By Olga Rodríguez / Translation: Blanca García
Hossam El-Hamalawy is one of Egypt’s best known bloggers and a respected activist of the Egyptian left wing. Those who know him well say that he has been working for the revolution.
A declared Marxist, specialized in economic and political sciences by the American University in Cairo, he started working as a journalist very early on for Egyptian newspapers and for the Los Angeles Times itself because the university shut its doors on his teaching career because of his ideas and his activism.
In 2000 he was arrested for taking part in a protest against Israel in the framework of the Second Intifada. After that, his name became part of the regime’s blacklist.
In 2003 he worked actively in organizing protests against the war on Iraq. Shortly after he quit journalism to focus on being an activist. He created arabawy.org, his blog, as a platform to give a voice to the Egyptians who risked their lives protesting against Mubarak and demanding their basic workers’ rights.
When last January 25th the big protests in Tahrir Square started, El-Hamalawy, with his impeccable English, became one of the revolution’s most international faces.
Now he is helping with the creation of a new political group, the Workers’ Party and is still supporting more than ever the workers that every week are going on strike in Egyptian factories to demand basic labor rights. He meets with us in a Cairo cafe.
Human Journalism. Is Egypt really living a revolution?
Hossam El-Hamalawy. It is a revolution, a revolution that has just started but that of course hasn’t finished. Mubarak has fallen, but the structures of his regime remain almost intact. Mubarak’s generals are ruling the Military Council: general Tantawi, armed forces’ chief of staff Sami Anan and other generals who should be investigated for corruption, the same as the heads of other institutions, because they are the ones who have maintained the dictatorship during these years.
The key people in the secret police (known as the SS because of its initials in English: State Security) still remain and in fact the creation of the National Security Agency is, at least for now, a simple makeover.
Al Ahrman newspaper itself has published that 75% of old SS officials will be redistributed onto other police departments.
“The military controls around 35% of our economy, many businesses belong to the Army. If you control so much it undoubtedly means that you are part of the system’s corrupt machine”
And 25% of the old SS officials will be part of the new Security Agency.
A lot of criminals that have been involved in the regime’s dirtiest and most corrupt matters have been destined to the Ministry of the Interior. The last director of the SS’s right hand man, Hissam Abu Gheida, who took part in an operation to destroy documents after Mubarak’s fall and who was personally involved in my arrest and torture in October 2000 and in other arrests and tortures from 2000 to 2003, has just been named assistant to the security and guard division of the ministry of the Interior.
I can go on and keep giving you names that are part of the institutions. The governors, for example, are still the same. And they are Mubarak’s governors, the ones who suppressed the population and attacked the protesters.
And you have the town halls, the authentic corruption machine, because they are the ones in charge of granting licenses for water, for paving the streets, for building. For example, this Cairo neighborhood in which we are now [Nasr City] had to be a low rise housing zone, and look around you, there are only towers.
So yes, it is a revolution, but it is absolutely not over, it has just began.
“If we stop here, if we do what they say: ‘stop, let’s go back to our daily lives, let’s trust the army’, we’ll be lost, we’ll be digging our own graves”
P. The National Front for Freedom and Justice, the Democratic Workers’ Party, the People’s Socialist Alliance… Numerous left-wing groups and political parties are being created. Aren’t they too many and too small?
H.E.H. For me they are too few. We need more. Egypt has a population of 85 million people. The parties we had before were what we call here paper parties: they existed, but they didn’t have roots, they weren’t on the street. We also need new ways of association, not just parties, also unions, student, cultural, neighborhood or musical associations, whatever.
I’m working on the creation of the Workers’ Party so it has a revolutionary agency, but I can’t monopolize the scene and say: “no more parties!”. We have to let these spontaneous initiatives of people working on setting up parties move forward.
“If five get together and associate themselves, that will help the revolution; if instead of five they are fifty, better. It’s good that people create tools against oppression”
P. But with so many left-wing parties, it will be harder to get representation in the September election.
H.E.H. Honestly, I’m not too worried about the elections because I know that whatever happens is not going to favor us. We are in a transition process. If we just sit and wait, everything will keep on being orchestrated by Mubarak’s generals who will try to rule for themselves.
“If we waste time thinking about the elections we will lose the battle on the ground, which is the important thing now”
We have to put every effort into street initiatives to try to kick the generals out. When we get rid of them we will start talking about elections, about a new parliament, about new institutions.
H. J. How?
H. E. H. I’m not saying we have to go against the Army, that would be completely absurd, foolish, unproductive, we would be giving the perfect excuse for them to fight against us. But there are other means that are already being put to practice and are giving result ¿?: continuous protests on the street, strikes, creation of independent unions and the union of all the workers, who in some cases are kicking out their corrupt bosses and appointing new ones.
“If these union initiatives against the corrupt ones happened throughout all the country, we would take down the current system”
Also we have to take into account that there are hundreds of Army officials that aren’t happy with the situation.
“We have two armies and we need that division to materialize itself, we need those officials and soldiers who believe in a better Egypt to clean up their institution”
The same way we need students to clean up corruption in universities and workers in factories. And that is what I’m focusing on.
H. J. And why are you so sure that the real left-wing parties will lose the elections?
H. E. H. They will lose them because people don’t accept ideas like the ones they are proposing, such as nationalizing private companies, modifying the relationship with Israel, pulling out the Israeli ambassador, having laws that favor a more fair distribution of wealth, etc. Of course people would support this.
“But what happens is that the revolutionary forces are not organized yet, because we weren’t allowed to operate during the dictatorship, we start from scratch and the elections will be held very soon, in September”
And our enemies are more and more organized: the members of Mubarak’s old party, certain members of the Army, the Salafists. Yes, I might be too pessimistic about the result, but it doesn’t matter, let’s focus on the effort of taking down the current corruption system.
H.J . Do those enemies of the revolution work together, as some Egyptian analysts indicate?
H.E.H. I think that in the beginning they acted spontaneously. They were losing their privileges and fought to maintain them. But each day that passes I think that certain sectors are more coordinated. There are already some symptoms. One, the old secret police is being reformed by the government, and they are keeping a lot of the old members and officials.
Two, there is a faction of the party that is trying to come back to politics through one of the other paper parties we have.
“And the repression hasn’t disappeared. Recently the military has dispersed the protesters with shots, brutally, wounding and even killing unarmed people”
And they are still arresting and judging innocents in military courts.
H. J.. Would you appreciate some kind of exterior help?
H.E.H. I reject all kinds of intervention by foreign governments. I don’t want anything from Obama, but I do want a lot from the US and European unions or from human rights activists, with whom I’ve been in contact for many years.
H. J. . What is the United States’ current role in the region after the revolution?
H.E.H. Egypt is the main Arab client for the United States, after Israel. Mubarak was the one who received the most help from Washington.
“If this system falls, if the revolution succeeds, all of the Middle East falls, because Egypt is a cornerstone in the region”
Israel then would feel threatened, the steady flow of oil to the US would feel threatened, the passing of US warships through the Suez canal would feel threatened.
“The United States cannot hold a military intervention, they cannot invade Cairo, invade the revolution. But they can get involved in the counterrevolution”.
After all, it is the United States the ones who finance the Egyptian Army. And now they are investing a lot of money in the civil sector of society through democratic civil organizations, to recruit people from certain circles.
The Arab dictatorships around us are not interested in the success of the revolution either. They have died of fright at the sight of what has happened here. And I don’t think they are too happy either with the European countries and corporations that have interests in Egypt, they are not comfortable with what is happening to them.
P. Libya shares a border with Egypt, in what way can the course of the Egyptian revolution condition the military intervention in Libya?
H.E.H. From my point of view the intervention in Libya is a catastrophe, because these Arab revolutions are happening in part against the Western military presence in the region. We cannot invite the same forces that are bombing Afghanistan, who collaborate in the occupation of Iraq, who are close allies of Israel and the Gulf countries to intervene.
“Any government that comes out in Libya as a consequence of a Western military intervention will be a pro-Western regime and that harms the Egyptian revolution”
Imagine what it means to have Western troops on our border; there are already reports of Western military advisors training the rebels in Eastern Libya, of CIA members gathering information on Libyan territory. On the other hand, if they are so worried about civil casualties, why don’t they establish a no-fly zone in the Gaza strip, where Israel kills women and children, or in so many other places?
P. What role do women play in the Egyptian left-wing?
H.E.H. There are a lot of important women involved in politics and activism.
“But Egypt, just like other countries in the region, and not only Muslim ones, is a sexist country, where women are treated as second or third class citizens”
There are important feminist movements, but they come from the middle class and are for the middle class, they never address the fight of working women in the factories, they don’t go to visit them when they do lock-downs. And I think that it is a pity. You cannot separate the fight for gender equality from the fight for class equality.
In all the protests working-class women have played a very important role, a leadership role. There is the case of the Mahalla strikes in 2006, started by the women at the cry of “Here are the women, where are the men?”. That was the start of the current revolution. And women were leading it and they have been during these years, up to Tahrir, where they participated equally, and a lot of them died in the battles.
What we have to achieve is that that leading role in the fights moves and lasts in daily life, in the everyday work field. There is conservatism, sexism, numerous cases of sexual harassment or sexual violence and we still have to have a sexual revolution. But for this situation to change we need a revolution that includes everything else.