36 years after the 'Bread Uprising': Egypt's Struggle for social justice lives on

Heba Abdel-Sattar, Friday 18 Jan 2013

More than three decades after the January 1977 popular rebellion against the economic policies of late President Sadat, Egypt's leftists say other large-scale protests against poor living conditions are on the cards

18-19 of 1977
From January 18-19 of 1977, Egyptian Bread Riots took over most of the largest cities in Egypt (Photo: Al-Ahram)

It has been 36 years since the eruption of a "bread uprising" that occurred on 18 and 19 January, 1977 as a response to a series of austerity measures implemented by the government, including the removal of subsidies on basic goods.

"Social justice" demands that were raised at the time are still unmet.

Slogans of social justice and equal opportunities were very similar to those raised during the January 2011 uprising, as the "bread uprising" erupted because of a sudden hike in the price of bread and other basic commodities. Former Egypt president Anwar El-Sadat dismissed the protests as an "uprising of thieves" which aimed at "sabotage and violence".

The social upheaval reached its climax in the January 2011 revolt that toppled ex-president Mubarak.

Leftist leaders who led the "bread uprising" perceive the January 2011 revolution a mere continuation of the struggle for social justice and human dignity. They expect that a similar wave of anger might hit the country again, given Egypt's mounting financial problems.

Some of the slogans protesters chanted in 1977 include: "We are the people with the workers; against the alliance of capital" and "you are dressed in latest fashion, and we live 10 in one room".

Such slogans still reflect the current social condition of the Egyptian people and their legitimate demands, according to Karima El-Hefnawy, secretary general of the Egyptian Socialist Party.

"Price hikes reached a record-high level and economic and financial policies are biased to the rich instead of the poor," El-Hefnawy said.

"The poverty crisis has worsened over the years and not much has been done regarding social justice since the ousting of Mubarak.

"The number of slum inhabitants who live in unbearable conditions is hugely increasing, prices are becoming unbearable on the average Egyptian citizen, wages cannot match prices and a minimum wage still seems to be a far-fetched dream. That's why we hit the streets on the 25th of January, 2011. We will hit the streets again this year to chant the same slogans we used in 1977 and 2010," she added.

Abd El-Ghaffar Shukr, a renowned leftist leader and founder of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, said that social and economic demands will be pivotal in the mobilization of protests on 25 January, the second anniversary of the revolution. He said the upcoming wave of protests will focus on social demands instead of being purely political.

Another prominent leftist figure, Abul-Ezz El-Hariri, also warned the government of underestimating what he perceived as the people's growing anger over poor living conditions.

"The bread uprising will reoccur, it is inevitable. But it will have a much deeper social effect as the Egyptian people have politically matured since 1977," he said.

"If no serious steps are taken towards the fulfillment of social justice and the appeasement of the masses, the government will only have themselves to blame."

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