Egypt's socialist network keeps the spirit of the revolution alive - Kieron Monks - GUARDIAN - 280411

Egypt's socialist network keeps the spirit of the revolution alive

Much of the old regime is still in place in Egypt – the Popular Alliance's aim is to make people aware of alternatives

Kieron Monks, Thu 28 Apr 2011 07.00 BST

With September's parliamentary elections just around the corner, Egypt's revolution is in a vulnerable phase. Without clear, progressive direction based on the values forged in Tahrir Square, there is a real possibility that remnants of the old system will re-establish a grip on power.

Romantics who feel the hard work is done should recognise that little substantive change has been achieved as yet. Many elements of the former regime remain in place, occupying positions of authority and they will be represented in the election. The freedom of activists and press remains under threat, as shown by the three-year prison sentence for blogger Maikel Nabil.

The referendum on constitutional amendments was a masterful hoax, bypassing the need for a completely new constitution and placing obstacles in the path of the formation of new political parties.

The military supreme council is vocally supporting stability, which means harsh treatment for the reformists and kid gloves for the established parties with less incentive to rock the boat.

In the current state of flux, the most credible voice for reform is coming from the socialist network, the Popular Alliance. Their path has been cleared by the evaporation of the only established leftwing party, Tagammu, discredited by links to the old regime. Streams of defectors are heading to the Alliance.

Recognising the threat of internal splits, the Popular Alliance has been established on a broad, inclusive mandate that incorporates a spectrum of moderate to radical parties, and the leaves the door open to independent politicians.

Its baseline values are taken from the new Federation of Trade Unions, and therein lies its strength. Egypt's largest demographic – its 25 million-strong workforce – is an untapped political resource that is embracing new empowerment and seeking representation. The previous trade union federation is being dissolved and its figurehead has followed the Mubaraks into detention. New independent unions are proliferating and the federation has published its first mission statement: demands that will resonate include a minimum wage, social security, welfare and the release of political prisoners.

Labour movements are continuing the revolution today. Their flagship cause has become the ongoing strikes in Shubra el-Kom, where disgruntled textile workers are calling for the nationalisation of their factory, which was sold to Indonesian owners at a fraction of its value in an example of the institutional corruption fostered by Mubarak.

The Popular Alliance has seized upon this, using the protests as a recruiting ground – highly effectively – and identifying itself with the struggle. Should the workers be triumphant, it would set a precedent for public ownership of hundreds more companies, while cementing the socialists as the workers' representatives.

The Alliance has built on union demands to advocate a raft of populist reforms such as subsidised housing for the poor, free education and greater local representation through city presidents. These connect neatly with the core demands of the revolution for social justice, freedom and democracy, which will have cross-demographic appeal.

The Alliance has also established awareness of its existence and values remarkably quickly. Its latest public rally, in Tahrir Square on 22 April, was attended by thousands. It has developed a presence on more than 50 "revolutionary councils" up and down the country, building on the neighbourhood watch groups that captured the public's imagination during the revolution.

One of its gambles, refusal to deal with the supreme council, may transpire to be a masterstroke. While it appeared rejectionist in calling for a no vote on constitutional reforms, it has gained distance from the establishment – a move vindicated by the supreme council's oppressive mode of government. It is consistent with calls for root and branch reforms, seizing the moment to push the revolution to its furthest extent, rather than accepting the arguments for stability.

The elections are likely to be too soon for the Alliance to achieve significant representation, but that will not discourage it. A fringe benefit of their activity is to encourage political awareness in general to avoid a carve-up between Islamist parties and remnants of the former regime. While confusion reigns and details of the election have yet to truly permeate popular consciousness, the Alliance's aim is to make people aware of alternatives, and if Egypt's largest minorities – the Copts, Sufis and Bedouins – can be reached, that will ensure diverse representation.

The Alliance is looking long-term and is confident that it represents the spirit of the revolution. "Eventually the people will recognise that our policies are what they were fighting for", said Socialist Revolutionary spokesman Ahmed Ezzat in an interview.

While the youth movements have become confused and fallen away, the Alliance has emerged as the only party to credibly pursue the demands for public sector reforms and social equality, while showing a commitment to pluralism that defies socialist stereotypes.

With the support of newly empowered trade unions, it could win favour with Egypt's working-class voters and ultimately become an influential voice in the new government. Might that possibility frighten Israel and the US even more than the much-trumpeted Islamist takeover?