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Labor Issues in Egypt Seen Through the Lens of the Revolution

Posted on the 12 June 2011 by Warigia @WarigiaBowman
These represent partial notes taken by me at a conference. The conference was called From Tahrir: Revolution or Democratic Transition? June 4-6, 2011. Oriental Hall, AUC Tahrir Square.
These notes were from a 12:00 a.m. panel called How to Understand the Current Uprisings: The Role of Labor and the Subaltern. The panel was in both English and Arabic. The speakers were Rabab El-Mahdi, the American University in Cairo, Saber Barakat, Labor Organizers-Land Center, May AbdelRazik, Popular Defense Committees. Videos are available at, but many of the comments are in Arabic, so if you do not speak Arabic, you will have to rely on my notes regarding the translation, until you get someone to translate for you. 
Saber Barakat: Land Center
Until the 25th of January, the call came. It was a banking holiday, a police holdiay, and a full paid leave day. Many workers came to Tahrir just to see what would happen. There is a tradition of labor organizers going into the streets with flowers and sweets. The riot police would chase us and kick us badly, and close off downtown Cairo.
We saw dissension in the ranks of the unions, particularly those affiliated with al ikhwan. They would not go to Tahrir.
The hooligans, ultras [author's note: fanatic, somewhat violent football fans] came, unionist workers decided to strike back. The government made a fatal error of closing all its plants. The workers went to Tahrir en masse. The factories were closed from January 28th to February 6th.From the 6th of February to the 10th of February 280 locations of factories were on strike. Teachers, engineers, doctors were all on strike. This was the breaking point. On the 11th of February, the SCAF convinced the president to step down. SCAF asked the workers to stop striking, but the workers kept striking.

May AbdelRazik: Peoples' Defense Councils (Lagaan Shabaaya)
People started protecting their buildings. People thought people from poorer districts would invade them. This was a misconception. The risk was the bandits. People started to distribute walkie talkies. Some used knives or swords. Some people had firearms. It had a spontaneous beginning. It was a tactic to respond to lawlessness. From Saturday to Tuesday. The popular committees were sympathetic to the revolution. After Mubarak;s address, things took off. Another turn [occurred] after the Camel Raids.
So we did not have a standard behavior, The most common characteristic of this phase was common protection. Judge's were shoulder to shoulder with mechanics. The goal was to stop lawlessness. The old regime wanted to prevent the Revolution by unleashing lawlessness.
The people wanted to plug the gap and interpret the slogans from the Square. Live with integrity. People gathered to clean the square. Governing civil society. In the post Revolution period, the councils have tried to deal with the individualizing problems of each district. The lack of LNP gas pipes. Flour is stolen from community bakeries and re-channeled to make sweets and pastries. The social committees in some districts have stolen flour. People's behavior changes according to the district.
The Butane gas pipes. Some of the social committees were able to contract services from butane gas pipes. The social committees started to distribute the canisters. Also, social committees, there was an effort to coordinate the efforts of such committees. It is a nationwide requesnt. We do not know about the continuity or future of such kinds of committees. We have to polarize and galvanize. We do not know if they will discontinue their contributions to their committees. Funding is a problem. Some committees are against any funding. Some want to publish bullitens. That publishing may take a little money.
The tails of the regime are fighting the committees. Municipalities and the NDP are fighting committees both tooth and nail. The municipalities file a report against those working in committees. Service can be hijacked by NDP members. The NDP has a lot of financial resources. Political experience is lacking in committees. How can they control the work of municipalities. However, the lack of experience can be a plus because there are no ties to the old regime.
End formal talk. [Question and Answer session to follow]

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