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Egyptian revolution, Part 2: Now, to build a nation

Egypt must shift the passion of a revolution to the hard task of birthing a free nation. As national elections loom, the question persists: Will the military relinquish control? 

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Most analysts in Cairo believe that while the military doesn't want to rule directly (and be blamed for anything that goes wrong), it is looking to protect its interests with whatever civilian government emerges – notably by controlling its own budget. For this reason, many Egyptian political figures believe that SCAF will exert influence over the election results.

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The voting process itself could reinforce the military's ability to do so and prolong elements of the Mubarak era. The parliamentary election is scheduled to be held in three phases over at least two months, something that makes vote-rigging easier. Local NDP power brokers are expected to run for the 40 percent of seats in parliament that have been reserved for independents (as opposed to candidates running on party lists), and, with their vast experience of vote-buying and mobilizing the electorate, analysts see them doing well.

Even when the voting is over, a parliament will be formed that will still have the military acting as Egypt's executive power. The parliament's job will be to write a new constitution, ratify it, and follow up with a presidential election sometime in 2013.

"We already know the results of the election," charges Hossam al-Hamalawy, a prominent socialist activist and journalist. He sees the election rigged in favor of politicians who won't undermine SCAF's authority by seeking to limit the military's vast private enterprises or bring its budget under civilian control. "Why give the exercise a shred of legitimacy?" he asks. "Keeping the [labor] strike wave going is the way to get results."

Those calling for a boycott are of a minority, even on Egypt's left. But the country's budding labor movement, with new independent unions surfacing across the landscape and strikes starting every day, symbolizes a rising populism in a time of economic crisis.

Tourism has plummeted since the revolution, investment has stalled, and prices are rising as the interim government struggles to maintain fuel and food subsidies that millions of Egyptians rely on for their survival. The new parliament is unlikely to address any of this in a meaningful way, even though the economy is the No. 1 priority for virtually all Egyptians.

The extent of the labor activism is something that "has never been seen in Egypt's history," says Mustafa Basyouni, who covers the labor movement for Cairo's new Tahrir newspaper. "Postal workers, transport, doctors, teachers, factories – these social demands aren't going away."

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In Mahallah, the anger is everywhere. A teeming city of 450,000 some 60 miles north of Cairo, Mahallah is Egypt's symbolic industrial center, a designation it has enjoyed ever since the first major textile factories were established here in the early 20th century.

At Nahdet Samanoud Weaving, a government-owned textile factory surrounded by rice fields and irrigation ditches outside the city, a few hundred strikers maintain a lonely vigil. The two-story building has been shut for weeks. Workers with 20 years on the job make about $120 a month. New employees start at half that.

Their central demand? Invest in the business and keep its 1,300 employees working. The government has been hoping to liquidate the factory for years under a privatization program championed by Mubarak's son Gamal.

"We would all like more money, but the biggest thing is just to keep some kind of job," says Doa Rizq, a mother of three in a purple head scarf who's been on a hunger strike for three days. "This could be a good factory, a productive factory, but the government management has been lazy and corrupt. We've tried calling SCAF. We've tried calling politicians. No one is paying attention to us."

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