Egyptian govt criminalises strikes and protests

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Mar 23 2011 19:53
Egyptian govt criminalises strikes and protests

Wow:

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/371465

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Mar 23 2011 20:30
G&M wrote:
The proposal also follows a police protest Tuesday that saw Egypt's Interior Ministry building set on fire. Security officials at the ministry building accused the police demonstrators of starting the blaze. The police were demonstrating for increased salary and other benefits, including improved health care.
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Mar 24 2011 13:07

Not really wow. Under the State of Emergency laws protests and strikes were already illegal. Now they're just replacing that with actual legislation. What I did found "wow" however is the LE500.000 (60,000 Euro) fine for organizing/being involved. Before you would *only* be arrested, tortured and imprisoned. Now, you will be indebted for life on top of that; a pretty good way of insuring that anyone who dares stick their neck out can be harassed in perpetuity. Fucked up, but unfortunately to be expected by the old/new army regime.

Harrison
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Mar 24 2011 15:48

from the excellent blog at http://www.occupiedlondon.org/cairo/ :

Quote:
UPDATE: Protestors reassembling in front of Maspero Square have been once again beaten by army and military police, stun batons have been used, and protestors including women have been taken into the TV building with reports of more abuse within. Same shit from the army, different day.
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Khawaga
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Mar 25 2011 15:44
Jano Charbel wrote:

Activists in human and labor rights have denounced the decree put forth by the interim government on Wednesday criminalizing strikes, protests, public congregations and street assemblies.

Such actions are to be criminalized as long as the Emergency Law is in effect; this law has been in force for the past 30 years, and is expected to remain in effect for another six months until parliamentary elections are held. Besides disagreement with the principle of the decree, activists also questioned the methods of its implementation.

The decree stipulates that protesters or strikers will be arrested, fined and/or imprisoned, with fines ranging from LE 30,000 to LE 500,000 (from $US 5,000 to $US 83,000), and prison sentences of one year or more. Even those promoting strikes or protests but not participating in them are subject to imprisonment and fines reaching up to LE 50,000 (around $US 8,300.)

The cabinet of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf issued a preliminary decree calling for the "immediate stoppage of all demonstrations and strikes". According to the Cabinet of Ministers' website, the interim government has been overloaded by the demands of protesters and striking workers, while the national economy has been harmed by such actions.

Karam Saber, Director of the Land Center for Human Rights, said that this decree was proposed in light of the stock market's historic losses and the arson attack by police on the Ministry of Interior a day earlier.

"Yet even with these events, there is no justification for a wholesale crackdown on civil society, and the freedom of expression," said Saber. "If crimes are committed, such as the arson attack, then the perpetrators must be brought to justice. But prohibiting Egyptians from their basic human rights is entirely unjust."

Saber told Al-Masry Al-Youm: "We are shocked by this proposed decree. We don't know when it will be enforced, we have no information about how it will be implemented. Who will assess whether or not these strikes and protests disrupt production or not? Will those who violate this decree be subjected to military tribunals, or will they stand trial before civilian courts? Is there a right to appeal verdicts or not? We know little to nothing about this bizarre decree."

The independent Center for Trade Union and Workers' Services issued a press release on Thursday in which it described the proposed decree as "a grave and disturbing development". The press release says that "workers have struggled for years to reclaim their right to strike," pointing out that workers' strikes were an integral part of the Egyptian revolution of 25 January. The CTUWS called on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to refrain from ratifying this decree.

On social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, young activists involved in the street protests leading up to the Egyptian revolution denounced the decree as violating basic human rights, including freedom of speech, expression and assembly. One youth activist wrote, "The government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has proven to be more repressive than of Hosni Mubarak. We are moving backwards not forwards!"

Many described the move as a problematic one for Sharaf’s government. Sharaf himself has assumed a degree of legitimacy as prime minister since appearing in Tahrir Square on his second day in office on 4 March. Appearing before protesters in the square, he promised to fulfill their demands. But while the abolition of the Emergency Law remains a key demand of the 25 January Revolution, the law remains in place and Sharaf appears merely to have built upon it.

Saber described the proposed decree as a "screaming violation of all treaties and conventions relating to human rights and labor rights which Egypt has signed and ratified." He went on to say: "On 13 March the Ministry of Manpower announced that workers' and unions' freedoms would not be infringed upon by the state or its administrative/executive apparatuses. Yet less than 10 days later they announce that workers will be arrested and put on trial for exercising their basic rights?"

He further criticized the proposed decree on the basis that it prevents workers and average citizens from collectively demanding their rights.

"Strikes function as a pressure mechanism on employers or administrators for the realization of rights. Without such pressure, employers have the ability to sack workers, halt payments, deny employees their rights, to carry on with corruption, and impose lockouts. A lockout halts production and harms the economy, but the government has no objection. It only objects to the simple folks' right to strike or protest," he said.

Some activists are determined to take to the streets on Friday to protest the law and re-state their unfulfilled demands, including the release of civilians from military prisons and the end of the Emergency Law. The 25 January Revolution Youth Coalition on Thursday called on Egyptians to take part in a Friday protest outside the Egyptian Radio and Television Union in Cairo against the law.

The planned protest was dubbed “The Friday of Cleansing”, during which the protesters will demand the resignation of all officials loyal to the former regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, including those working for state TV and state-run newspapers.

http://she2i2.blogspot.com/2011/03/activists-denounce-new-decree.html

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Mar 25 2011 16:47
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Karam Saber, Director of the Land Center for Human Rights, said that this decree was proposed in light of the stock market's historic losses and the arson attack by police on the Ministry of Interior a day earlier.

I meant to say that the timing of this is related to the long-deferred (and so far pretty disastrous) re-opening of the Egyptian stock exchange on Wednesday.

AMAY: Wed 23, Egypt Exchange: Mass sell-off

AA: Thu 24, Index providor MSCI monitoring Egypt stock exchange access

Quote:
Egypt faces expulsion from the emerging markets index should trading remain interrupted or restricted

Reuters, Thursday 24 Mar 2011

Index provider MSCI said on Thursday it would consult with investors on the function and accessibility of the Egyptian stock exchange after its re-opening following more than seven weeks of closure.
[...]
Egypt's stock market suspended trade for half an hour in its second day of trade with its key index down more than 5 per cent.

MSCI told Reuters last week that the country could still be removed from the index if trading was frequently interrupted or restricted by price floors.

The index provider also said the implementation of planned changes to its Egyptian stock index would be postponed to an as yet unannounced date.

They've put a circuit breaker in to suspend the market for 30 mins if it drops by 5% in a trading session (see details here), but, even after booting Ahmed Ezz's (currently in prison on corruption charges) companies shares out of the index, they're still triggering it too often. They're scrabbling like hell to stay afloat, so they may be an element of pro-business sentiment propaganda to the announcement. Doesn't make it any less serious if they intend to enforce it of course.

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Mar 28 2011 23:53

Jano Charbel: 'protest march to safeguard the right to strike'

Hossam el-Hamalawy: 'video - marching in Tahrir'

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Mar 31 2011 13:25

Good article in Al Ahram Online

The revolution's honeymoon is over

I'm not going to quote a specific section of it, as I think the whole thing is relevant

Mark.
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Apr 1 2011 20:33
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Apr 2 2011 12:22

It's a great thing to witness our brothers and sisters "rising up".

We may not be round to see liberty with our own eyes, but at least we will get to witness some of the roots - rock- REBEL that will eventually make liberty a go.

Mark.
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Apr 2 2011 20:30

Jano Charbel on Friday's Tahrir Square protest

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Apr 3 2011 18:12

AA: Egypt revolution fortunes swing back up despite Brotherhood backtracking

Quote:
[...]Last Friday, an estimated 100,000 protesters demonstrated in Tahrir Square. The protest was considered the first large scale demonstration since the armed forces emptied the square on March 9, followed by an anti-protest law on March 20, which banned protests, strikes and sit-ins.

A subsequent call by a number of opposition movements for a million person march to protest the law on Friday, March 22, failed to gain momentum with only a few thousand protesters making it to Tahrir Square and the Radio and TV headquarters in Maspero. This led many to question if the revolution has finally lost steam. But with the appearance of thousands of protesters in Tahrir last Friday, revolutionaries feel that they are gaining the upper hand once again.

“They have been slow in responding to our demands for a long time, but then the anti-protest law, followed by a constitutional decree in which they retained most of the articles from the 1971 constitution or Mubarak’s constitution as we like to call it, was the last straw,” says Ahmed Ezzat the coordinator of the Popular Committee to Defend the Revolution. “But we have shown them that the Egyptian people can rise again and again and again until we get what we want.”
[...]
Indeed, the revolutionaries know that pressure works. A couple of days before the last protest the cabinet replaced key media figures, responding to one of the top demands of the revolution. On Thursday, a day before the protest El Sherif, Srour and Azmy were banned from leaving the country, although their assets have not yet been frozen. A day after the protest, PM Sharaf announced that the cabinet will revise the revilled anti-protest law.

Political activist blogger Malek Mustafa says that the government’s slow response to the demands is the reason why protesters are starting to hit the streets again.

“There is this saying ‘slow justice is slow injustice,’ and this is exactly what’s happening,” says Mustafa.

He noted also that the significant fact that a massive demonstration was possilble, despite the Muslim Brotherhood’s refusal to join in the protest.

“They decided not to participate and behaved as if they controlled the street, as if their lack of participation will mean the protest will fail,” says Mustafa. “But this made people furious because as everyone knows that this was a popular revolution and that no political group was responsible for it. So yesterday thousands went out to make that point to the Brotherhood.”

Many opposition groups have criticized the MB for not joining the protests, with many saying that they have strayed from the path of the revolution. The brotherhood had announced prior to the protest that they won’t join in last Friday’s protest saying that they need to give the government and armed forces a grace period to fulfill all the demands, but emphasized that they will resume protesting on April 8 if the demands remain unmet.

However, Hossam Tamam, an expert on Islamic movements says that he doubts that they will rejoin the revolution again.

"After the revolution and specifically during the referendum, we began seeing a filtering process between two groups," says Tamam. “The first group wanted complete reform, a democratic nation with a new political system and the second group were satisfied with some adjustments to the political arena and I believe that the MB belonged to the second group.”
[...]

Perhaps a second wind after the deflation of the referendum, etc? Only time will tell. Ahmed Ezzat gets another mention (see "revolution's honeymoon is over" above). No idea what his politics are, but I liked his quote from the previous article

Quote:
“I met people [in Tahrir protests] from different suburbs, cities and workers unions and thought that we need to recruit these people so that when they go back home, they can spread the message of the revolution to their families, neighbours and friends,” explains Ezzat.

In fact, it is these people who will keep the revolution alive and kicking, he says.

“Some people say that the problem with this revolution is that it doesn’t have a leader,” says Ezzat. “But for me the problem is that it doesn’t have a body, it needs support and people, lots of people to keep the pressure on.”

I see also that the Swizzos also have an interview with an activist from the Popular Committees, in their latest:

SW: How we are deepening the Egyptian revolution

Samotnaf
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Apr 3 2011 20:43
Quote:
Ahmed Ezzat gets another mention (see "revolution's honeymoon is over" above). No idea what his politics are, but I liked his quote from the previous article
Quote:
“I met people [in Tahrir protests] from different suburbs, cities and workers unions and thought that we need to recruit these people so that when they go back home, they can spread the message of the revolution to their families, neighbours and friends,” explains Ezzat.

In fact, it is these people who will keep the revolution alive and kicking, he says.

“Some people say that the problem with this revolution is that it doesn’t have a leader,” says Ezzat. “But for me the problem is that it doesn’t have a body, it needs support and people, lots of people to keep the pressure on.”

Why do you like this quote from Ezzat? It implies some kind of conception that the mass of people are just a body - not a head, that initiative can be left to people like him but you need "the masses" to be behind you. He's part of ElBaradei's campaign team (assuming it's the same guy).

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Apr 3 2011 21:49

Ezzat is a libruhl. If Baradei wins the presidency he will be a-ok with telling the same workers he wants to enroll for Baradei to sacrifice themselves on the altar of the Egyptian economy. Still, I understand why you like the quote Ocelot.

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Apr 3 2011 23:18
Samotnaf wrote:
Why do you like this quote from Ezzat? It implies some kind of conception that the mass of people are just a body - not a head, that initiative can be left to people like him but you need "the masses" to be behind you. He's part of ElBaradei's campaign team (assuming it's the same guy).

Like I said, from Ezzat's politics, I know nothing. Perhaps I should have been more explicit that what I like about the quote has mostly nothing to do with the specific context. It's more to do with the confusion that some folk seem to have (although not particularly on libcom, it must be said) that the idea that leaders are a curse, means that organisation itself is at best unnecessary, at worst, a threat to working class collective agency. It seems to me the quote is, at least partly, actually saying the opposite - that the problem is precisely that the mass of people are not, from the start, a body, but in the absence of organisation capitalism tends to make us into a collection of atomised individuals. Taking that further, that the problem of revolution is the composition of new active bodies, preferably ones without 'heads' or leaders (and indeed, leaders tend to decompose active bodies back into 'masses' of followers).

But I expect that the second part of your interpretation is more likely what Ezzaz has in mind.

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Apr 9 2011 02:31

Latest news from Tahrir Square.

Quote:
Banners included economic demands, such as the imposition of minimum and maximum wages...
Street action remained "the real guarantee to the success of the revolution," a coalition of youth activists said in a statement. "There has to be continued pressure for the quick and effective realisation of the demands of the revolution," it said.

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Apr 9 2011 15:25

From this:

Quote:
- One person was killed and 71 others wounded in riots that took place early Saturday at Al-Tahrir Square, the Ministry of Health announced.
Head of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Dr. Khalid Al-Khateeb told the press that 30 of the injured were transeferred to three hospitals, pointing out that 41 wounded were treated at the scene.
He explained that the medical teams discharged all patients due to the stability of their cases, and kept only three cases for further treatment.
Al-Khateeb said that medical teams rushed toward the site in the morning with medical aids and amublances.

Samotnaf
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Apr 9 2011 15:32

More about this in The Guardian (inevitably). Says they killed two.

Mark.
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Apr 9 2011 17:35

Eyewitness account of this morning's crackdown from the Arabist blog

Hossam el-Hamalawy

Quote:
An eyewitness ... describes how the military police deliberately shot and killed one of the army officers who defected and joined the protesters in Tahrir.

Another eyewitness who showed up today at the press conference held at the Press Syndicate said two more revolutionary officers were killed by the military police during last night’s raid.

Samotnaf
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Apr 9 2011 18:07

There was nothing about this on this evening's national TV news in France; one channel had a report on the repression in Syria, but Egypt didn't get mentioned at all.
Out of curiosity, what kind of TV coverage has there been of this in the countries of posters reading this?

Mark.
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Apr 9 2011 22:02

I don't watch much TV news but I'd guess that Egypt isn't considered a current story and in any case reports of killings of officers siding with the protesters might be seen as unconfirmed.

The NY Times has some reasonable coverage and Al Ahram Online has this report on splits in the opposition over how to respond.

Quote:
Several opposition figures, including Essam El-Erian and Mohamed El-Beltagy, Muslim Brotherhood members, Amr Hamzawy, member of the Social Democratic Party, and George Isaac, presented at a conference Saturday a joint statement to represent the opposition's stance on the violent events that unfolded between the military and protesters earlier in the day, leaving at least one dead and tens injured. 
 
The conference, which was also attended by members of the Revolution Youth Coalition, rights and political activists, as well as journalists, turned tense after several criticised the statement and shouted that it did not represent the revolutionary youth.

The statement, read out loud by Isaac, started with the sentence “As representatives of the revolution we express regret regarding the violence that took place causing injuries and deaths” but stated the signatories were conscious of attempts to create tensions between the army and people. 

Isaac said that they urged unity within the army…

Khaled Abdelhamid ... added that the statement read out did not condemn in any way the violations that took place and did not talk of accountability. “There is now blood between the army and the people,” Khaled added. Khaled’s statements were met with much cheering from the audience while many of the coalition got up to leave in objection to the statement presented.

Anger mounted up even more in the hall when Amr Shawky, an eyewitness and victim of the violence which took place in Tahrir, stated that “We saw three of the officers with us shot and killed. Many of us were severely beaten, including me. With all due respect to the political figures and leaders present, you do not represent us. You should have come and asked us what happened before talking on our behalf." 

Rights activist Ahmed Seif El-Islam, added shouting, “It is not the first incidence of violations by the military, but the third. We just want the army to leave!”

Following Shawky and Seif El-Islam’s statements the hall descending into chaos as many started shouting, criticising the written statement and condemning those who wrote it...

Report from Friday, before the crackdown:

Mark.
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Apr 11 2011 10:01

Jano Charbel: photo report from Tahrir Square yesterday

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Apr 13 2011 04:19

This Guardian article shows some of the contradictions of (some of) the combatant working class in Egypt at the moment, fighting and winning, though expressing themselves nationalisticaly and with a corporatist/social democratic attachment to nationalised industry:

Quote:
The shockwave from the Egyptian revolution has reached a skyscraper in Singapore. Encouraged by the victory of the shabab (youths) in Tahrir Square and Hosni Mubarak's resignation on 11 February, thousands of Egyptian workers went on strike to demand better working conditions. Among them was the workforce at the mill at Shibin el-Kom, the main town in Menoufia province, on the Nile delta, 60km north of Cairo.
A throwback to the days of Nasserite socialism, the firm was privatised in 2007 and sold to Indorama, an Indonesian multinational based in Singapore. The emphasis on flexible working imposed by the new management soon upset the workers, used to tough but regular work. They made a timid strike attempt in 2009, followed by a massive turnout this year.
After a month's conflict they are going back to work having achieved unexpectedly favourable terms.
Graffiti on the mill wall bear witness to the recent struggle: "Indonesians, go home!". A sign marked "Indorama Shibin" has been replaced with one saying "Misr Shibin" (Misr being the Arabic word for Egypt). The firm is well known all over the province as the largest employer, with 3,200 jobs.
"Misr Shibin is like a monument," says import manager Yasser Shendy. "Our fathers worked here. We are deeply attached to it. But the monument is in danger. The state had more consideration for us than these foreigners who don't understand our culture. It must return to public ownership."
The trouble started on 5 March with the dismissal of 95 workers. Ever since it took over, Indorama has been drastically cutting costs. With operations in 13 countries on four continents, it reports $4bn annual revenue. Serving customers such as Nike, Esprit and Adidas, it has little concern for the remains of Egypt's welfare state.
In the old days the workforce enjoyed almost complete job security, including health insurance and a pension, but new recruits were offered one-year contracts, with no welfare entitlement. Their renewal was dependent on the economic climate. "The management even forced us to sign a letter of resignation, so if need be they could give us the sack without paying any compensation," says Mahmoud Abu Adel, hired four years ago.
In the 1960s and 70s the state instituted various benefits in an attempt to compensate for hard working hours and low wages. Indorama set about dismantling these gains. "I've been working here for 38 years and I earn [$250] a month," says Muhammad Abdul Sattar, an old man who shows us round a huge shed full of bales of acrylic fabric and spinning machines. "I have a liver condition because of the stink in the factory. The works doctor is a GP and doesn't know a thing about such ailments."
Before the revolution, the protests by workers were low-key. But in March the wind changed. "We reckoned the political balance had tipped and, with Mubarak out of the way and Amn al-Dawla [Mubarak's secret police] disbanded, we could at last say: 'No'," Shendy recalls. So the workforce downed tools, organising marches and sit-ins outside the provincial governor's offices. Their action paid off. The deal negotiated with Indorama provides for half of the 95 redundancies to be reinstated, a rise in monthly bonuses, five-year contracts, yearly scope for promotion and payment by the state for part of the lost hours.
Mark.
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Apr 15 2011 23:34

Jano Charbel: organising a workers party?

Mark.
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Apr 15 2011 23:42
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ocelot
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Apr 21 2011 10:08

Another take on the expanding political organisational landscape. No trenchant social analysis, obviously, but maybe a useful bestiary of the emerging parties or orgs. Although, clearly the people likely to be nearest a liberatarian socialist or autonomist perspective are more likely to be found in the "non-parties" section. Nice ironic title by the subbies, btw.

AA: Shopping for a political party? Ahram Online's idiot's guide to Egypt's emergent political landscape

NB, I think there are slight translation variances, e.g. "Democratic Workers Party" from the Al Masry Al Youm artice above, becomes "Democratic Labour Party", similarly Popular Coalition -> Popular Alliance. For some reason the writers of both articles have decided that anglophone readers are not grown up enough to cope with the Arabic names.

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Apr 28 2011 10:42

Punch-up between RYC and Amr Moussa supporters:

AA: Chairs and bottles fly as Youth Coalition members clash with Amr Moussa supporters

Quote:
Amr Moussa’s popular press conference in Luxor Wednesday night witnessed a mass brawl ‎between members of the Revolutionary Youth Coalition and the presidential hopeful’s ‎supporters.‎

The fistfight erupted shortly after Moussa finished his speech. Both sides used chairs ‎and bottles against each other, which resulted in several injuries.

The Arab League secretary-general was supposed to answer a list of questions written by the attendees.‎

However, tensions escalated at the conference, which was held at Isis Hotel, when ‎members of the Youth Coalition insisted on talking to Moussa directly through a loud ‎speaker. ‎

Some Youth Coalition members also held aloft banners and placards that read anti-Moussa ‎slogans, such as “No for old faces” and “Amr Moussa is hugging the National [Democratic] ‎Party.” Others even chanted against the 74 year-old. ‎

The police was about to step in, but Moussa asked them not to enter the room as the fight ‎was already over. ‎

Military forces later arrived to evacuate the crowd. At least six people were hospitalised.

A couple of days ago the April 6 movement withdrew from the RYC, giving as a reason that they were "...objecting to interference by coalition members in the movement’s internal affairs"

Quote:
[...]Moreover, April 6 considers the withdrawal to be delayed as its members agree that they should have left the coalition soon after the referendum on the constitutional amendments transpired last March. The movement believes that the coalition has failed to rally its members behind a single voice, as the referendum and several calls for protests have proven.

Conversely, the RYC thinks it is time for all political forces to unite together with all their differences.

“The coalition is doing its best, if we got all our members behind one vision, we would turn into a political party and not a coalition,” Abdel Hamid told Ahram Online.

The April 6 Youth Movement is looking to organise a new coalition that would collect all political forces in Egypt under one umbrella and would be capable of participating in the coming parliamentary elections with a unified list.

from here

interesting dynamics

Mark.
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May 1 2011 11:22

Hossam el-Hamalawy: Egypt marks May Day

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Tomorrow, we celebrate May Day in Tahrir Square. It’ll be probably the first real celebration of that event since 1951.

The July 1952 coup which brought Nasser to power had inaugurated its rule with the execution of two communist workers in Kafr el-Dawwar textile mill, Khamis and el-Baqri. May Days under Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak were nothing but hollow celebrations, where the president was expected to make a “surprise gift” to the workers, decreeing some bonus or raise, in a closed conference room with the stooges of the state backed Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions (EFTU).

I remember every May Day, when I used to watch with endless boredom Mubarak’s speeches, interrupted by the cheers of the EFTU hypocrite officials praising him. I’d flip the channels and watch with envy workers and activists in other countries marching freely in the streets, while all our attempts, as activists over the past years to hold any celebrations in the streets were always met with the iron fist of the security forces. As labor organizers, we would be content if we could pull together a conference in some closed hall inside one of the offices of the NGOs or political parties.

This year is different.

Some are hoping tomorrow there will be a one million worker protest in Tahrir. I do not think our mobilization at this point will bring out those numbers. I’m hoping for at least “thousands” to show up. But to be honest, the numbers are not the main issue here, despite their importance. Tomorrow is a historical day, where independent trade unionists, after years of fighting, will get the chance in Tahrir to declare their new federation, where left wing groups can state publicly and freely their different views on the current situation and which step to take next, where young Egyptians who were not necessarily connected to the labor movement will get the opportunity to meet labor organizers and campaigners and see how they could help.

And while we celebrate in Tahrir tomorrow, the state-backed EFTU is also throwing a party, “under the sponsorship of the army” somewhere else (either at the Military Production training center or the EFTU main headquarters). The EFTU had initially announced it was canceling its celebrations of May Day this year, following the imprisonment of their boss, Hussein Megawer, pending investigation into his role in the 2 February thugs’ attacks on Tahrir protesters. But then the EFTU changed its mind and announced they were holding the celebrations, sending invitations to Field Marshall Tantawi, our “revolutionary” PM Essam Sharaf–whose “revolutionary” cabinet has already criminalized strikes and prosecuting independent trade unionists–and Ahmad el-Borei, the labor minister.

Will Essam Sharaf accept the EFTU invitation, or will he come to Tahrir to celebrate with us? Who brought him to power, Megawer’s thugs or the Tahrir revolutionaries? And why hasn’t the EFTU been dissolved by now? The dissolution of this corrupt institution, whose head is officially a thug, has been one of the central demands of the labor movement for years, not just during the revolution. And even after overthrowing Mubarak, the EFTU continues to play its role in controlling and sabotaging the labor movement, with their agitation against independent unions.

Dr. Sharaf, do NOT honor those thugs with your presence tomorrow. Those thugs should be in jail and this institution should be immediately dissolved.

Long live Egypt’s working class… The revolution continues… See you tomorrow in Tahrir…

http://twitter.com/#!/3arabawy

Mark.
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May 1 2011 11:34
Mark.
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May 1 2011 22:17
Mark.
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May 1 2011 22:35

May Day photos

From Al Masry Al Youm:

Jano Charbel: Workers push for independent union movement on Labor Day

Establishment of new labor party announced at Tahrir Square

Egypt’s workers: On the political precipice

Quote:
“We joined [the union] because our rights are lost,” says Fahmy Adel Fahmy, a member of the Independent Bakers’ Union. “We never resorted to protesting or having strikes; we demand retirement plans and a better minimum wage.”

Fahmy’s union is one of 12 that have already joined the newly founded Egyptian Federation for Independent Unions, which stands in parallel to the official Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions, a state-controlled entity.

Fahmy, who works at a bakery in Cairo’s Shubra al-Khaima, says that his demands and those of his fellow workers could be more effectively addressed with better organization. “We joined the [independent] union because no one listens to us. We’ve been mistreated by the [official] federation. Membership fees are automatically deducted from our pay slips and we get nothing in return.”

Fahmy’s pleas, like those of millions of Egyptian workers, have been on the forefront of the 25 January revolution, whose seminal chant was “dignity, freedom, social justice.” But for many, the plea remains outside the framework of political discourse in Egypt, as the current military rulers insist that the workers’ demands are “class-based” and do not concern the wider nation. For the workers themselves, they walk the fine line between effectively applying pressure on politicians and honoring their pledge to stay out of politics.

“Before the revolution, workers were wary of the separation between the political and the economic,” says Nadine Abdalla, a PhD candidate at the Institute for Political Science in Grenoble, France. The common belief was that the fallen regime was more tolerant of workers calling for better working conditions than they were of those calling for political reform. The workers “distanced themselves from calling for political change because they would be punished,” adds Abdalla, who studies the labor movement in the Delta of Egypt.

“This is what happened on 6 April 2008 when the demands got political, which led to the violent dispersal of the Mahalla strike.”

In 2008, workers on strike in a Delta-based state-run textile factory coordinated with political groups outside Mahalla. They chanted against rising food prices and low wages before the police violently broke up the protest and arrested many of them. Attempts to promote national solidarity on behalf of the workers, by staging protests and enacting a day of civil disobedience, failed due to the staunch security response. Union leaders recall the experience with bitterness, attributing it to the absence of a strong political party caring about workers’ issues.

But Abdalla reckons that after the 25 January revolution, workers were emboldened and hence became more politicized. For her, there is a sense of recognition that worker strikes in the last days of the uprising significantly contributed to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Since 9 February, worker strikes have erupted throughout Egypt. Employees in public and private sectors - public transportation employees, communication technicians, nurses, and others - also staged protests, bringing the nation’s economy at halt. In a reversal of longstanding tendencies to keep out of politics, protesters chanted against corrupt leadership in addition to calling for improved working conditions.

Beyond its demands, the labor movement seeks better organization. The Egyptian Federation for Independent Unions was quick to act as a truly representative body, in contrast to the state-controlled Egyptian Federation for Trade Unions.

“The union and its members are independent from political parties, the state-controlled federation, the government and employers,” says Kamal Abbas, a co-founder of the independent union and a worker himself. He reiterates that independence from all such bodies is a key element of the new union.

The decision to distance itself from politics is a strategic choice by the labor movement, according to Akram Ismail, a member of the Association of Progressive Youth, which has embraced workers’ pursuit for independent unions. “The independent union is wary of not engaging in political issues such as the toppling of the official state-run federation,” notes Ismail. “The real battle now is to create an independent union on the ground that embraces workers’ causes, organizes them and strategically negotiates on their behalf.”

The choice to remain apolitical has come at a cost, and some accuse the movement of lacking appeal to the broader public. Khaled Ali, head of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights and an advocate for workers rights, believes one must differentiate between politics and political parties. “The independence of labor unions from political parties, which could direct them one way or the other, is indispensable,” says Ali, pointing to the Muslim Brotherhood as an example of how political parties may evolve to control professional syndicates.

For years, the Muslim Brotherhood, once banned but tolerated by Egypt’s toppled regime, has worked to penetrate professional syndicates and transform them into loyal strongholds, especially during elections time.

“However, there needs to be a link between the workers’ discourse and that of political groups,” Ali adds. “For years, labor constituted the social heart of the progressive political movement, which in turn served as the political brain for labor. That was important for the labor movement to articulate its discourse and negotiate its demands.”

What’s uncontested, beyond the movement’s self-perception of being either economic or political, is that the act of creating a union is political by nature.

Behind the Independent Bakers’ Unions stands a long history of bread riots in 1977 when masses took to the streets against the cancellation of government subsidies on basic foodstuffs. In 2007, shortages in subsidized bread and rising food prices spearheaded instability and led to deadly feuds in bread queues.

“The bread supply can only be improved when our conditions are improved,” Fahmy concluded confidently.