Egypt workers protest, demand increase in minimum wage
“Striking is legitimate, against poverty, against hunger,” chanted labor protesters outside the Egyptian parliament on Saturday. Over 300 people from across Egypt assembled in a peaceful demonstration to demand higher wages.
The minimum wage in Egypt, currently set at 35 Egyptian pounds (approximately $7) per month, has not been raised in more than 25 years.
“It’s bloody pathetic, to be honest,” said journalist and blogger Hossam al-Hamalawy – he runs the 3arabawy blog – referring to the fact that Egypt’s minimum wage has not been raised since 1984.
Workers from Cairo, Alexandria, Mahalla, Suez, Asuit, Aswan, Ismailia, and Minya, among others, gathered outside the parliament building around 11 in the morning. Remaining within the bounds of a security cordon, the protesters chanted slogans, waved banners, and distributed pamphlets.
Television crews and journalists swarmed around and among the protesters. Nearly every third person was taking photographs or video, whether with their cell phones or with more professional equipment.
According to al-Hamalawy, those who came out to protest on Saturday are “representative of a much larger critical mass.”
More than 100 police were present, not including plain-clothes policemen. Uniformed police impassively lined the security barriers while others loitered nearby, watching the proceedings. Around noon, two military trucks full of men slowly rolled by the protest site. They stopped twenty meters away, moving off a few minutes later.
It was a clear statement by the regime that it was well prepared to deal with the protesters should the need arise.
According to Mohamed Abdelfattah, a law student and blogger, the labor movement has fought to remain free from being “hijacked by any political profiteer or political parties.”
The move was strategic: should the protesters be labeled political, this would be the first argument thrown against them by the regime. Concerning themselves with economic rather than political issues also lessens the chance of “any justified crackdown by the state security.”
For al-Hamalawy, Saturday’s protest was significant. “The level of fear has collapsed,” he said. Saturday’s protest means “in the future, there will be more coordination on a national level,” he said.
He explained that the next time workers in Mahalla go on strike, they will have solidarity from other provinces.
In the background the protesters began another chant: “Down, down, Hosni Mubarak.”
The chants continued, with protesters vying for a chance with the megaphone. Some men were hoisted onto the shoulders of others as they lead the protesters’ chants. Their chants were against the government, against the minister of finance, against President Mubarak himself. Mubarak is accused of being the driving force behind the corruption in Egypt for the past 30 years.
Saturday’s protest called for an increase of the minimum wage to LE 1,200 per month, or approximately $215. Should their demands not be met by May, the workers have threatened to escalate their protest. They will stage a sit-in before the parliament until the requested wage is met, they said.
Abdelfattah, who is also a member of the al-Ghad party, said “we are all working for change. We believe that by implementing political reform, the economic situation will be better. They believe that by implementing economic reform, the political situation will be better. Each one has his own perspective, but we have the same goal.”
Said al-Hamalawy: “We do want an uprising, but we want it to be a national uprising, because that will be the only way we can get rid of this dictatorship. We’re going to get rid of this dictatorship not via Facebook, not via Twitter, not via ElBaradei. It’s going to be by self independent action by ordinary Egyptians that you see here today.”