Sharaf's resignation is not enough for Egypt

With a military monopoly, neither political commentators nor ordinary Egyptians are willing to predi

It's not the first time since the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in February that demonstrators have returned to the streets, but this latest wave of protests, and the authorities' violent response, is by far the most significant. The crowds are more numerous and angrier, the crack-down more bloody than on previous occasions, and the timing is crucial: parliamentary elections are scheduled for 28 November.

On Monday, the cabinet led by Prime Minster Essam Sharaf tendered its resignation to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). SCAF has yet to accept, but the resignation of the civilian government is unlikely to appease the protesters on the streets of Cairo and other major cities. Their real target is the military, accused of human rights abuses and of concentrating political power in its hands, and with every life lost the demonstrators' position becomes more entrenched.

The trigger for the protests, which began on Saturday, was the publication of a draft document outlining the principles of the constitution, under which the military and its budget could be exempt from civilian oversight. But since February, concern has steadily mounted that the military (which after all has played a crucial role in Egyptian politics since the fifties) is monopolising political decision-making, and anger has built over continuing human rights abuses -- an Amnesty International report released on Monday concludes that Egypt's military leaders' human rights' record is worse than that of the Mubarak regime.

Heba Morayef, a researcher for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, described the atmosphere in Cairo on Monday night as "very raw and very angry." Regardless of whether or not the cabinet's resignation is accepted, "it's not going to make people go home," she says, as the chants in Tahrir Square called for the resignation of SCAF head,gu Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

Despite calls by the US on Monday for the parliamentary elections to go ahead as planned, Morayef believes that it is more important that the military comes up with "confidence building measures, such as ceding power to a national unity government composed of representatives from across the political parties, or a presidential council." The elections may have to be delayed to allow this to happen, she believes.

For Morayef, the latest clashes may have been tragically violent, but they aren't necessarily destructive for Egypt's transition process. "It can only be good because things have been so bad so far. This wasn't planned for, but it is forcing a confrontation over military rule. I'm happy at the sustained in anger in a way, because the military thought it could just keep things ticking along as it was", she says.

In Alexandria too, the atmosphere is "very angry", according to English teacher Mohamed Ansary, although he is keen to emphasise that outside the demonstrations life is going on as normal. The response to Sharaf's resignation has been positive, but he agrees it is not enough. "People are happy, because the people on Tahrir Square expected a lot from Sharaf, but he was just a tool for the military. But the main issue is not Sharaf, it's the Supreme Council and they want it to leave."

He fears that unless the government regains control or delivers real concessions, they will have a "big problem" on Friday, traditionally the day that has seen the largest anti-government demonstrations. He has yet to take to the streets, although he may do if the "situation deteriorates". Unlike Morayef, however, he is suspicious of any attempt to delay elections, suspecting that the current unrest may have been deliberately stoked by secularists afraid of a potential Islamist victory.

Having been outpaced by events on the street, neither political commentators nor ordinary Egyptians are willing to make any predictions, and it's still not clear how the SCAF will react to the latest events. It's rare that the political future of a country is decided in hours rather than months or years, but today is one such occasion. The demonstrators may be forcing a change to the political agenda, but just as in February, Egypt's future and its hope for democracy depends on the military's response.

Sophie McBain is a staff writer for Spear's.

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.