Forces Behind the Egyptian Revolution

By Michael Collins

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(Washington, DC) Two critical forces behind the Egyptian Revolution are missing from the front pages, or any pages, of the corporate media. They are the critical role of Egypt's union movement and the universal desire of all people to live in peace, freedom and dignity. Rarely mentioned are the grievances of Egypt's workers and their struggle to unionize. As a result, we've missed the connection between the struggle to unionize and the right to assemble.

The Egyptian people were poised for a mass celebration following what was supposed to be a farewell speech by former President Hosni Mubarak. For seventeen days, Egyptians massed in Cairo's Tahrir Square. There were protests in Alexandria, Port Suez, and other cities. The G-20 sates have been tentative in their support for the full set of demands by protesters and the broader Egyptian public. For example, President Barack Obama said Mubarak needed a, "credible, concrete and unequivocal path to democracy." What does a "path to democracy" look like? How long does it take to walk the path? Egypt's military leaders may have acted already.

Plus an extended comment on Iran's demonstrations

Mubarak's contact with reality was extremely weak. He didn't get the message from the Egypt's Supreme Council of military leaders. Aljazeera reported that the council promised, "measures and arrangements … to safeguard the nation, its achievements and the ambitions of its great people." The news service concluded that a military coup had likely taken place already based on the announcement that the council will be in session indefinitely.

What role did the union movement play and how was that connected to the right to assemble and other fundamental human rights?

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Egypt's Labor Movement

The Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) has been a part of the Egyptian government since 1957. The anti-worker organization created problems for workers when many enterprises were state owned. Things got worse with the introduction of a "market economy."

Egypt began a series of reforms in the 1990's that stacked the deck against workers and farmers. The government sold off the large state enterprises. New owners had little incentive to keep people in jobs or jobs in Egypt. The government enacted new measures to protect large farmers, with peasant farmers left on their own.

When conservative Prime Minister, Ahmed Nazif, took power in 2004, the situation became desperate. With the help of a new anti labor law, pressure mounted on Egypt's industrial workers. The ETUF had little to offer in support and frequently overruled the votes to strike of local chapters.

Two strikes drew the battle lines between workers and the government. In 2006, local union officials overturned a vote by 24,000 textile workers to strike in Ghazl al-Mahalla. When workers appealed to the EFTU, the official government union organization reminded workers that a 2003 labor reform law made it illegal to form unions independent of official government labor organization. The strike took place but was eventually broken.

The same labor movement that staged the 2006 strike and a follow up in 2007, called for a national strike on April 6, 2008 to raise the nation's minimum wage and protest high food prices. Mubarak's government sent in police who took over the factory in hopes of preventing the strike. Conflict broke out with violence on the part of police toward the union members calling for the strike. Police arrested workers. Trials, convictions and prison sentences followed quickly. Other members continued to protest.

An Egyptian writer noted, "In the 6 April uprising, the demands of the workers and the general population overlapped. People called for lower food prices as workers called for a minimum wage."

In addition, the April 6 Youth Movement emerged as a key player advancing the aims of the national strike. This is the same organization that has been central to rallying crowds throughout the country.

Food was a critical issue in 2008. The solution to that issue would have addressed food and other problems of economic exploitation in Egypt, a national living wage.

We didn't hear about the 2008 strike, however. We did about the 2008 "food riots." CNN News reported, Riots instability spread as food prices skyrocket, April 14, 2008. The words "strike" and "union" were never used, nor was there any reference to the basis for the strikes, a demand for a living wage. Huffington Post carried a lengthy article on the events, Egypt Grants Bonuses After Deadly Food Riots, April 8, 2008. The word "strike" appeared just once but the article failed to include anything mentioning a "union" or labor conflict.

Food is critical. But the desire to earn a living wage to afford food is more fundamental to the Egyptian people. They don't want a handout from their leaders, they want the right to determine their own future by organizing an independent labor movement. That desire flowed into the streets of Egypt in a movement larger than the union effort but the history of worker struggles is a key part of the history of this revolution. On January 30, 2010, workers in Tahrir Square formed the Egyptian Federation for Independent Unions. The organization is separate from the official union and in full defiance of current labor law adopted by the Mubarak regime.

Why Fundamental Rights Matter

The Egyptian people didn't require any special training to know what they deserved. The ability to assemble, plan, organize, and attempt to effect change in a civilized fashion emerged before conditions became intolerable.

The workers in Mahalla didn't need a year at the Harvard School of Government to learn their rights. The desire was fundamental. No study of Maslow's hierarchy of needs was required to tell them that there was more than just survival at stake. They knew that meeting the basic needs required an exercise of the more fundamental rights of freedom of association and action in a society that respected their rights as citizens.

Finishing the Work

There are great powers and commercial interests lurking at the edges of this remarkable movement. The call for an "orderly transition" is just another form of paternalism. What is orderly? Time enough for Mubarak or his proxy to stay long enough to rig another election? Time enough for things to cool down enough to walk just a few steps forward rather than a revolution? Time enough for U.S. and European Union leaders to install a new leader to deliver what Mubarak did so well for 30 years?

The fundamental rights and the exercise of those rights by a sovereign people should be inviolable, particularly in a part of the world where the West claims that it is promoting democracy. The Egyptian revolution has at it's core, the demand for the elimination of a massively corrupt government and the opportunity to create an honest one in its place. That is a goal of people everywhere, a goal that will be met if those few obsessed with control for their own purposes would just step aside.

END

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Comments

food inflation, 17.2% annual

Just to add, food inflation is 17.2% annual, CPI overall was 11.7% in 2010 an projected to be above 10% for 2011. real GDP was 5.3% for 2010.

This should be interesting and good history, for some of these events read like your classic globalization agenda, directly harming the people.

Hasn't the family farm been killed by tortuous corporate farming in the U.S.? Where corn subsidies are the only thing that pays so instead of a variety of local foods we have high fructose corn syrup and "corn feed" unhealthy cows, chickens stuff into small spaces plucking at corn until they are killed in a factory belt manufactured manner?

Eygpt had 9.2% unemployment, the U.S. has higher.

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Structural similarities

They had a go-go "free market" philosophy and downsizing. Foreign firms that bought state run businesses complained that they couldn't use the police against the workers like the government did.

There is a difference in economic performance between the Middle East's oil and non oil exporting countries. The non exporting nations (below)


{"MENAP"-non oil exporting Middle East countries

Are Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Their collective unemployment, measured by IMF, is 18%. The oil exporters bounced back after the 2008 crisis. The non exporting countries did not. Export performance showed a big difference also.

Chart & Graph from IMF

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I noticed that the foreign workers were airlifted out of Egypt

The India IT bodyshops, notorious to labor arbitrage, displace technical workers, were airlifted out of Egypt. Well, in Egypt, I believe they have the education and skills, plus their wages are comparable to low PPP India...

So, what the hell are they doing using outsourcers in Egypt when they have such high unemployment rates among the young and plenty of people (obviously) who have technical skills who could handle the nation's I.T.?

Just another clue on global labor arbitrage. Services are the small part of trade but it's labor intensive. (and of course people should not be something to trade)

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Foreign ownership-Egyptian workers

Take a look at this. These are Indonesian textile companies operating in Egypt, with Egyptian workers.
http://www.list-of-companies.org/Indonesia/Keywords/Textile/

I tried to follow the ownership of one of them and got hung up in Thailand. It is curious that there would be so much of this foreign ownership. The managers of some of the companies have been quite abusive and, of course, they despise unions. What a deal. You can only be in one union and that union can't strike.

Mission accomplished.

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FCDC

foreign controlled domestic corporations, that isn't so surprising to me, but the body shops are really incredible, for they operating within a country, yet refuse to hire anyone from that country and bring in India only workers, i.e. "no locals need apply".

But with all of the private equity, mergers, buy outs, grand finance or FIRE instead of the "real" economy that scales, gives jobs, none of this is so different from the U.S.
(oops I keep noticing that).

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Facebook and Twitter are

Facebook and Twitter are nice, but they got him out with the blood and bruises of those who risked facing more beatings by keeping going out, every day again, for over two weeks straight.

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in comparison to past uprisings

Just noticing the beyond belief "bloodless", but that's only in comparison to past overthrows, change of governments like this level. Not saying at all they did not pour into the streets and their is death, blood, abuse, murder that happened.

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Egypt constitution suspended, Parliment dissolved

The military has suspended the Egyptian constitution and Parliament has been dissolved. Banks are closed Monday to boot.

Bloomberg.

This is by the Egyptian military, and what it means, I do not know, but the headlines sure sound "frying pan to fire".

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Palestine Cabinet "resigns"

Aljazeera:

The cabinet of the Palestinian Authority (PA) will tender its resignation on Monday after which Salam Fayyad, the prime minister, will select new ministers, according to political sources.

The shake-up, disclosed on Sunday, has long been demanded by Fayyad and others in the Fatah faction.

Al Jazeera's Cal Perry, reporting from Jerusalem, said that the cabinet will hold an emergency meeting on Monday to decide about the resignations.

Didn't even get to Algeria events.

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Is Iran Next? Protests on Monday (it's 2:09 am in Tehran now)

The Iranian opposition plans demonstrations on Monday, February 14. Opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi told the government it should allow the demonstrations. There was no response. The government arrested Mehdi Karroubi and cut off his communications.
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Iran- Government Tightens Grip to Prevent Planned Demonstration on Monday

(11 February 2011) "The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran called for the immediate release of dozens of journalists and dissidents who have been arbitrarily detained in an apparent effort to intimidate Iranians from participating in a 14 February rally in solidarity with the Egyptian pro-democracy movement."

Iran Steps Up Pressure On Opposition

(11 February 2011) "Iranian authorities have stepped up pressure on the opposition with more arrests as the February 14 march proposed by opposition leaders draws closer."

More on demonstrations after the break

Election fraud in the 2009 Iranian presidential election sparkedk a series of protests that pitted anti regime demonstrators against police and paramilitary militias. Many were arrested and tortured. Some were convicted in show trials. Despite the violence against people in 2009, there has been continuous protest against rule of Ayatollah Khamenei and Ahmadinejad.

Last week I had a exchange of articles with Soraya Ulrich over at Daily Censored. I wrote this. Soraya, who voted for Ahmadinejad, responded here and then I offered a rejoinder. It was a very civil exchange. I later found out that Soraya did an exclusive interview Ahmadinejad and about Iranian politics. Her response to my initial article gives some insight as to the thinking of the regime.

The Iranian opposition will hit the streets soon. It's only a few hours until we see the staying power of the thugs to stole the 2009 election then beat, imprisoned, and tortured demonstrators for expressing their rights afterward.

Here's what happened last time the Iranian people invoked their right to freely assemble and state their grievances:

“Give Me Liberty…” Iranian People Demand Democracy June 23, 2009

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Right

We've had two Admirals who have stopped a war on Iran - Fallon and Mullen. Fallon actually said, 'there will be no attack on Iran while I'm in charge' or something very close. There have been other hard core establishment types who have done the same. it's an insane notion to begin with and, now that we see the power of people ready to take their rights back, it's even crazier. We are truly cursed with the very word ruling elite in the history of the world, pure incompetents.

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