Major Labour Strike in Egypt could lead to unrest

This is an excerpt from an article in our weekly Egypt Politics & Security publication.

Egypt Politics & Security has long warned that a labour strike would be a sign of social strife and — for the first time in some years — there is a major labour strike in a state-owned textile factory at Mahalla in the Nile Delta, which started on 13 August.

Food price inflation for July was 43% and is a politically highly toxic issue for many of Egypt’s workers and the poor — who constitute the vast majority of the population — because it is simply unsustainable. Inflation has increased following the November 2016 currency devaluation as well as two rounds of electricity and fuel price rises following cuts to consumer subsidies. An inefficient internal market has also added to inflation.

Information from Mahalla is sparse but it appears that over 15,000 workers are on strike at the state-owned Egyptian Spinning and Weaving Company. They remain on strike within the premises and have not yet taken to the streets. The demands centre around receiving bonus payments which the workers argue they have been promised but not paid. Mahalla is now more difficult to enter, because state security are monitoring access to the city plain clothes police and state security personnel are surrounding the factory. Egypt Politics & Security have been informed by our friends in the international media that their staff are forbidden to go near the factory, but that they are able to phone various workers inside the premises. The local media coverage on the strike has been minimal and it is very likely that state security has demanded and threatened the majority of the media to ensure that they do not cover the strike.

So far, the factory’s management and the authorities have been trying to convince the workers to go back to work and promising that bonus payments will then be paid, but there have been no agreements so far. We believe that the government and state security will not want to use violence out of fear that the situation would then change the political dynamic and may well lead to copy cat strikes elsewhere. We would be very concerned if the authorities chose a hard line course of action because the repercussions could be very significant. Egypt Politics & Security will continue to monitor this event closely and will report on it in future issues.

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