September 27, 2007

UPDATED: Egypt Gripped by Textile Strike

While the world focuses on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s repression of journalists and the Muslim Brotherhood party, a different sort of social unrest has boiled over at a state-owned textile mill in Mahalla el-Kubra, where tens of thousands of strikers have brought work to a costly standstill.

The BBC notes that a similar strike last December at the mill led to sympathy strikes across Egypt, causing the government to “back down and meet the workers’ demands” for higher pay and better profit sharing.

Now, an estimated 27,000 workers have taken over the factory in Mahalla, a town north of Cairo on the Nile Delta, claiming the government has failed to live up to its promises.

According to Reuters, inflation is on the rise and wages are stagnant, shutting out laborers from the benefits of Egypt’s otherwise growing economy.

The Associated Press reports that at least five strike leaders were arrested, but a pro-labor blogger, Hossam el-Hamalawy, posted a statement by the strike committee that the leaders have since been released after promising to “calm” the protests.

However, the same posting also noted that the strikers “continue to chant their slogans and beat their drums, refusing to compromise their demands under any pretext.”

A posting on the left/labor Web site libcom.org quotes a “socialist activist present in the factory” as saying that “the mood on the ground is more militant than that of those who are leading the action.”

Police and security forces remain in force at the factory, but for now have made no attempt to break the strike.

The political ramifications of this unrest are unclear — or at least not given deeper consideration by major news media or analysts at this time.

Although blog posts make references to sympathy strikes, “neo-imperialism” and socialist politics, a deeper examination of Arab pro-union leftism, or its relationship with Islamic politics, has not surfaced in most major news coverage.

Huffington Post blogger Freddy Deknatel did note, however, that the latest Mahalla strike is significant because “the workers offer a new source of major opposition to Mubarak other than the Muslim Brotherhood.”

[UPDATE: On Friday, September 28, the Almasry Alyoum Web site reported that the strikers have begun “waving” union membership cards, disclaiming any connection to the Muslim Brotherhood or other political opposition groups.]

Sources:

Google News keyword search — “Mahalla”

“Egyptian workers occupy factory”
BBC, September 25, 2007

“Egyptian workers take over giant textile plant”
Reuters, September 24, 2007

“Egypt workers strike over pay”
Al Jazeera, September 26, 2007

“Egypt: Labor Leaders Arrested”
Associated Press, September 24, 2007

“Egypt detains 8 textile workers in massive strike over low wages”
AFX News, September 24, 2007

“The Arabist Blog”

“Mahala Workers Wave their NDP Membership Cards, Chant: ‘We are neither Opposition nor Brotherhood'”
Almasry-Alyoum, September 28, 2007

“Egypt: Mahalla strike update”
libcom.org, September 26, 2007

“Blogging Egypt’s Factory Strikes”
The Huffington Post, September 24, 2007

“White House Criticizes Egypt on Rights”
Associated Press, September 24, 2007

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