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Three Strikes and You're Out?

Months after the Egyptian revolution, the nation’s ruling council faces a significant new problem: militant labor. From the Washington Post:

Here in a nation that long outlawed strikes and largely judged independent unions to be enemies of the state, a juggernaut labor movement is flourishing in the light of the Arab Spring.

The ruling military council, which assumed power after the fall of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, issued a renewed ban on strikes in April. But in recent days, it has been resoundingly defied by empowered labor leaders and burgeoning bands of new Egyptian unionists who are striking in massive numbers not seen here since the first weeks of the revolution.

While democracy may have been one goal of this revolution, Egyptians also expected more basic improvements: higher incomes and better jobs. The revolution on balance has been bad for the economy; tourists and foreign investors are taking a wait and see attitude.  Meanwhile world food prices are high, and Egypt’s budget deficit is at Greek levels.

The government is caught in the middle; many of the Egyptians who want higher wages actually work for the government, and politics and business are so mixed together in Egypt that it is hard for strikes to be anything but political struggles for government favor.

Most Egyptians are very poor and work very hard.  They want better lives and rightly so — but nobody has a magic wand to create the money that can pay them.  The clash between rising public economic expectations and a weak economy means more for Egypt’s future than last week’s clash at the Israeli embassy.  Egypt’s ability to navigate this issue could be the deciding factor in the long-term outcome of the Arab Spring. Stay tuned.

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