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Egypt in Turmoil
Labor Unrest Strikes Egypt

Early last month, Egypt’s Major General Mohamed Shams summoned two dozen union leaders from a prominent ceramics factory near Suez, a critical industrial and trade hub. Shams threatened to have the secret police investigate the men for terrorism if they did not resign from the factory. The men countered that the head of the factory, Mohamed Aboul Enein, an ally of former dictator Hosni Mubarak, had agreed to provide better salaries and food allowances but reneged on his promise. According to some of the labor leaders, Shams and Enein threatened to kidnap their wives and children until they finally agreed to quit.

The crisis at the ceramics factory is part of wider episode of labor unrest taking place across Egypt over the past year. “The rallies and sit-ins that have crippled the postal service, textile factories, and even public hospitals are still fragmented, largely uncoordinated, and lack unified demands,” the Washington Post reports.

“These people belong to the Muslim Brotherhood.” Enein said of the labor leaders to the Post. “They always ask for money. They are criminals.”

There is little or no evidence tying the Brotherhood to the labor unrest, but that doesn’t stop many Egyptians, especially former supporters of Mubarak and allies of current Defense Minister and presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, from accusing the Brothers of fomenting unrest. In the nine months of Sisi’s army-led government, 529 Muslim Brothers have been sentenced to death, well more than a thousand have been killed, and about 16,000 have been jailed, according to Reuters. Outside Cairo, a chaotic, surreal, and almost comical court case is proceeding against the Brotherhood leadership, including former President Morsi and Mohammed Badie, the organization’s spiritual leader. A metal cage holds the accused, who shout, “Down, down with military rule!” Scuffles frequently break out between onlookers and the police. “The judge, heavily moustached and wearing black sunglasses, looked bored as he scornfully dismissed pleas from lawyers asking for more respectful treatment of their clients,” Reuters reports.

Sisi never intended to run for President, his allies say, but has been forced to provide much-needed strength and leadership as the country lurches through the ongoing unrest. “People on the street tell me: Don’t talk to me about democracy, talk to me about bread and butter,” Khaled Dawoud, an activist and spokesman for a liberal political party, told Reuters. It is this desire for stability that brings so much support to Sisi and his army-led regime. But as Dawoud continues, “We tried the military for 60 years and where did we get to? We got corruption, no proper health care or education, no real political power or parties. This was the achievement of Mubarak so why do you want to repeat that again?”

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  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Is Egyptian culture ready for Democracy? Obviously not. When they are ready they will become Democratic, just as South America did 30 years ago, just as Eastern Europe did 20 years ago. Cultures change at glacial speeds, and Islamic cultures are significantly more backward and resistant to change than Western Cultures. This means the world must be patient while modern communications exposes Islamic cultures to the brighter future people enjoy under a Democracy.

  • Anthony

    Egypt’s problems stem to a large extent from the way political/economic power is exercised and monopolized (through a narrow elite undergirded by the deep state). General Sisi only represents latest extension of said rule – power concentrated and used to benefit Deep State. Sisi and Mubarak remnants have taken reins from Muslim Brotherhood and reverted back to ongoing institutional/organizational arrangements (such arrangements can definitely trace back to Ottoman Empire if not before). So, labor troubles Feed refers to may just be reassertion of rule by narrow elite at expense of…

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