General strike not civil disobedience, activists say

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CAIRO: Member of Revolution Youth Coalition, Khaled Tellima, said Wednesday that the media falsely turned the call for a general strike on Feb. 11 into a call for civil disobedience.

Many of Egypt’s university student unions, political movements and revolutionary coalitions have called for a general strike on Feb. 11 that would be escalated to civil disobedience if their demands are not met.

Their aim is to achieve the objectives of the Jan. 25 revolution, end military rule, hand over power to civilians, end the military trials of civilians, and demand the acceleration of trials of the figures of the former regime and those responsible for the killing of demonstrators.

Tellima told Al-Hayah Al-Youm talk show Wednesday that there has been no call for civil disobedience yet.

"The general strike is a means of protest, where people stay home and don’t go to work and students don’t attend classes, while civil disobedience is the extreme form of protest, in which people refrain from dealing with the government and all state apparatus," he added.

According to Kamal Khalil, one of the founders of the Revolutionary Socialists movement and founder of the Farmers and Workers Party, a general strike is a legitimate right for protesters to express their demands.

"It is guaranteed by international agreements and codes. Egypt signed these accords in 1981 or 1982," he said Wednesday during a panel promoting the call for the strike and informing the public about what it entails.

On the other hand, civil disobedience, which is an exceptional peaceful means of protest that is constitutionally guaranteed, is a higher level of general strike.

According to the theoretical definition, it includes a clear violation of some regulations and laws, like refusing to pay bills for the services offered by the government, in order to force the ruling authorities to comply with the legitimate demands of the protesters.

The call for civil disobedience was first made by the student union of the German University in Cairo (GUC) demanding that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) immediately step down and hand over power to an elected civilian authority. They also want to withdraw confidence from Kamal El-Ganzoury’s cabinet, holding it fully accountable for what they described as “crimes”, and to form a revolutionary cabinet.

"We are the first university in Egypt to call for civil disobedience and not a general strike," Ahmed Hassan, vice head of the GUC’s student union, told Daily News Egypt.

GUC student Karim Khouzam, freshman studying management, was among 71 killed on Feb. 1 in the Port Said violence following a football match between home team Al-Masry and Al-Ahly.

"We will start by a partial strike on Feb. 11 until we are fed up, then we will escalate it to civil disobedience until our demands are met," Hassan said.

Students of more than 40 universities have expressed support for the GUC Student Union’s call to participate in a strike, he added.

Although GUC students responded positively to the call, Hassan said the university administration tried to tighten the noose on them.

"After we issued our first statement, the administration issued another one using our names and distributed it among students. It said that we send our condolences to Khouzam’s family and that we are collecting donations for them but neglected the call for the strike," he explained.

Meanwhile, a number of political movements believe that the general strike is the best weapon they have at this point when it comes to forcing the military rulers to step down.

"The general strike is a tool to develop our revolution and take it a step forward. It is the swift weapon that would achieve the goals of the revolution," Khalil said.

For the strike to have maximum effect, he said, there should be a united leadership that gathers all sectors of the society around unified demands in a democratic decision-making process.

"The only condition that is still missing is the cohesive leadership, but we should seek to create it as the strike on Feb. 11 would only be a trial for what’s ahead," he said.

Khalil added that there might be another strike on Feb. 21, led by million man marches by university students, another on March 9 on the anniversary of the 1919 revolution and on Labor Day on May 1.

"Over about 40 days, [each] strike would be the thermometer of the [following] one and how the students, labor movements and independent syndicates would act," he said.

Mostafa Basiouny, member of the Revolutionary Socialists, said that the strike needs solidarity committees, coordination committees and general supreme committees that represent all sectors of society and represent the strike.

"Later on, these committees can administer the work in the country and become the authority as we don’t need outsiders," he said.

According to the Revolutionary Socialists, the slogan that will be raised in the strike is "the square, the university and the factory are one hand".

In response, state institutions and officials have condemned all such calls.

Al-Azhar’s Grand Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb and Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti, urged the public to refuse calls for civil disobedience so as not to disrupt the work flow.

"I call upon you not to delay work even for an hour and to hold on to performing your duties towards your families and your country, especially in these days when the Egyptian economy is facing a temporary challenge, because of our revolutionary stances, which we will get over through your efforts and not the efforts of others. Do not make our enemies gloat and don’t let down your friends," Al-Tayeb said in a statement Tuesday.

Gomaa made a similar statement, warning against “tampering with the destiny of this nation and the disruption of the people’s interests".

"They keep saying that we want to stop the production wheel. Well, yes, as long as it is running on corruption and injustice,” Khalil said. “On the other hand, we want to start the development wheel for the needs of the people."

Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of Saint Mark, reiterated the same stance of the state-appointed Islamic leaders, stressing that civil disobedience is not accepted by religion and that a lot of verses in the Bible urge us to obey the ruler. He added that the phrase “civil disobedience” is new to Egyptian minds and thoughts.

The Free Egyptians Party said in a statement that there is no alternative for the people but to continue the revolution in order to purge all state institutions from the remnants of the former regime and to hand over power to a civilian elected president.

"This is the only way towards development and justice which gives every citizen his fair share of power and wealth," it added.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party, the ultra-conservative Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, liberal Al-Wafd Party, Chambers of Commerce Federation, workers of state’s Water Company East Cairo and the workers’ union of 10th of Ramadan City are among those opposing calls for a strike and civil disobedience.

"Feb. 11 should be a day to celebrate the toppling the former regime and not for civil disobedience," Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzoury told reporters Wednesday.

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