Egypt: Civil Disobedience Gains Ground Among Workers

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An Egyptian woman takes part in a sit-in at al-Shohda square in Port Said on 19 February 2013. (Photo: AFP - STR)

Published Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Egyptian city of Port Said entered its second week of civil disobedience on 24 February 2013. In nearby Ismailia, a coalition of revolutionary forces have called for similar actions at the beginning of March. Calls for protests in other Egyptian governorates, such as al-Gharbia and Suez, have not been as successful.

Despite this, Egyptians have reached a consensus on one thing: to sustain their protests against the economic and social policies of the state. They view the state’s program as a continuation of policies adopted by previous governments and the political elite.

The year 2012 saw 3,817 protests in Egypt, according to a report by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights.

According to the research center, the public sector saw the most protests, reaching 1,381 by the end of the year, while civic and political actions reached 1,205. Also noted were the 410 worker actions in the private industrial sector; 222 protests in the commercial sector; and 204 actions on behalf of professional unions.

There are many reasons behind the rise in worker actions and popular protests. One being a general mood of anger among organized workers and professionals following an attempt by Muslim Brotherhood labor minister Khaled al-Azhari to undermine the unions by issuing legislation severely restricting union pluralism.

This coincides with demands for higher wages in the midst of a significant decline in living standards and exorbitant prices.

The inflation rate in February 2012 rose by 6.6 percent compared to the previous month, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), Egypt’s official statistics agency. This increase is a result of record highs in the value of the US Dollar compared to the Egyptian Pound.

A New Kind of Civil Disobedience?

Hesham Fouad, a leader in the Revolutionary Socialists and a member of its workers committee, explained to Al-Akhbar that workers strikes are not only increasing in frequency, but witnessing a qualitative change.

“There is a noticeable trend of workers taking over and running their factories [in the face of] attempts by defaulting employers to close facilities and escape the country,” he said.

This concerns the state, he said, “since it knows that giving back the companies to the businessmen will become impossible as the workers gain more confidence.”

According to Fouad, the threat to the state is now more apparent, with the workers joining the civil disobedience in Port Said. The workers of the industrial free zone joined the demonstrations, and dock workers are demanding retribution for victims of abuse at the hands of security forces.

While the deteriorating economic conditions indicate that social upheaval is on the horizon, when it happens, it will not be led by any of the leaders of the National Salvation Front, the most prominent opposition movement in the country.

Although the electoral program proposed by Mursi, the so-called “renaissance project,” is considered an example in ambiguity, the Front does not seem to have a consensus on an alternative.

Post-Revolution, IMF Loans Haunt

In a television interview a few weeks ago, Mohamed el-Baradei, founder of the center-right Dustour Party, called for “a national consensus on the International Monetary Fund [IMF] loan.” He was speaking about a credit facility of $4.8 billion, under negotiation since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

The loan has been subject to rising public anger due to the conditions imposed by IMF, especially following the announcement of a series of legislative amendments last January related to taxes.

This is not the only negative aspect of the loan. An IMF press statement from January 2012, revealed an agreement with the Egyptian government to end the central bank’s control of the exchange rate, under the pretext of enhancing Egypt’s competitiveness in world markets. Practically, this led to the collapse of Egyptian currency relative to the US Dollar.

Despite this, Baradei seems to agree on the loan. It should be noted that Fakhri al-Fiqi, finance minister in the Wafd “shadow government,” used to be a former advisor to the IMF in the 1990s.

The same goes for the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (SDP), currently led by the veteran economist Hazem al-Beblawi, who served as finance minister in the second government headed by Essam Sharaf in July 2011.

For several months, Beblawi led the loan negotiations with the IMF, raising farmers’ rents on public agricultural land and increasing taxes on cigarettes.

“The National Salvation Front is not the right arena to discuss economic and social questions,” Wael Gamal, an activist in the Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP), told Al-Akhbar. “The reason is simple. All the leaders of the Front who claim to be secular opponents of Islamists do not have economic answers that differ from the Muslim Brotherhood.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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