x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Tens of thousands of Egyptians join strikes

From bus drivers to doctors, and from factory workers to lawyers, Egyptians were on strike today as labour movements joined in anti-government protests that have wracked the country since January 25.

From bus drivers to doctors, and from factory workers to lawyers, many thousands of Egyptians were on strike today.
From bus drivers to doctors, and from factory workers to lawyers, many thousands of Egyptians were on strike today.

CAIRO // Bus drivers and public transport workers in Cairo joined thousands of state employees on strike Thursday in spreading labour unrest that has pumped further strength and momentum into Egypt's wave of anti-government protests. With its efforts to manage the crisis failing, the government warned of the potential for a coup.

The warning from foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit was the second from the regime this week that a coup could take place, a sign that the reinvigorated protests could face a new crackdown.

Speaking to the Arab news network Al Arabiya today, Mr Gheit said that if "adventurers" take over the process of reform the military "will be compelled to defend the constitution and national security … and we'll find ourselves in a very grave situation."

Youth activists organising the 17-day-old protests demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak planned to up the ante even further, calling for an expanded rally on Friday, hoping to repeat a showing earlier this week that drew about a quarter-million people.

Khaled Abdel-Hamid, speaking for a coalition of groups behind the protests, said they wanted Egyptians to show up at six separate rallies on main squares in Cairo from which they would all march to Tahrir Square, which has been the focal point of the demonstrations. Thousands were packing the square today, vowing not to give up until the longtime leader steps down despite a host of sweeping government concessions.

Now the protests, focused on discontent over the regime's heavy hand on power, have tapped into the even more widespread anger over economic woes: inflation, unemployment, low wages and wide economic disparites between rich and poor.

Strikes also have erupted in a breadth of sectors,among railway and bus workers, state electricity staff and service technicians at the Suez Canal, in factories manufacturing textiles, steel and beverages and hospitals. Protest organisers have made a concerted effort to bring labour movements into the protests.

Hundreds of doctors in white coats marched down a street from the Qasr el Aini hospital to Tahrir Square, chanting "Join us, O Egyptian," witnesses said.

From another direction, crowds of lawyers in black robes marched from their union to the square, waving Egyptian flags and chanting "Mubarak, you pilot, how did you get $70 billion?" - a referring to the president's past as the air force commander.

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Egypt's two weeks of unrest

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Egyptians have been infuriated by newspaper reports that the Mubarak family has amassed billions, and perhaps tens of billions of dollars in wealth while, according to the World Bank, about 40 per cent of the country's 80 million people live below or near the poverty line of $2 a day. The family's true net worth is not known.

Mohammed Zarie, one of the marching lawyers, said: "We demand a trial of Mubarak and his regime; we are protesting against corruption." He said hundreds of lawyers arrived from provinces and planned to spend the night at the square.

The labour strikes come despite a warning by Egypt's vice-president, Omar Suleiman, that calls for civil disobedience are "very dangerous for society and we can't put up with this at all."

Impoverished Egyptians are heavily dependent on public transportation and the strike threatened a new blow to the hard-hit economy.

Ali Fatouh, a bus driver in Cairo, said buses were locked in the garages and will not be moved "until we achieve our demands," which include salary increases. He said organisers are calling on all 62,000 transportation employees to participate.

Some buses were still seen on the streets early today and it wa not immediately clear how widespread the strike is.

Mustafa Mohammed, 43, a bus driver since 1997 who earns about 550 Egyptian pounds (Dh340), said Egyptians deserve a better life.

"We are immersed in debts," Mr Mohammed said as he joined a crowd outside the administration building on the outskirts of Cairo. "We are staying until our demands are met. If our demands are not met, we will join Tahrir, and camp there."

He said the administration sent a senior employee to "throw us a bone" with a holiday bonus but that was not enough.

Egyptians have been infuriated by newspaper reports that the Mubarak family has amassed billions, and perhaps tens of billions of dollars in wealth while, according to the World Bank, about 40 per cent of the country's 80 million people live below or near the poverty line of $2 a day. The family's true net worth is not known.

The protesters filling streets of Cairo and other cities since January 25 have already posed the greatest challenge to the president's authoritarian rule since he came to power 30 years ago. They have wrought promises of sweeping concessions and reforms, a new Cabinet and a purge of the ruling party leadership, but Mr Mubarak refuses their demands that he step down before September elections.

The US-based Human Rights Watch has said about 300 people have been killed since the protests began, but it is still compiling a final toll.