Saturday 12 April 2008

Mahalla—solidarity in Istanbul

Turkey's Social Rights Centre, Labour Research and Solidarity, Socialist Demokrasi Party and Antikapitalist group organised a protest outside the Egyptian embassy in Istanbul in solidarity with Mahallah workers.

Thursday 10 April 2008

Wages chasing prices

Lebanon's Al-Akhbar newspaper reports that Syrian construction workers in the Bekaa Valley—the agricultural heartlands of Lebanon—have recently won an average wage rise of 50 percent.

The article says that a worker who used to get up to $10 per cubic meter he lays, now gets $17. While a foreman receives $30, up from $20.

One of the contractors said that in the past 55 percent of the costs on a site went to pay workers' wages, this has risen to 70 percent.

The article points out that 9 out of ten manual workers in places such as Zahle (the largest city in the Bekaa Valley) are Syrian, and that any action by them would paralyze the construction industry.

However one worker said that this rise offsets a 50 percent increase in the cost of housing (up from $100 to $150 per month for a bed).

Mahalla—more protests

Iran's Press TV reports:

At least 56 people have been injured in police attempts to stop riots over low wages and rising prices in northern Egypt, officials say.

Police and security forces clashed with some 2000 protesters who had gathered in front of two police stations in the town of Mahalla al-Kobra north of Cairo, Egyptian sources said on Wednesday.

The angry demonstrators demanded the immediate release of hundreds of people who were arrested when they protested against the price hikes on April 6 and 7.

Egypt—3 percent democracy

That's the turnout for Egypt's local elections on Tuesday, says a ISA Consulting:

Observer groups estimated that less than 3 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, reflecting widespread popular apathy and antipathy amidst a deepening socio-economic crisis and an ongoing crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood [opposition] and other government opponents.

The current municipal elections were delayed by two years as the NDP struggled to formulate a response to the shock election performance of the Brotherhood in the 2005 People's Assembly elections, in which the Islamic movement snared 88 seats in the 454-seat lower house.

Hundreds of Brotherhood members have been rounded up in police raids in recent weeks in a crackdown that has both mirrored and exceeded similar waves of detentions prior to previous polls.

They have been joined in prison by political bloggers and other prominent opponents of the government.

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Resistance in Iraq and Egypt

My article, The Iraq surge: glossing over the long defeat, has just been published in International Socialism journal. I have also posted it on Shemali.

The article is a follow up to two pieces authored with Anne Alexander: The elections and the resistance in Iraq, published in April 05, and Iraq: The rise of the resistance, published in January 05.

In the lastest ISJ Anne Alexander writes on Inside Egypt’s mass strikes. She has also translated the pamphlet by Egyptian comrades Mustafa Bassiouny and Omar Said, A new workers’ movement: the strike wave of 2007.


Mahalla should not face that terror alone!

We call upon all Egyptians to act in support of the people in Mahalla. Send telegrams of condolences to the family of child Ahmed, who was killed by policoe bullets (Ahmed Ali Mohamed Hammad, Kamal Metwalli Street, Shouna – El Gomhoreyya square – El Mahalla El Kobra).

Send letters of protest to newspapers and authorities; volunteer in the defense committee if you are a lawyer; pressure your syndicate to send medical relief if you are a doctor; improvise ways to show your solidarity.

Those who want can help break the siege around Mahalla, you can join us on Friday. A group of faculty members, doctors, artists and journalists will go to Mahalla in their private cars. We shall meet at 11 am on Friday 11 April at the beginning of the Tanta-Mahalla road.

Help us break the siege on Mahalla.. Mahalla should not stand alone

For more information and coordination:
Dr. Laila Soueif:
Dr. Hani el Hosseini:
You can call on: 0105215108 - 0164004013

Revolution is the price of bread

Emirates Business 24/7 magazine warns of the dangers of food prices rises in the Arab world:

From Cairo in Egypt to Sanaa in Yemen, mostly authoritarian governments have to weigh the fiscal costs of subsidising fuel and food against the explosive political risks of social discontent.

"Nothing's inexpensive any more," griped Jihad Al Amin, who owns a dry-cleaning store in Damascus, Syria. "Even parsley, which has been dirt cheap for as long as I can remember, has tripled."

In the UAE and Bahrain, the combination of rising prices and falling dollar purchasing power has sparked riots and protests by migrant workers, many of whom live in squalor among the skyscrapers and sports car showrooms.

Inflation has jumped across the region. In Saudi Arabia, the yearly rate hit 8.7 per cent in February, a 27-year high.

Food prices in Syria have risen 20 per cent in the last six months. In Yemen, one of the Arab world's poorest countries, the price of wheat has doubled since February, while rice and vegetable oil have gone up 20 per cent in two months.

Consumers face tough choices as food takes a bigger chunk of family budgets, perhaps leaving less for health and education.

In Lebanon, Central Bank governor Riad Salameh said the purchasing power of the Lebanese was a "major concern" after it declined 10 to 15 percent last year due to higher oil and commodity prices and the dollar's weakness against the euro.

Pierre Zoghbi, managing director of Mainspring, a food and beverage supplier, said prices of imported food, including dairy products, had risen 145 per cent since late 2007.

The response from Arab governments has varied.

Several Gulf oil producers have tempered the impact of higher food and housing costs by raising wages of their nationals—at the risk of fuelling domestic inflation.

But many Saudis were disappointed by a 5 percent wage hike for public employees in January after Gulf neighbours had already increased salaries by bigger margins.

Countries like Egypt, Syria and Yemen—all modest oil exporters whose output is declining—are straining their budgets by maintaining subsidies deemed vital to their people.

Jordan, unable to meet the cost, removed fuel subsidies in February, sending diesel and kerosene prices up 76 percent overnight. The government is promising to soften the impact with public sector wage increases and social safety nets.

In Egypt, where more than 14 million people live on less than $1 a day, inflation jumped to an 11-month high of 12.1 percent in February, largely due to rising food prices.

For decades, Egypt has provided cheap bread to its working poor to help them survive and to ward off discontent. This year queues for subsidised bread have lengthened, tempers have flared and 11 Egyptians have died in the lines since early February.

Picture: Women in Petrograd, Russia, attack a bakery during the bread riots of 23 February 1917—day one of the revolution.

How to start a revolution—part 1

Pull down a statue!


It's not as dramatic as the mass strike wage in Egypt, but echos of this new struggle from below are appearing in Lebanon.

The causes are the same, low wages, rampant inflation, a spike in the price of food—between July 2006 and March 2007 inflation hit 43 percent. This is feeding a general discontent with the new-liberalism of our rulers that is transforming itself into general discontent with the political system.

Over the past year we have seen this anger explode onto the streets, but perhaps what is less dramatic is the rash of strike calls coming from inside workers' unions, farmers groups and local associations.

What is clear is that the major union federations are having to call national one day actions because of the intense pressure from below.

One element stands out in union statements and short reports being compiled by Lebanon's revolutionary left: general meetings, delegate conferences, regional gatherings and local professional bodies are pushing for real action.

At the moment these are being contained by one day protest strikes... stay posted.

Lebanon—teachers strike

Contract teachers in north Lebanon are staging a protest strike today over the rising cost of living.

Teachers in basic education in Akkar and the north held a meeting at the Women's Association in Halba to organise a one day strike.

Fadi Akar Obaid, of the committee professors contractors, said in a speech:

"Based on the applications we received from our delegates in schools, and the recommendion of general assemblies in the regions, we call a protest strike at the government's failure to address any new developments concerning hourly pay, transport allowance, health insurance and cash benefits per month."

Lebanon—strike 7 May

Unions and associations in Lebanon are backing the call for a one day protest strike over the cost of living and a rise in the minimum wage.

This strike, called by one of the union federations, is set for 7 May.

Those backing the strike so far are:

•The Professional unions have called for a "rise in the minimum wage to LL960,000 (£322 per month), and correct wages by 63 percent."

•The print and media union calls for increases in wages.
The executive council of the federation of trade unions in the print media held a meeting which discussed price rise, higher prices, and the negative impact it has on wage earners.

The union called on officials, political forces and employers to review wages. The minimum wage as stated clearly in Article 44 of the 1946 Labour code, reads as follows:

‘The minimum wage must be sufficient to cover the necessary needs of the employee and his family’.

The union said, “All the successive governments since 1996 have ignored the question of wages. As a result we are now facing total collapse of living standards.”

•The Water Users Association of Southern Lebanon have backed the call.

Mahalla—human rights report

The Arab Commission for Human Rights Egypt on the events
of 6 April:

The workers of Misr Spinning in Mahalla al-Kubra, faced with rising prices, declining salaries and spreading corruption, called political forces to mobilise in solidarity with them and announced that 6 April would be a general strike.

The national forces responded positively to the workers' call. Some urged people to stay at home from work, others organised gatherings in the streets on the morning of 6 April in a number of governorates including Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, Al-Buhayriyya and Qina.

Following this, the security forces mobilised to prevent demonstrations assembling. They encircled protests, using brutal violence to disperse the demonstrators. Several hundred leading activists have been arrested.

Police have used baton charges, water cannon, tear gas and a kind of gas which causes temporary paralysis in the limbs, as well as rubber bullets.

There are doubts as to whether the police have used live ammunition. These tactics have led to a large number of injuries and the confirmed deaths of two people, one a young man of 21 and the other a nine year old child.

In Mahalla al-Kubra thousands protested and the strike turned into open warfare between the security forces and strikers, during which many victims fell, including large numbers of injured who are still in hospital.

The rioting broke out after the news emerged of the killing of a number of demonstrators. News was circulating late on the day that the police were arresting the injured on their way to hospitals and private clinics.

Eyewitness reports indicate that elements working in conspiracy with the security forces were involved in incidents of looting and arson, including the burning of a number of schools.

The security forces imposed a curfew on Mahalla and cut off electricity. They also arrested a large number of women and children.

Picture: Taking cover in Mahalla.

Tuesday 8 April 2008

Helwan—6 April

Sursock received this message from Helwan via Glasgow Uni Socialist Worker Students Society:

In Helwan University our numbers were about 2000. At Cairo University they were around 1500. The Muslim Brotherhood were not part of the strike, they announced the day before that they would not be on the strike or the demonstrations— actually this increased the police pressure on us but it didn't affect us.

In Helwan we broke through the gate of the university to get out (Egyptian Universities are normally under tight security, like gated compounds, were everyone must show ID to enter) but the police forces were waiting for us.

They surrounded us, trying to isolate us from local people, pushing us back towards the gates. Of course we resisted and pushed our way back to the streets chanting “revolution till victory—revolution on every street in Egypt!”

The police were making the siege so tight (to force us back inside the campus) we tried pushing back in the opposite direction as much as we could, until we only had a few metres of space left.

We said “we will not go inside till the press get inside with us” because the police weren't allowing the reporters to get in and video the protest. After 15 minutes battling, with every team pushing in different ways, we succeeded to get the reporters into our university.

The police forces controlled all the space outside the gates. We shouted “today in the university but tomorrow in Helwan Square, in the factories, in the schools, and in the streets.”

At Cairo University the same happened but the police were too much there. Lots of troops occupied the campus and around the gates but despite this the comrades succeeded in holding the demonstration.

Around downtown Cairo the police arrested any activists who tried to demonstrate; most of the demonstrations were finished before they started. The police troops were everywhere, occupying all public squares. The biggest demonstration was at the Lawyers Syndicate. There were about 2000 people there from different places and from across the political spectrum.

Topple the dictators!

Picture: Nasser Nouri

Monday 7 April 2008


The Center for Socialist Studies in Egypt released this statement:

In light of recent events in Egypt 6 April 2008, the Center for Socialist Studies calls on supporters of freedom and justice everywhere in the world to show there support for victims of repression in Egypt.

Mount pressure on the Egyptian dictatorship to release more than 800 detained yesterday including; more than 150 political activists (socialists, liberals, and Islamists), more than 600 protestors from Mahalla (mainly women and children) and Mahala strike Committee leaders Kamal El-Faioumy and Tarek Amin.

They are facing serious allegations of agitation which can lead to long prison sentences.

On the background of a call for strike on 6 April in Mahalla textile complex by the workers, political forces decided to support the strike through parallel symbolic work stoppage and peaceful protests.

However, the Mubarak regime in retaliation decided to occupy El-Mahalla complex with security forces, abduct strike committee leaders Kamal El-Faioumy and Tarek Amin, arrest political activists of every political tendency in Cairo and other cities.

Not able to suppress the protests, the Mubarak security forces used rubber-bullets, tear-gas, and live ammunition against Mahalla people who decided to protest on the streets of the city and in villages, leaving at least two dead and hundreds injured.

As fighters in this struggle, the Center for Socialist Studies calls on all activists and supporters of freedom and justice everywhere in the world to support us in our fight.

The inspirational fight of the Egyptian working class over the past 18 months, which culminated in El-Mahlla events and the mass protests of Sunday—and the terrified reactions of the Mubarak regime— have proved our faith in the centrality of the working class to liberate Egypt from dictatorship and exploitation.

We call upon you circulate the news about the maximum repression and violence of the Mubarak regime, which left at least two killed in Mahalla, including a 9-year old boy.

We call upon you to organize rallies and protests in front of the Egyptian embassy where you live and to send protest messages and letters against the Mubarak regime.

Long live the struggle of the working class!

Mahalla—defiance through the night

Mahalla—stones vs police

Mahalla—A worker is killed

Mahalla—Police open fire

Al-Jazeera on 6 April strike

Sunday 6 April 2008

Rage, rage!

Textile workers gunned down in Mahalla el-Kubra... protests across Cairo... students demonstration...a mass stay-away...

Go to Hossam's blog for the latest news on the revolt of the hungry...

Picture: Fighting back in Mahalla.

Egypt is our struggle

Statement from Tymat, the Leftist Assembly For Change, Lebanon:

Full Support for the Ghazl El-Mahalla Workers strike!

Today we stand hand in hand with the workers of Ghazl el-Mahalla, and with all of Egypt’s workers; we stand in solidarity with their struggle against a state which has constantly worked on draining and impoverishing the masses of workers and poor for the interest of the rich minority.

We stand against the company’s decisions, and we raise our voices with the voices of Ghazl el-Mahalla’s workers, in their righteous fight for their rights and demands for better life.

We consider all anti-strike statements, threats and propaganda made by the Pro-Moubarak General Federation of Trade Unions and the Labour Ministry as being another vile attempt by the state to attack the workers’ movement in Ghazl el-Mahalla.

The level of steadfastness and commitment shown by the workers can not but give us and all the workers in the region and the world the will and power and hope to act for change, today our support is essential, it is needed to uncover the injustice and the ongoing discrimination and exploitation that all of us suffer from every day.

We give full support to workers on strike in Ghazl El-Mahalla and we believe that their demands are righteous and just, and we urge workers around the world to rise against oppression and exploitation, because today’s fight is the fight of everyone of us for a better world, for a world free of poverty, exploitation and oppression.

In addition, we salute the initiative of the Kafr El-Dowar workers and the estate-tax collectors as well as university students, legal centres and social and political movements who stood in solidarity with the strike.

Whether in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria or any other country, our fight is common, our enemy is common, it is the state and it’s imperialist allies, it is the rich minority who feed on our hunger and misery.

Our ruling elites, share the same tradition of harassment and assault against workers, their laws are made to protect them from us, their voices come hand in hand with police bats and arrests, such regimes gives no mercy, and we shall not show them any as well.

They have their weapons and soldiers, we have our will, commitment, and we have a world to win.