Labour unrest continues in Egypt

Some workers ignored a call by military rulers to return to work.

Labour unrest continues in Egypt

Some workers ignored a call by military rulers to return to work on Wednesday, and a committee hammered out changes in Egypt's constitution to pave the way for a democracy to replace 30 years of Hosni Mubarak's iron rule.

The Higher Military Council had urged Egyptians to put aside the revolutionary ardour, that has found expression in protests and strikes about poor pay and working conditions, in the interests of national unity and restarting the damaged economy.

Banks were closed across Egypt because of labour rows that were having a spillover effect across many sectors, while 12,000 workers went on strike at a textile plant in the city of Mahalla el-Kubra and Cairo's airport was also hit by industrial action.

"The ripple effect of the Egyptian revolution is shaking Middle Eastern dictators to their foundation," said Fawaz Gerges, a London School of Economics Middle East expert.

There was a frenzy of rumour about the health of Mubarak, 82, who is holed up at his residence in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh after flying from his Cairo palace. In one of his final addresses, Mubarak said he wanted to die in Egypt.

One Saudi official in Riyadh said: "He is not dead but is not doing well at all and refuses to leave. Basically, he has given up and wants to die in Sharm." The official added that Saudi Arabia had offered to be his host.

Life was far from normal five days after Mubarak was forced from power by a whirlwind 18-day uprising, with troops and tanks on the streets of Cairo, schools and banks closed and Egyptians still finding their new found freedom hard to believe.

Youth activists behind protests which toppled Mubarak asked for a meeting with the Higher Military Council, which has promised a swift handover to democracy and civilian rule, but had yet to receive a reply, a leading activist said.

With no clear leadership, the youth movement that was pivotal to the revolution because of its use of social networking sites to organise protests, is seeking to overcome divisions and unite to form political parties.

Opposition leaders are calling for the immediate release of political prisoners and the lifting of emergency laws.

"Victory march"

A committee, set up to amend the constitution within 10 days as a prelude to parliamentary and presidential elections in six months, also met as the military dismantles the mechanisms used to maintain Mubarak's rule. The Higher Military Council has already dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution.

Egyptian pro-democracy leaders plan a big "Victory March" on Friday to celebrate the revolution -- and perhaps remind the military of the power of the street.

The military had hoped tens of thousands of Egyptians would heed its appeal to get back to work on Wednesday and abandon the strikes and protests that flared after the downfall of Mubarak.

But anecdotal evidence suggested unions, emboldened by the people's overthrow of Mubarak, are still pressing their demands.

Facing a rash of pent-up labour demands from groups ranging from bank staff and tour guides to policemen and steelworkers, the military has urged people not to disrupt further an economy already damaged by the revolution.

Workers cite a series of grievances. What unites them is a new sense of being able to speak out in the post-Mubarak era.

Tuesday was a national holiday to mark the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad so for many sectors Wednesday was the first work day since the military's appeal.

The foreign minister had spoken with his counterparts about international aid for Egypt and Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign affairs chief, will become the most senior diplomat to visit since Mubarak stepped down when she visits Cairo next Tuesday.

Emboldened by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, hundreds of people, angry at the arrest of a rights campaigner, clashed with police and government supporters n the Libyan city of Benghazi. There have also been clashes in Iran, Bahrain and Yemen.

"Barrier of fear removed"

"The departure of Mubarak marks the beginning of the fall of the authoritarian wall in the Arab world. Mubarak was the public face of political authoritarianism in the region," Gerges said. "It removes the barrier of fear in the region."

The careful wording of the army's plea on Monday marked a change of tone from the more autocratic style of the past, provoking concern among some industry executives. In a new post-Mubarak era the army is keen not to appear heavy-handed.

"The army must use stronger language to the people," said Chamber of Metallurgical Industries General Manager Mohamed Said Hanfy. "A lot of them don't have a problem but want to seize the opportunity presented by the political situation," he said.

Egypt imposed travel bans and froze the assets of another former cabinet minister and two more businessmen on Wednesday, wit the new military rulers seeking to show they were tackling the corruption of the old regime.

State television broadcast footage of military officers visiting an orphanage to mark the Prophet's birthday, taking on the kind of caring role often played by Mubarak's wife.

"I love the army and the armed forces because they protect the nation and Egypt," said one of the orphans.

"Brotherhood in panel"

But a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood said he was stopped from leaving the country on Wednesday by police he identified as state security, saying that it appeared the force associated with Mubarak's rule was trying to reassert itself.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which did not play a leading role in the revolution but has been Egypt's best-organised opposition group for many years, has a member on the committee drawing up the constitutional amendments.

In Tahrir Square, scene of clashes between protesters and police during the revolt, traffic flowed on Wednesday and some of the army tanks and armoured vehicles had been pulled back, although military armour remained in other Cairo locations.

Agencies

 

Last Mod: 16 Şubat 2011, 17:52
Add Comment