x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Military asks Egyptian protesters to put end to strikes

Youth groups continue clean-up in Tahrir Square as work disruptions cause chaos at EgyptAir and reopening of the stock market, which has been closed for three weeks, is delayed.

Military police officers scuffle with protesters as they try to clear Tahrir Square in Cairo yesterday.
Military police officers scuffle with protesters as they try to clear Tahrir Square in Cairo yesterday.

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CAIRO // The Egyptian military yesterday called for an immediate end to strikes and labour unrest that have slowed the restart of the country's economy after the collapse of the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

Striking workers in major companies and government departments should go back to work "at this delicate time ", the Supreme Council of the Armed Force, Egypt's new ruling body, said in message read out on national television by a spokesman. The military's latest communiqué came on the same afternoon that military police moved to take full control of Cairo's Tahrir Square to restore the flow of traffic through the city's most important arteries.

Tens of thousands of workers from state ministries, schools and government-owned companies did not show up at their offices on Sunday as part of a co-ordinated strike action to demand permanent contractual arrangements and better pay. Fewer were present on the streets yesterday, which was declared an impromptu bank holiday by the government on Sunday, but police again marched in Cairo and maintenance workers blocked a key tunnel that links the city's centre with its eastern outskirts.

"Noble Egyptians see that these strikes, at this delicate time, lead to negative effects such as harming the security of the country," the military said. "Under the conditions it is necessary that all the groups and sectors of society stand together to support this positive movement and support the efforts of the Higher Military Council."

The military stopped short of imposing a rumoured ban on the strikes, but called for workers to refrain from labour actions "until [political power] is handed to the legitimate, civilian authority, elected by the people".

Leaders of Egypt's youth opposition movement, who have been eager to maintain a strong working relationship with the new military rulers, said they sympathised with the need to restore order but were concerned by the prospect of a clampdown on demonstrations.

"We don't want to overreact, and we will reduce our movement because we are happy that the army came here," said Yasser el Hawary, 34, a leader in the Young People for Justice and Freedom movement. "I think we'll have to send a message to the army that we're not finished yet. We see a very good action from the army, but we still want more."

Mr el Hawary, who emphasised that he was speaking for himself and not his group as a whole, said youth leaders did not plan to cancel a "victory" march to Tahrir Square scheduled for Friday.

Wael Ghonim, a Google executive who emerged as the face of the youth movement, said in a Facebook note that he and other youth leaders met two top officers from the military on Sunday and discussed the effects of the protests on the Egyptian economy.

Participants in the meeting called "on Egyptians to begin on a new page and to work with all their strength and effort to compensate the losses incurred by the Egyptian economy, putting aside personal goals at this current time," Mr Ghonim wrote.

Groups of youth in Tahrir Square continued a clean-up effort begun on Saturday morning, after Mr Mubarak's resignation. Young men and women in stylish clothing and shoes painted curbs and fences and swept up rubbish.

A group of several hundred demonstrators remained in the square's central median, after having been urged off the surrounding avenues by several dozen military police.

After yesterday's holiday, banks are scheduled to reopen tomorrow. Milad al Nabi, the celebration of the birth of the Prophet, will be observed in Egypt today. The opening of the stock market, which has been closed for almost three weeks, has been delayed from tomorrow to Sunday.

Some of the most significant strikes have hit the country's national carrier, EgyptAir, and its subsidiaries.

The airline's top executive was removed by the civil aviation minister after workers went on strike at Cairo International Airport. Alaa Ashour, who airport officials said was also Mubarak's pilot on international trips, was removed late Sunday after workers called for more perks and pay.

Even so, the protests continued yesterday in other subsidiaries of EgyptAir's parent company, as well as among workers at companies that provide support services to the airline. Tour liaisons at the airport were preparing to go on strike in response to the deterioration in the vital tourism industry.

Reflecting the continuing downturn in travel from Egypt, EgyptAir told the Associated Press that it had organised only 31 international flights and 12 domestic flights for Monday. The carrier generally has about 145 scheduled flights a day.

* Additional reporting by Associated Press

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