Portrait of a key Egyptian dissenter

Hossam el-Hamalawy has been campaigning against the Mubarak regime for years (and appears in my book The Blogging Revolution).

In this Associated Press profile he outlines the oft-forgotten in the West supporters of the Egyptian revolution (away from Twitter and Facebook); the workers:

“The job is unfinished, we got rid of (Hosni) Mubarak but we didn’t get rid of his dictatorship, we didn’t get rid of the state security police,” he told The Associated Press while sipping strong Arabic coffee in a traditional downtown cafe that weeks before had been the scene of street battles.

The activism career of el-Hamalawy typifies the long, and highly improbable, trajectory of the mass revolt that ousted Mubarak, Egypt’s long-entrenched leader. Once a dreamer organizing more or less on his own, el-Hamalawy’s dreams suddenly hardened into reality. The next step, he says, is the Egyptian people must press their advantage.

“This is phase two of the revolution,” said el-Hamalawy, who works as a journalist for an English-language online Egyptian paper and runs the Arabawy blog, a clearing house for information on the country’s fledgling independent labor movement — a campaign that has become increasingly assertive since the fall of the old government.

For years, activists in Egypt planted seeds — sometimes separately, sometimes in coordination — building networks and pushing campaigns on specific causes. They fought lonely fights: anti-war protests here, labor strikes there, an effort to raise awareness about police abuse, another to organize “Keep Our City Clean” trash collection.

Then one day in late January, it all came together for them. They were part of a movement, hundreds of thousands strong.

For three weeks, el-Hamalawy fought regime supporters and manned the barricades in Tahrir Square, but unlike the youth leaders who have come to prominence in the aftermath of the uprising, he refuses to talk to the generals now ruling Egypt and fears the uprising’s momentum is being lost as everyone waits for the military to transition the country to a new government.

“Activists can take some rest from the protest and go back to their well-paying jobs for six months, waiting for the military to give us salvation, but the worker can’t go back to his factory and still get paid 250 pounds,” he said, referring to the wave of labor unrest sweeping the country as workers protest their abysmal wages.

“The strikes now will continue, that’s our only hope at the moment, the mission is not accomplished,” el-Hamalawy said, sardonically echoing the triumphant tweet of one youth leader when Mubarak stepped down.

Text and images ©2023 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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