Sustaining revolutionary spirit from Tahrir to Émilie Gamelin

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As major demonstrations in Egypt call on President Mohamed Morsi to step-down, hundreds held a festive solidarity rally in downtown Montréal.

Continents away from the sustaining protests in Tahrir Square, people responding on the streets of Montréal illustrate both the global reach and political importance of Egypt's evolving popular revolution.

'Dignité, liberté, égalité! -- Morsi: Dégage!' read protest signs on St. Catherine street, held up by demonstrators chanting unanswered dreams of the Egyptian revolution.

Québec's printemps érable and Egypt's uprising are distant geographically, and in actuality, historical context, socio-political conditions and levels of state repression are in most ways incomparable. Despite the different realities, Egypt today illuminates possibilities that can inspire and inform social movements in Québec and Canada.

In 2011, Egyptians took the streets en masse for a revolution to win "Bread, Freedom and Human Dignity!" vocalized in popular protest chants, pointing to demands of deep social transformation that remain unanswered. After one year of President Morsi, the Freedom and Justice party is clearly failing to deliver on the revolution's dreams, and in response people are again on the streets to spark transformative change.

"Really the revolution is about moving Egypt toward social justice, away from repression, a society free from military trials and torture," states Lillian Boctor, a media activist of the Egyptian diaspora in Montreal.

"There are huge obstacles facing the revolution, the $1.3 billion U.S. dollars sent annually to back the Egyptian military state is an obstacle, financing that continues and has been utilized to repress the Egyptian people, as seen under the military rule directly after the Mubarak regime fell."

In Egypt, the unrelenting determination of thousands of progressive activists to fight for systemic change, to not settle for a Muslim Brotherhood or military council remix on the social injustice that defined life for many under the Mubarak regime, a revolutionary spirit that fights to win, is the uncompromising energy of people power that can inspire us in Québec and Canada.

"None of us are fighting in isolation," outlines a recent opposition statement from Cairo. "We are fighting more than economic exploitation, naked police violence or an illegitimate legal system. It is not rights or reformed citizenship that we fight for. We oppose the nation-state as a centralized tool of repression that enables a local elite to suck the life out of us and global powers to retain their dominion over our everyday lives. The two work in unison with bullets and broadcasts and everything in between. We are not advocating unifying or equating our various battles, but it is the same structure of authority and power that we have to fight, dismantle, and bring down. Together, our struggle is stronger. We want the downfall of the System."

As events quickly evolve in Egypt today, clearly a major challenge is sustaining the grassroots political power within the current street mobilizations as the Egyptian military moves without meaningful consultation to speak for the mass protests.

Egypt's revolt, Québec’s printemps érable and transformative change

In Québec during the 2012 student strike, that sparked some of the largest demonstrations in Canadian history, students were in political combat against a neoliberal tuition hike and to establish universally accessible post-secondary education. On the streets, the strike quickly evolved toward a broader social movement, the printemps érable extending beyond struggles over education toward dreams of transformative social change.

Beyond replacing the Parti libéral du Québec (PLQ) in the halls of power in Québec City, the grève générale illimitée was really about confronting the profound violence of a free market economic system that puts profit margins before people and the environment.

"La grève est étudiante, La lutte est populaire!" chanted thousands in downtown Montreal in the spring of 2012, voicing that larger collective vision to unite people across different social sectors. Solidarity collectives like mères en colère et solidaires and Profs contre la hausse illustrated the popular nature of the struggle, while the call for a grève sociale, or social strike, across Québec society clearly pointed to a larger revolutionary vision.

"The student movement has focused on the issue of tuition fees and the commodification of the universities," wrote Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) in the social strike manifesto, "this measure is integrally linked to a larger project affecting elementary and secondary education, the healthcare sector and the unfettered development of natural resources."

"Our resistance to the Québec government's neoliberal measures has to take into account all of these sectors, establishing a social link that enables us to speak collectively. Let us contact the community groups in our neighborhoods, to hold citizens' assemblies on the social strike. These assemblies are the expression of our capacity to deliberate together and to build a movement that goes beyond the limits established by the elite."

In Québec, like in Egypt, revolutionary energy captured the popular imagination but was undercut by elections and state repression that worked to damage any real systemic challenge to the status quo.

Today in Egypt, as people push for President Morsi to stand down, a continuation of the revolution, the Egyptian military who recently orchestrated sustained attacks against activists, is quickly stepping up efforts to undercut the popular power on the streets.

Elections undercutting people power

"I feel there are certain parallels between Québec and Egypt," outlines Sherif Nashaat in Montreal at the recent Egypt solidarity protest, "clearly in both cases you see that people can mobilize through sustained action on the streets and create major social change. Unfortunately there are also parallels in the mainstream politicians in both countries lying to the people for votes."

In Egypt, the 2012 election saw revolutionary forces, rooted in street mobilizations and popular organizing, facing off in an electoral vote against the institutional machinery of the Muslim Brotherhood, that had played a relatively minor role in building the protest movement that eventually toppled Mubarak in 2011.

"During the election campaign in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was calling for votes, making promises that were broken after taking power," outlines Nashaat in Montreal. "In the election Morsi claimed that a constitution would only be established by consensus, that they would form a national unity government and that fighting poverty would be a key focus -- all these things never happened."

An election managed by the very same military elites carrying out trials against hundreds of progressive activists across Egypt, and the resulting power dance between the Brotherhood and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, clearly worked to undercut the popular energy of the winter 2011 revolt. Once assuming power the Freedom and Justice party failed to introduce any serious efforts to undercut poverty or to reform the economic system, a key demand of the revolution, fully embracing neoliberal economics.

In Québec, the September 2012 election called in response to the strike movement, clearly an attempt to move the political debate from the realm of street based revolutionary ideals, into the political environment of institutional power.

During the student strike the Parti Québécois (PQ), facing sinking political fortunes, grabbed on to the rising symbolism of the student strike, adopting the carré rouge, in a desperate attempt to ressusitate a dying political dinosaur.

Once elections began to take shape, riding on the energy of the strike movement, the PQ quickly abandonded the carré rouge, as hundreds were facing mass arrests at nightly demonstrations.

Today in Montéal, popular protests are essentially banned without police permission under the P6 municipal bylaw, instituted during the student strike and now backed by the Parti Québécois.

Politicians in Egypt and in Québec promised to implement popular dreams expressed on the streets and after ascending to power worked quickly to shut down any real social debate on systemic change, deploying actors of state repression to silence ongoing street demonstrations.

Broken promises and popular power

"In Québec, the PQ promised certain things during the election campaign," continues Sherif Nashaat in Montréal, "including a freeze on university education fees and a real discussion on creating more accessible universities, a promise broken when the PQ introduced tuition annexation. People in Québec shouldn't accept the PQ election lies and revoked election promises, now its so essential for people take the streets, to assert that the breaking election promises, that playing people is unacceptable."

Despite broken promises and the PQ openly adopting neo-liberal policies, that stand as the antithesis to the printemps érable, the PQ remains in political power without any serious challenge on the streets. On this point the ongoing Egyptian revolution certainly stands as an inspiration, the tenacity of popular movements to continue the fight for systemic change, not cosmetic reforms, as seen under the PQ, is a certainly a lesson for Québec.

After one year in office, President Morsi and the Freedom and Justice party face a crumbling national economy and an incredible popular revolt, a protest movement now numbering in the millions.

"Today millions of citizens have rebelled against the tyranny of the Muslim Brotherhood," stated the Tamarod Campaign at a recent Cairo press conference, outlining that Egyptians are "on their way to achieving their goals of bread, freedom, and social justice."

Today as people follow the mass protests in Egypt, let us remember our collective power and capacity to revolt against injustice, the incredible energy of the printemps érable that continues to shape contemporary political life in Québec.

As popular protests in Egypt sustain against incredible odds, fighting to create an Egyptian society rooted in the revolutionary spirit of Tahrir, let us rebel against political tyranny at home and stand up against our own neoliberal governments in Québec City and Ottawa who continue to deconstruct the commons, prioritizing corporate interests over people and mother earth.

Stefan Christoff is a Montreal artist and community activist who contributes torabble.ca Stefan is at http://twitter.com/spirodon

Photo: Tamarod Campaign / Facebook

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