Farmers and workers protesting outside the Egyptian cabinet (photo by: Mai Shaheen)
Late afternoon on Wednesday, after a day of renewed labour protests, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s interim government released a statement announcing their decision to begin applying the anti-strike law criminalising any form of action that disrupts work and production. Soon after, snatch-vans belonging to the notorious Central Security Forces (CSF), police forces and plain-clothed police officers descended on Maglis El-Shaab Street where protesters had gathered in front of the Cabinet offices, arresting at least seven tenant farmers and using force to disperse others.
Workers from several economic sectors went on strike Wednesday after weeks of relative calm. Some gathered in front of the Cabinet offices while others filled surrounding streets and buildings. Employees of Nasr Car Company along with tenant farmers, graduates of Al-Azhar University and staff members from the ministry of state for antiquities (MSA) gathered to make their demands known, arguing that now is the time for action not idleness.
Nasr Car Company employees called on the company’s management to rehabilitate workers forced to take early retirement. Next to the Nasr Car protesters sat top graduates of Al-Azhar University. The graduates had already constructed a tent and were huddled beneath the shade of a tree, hoping to avoid the unforgiving sun as they began their first day of a collective hunger strike. This move was inspired by Ahmed Hussein, a graduate who graduated at the top of his class in philosophy, who began his hunger strike days ago. By noon on Wednesday, Hussein had reached a critical state and was taken to hospital.
The recent graduates, who had already been protesting for two weeks according to their spokesperson, Mohammed Magdy, were demanding employment within the university.
A street over, tenant farmers were protesting against the government, whom they blame for depriving them of land. Angry farmers demanded that all other dispossessed farmers join their strike.
Further down Kasr El-Eini Street stood employees of the newly formed MSA – the ministry of culture had previously overseen Egypt’s antiquities. Staff members who had worked for the government anywhere from five to thirty years were demanding permanent contracts and decent working conditions. They also sought the removal of Zahi Hawass, minister of state for antiquities, and of Safwat El-Nahhas, president of the Central Agency for Organisation and Management and chairperson of the Complaints Committee for the High Council of Wages, whom they blame for the lack of government action.
Waleed Sami, speaking on behalf of the protesting MSA staff, announced that starting today employees would begin an open-ended strike, spanning the length of Egypt from Alexandria to Aswan. He also added that on 15 June, they would begin an open-ended sit-in in front of the Egyptian Museum. The strikers are debating when to close down all tourist sites in Egypt, which they will soon announce. Security staff from the Pyramid site in Giza, however, announced that starting 15 June, the iconic pyramid complex would be shut down.