Saturday, 23 June 2012

Their Leadership and Ours

Along with the previous post, The Tyranny of Coffee, this piece is part of a larger article I submitted to Resistance Pre-Conference Discussion discussing how socialists, particularly youth, should organise in Australia today.

UPDATE: 4000 page views, w00t!

The kind of leaders and the vision of leadership prevalent in society today today are fundamentally deformed by the nature of class society. Under modern global capitalism, leadership – whether in civil society, parliament or industry – is structured hierachically. Leaders, whether formally elected or, like Rinehart,Palmer and Forrest, not at all, are expected to command those below them, and implement their own individual vision of how to carry out decisions that are made, either by them or collectively.

The socialist vision of leaders is something radically different. Socialists understand that, as human beings, we are best equipped to solve our problems collectively, through collaboration and teamwork. Our vision of leadership is collective too; decisions that are made by a group should be carried out by a group, with the different ideas of how to carry things out that all members hold tested out in practice. Our organisers are not "leaders" to instruct members on how to carry out their assignments or tasks they have taken on, or take on responsibility for doing everything themselves, but members of the team, there to ensure decisions made collectively through branches or executives are actually getting carried out in practice, and to help comrades out when they need it.

Failures should not lead to individual shame or demotion, but are also the responsibility of the whole team involved. Going it alone as activists or taking on too much work as individuals rather than as a team, no matter how much easier or more efficient it might seem in the short term, is a quick route to developing bad ideas unchecked, becoming more and more alienated from those we are seeking to lead, and in the long run, burning out and losing faith in people or activism altogether.

Youth are particularly vulnerable to being under-developed as leaders in class society – we are underrepresented in leadership positions both in politics and the economy, under-developed or mis-developed as leaders by civil society programs and official forms of student politics, and super-exploited and in the workplace. Yet since we haven't yet risen to better jobs with better perks, and we haven't yet been as ground down by the capitalist system as the rest of the working class, we are also most open to ideas about changing the society that we live in in a revolutionary way.

Unless we actively take steps to safeguard against it, the dominant consciousness of leadership developed under class society also plays out within activist spaces. This is true for a variety of oppressed groups in society, but particularly so for youth and new members – given the seriousness with which socialists committed to building an organisation take our task of fighting to overthrow the system, it is only natural for older and more experienced comrades to step in when new ones are making mistakes or unsure of what is to be done – and this isn't always a bad thing. But if it happens repeatedly, then it means that we aren't allowing space for young activists to develop as real leaders, with confidence in their own abilities, but who understand they aren't operating alone.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Egypt: Streets erupt as court dissolves parliament in 'coup'

This piece was finished shortly before polls opened in last weekend's Egyptian Presidential elections, which it now seems the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Muhammad Morsi, who revolutionary groups such as the April 6 Youth Movement and the Revolutionary Socialists backed, has announced his victory in. Official results will be announced Thursday. Stay posted for more in-depth coverage. Originally published at Green Left Weekly.

Monday, June 18, 2012
Egypt's second-round presidential elections between ex-regime figure Ahmed Shafiq and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi will go ahead after the High Constitutional Court (HCC) ruled on June 14 that Shafiq's candidacy was constitutional.
The ruling declared that the Political Disenfanchisement Law, which barred ex-members of Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) from holding high government offices, was unconstitional.
In what came as a shock to many, the HCC also said Egypt's Parliamentary Elections Law, which had regulated last year's parliamentary elections, was unconstitutional, dissolving the lower house People's Assembly.
The elections last year brought the Muslim Brotherhood to the fore and, combined with the Salafist al-Nour party, gave the Islamists a majority. Morsi, the Brotherhood's candidate in the presidential elections, led the first round of voting over May 23-24.
But Ziad Bahaa-Eldin, a legislator from the Social Democratic Party, said Egypt's electoral law was "flawed and brought in a flawed parliament," Reuters reported on June 15.
"Parliament had lost much of its stature and credibility ... because of the Islamist parties' misuse of the majority they enjoyed."
But many activists have called the moves a "coup". Enjy Hamdy, from the leading activist organisation the April 6 Youth Movement (A6YM), said: "This all must be seen as a military coup, an attempt by the army to stay in power longer to protect their interests, which we will not accept."
First-round candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh also called the results "an obvious military coup", reported Bikya Masr.
The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), who have retained presidential powers since Mubarak was ousted on February 11 last year, has blamed ongoing protests and struggles for democratic reform on "foreign hands", while refusing popular calls to relinquish their authority to a civilian "salvation council" to oversee Egypt's elections.
Ahram Online reporter Wael Eskaner tweeted in response to the ruling: "It's not true that Egyptians aren't ready for democracy, it's the Egyptian regime that isn't."
Angry protests were launched around the country after the results. Two thousand protesters marched from Mohandeseen to Tahrir Square in Cairo on June 15 in a protest called by the Revolutionary Socialists, A6YM and others, Ahram Online said.
However, despite thousands taking to Tahrir Square, street protests did not reach the critical mass needed to shut down the city.
Ahram Online's reporter said marchers tore down and defaced campaign posters for Shafiq. Immediately after the results images becan circulating social media of protesters stamping on Shafiq's posters or hitting them with shoes.
Despite the protests, the presidential run-off was set to go ahead at the weekend of June 16-17.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Tyranny of Coffee

Before I became an activist, coffee was not a usual part of my diet, outside of the occasional late-night writing (or gaming) stint.

The best photo of myself drinking coffee I could find...

But in the last couple of years, as I've become a full-time activist, I've found myself drinking coffee more and more, to the point where now I generally feel like I'm not firing on all cylinders if I haven't had one to start the day. So i thought I'd take a minute, while I'm buzzing on this morning's coffee, to reflect on what that means.

I think coffee is a fine thing, and probably no more hurtful than any other mildly addictive substance (let's not forget the conditions of alienation, increasing automatisation, atomisation, etc for the majority in current first-world capitalist nations, in which material context such things have to be considered). I'm more interested, though, in the role "coffee" has to play in social activity and activism.

I've been to many meetings in my day over a cup of coffee (this way was my first real introduction to regular coffee-drinking). It's a good shot of zest for those early morning picket lines or stalls, long skype meetings, tedious days of email and data entry, etc... And meetings over coffee are a great way to get to know new members of your organisation or campaign group, sketch out ideas, and bond with people (and let's not forget that, as Eddie Izzard pointed out, "coffee" dates can often have a more adult connotation too...)

But if coffee dates are the primary way of getting stuff done in an activist group (even if between meetings), I think there's some issues. It's hard for there to be accountability to an informal gathering in a cafe (or a pub, or wherever). A coffee meeting doesn't have a constitution, and it's open only to those already in the circle. Even with people who are well-intentioned or don't mean to be cliquey or exluding, there are some implicit assumptions in coffee meetings - that people know each other and are friendly, that they have the right to make decisions and act on them, that attempting to involve more people in the process is at odds with formal meetings. Those who work during cafe opening hours are excluded; those who can't afford to drink coffee are excluded.

I'm not saying such meetings should be banned by serious activists, just that any organisation which wants to grow, involve more people and lead them in doing something needs to be open, accountable and easy to get involved in and take on responsibility in; coffee dates, pub lunches and other informal meetings have their place in this, but collective and democratic decision making meetings are essential.

Now, I'm off to put the percolator on...

Monday, 11 June 2012

The Jersualem Syndrome

Jerusalem Syndrome is something which I hadn't heard about before I travelled to the city in 2011, but you can quite easily guess what it's supposed to be from the name. For a land so replete with religious significance, it's probably unsurprising that around fifty tourists each year fall into some form of holy psychosis while wondering through sites of worship continually used for thousands of years. I was first told about the syndrome by a genial Swiss-Israeli woman living in the East Jerusalem hostel where I spent my first days in Palestine; she was using it to describe the actions of one of our fellow guests, who would climb the ramparts of the old city to stand guard at dawn. There are many such characters who perhaps do not think themselves the messiah, but feel compelled to do some duty in the Holy City.

Damascus Gate, Old City of Jerusalem

There are slightly darker sides to this story, of course; the obliteration of Palestinian connection to the old city in media reportage of this "syndrome" is near total. Neither the Wiki article on the topic nor any of its references even mention the word "Palestine" in describing this fever taking place, while the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs is listed as author on an article in the Jewish Virtual Library on the topic. Academic writing on the topic has come entirely from Israeli authors; Dr Yair Bar-El, who classified the syndrome into three separate levels of psychosis based on previous mental health and religiosity, was a former director of Kfar Shaul Mental Health Centre, which deals with all cases of the syndrome - and which was built in the ruins of ethnically-cleansed Deir Yassin.

The honourable exception is Haaretz, which compared the insanity of individuals suffering the syndrome to the holy war being waged by the Israeli government to legitimise their control of the city. Despite the fact that East Jerusalem, like the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, is an occupied territory, the Israeli state exercises full military and civil authority over it (while denying residents the right to vote). In 1980 the Israeli Knesset passed a law declaring Jerusalem united and the capital of Israel, which was rejected by UN Security Council Resolution 478. But the theft of East Jerusalem was already well underway. From the moment of occupation in 1967, Israel set in place a long term plan to rewrite "facts on the ground" with massive settlement in areas surrounding East Jerusalem. Administrative boundaries, which had been set under the partition plan, were unilaterally redrawn by Israel in 1967 to include "“NO AREA” for future Arab Jerusalemite development":

The new boundaries of the City were delineated for security and demographic considerations and in order to create geographic integrity and demographic superiority for the Jewish population in Jerusalem. In order to accomplish this, the redrawing of Jerusalem municipal boundaries excluded the densely populated Palestinian communities (the residences but not the lands) in the north, including Beit Iksa and Beir Nabala, whereas the sparsely populated communities’ lands in the south were included (Bethlehem and Beit Sahour)

Settlements east of Jerusalem

Today, the East Jersualem suburbs of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan frequently flare up in protests against housing demolitions.

There is a still darker side to the Jerusalem syndrome, and the narratives of "holy war" which use religiosity to justify oppression. An example of this is Denis Michael Rohan, an Australian tourist who attempted to set fire to the al-Aqsa mosque in 1969. He had previously worked on a Kibbutz in Israel, and was attempting to destroy the mosque in order to enable the biblical Temple to be rebuilt. For some, the political "holy war" should be waged biblically.

Western Wall and the al-Aqsa Mosque

Perhaps the breath-snatching surreal feeling I had the whole time I spent in East Jerusalem is a form of the syndrome, too. Even for a firmly non-religious person like myself, there is something overwhelming about the Holy City. It's a feeling I took with me everywhere in Palestine, which at times nearly brought me to tears. I found it immensely jarring to be walking the old city's cobbled streets looking for a reasonably priced laundromat! Every movement, every place, every word somehow seemed heavier than it would in Australia, more laden with significance.

To me, it's the weight of human history, moreso than the religious assocations, which make Jerusalem (and Palestine) such a singular place. For thousands of years, untold lives have been sacraficed to control a single square kilometre of land. It's been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Now, that weight of history and significance bears down on the residents of the old city; both those Israelis who see themselves as chosen people, and their attempts to cleanse the land as mandated by God, and the Palestinians, who with characteristic sumoud (steadfastness), refuse to buckle under the weight of discriminatory Israeli policies.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Arab Spring Meeting Notes #4 - What We Aren't Being Told

This is the fourth in my series of meeting talk notes, which started here. Feel free to use these in whatever way, and let me know if there's anything I've gotten wrong or missed out on important pieces of the puzzle.

I've got 10 minutes, which is not enough time to talk about full history of the Arab Spring, and not even really enough time to talk about my experiences in the region in any depth. Instead, I want to highlight the key things that we aren’t being told about the Arab uprisings by the powers that be. I feel they help us to see the most important things about this period of struggle.

One is what these uprisings were about – this is the first and foremost western media distortion, that the youth of the Arab world just wanted the West’s liberal democratic rights to go with their iPhones. This is lmost completely untrue.

The Arab Spring began with immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in the city of Sidi Bouzid, in Tunisia's underdeveloped interior which had suffered under the IMF policy splitting the country up into three economic zones based on how easy it was to get goods from those areas to the ports. His situation was created not just by police intimidation, but by the political repression going hand in hand with the economics of third world neocolonialism.

The first few days of wild protests throughout the interior region, especially in the mining cities like Ghasserine, Gafsa, etc which had previously risen up in 08, were not "Facebook" revolutions – which is another western media mistruth. But the internet did prove hugely important - several brave bloggers, inc Slim Amamou and Azyz Amami of the Tunisian Pirate Party & Lina Ben Mhenni of Tunisian Girl / nearly nobel prize fame travelled out to the region rising up, documented bodies in hospital, and spread word to the networks of activists in the big coastal cities of Sfax, Sousse, Tunis; the first two got arrested for this.

So the internet was a tool, but if there weren’t a layer of youth in the region that had been radicalised by a decade of growing struggle – student activism, democratic activism like the 05 election campaign in Egypt, the mini uprisings of 2008 in Egypt & Tunisia – a layer of youth ready to fight the regime in Sidi Bouzid, then these revolutions wouldn’t have happened just because there was Twitter or Facebook.

In fact, when I visited Tahrir square between September and November of last year, the majority of protesters there didn’t even have smart phones. Certainly there are some better-off students and others who are part of the movement who do, but the vast majority of the protesters come from the urban poor population.

The street protests of the January 25 uprising in Egypt were called online by the April 6 Youth Movement and We Are All Khaled Said, inspired by Ben Ali's downfall in Tunisia but responding to the growing anger over the death of Khaled Said in June of 2010, drew the biggest numbers of any protest in 50 years - tens of thousands. However this only took on critical mass after the police attacked Tahrir square and broke up the protests; bridges, main routes were all occupied by police, so many activists took refuge in the homes in neighbouring suburbs - and ordinary people with no access to internet, only state TV, who had heard about and were excited about but unsure of the protests, were won over. On the 28th, there were hundreds of thousands in Tahrir. Those kinds of numbers, combined with a general strike in the second week of Feb, forced the military regime to abandon their support for the figurehead of Mubarak as the elites of Tunisia had done with Ben Ali only weeks earlier.

The fact that these revolutions were as much about demands for a change in economic policies as political freedoms can be seen from the importance of the involvement of the urban & rural poor, and also from the fact that an essential component of them has been labour activity – strikes across private & public sector industries. This is something the western media also consistently fails to mention – as it did for the four years prior to them while strikes and labour protests exploded across the region. And workers continue to press for economic justice. Some Egyptian hospitals have been taken over by the doctors, nurses and caretakers and are being run democratically. In every level, workers are winning demands for better pay, conditions, more democracy at work and to get rid of Mubarak & Ben-Ali-era cronies. How? Not by accepting the power of the new parliament, but by struggling for it themselves.

This brings us onto the next western media angle, also adopted by the post-dictator governments: that the uprisings were great, they won their demands for an elected parliament, now there’s some instability but it’s time the people of the region to get back to work and get on with building their country. This is consistently the attitude of not only the Western press but also our politicians and those of the successor regimes in the middle-east, so it’s perhaps the most crucial mistruth to see through.

When I bumped into her by chance in a café in Tunis where lefty blogger types tend to congregate, Lina Ben Mhenni summed up the most salient response to this that I've heard when she said:

“The revolution did not finish on January 14 (the day Ben Ali was overthrown) — it started on January 14! Ben Ali left the country, but he is just the head of the system.

Every day I am more and more convinced that the whole system is still there. The police are back to committing violence, there are more and more limitations on freedom of speech.

The media is still manipulated by government and political parties — and bloggers and cyber activists continue to play that role of citizen journalists.”

The fact that there has been relatively free elections in Tunisia & Egypt (in some ways even more free in Tunisia than here in Australia – with strictly regulated media & public advertising equally set aside for each candidate) and in lots of other countries through the region in response to the uprisings is a big win for the revolutionary movements. But these revolutionary movements are far from fulfilled. The fundamental economic questions, and even the fundamental political ones, remain to be addressed. The newly elected regimes of Egypt & Tunisia, comprised of Islamist majorities working with “liberal” pro-capitalist forces – ie those who had money or influence before the uprisings began – have both committed to the neoliberal Washington consensus of more IMF loans conditional on restructuring, privatisation, ending subsidies sharpening inequality, etc. They’ve both re-affirmed their roles as team players in the regional geopolitical status, against the wishes of their people – as can be seen from the protests which stormed the Israeli embassy in Egypt on September 9 (again an angle; the major protests in Tahrir, at courts and govt offices earlier in the day were ignored in the mainstream reportage). So the heads have changed, their base of power may have shifted, but there has been little real change; as such, the revolutionary movements are still growing, and still fighting.

Some of the wins of the Arab Spring, though, can be seen in other things; the upsurge in women’s rights activism in Tunisia, for example, or community organisation amongst the poorer villages, suburbs and informal slums surrounding Cairo. These struggles going forward, whether again the government or on different issues like feminism or solidarity organised with those suffering in the frozen interior in Tunisia through the winter, are coming out of the fact that there is a huge new layer of young, inspired, revolutionary youth, who are debating politics in the cafes and streets, and who are convinced they can change the world

The responsibility of us as people wanting a better world here in the west is primarily to learn from the Arab Spring, and secondarily to show solidarity to it. Above all, we should take the spirit which has come to define the era of the Arab Spring – that another world is possible, an alternative to this system is possible, if we fight for it – and make it a reality here in Australia.

Friday, 1 June 2012

"An act of political thuggery, not a matter of law and order" - Interview with Austin Mackell

Austin Mackell (of The Moon Under Water) is an Australian journalist based in Cairo who reports on Egyptian politics, the labour movement and life on the street. In February he was arrested in the city of Mahalla el-Kubra while reported on an attempted general strike of workers. I spoke to Austin on the 30th of May; this interview will appear in Green Left Weekly.

What are the latest developments with the Presidential elections – what do the first round results show, and is it clear who will be contesting the second round?

The first round of the elections show that the Muslim Brotherhood and the remnants of the old regime, the felool, are still able to out-compete the revolutionaries in terms of an electoral process.

The winner by a small margin was the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohamed Morsi, and second was Ahmed Shafik, who was Prime Minister under Mubarak appointed at the very last minute of his regime's life. It looks now like the final race will be between those two candidates, which is a huge disappointment for the revolutionaries.

There was a left-wing secular candidate called Hamdi Sabahi, who was written off by many people as an outside because he didn't have the resources and infrastructure many of the other candidates had – he came in third. Considering that he was also competing for the vote with Abul Fotouh, an Islamist who had split from the Brotherhood towards the moderate side who was also considered a revolutionary candidate – those two between them, if they'd had a combined revolutionary vote they would have had a clear lead.

Of course many of the revolutionaries boycotted the first round. I wonder if they are questioning that seeing how close Sabahi came to winning it.

Secondly, now there's a much stronger call for a boycott as well, since it's the Muslim Brotherhood versus the old regime. There's been some controvery over some revolutionaries saying to back the Muslim brotherhood because at least they aren't from the old dictatorship, while others are saying no, they already have control of the parliament, handing them control of the presidency as well would be handing over too much control at the formative stage. In any case, most revolutionaries, in terms of people who have been active on the streets, are still saying the street is where the battle has to happen for the next few years – that's the position of the April 6 youth movement. That's why they didn't contest the elections, they say that you don't have elections during a revolutionary phase, the revolution has to be more complete.

Who is exactly is Hamdi Sabahi? What does he stand for?

Sabahi is the founder of the Dignity party; he was an MP under President Mubarak, he won a seat in 2005, though he's credited as being one of the few voices of resistance in that parliament asides from the Brotherhood. He really ran as the poor man's candidate. His party is Nasserist; carrying on the spirit of pan-arab socialism would be his root ideology, although it's moderated and the message is much more populist and nasserist than ideological

How widely was the boycott observed?

It's hard to know how widely it was observed; it's clear that the turnout was lower than the parliamentary election, which some revolutionaries have called a victory because it means the population is losing faith in SCAF's electoral process. But you could also make the argument that that was simply the result of the Salafi candidate Abbou Ismael being disqualified ahead of the poll. Because the Salafists didn't have a candidate to vote for – some voted for Abol Fotouh, or for Morsi, but you can imagine a lot of them were a lot less motivated to vote not having a major Salafi candidate on the ballot. This would also explain why there was what's been considered a majority secular vote, if you add up Sabahi, Shafik and Amr Moussa, the former foreign minister, which people have been using to say Egyptians have turned to secular candidates. But you can question that because the Salafis may have been sitting out as well.

That has probably been a bigger boycott (although it may not have been phrased that way) than the active calls for a boycott from Tahrir Square and the revolutionary youth networks around it. However, that being said, now that it's a race between Morsi and Shafik you might see a much bigger boycott in the second round.

What is the situation with Tahrir Square and the revolutionary layer? Is the Square still occupied?

There's basically a constant occupation now in Tahrir Square with people protesting – earlier today they had at least a few hundred there protesting due to allegations of fraud by Shafik. In fact, there's been reports of fraud by both Shafik and Moussa as well as the Brotherhood by April 6 and various news outlets as well. But the general impression is that there was a lot of small irregularities but not necessarily enough to have influenced the vote. It doesn't mean there was a concerted plan to rig the campaigns, but perhaps just the kind of dirty campaigning you see everywhere.

Some people are protesting of that – a lot of them, Sabahi's supporters – but the Square's been pretty much permanently occupied since the clashes of the Occupy Cabinet incident in early December. All throughout 2011 there was an ongoing struggle for physical control of the Square, and now it seems the army and the police have pretty much given up on it. The protesters were allowed to keep the central island with tents, as well as the space in front of the central administrative building the Mogamma.

So the revolutionary youth won that space in those clashes, and actually now we've seen the latest clashes taking place outside the ministry of defence, which occured just before the elections. There were numbers of Salafis demonstrating because their candidate Abbou Ismael had been disqualified, actually on the basis that his mother was an American citizen – which some were disputing, claiming there's a conspiracy against him, etc etc.

Either way his supporters went down to protest the decision at the electoral commission, and they were joined by secular supporters and opponents of the SCAF as well; there were 11 deaths reported there, in the final week before the election. There is still definitely real tension on the streets and the possibility of more of these battles – particularly if Shafik wins, I might add.

I should add that the significance of protest moving to the MOD is that the protesters are moving more into more confrontation – we've got Tahrir now and that's great, now let's move on the next seat of power, seems to be the idea.

Is the Brotherhood taking out the presidential election likely to change the balance of power or weaken SCAF's hold over the country?

That's very difficult to know – it's certainly going to change the balance of power. What the relationship between the brotherhood and the military will be like and how it'll evolve is really difficult to know. People are talking about some kind of deal being made between the Brotherhood and the SCAF – there's probably been all kinds of deals made, but I don't think that there's a marriage between the two about to take place where we see them unite as the stable new elite, although something like that may evolve. Really we're in a period when making predictions is a good way to look stupid; if you look at the polling during the last election votes fluctuated wildly in the days before the elections. Things are really in flux here, there aren't established political forces like we're used to dealing with in Australia. There is the brotherhood and there is the military but there's this huge chaotic force at work in the political sphere as well of the revolution.

How has the labour movement related to the elections?

The one thing that was clear after the parliamentary elections was that until now the labour movement as a whole hadn't emerged on scene as any sort of political force. But with the emergence of Sabahi as such a strong candidate, there's certainly evidence that this is on the cards in the future. This was a suprise to many here, including people like me with an interest in the labour movement, as we didn't see anything like this gaining support in the parliamentary elections – but there's clearly an affinity for labour in Sabahi's platform, in what he's standing for. We don't know how real that would be if he got into power, of course. His candidacy underlines the new dynamics which are starting to emerge – there are the candidates like Moussa and Shafik, whose primary qualifications are having served in the old regime, and whose popularity has its own reasons like name recognition – but if you remove them from the equation you have the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic conservatism on the right and then Arab nationalism on the left, and then you have a candidate like Abol Fotouh in the middle who is some kind of mix of all of those. So this is a political spectrum very similar to ours – although with such population and poverty in Egypt there's a lot more space for leftward movement, which is exciting.

Did any radical left forces make a decent showing in the results?

That depends how you define "radical" – there was Khaled Ali, who was seen as the revolution's candidate. How radical his rhetoric exactly would be I'm not clear on – I haven't seen many of his speeches translated – but my impression is he's been seen as the candidate of the revolutionary youth, so radical in that sence, although certainly not as far to the left as the Revolutionary Socialists, who didn't field a candidate, and who now have gained a lot of ire for their leadership figures suggesting Morsi should be backed to prevent the return of old leadership.

But the candidate on the left of note was Sabahi – and his platform was significantly to the left. The difference between Sabahi and Shafik or Moussa was much bigger than the difference between major left and right candidates in any western elections, so the revolutionary situation has already opened up more democratic space than we already have in the west. His platform was explicitly about wealth redistribution; instead of following the line being tossed around by the IMF for cutting or "targetting" subsidies, he's talking about the need to expand subsidies and providing more services. His success has come as a surprise, and it changes the political landscape. Of course the success of Shafik and Morsi were also suprises and much more unpleasant ones.

What is the latest with your case? Has the regime indicated if they are going to press the charges?

We're still not clear whether we'll be taken to court or not; what we've got are preliminary charges – the Egyptian legal system is modelled on the French, so it doesn't really mirror Australia's. The charges are with the prosecutor's office, who is then meant to decide whether it goes to court or the case is archived. That's been the case for the last 3 months, and there hasn't been any real progress – we've heard of paper moving from one office to another, so we don't know when to expect any resolution.

Are you free to travel and report?

To an extent – my passport was taken when I was arrested, and it's being held along with my laptop and camera and other stuff, so it makes it quite difficult to move around. In the initial period after my arrest I was quite nervous when moving around of being recognised in the street as the spy from TV; I was kicked out my apartment and my neighbourhood has sort-of turned against me after our story was flashed on state TV. It's already been made quite difficult for journalists in general, foreign journalists in particular, by virtue of all of the media about foreign conspirators and such. And if I were in the situation where I had to explain myself to a large group of people why I don't have my passport, what I'm doing, etc etc – it's a situation which might complicate things with the case. But the main thing is that I'm not allowed to leave the country while this is going on – I can't travel home to Australia or anywhere else, which is an inconvenience. But there's a veiled threat in all of this; we're very confident we would win if the case went to court, but however improbable it is, this notion of 5 to 7 years sentence is in the back of your mind; it makes it hard to live a normal life, let alone work or move around.

What do you have to say to Bob Carr and the Australian government?

I wish Bob Carr would take a more active interest in the case. He's been very standoffish and hasn't responded to any of my friends, family or supporters – even through the union, I was only able to get what looked like a form letter our of him saying they can't interfere with the Egyptian legal process. On the other hand, the motion introduced by Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon to the Senate was passed calling on the Australian government to ensure due process was followed. I don't know how much information Bob Carr has about the case; you at Green Left probably are quite aware that what is happening is anything but due process. From the beginning this is an act of political thuggery, not a matter of law an order. The Australian government should have the gonads to speak out on that, as it should have for all of the human rights abuses committed by the Egyptian forces and all of the remnants of the old regime. But there's a silence on that, as there is on so many other issues, because Washington says to be quiet about it, so we do.

My case is nothing compared to what happened to people like David Hicks or Mamdouh Habib. Habib was brought to Egypt – he didn't come here of his own free will but was "rendered" or kidnapped here, and tortured for 6 months. He has alleged the Australian government was complicit in that, and they certainly still haven't cleared their name of that. You can see that today with the case of Julian Assange, or with our case here – the government certainly doesn't hold the rights of it's citizens as its first priority.