Yesterday I've been to Mahalla, finally! It was a tiresome but extremely interesting day. I arrived at 12h at the central square in Mahalla, where Ahmed Belal picked me up. First we had a little walk in the city itself, where Ahmed showed me the tent camps of people whose houses have been demolished by the state a long time ago, but still wait for financial compensation. These tents stand along various roads in the middle of the city.
Next I had lunch at Ahmed's home, which is located in the periphery of the city. His family owns a large house, more a small appartement building, where each "nuclear family" has its own floor. It was a nice and comfortable home, although furnished in what we in Belgium would call "grandmother's" style. The lunch we had consisted of baked chopped liver with vegetables, fried eel, tomato & onion salad, bread, rice, and fries. Tasty, especially the eel was a pleasant surprise, as I did not expect the speciality of the Meetjesland, my region in Belgium, served in Egypt ;)
Ahmed's family house
After lunch, we talked a little and then we went to meet my first interviewee of the day, Osama Yussef, a driver and member of Tagammu in Mahalla, who had been active in the 6th of April movement last year. We met at a café near a road where there had been a massive demonstration last year; the protestors even stopped the train which runs parallel to the road. The police intervened in an extremely brutal way.
Ahmed Belal brought a friend along, Muhammad Fathi, who is also a member of the Tagammu Central Committee. I had an interview with him which resulted in some interesting sights. Apparently there are three factions within Tagammu: (1) the leadership, which occupies all the executive positions in the party; (2) the trend for change, which consists mainly of youth, activists, and members from outside Cairo who are discontent with the leadership and the reformist party line; and (3) a group around the charismatic Abu-l-Azz al-Hariri, who is an old skool leftie. I wrote before of the similarities between Tagammu, the socialist party in Belgium and the phenomenon of left-wing opposition, and these similarities are once again confirmed. Furthermore, it is interesting to see how the workers' struggle in Mahalla strenghtened the informal authority of Muhammad Fathi and Ahmed Belal in the party, as they are both active party leaders in this city - an additional piece of information to insert in my whole theorization of the relation between intellectuals - activists - class struggle - narratives.
It was already 7 PM when we arrived at the CTWS building for a "collective" interview with five worker leaders. The interview was a first to turn the tables and estimate the attitude of these "spontaneous" labour activists toward political party activists. They had different explicit or implicit political affiliations (there was even an "NDP-worker"!) and filled different roles in the production process of the factory, ranging from engineer to "manual" worker to factory teacher.
I think we finished the interview at around 8h30 PM and then we went to the office of Said al-Husayni, the Mahalla MP of the Muslim Brothers. I asked him about the stance of the MB vis-à-vis the workers' movement, labour questions, strikes, privatizations, social justice, etc. During the interview Said said on three occasions that the MB are essentially a socialist movement. Nevertheless, his answers to my questions pointed more toward a moral national capitalist ideology than anything else... There are similarities between the politics and ideology of early christian democracy and the MB which should be explored further.
Said Husayni to the right. Notice the green flag with "al-islaam huwa al-hal" (islam is the solution), a slogan which is repeated on a sticker on the fridge at the left ; )
Afterwards, when we left his office, Ahmed chuckled and said that I had given Husayni a hard time with my questions. I took that as a compliment ; )
At around 10h30 PM I left Mahalla for Cairo, and I finally got home at 1 AM, as a tired, but intellectually and politically very satisfied man.