x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Strikes and unrest continue to shake post-Mubarak Egypt

From airport workers to employees of a textile factory, Egyptians continued to protest over poor pay and corruption, five days after the overthrow of the country's president, Hosni Mubarak.

CAIRO // Cairo airport workers demonstrated for better pay yesterday, textile workers went on strike to demand a corruption investigation and residents living along the Suez Canal wanted a chemical factory closed because it allegedly dumped toxic waste into a lake, in the latest unrest shaking Egypt.

The protests and strikes defied a call two days ago by the country's military rulers to halt labour unrest. The message was seen as a final warning before an outright ban on strikes and protests that could raise concerns among Egyptians who are growing more nervous by the day about the future.

Since the military took power from former president Hosni Mubarak on Friday, Egyptians have been airing grievances everywhere over just about everything, from meagre wages to police brutality and corruption. The ruling military council warned in a communique on Monday that protests and strikes are hampering efforts to improve the economy and return life to normal.

Hundreds of airport employees demonstrated inside the arrivals terminal at Cairo International Airport to demand better wages and health coverage. The protest did not disrupt flights.

In the industrial Nile Delta city of Mahallah al Koubra, workers from Egypt's largest textile factory went on strike over pay and calls for an investigation into alleged corruption at the factory, according to labour rights activist Mustafa Bassiouni.

Mahallah in April 2008 witnessed the country's largest protests in decades, when demonstrators demonstrated for better pay and a check on rising food prices. The youth movement behind the Mahallah protest then was a key player in the 18 days of anti-Mubarak protests that broke out January 25.

In Port Said, at the northern tip of the Suez Canal, about 1,000 people demonstrated to demand that a chemical factory be closed because it was dumping waste in a lake near the city.

Given the instability around this country of 80 million people, authorities decided to put back by another week the reopening of schools and universities, an indication that tEgypr still has some way to go before it returns to normal. Schools and universities were just starting their midyear break when the protests broke out.

Meanwhile, Israel has agreed to a second limited deployment of Egyptian troops to secure the demilitarised north Sinai, where suspected sabotage has disrupted gas supply from Egypt, an official said yesterday.

The movement of Egyptian soldiers into the zone, a step Israel has described as temporary, has fuelled debate among Israelis over whether the fall of Mr Mubarak would affect a peace treaty signed in 1979.

Under that pact, only a limited number of Egyptian police are permitted to patrol the border area. It also restricts the nature and size of Israeli forces on the other side of the frontier.

In Egypt, leaders of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood said yesterday that the Islamist movement would not seek a majority in parliament when elections are held later this year.

The opposition group, which says it wants to build an Islamic state through peaceful means, was seen as the government's most powerful foe until a popular revolt forced Mr Mubarak to resign on February 11.

"We do not aspire for a majority in the upcoming parliament, and this is a message to all political parties," said Essam al Erian, a member of the group's politburo. "This is not the time for competition."

The labour strikes, extended bank and stock market closures and an evaporation of tourism, a key source of income for the country, are paralysing the economy.

Banks were closed yesterday and will remain shut today, the last day of the business week in Egypt. There was no word on whether they would reopen on Sunday, the start of the business week.

The stock market has been closed for the past three weeks and, again, there was no word on when it would resume operating. The market lost nearly 17 per cent of its value in two tumultuous sessions in late January before it was ordered shut to halt the slide.

The European Union said yesterday that its foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, would visit Egypt next week after the Egyptian foreign ministry asked the international community for aid. Lady Ashton, already in the region, would be the most senior foreign official to come to Cairo since Mr Mubarak's overthrow on February 11.