While the world had its eyes on an inflammatory film made to mock the Prophet Muhammad, The US Chamber of Commerce was brokering a midday Cairo brunch in the Four Seasons between American and Egyptian businessmen.
The US Consulate in Cairo has been the target for many actions before this moment – in response to the Iraq War, in protest of the Mubarak regime’s relationship to the US, etc. This time the trigger might have been the film, but concurrent actions happening across the country prove that Egyptians have a much broader agenda.
There has been a recent wave of labor and education strikes in Egypt. A national teachers strike started the other week (September 8th) and has continued in disrupting the opening of many schools. Solidarity and participation in the strike spans different sectors and regions of the country. The strike wave has reached both public and private sectors and even civilian workers in a military factory have halted their workplace and descended on the presidential palace. ( http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/84440)
The administrative staff and university workers initiated the strike, which was than supported by students, and followed a bus drivers’ strike! Egyptian Comrade Hossam Hamalawy, suggests that the common denominator for these strikes is the failure of President elect Mursi to tackle the social question and the continuation of old Mubarak policies. He claims these labor strikes are a continuation of the Egyptian Revolution.
These strikes have economic demands and are also political in their nature. ‘Worker’ issues aren’t always what spur labor strikes, and Egypt has a solid history of this. Popular Committees were established to support the Palestinian uprising in 2001 and there was a wave of mass strikes in 2006 with the onset of the Iraq war, which peaked in 2008, especially in the textile center of Mahalla al Kobra after police killed 2 strikers.
A look into the political economy of Egypt
Hosni Mubarak’s son, Gamal Mubarak, who was the Deputy Secretary-General of the then-ruling and now-dissolved National Democratic Party, was instrumental in pushing neoliberal economic policies that gutted social programs, ended price controls on bread, sold off state assets to private interests, established an international banking sector and sustained a period of privatization. (http://www.internationalmarxisthumanist.org/articles/arab-revolutions-crossroads-kevin-anderson/) Mubarak himself was decorated as a great liberal reformer right before he was ousted. Amidst all the upheavals and said reorganization of the government, the economic privileges enjoyed by military have yet to be contested. The Egyptian military roughly controls 20% of economy and is involved in production of everything from pasta to missiles.
There has been a global increase in food prices, and due to the global financial crisis and droughts in countries who are major wheat exporters (like the US), Egyptians are feeling the blow (Egypt is the biggest wheat importer in the world). Hesham Kandil’s (Prime Minister) Cabinet is organizing a current loan with the IMF, which will inevitably result in a devaluation of the Egyptian pound and add to austerity measures.
These recent actions have at their core, a protest against the continuation of these Neoliberal policies continued by Morsi. Loans will continue to be granted by the World Bank and IMF, as Morsi has given assurances to the International Community of this. He has also assured the US that Camp David will continue and with no radical change to foreign policy since Mubarak’s ouster, the Rafah border (between Palestine and Egypt) has yet to be fully opened.
Businessmen are using criminal thugs to break strikes. Police attacked the public transport workers a few days ago, because they brought Cairo to a hold. The police arrested one of the main leaders of the strike who is now being prosecuted on charges of inciting strike–which are charges outlined in the Mubarak era! Teachers set up tent in occupation, and the reciprocation of strike solidarity continues! University guards, plain clothes thugs, police, witch hunt against independent trade unionists. Pressure continues to be exerted on journalists who are critical of Morsi. Textile factories in Saadat City attacked by armed bedoiun hired by local business men in order to with stand the strike. Use of firearms, textile factory in Mahalla demanding delayed salary, fired upon by plain clothes thugs.
News of the strike is everywhere. It’s become normal in daily life and news media.
But now, no one gets slapped by a police or a boss without family, neighbors, friends and fellow workers reacting together.