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Egyptians storm their Bastille

The storming of the headquarters of Egypt’s secret police over the weekend, while soldiers stood by, is another remarkable episode in the country’s unfolding revolution. Once the feared and hated symbol of torture and abuse, the building was seized by thousands of protesters.

Emboldened by the removal of Mubarak-appointed prime minister Ahmed Shafiq – he was fired by way of the armed forces Facebook page – protesters gathered outside the Amn al-Dowla secret police HQ on Saturday evening because they feared documents were being shredded.

Similar actions took place in Alexandria and other cities. The agency, which ran a huge network of informants, was notorious for its use of torture. Many of those who took part in the storming were former victims. This time they entered the massive compound in a celebratory mood. Although there were no prisoners left, there was plenty of evidence.

Egyptians took their photos sitting in the chair of the agency’s hated director, General Hassan Abdel Rahman. They also pored through folders of documents, lists, photos, maps, and videotapes. Some were able to find their own files. On Sunday, Egyptians were already posting photos of the documents online, some to a Facebook group called Amn Dawla (State Security) Leaks, whose logo is an adaptation of the Wikileaks logo.

A number of “documents will soon be declassified, showing some senior Egyptian officials' connections with the country's security organisation in the repression of people and protesters,” said Ahmed al-Dowma, a member of Egypt's Youths Coalition of Revolution Rage.

Meanwhile, Habib El Adly, Mubarak’s long-time interior minister, loathed and feared in equal measure appeared in court on Saturday, charged with money laundering. From a cage in the courtroom, he pleaded not guilty. And hundreds of Egyptians are marching to the country's border with the Gaza Strip to demand that it be opened. Egypt has imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas took control of the territory in 2007.

The initiative to open the Gaza border is the brainchild of the Tahrir4Gaza campaign. Ahmed El-Assy, the main campaign organizer, said: “The Mubarak regime collaborated with Israel to keep the Palestinians weak, but now he's been overthrown, so there's no need to maintain the status quo.”

The Egyptian revolution is shaking not only the region but inspiring struggles as far away as Wisconsin. A mass movement led by a new generation of professionals and workers has destroyed an autocratic regime and set about the creation of a new society. At this point, the army is playing a Bonapartist role, sitting uneasily between the country’s ruling classes and ordinary people.

Clearly, the rank-and-file of the armed forces is determined not to intervene through force. But the top ranks, who attained their positions through Mubarak, are another question. Many became rich through holding their rank, as the army has close connections to the ruling families and landowners.

The Egyptian revolution is at the democratic stage, cleaning out apparatus of repression that lasted for over 30 years. Since Mubarak's fall, a core group of 8 to 16 leaders from various groups has coordinated Friday demonstrations aimed at keeping the army on track toward free and fair elections. They call themselves the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth.

For it to become a social revolution, a leadership is needed that will campaign for policies of democratic ownership and control of the country’s resources. Elections to a new parliament will in themselves not answer the questions of unemployment, inflation and poverty which are driven by the global crisis of capitalism.

Tahrir Square has become a kind of a People’s Assembly, where demands are formulated and struggled for. That’s where the new prime minister was compelled to make his first appearance. A network of popular committees created along the model of Tahrir could become the basis for a truly revolutionary transformation not only of Egyptian society but countries in every continent.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
7 March 2011

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