egyptian revolution.  We need activists fighting against capitalism to organize solidarity actions, taking our experience back to their countries, to organize protests at Egyptian embassies, to put pressure on their governments so that they will stop interfering with the “revolutionary affairs.”  We cannot survive, nor sustain the revolutionary élan, without international solidarity.

You may or may not have noticed or cared that I have not been posting breathless updates long entries and instant commentary and so on. Some of this is because I am trying to keep to longer and more reflective and researched stuff so that it’s actually substantive. The other thing is that each moment, the course of events changes, history is ebbing and flowing by the moment. One thing that is bothering me. The weird framing continues, even in unlikely places (other sources I am less surprised at these days. Some people refuse to get it). This is odd for a number of reasons, among them that the Zionist entity is an issue for the protesters and people of Egypt, but it does not seem to be their main grievance. It’s true that Egypt is the key member of the Praetorian guard protecting Israel from the wishes of the Arab populations. That is policy, but it’s also pretext.
The needs of the energy majors, the weapons exporters, and the Israeli elite line up closely: instability to keep prices high, dictatorships to spend the money on arms and to cut favorable royalty contracts with Western oil companies, and dictatorships and destabilized states to prevent the Arab peoples from threatening the advance of the colonial project. Arguably the Lobby prevents a debate about whether or not keeping the region inflamed is sustainable even in the middle-term. Certainly, it is one more institution standing in the way of the Democratic Party’s base — generally anti-war — and its politicians, generally pro-war. And clearly, the presence of Israel leads to a way of managing the region that is more belligerent than it would be in its absence.
But capital’s political servants ensconced in state institutions attract the ideologues who will defend the policies they want–not the other way around. One reason the Lobby is tolerated to the tremendous extent that it  is, is because it’s powerful enough to hide regional imperialism, of which it is a component — but only that. Seriously: what do people think J Street is? Extending our collective middle finger in its direction with the label, Zionism, may be cathartic, but it doesn’t help us understand the system. Suppose the Lobby were seriously enfeebled, and Obama had William Quandt around to advise him. What would be next? One possibility is that he’d argue for Obama to put our support behind ElBaradei, to turn the back-up plan into a first option.
ElBaradei would maintain the peace treaty with Israel, open up some democratic freedoms, re-institute price controls. That would be an improvement, but surely is not the political horizon towards which we should orient ourselves. Interests are apprehended in such a narrow way to begin with in Washington and New York, and that is a structural feature of the system that goes far deeper and spreads far wider than the Lobby or Israel. Obama will oppose to the hilt socialism in Egypt whichever learned State Department Arabist is counseling him. Egypt will take its course, and hopefully that course is systemic rupture and open socialist revolution: very good for the Egyptian poor and very good for the Palestinians and very good for most of the people of the region, too.
Eight years ago Joao Pedro Stedile of the Brazilian Landless Worker’s Movement was interviewed in theNew Left Review. One of the questions he was asked was how the metropolitan left could aid 3rd world resistance movements. His response? “Overthrow your neo-liberal governments.” That’s our work, and the Lobby is not a distraction on the road to that goal, but rather an obstacle to be overcome en route. As always, yalla.
Technorati Tags: EgyptElBaradeiIsraelObamathe lobbyZionism
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