By Radwan Adam
December 13, 2011
Port Said dock worker turned socialist parliamentarian, al-Badri Farghali is wary of the military. He says that the Egyptian revolution’s success lies in uniting the masses behind a rejuvenated left.
Giggling on his wooden chair at the famous Samara coffee shop in Port Said, Farghali says he was excited about shooting at a target, “so a donkey it was. We never gave up. My colleagues and I were responsible for guarding the beaches and the water tanks; we would occasionally clash with the Zionist intruders and kill them.”
After he moved with the displaced people of Port Said to the Dakahlia governorate north of Cairo, in 1972, he helped produce leaflets calling for a war against Israel. Along with another 500 volunteers, he succeeded in the restoration of Shawa airport after it was destroyed by the Israeli air force in the October war of 1973.
The feisty rebel, now 64, lives on the ground floor of a modest home in the city of Port Fouad. Leading a normal life, he wakes up at 7am, eats his breakfast, reads the newspapers, and follows the different news channels on television. He then wears his modest clothes, rides the Port Said ferry to arrive at the coffee shop. There, he meets all his old comrades, the young people of Port Said, and all his other supporters in the parliamentary elections.
“I spent my whole life on the streets, in the cafes, issuing statements against Israel, Sadat, the savageness of capitalism, and the Mubarak regime. I participated in the first popular demonstration on January 25 and I wrote the revolution’s statements in its early days. I am one of those who anticipated the revolution,” he says.
As a young child, Farghali left school in the sixth grade. “My first salary was 15 piasters; I worked in the department of shipping and unloading. I used to listen to all the songs that praised the revolution, socialism, and Gamal Abdel Nasser. We used to listen to these songs while working on the port, which never failed to make us more and more excited. However, I did not understand the meaning of the word ‘socialism’ back then.”
After seven years of working on the docks of Port Said, he was detained with dozens of other port workers, after participating in a general strike to protest low wages. “In the Port Said prison, I understood the meaning of socialism thanks to my fellow left-wing workers. But I was shocked by the Nasser regime. I spent only 10 days behind bars, and came out as a leftist worker who is able to distinguish between fact and propaganda.”
The leftist worker also found his way to prison in 1974 during the days of Sadat. This time, however, he spent several months in detention, after he established the Kasr al-Thaqafa (House of Culture) with other activists.
“The regime was concerned that leftists would dominate Kasr Al-Thaqafa, so they rounded us up in the Zagazig prison. There, I met several other leftists, including Sami al-Balouti. He was a simple man, with a good sense of humor. Together we joined the seminars and the education initiatives in prison,” he recalls.
Farghali has a Mediterranean sense of humor. In the Zagazig prison, cigarettes were the currency used to buy tea and sweets. Each smoker would get three cigarettes a day and the non-smokers would get only one. “This put the non-smokers at a disadvantage, I called for everyone receiving three cigarettes but the non-smokers refused. I later tried to form a group called ‘No Smoking in Prison,’ but I failed. Al-Balouti succeeded however, with his fellow smokers. Until we left prison, the smokers remained a majority, still receiving three cigarettes and we continued to get only one.”
His third imprisonment was almost funny. “They arrested me on January 18, and I was released on the 19th; they arrested me again on January 20, and released me after things calmed down in Cairo.”
He was alarmed by the murder of demonstrators in Tahrir Square on November 20. He believes that the popular, lower classes will no longer tolerate the crimes of the ruling class in Egypt.
“The military must return to its barracks, and focus on securing the country’s borders. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) protects the cronies of the old regime. It supports and defends privatization, violates workers rights, and it did not even bother to remove the corrupt banking officials in small towns. SCAF will not win the people to its side. I call on the people to continue the revolution until the very last breath. Egypt will not backslide to the old system. Egypt will be a civil and democratic country… No to militarism and no to Islamism,” he declares.
In the most recent elections, Farghali won against the Salafist al-Nour Party candidate. He did not run under the left-of-center Taggamu Party’s list, nor under any other leftist party, despite the fact that he has been a member of the party since its establishment in 1976. While he resigned from the party after the farcical 2010 parliamentary elections he later retracted his resignation later. “I felt that the time had not yet come to abandon Taggamu altogether; we have to reform it after the revolution,” he said.
Farghali does not believe that there is a genuine leftist party in Egypt. They are all merely small projects. “The opportunists destroyed the Egyptian left, which had strong popular support in the 1970s and early 1980s. Even the underground parties and organizations became extremely weak because they abandoned political education and public recruitment for political action.” He anticipates, however, that the left will regain popular support in the near future.
Only death will separate him from political action. After one year of his retirement, he formed a coalition of pensioners, which later became the independent General Union of Pensioners, with a membership of 50,000 people.
Through protests and sit-ins, Farghali says the union was able to win 3 billion Egyptian pounds (approximately US$49 million) for half a million pensioners. “We also received an increase in our social allowance and were able to exert pressure to receive the stolen insurance funds. There are around 437 billion pounds that the Mubarak regime pocketed, which belonged to 25 million Egyptians. We will regain it with sit-ins and popular action,” he insists.
The revolutionary parliamentarian — who suffered through the brutal Mubarak regime, with hundreds of initiatives against privatization, carcinogenic pesticides, violations of workers’ rights, and encroachment on social security funds — ended up running for the first parliamentary elections after the revolution.
“I have a national project to develop the region of the Suez Canal, particularly to improve the industrial and service sectors. However, Mubarak’s government was adamant to abandon it. This project will bring in at least US$100 million per year; it will create thousands of employment opportunities. I need at least ‘a quarter of a democracy’ to pass it. I don’t anticipate that democracy will be achieved anytime soon, unless we organize the popular classes in a national progressive front,” he says.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.