May 1st Egypt traditionnally celebrates the International Workers’ Day. The 29 last times, this was the occasion of a speech of Hosni Mubarak, gloryfying Egypt labour forces, the hardwork to build the Nation, and so on. Very abstract, indeed, given the fact that Mubarak and his team were neglecting as much as it can be the Egyptian workers, their difficult working conditions and their indecently low wages. May 1st 2011 will be maybe the first Workers’ Day in Egypt where the workers will be really celebrated.
But what about the Egyptian workers and the Revolution? International community had on the Egyptian Revolutionnaries an image of young, urban, well-educated people, tweeting, facebooking, gathering on Tahrir Square. The truth is that Tahrir Square and the young people might well have been the firestarter of the January 25th movement that ousted dictator Mubarak and one of the most visible “showcases” displaying what happens in Egypt, revolution still was much more than this. First, it has to be pointed out that before 2011, all social and political movements in Egypt were essentially due to the working class. Such for example were the cotton industry workers: throughout all post-colonial history of Egypt, the workers in the factories in Mahalla al-Kubra, the main location of the cotton industry, were leading protests in order to ask for their rights. Al Jazeera broadcast about Mahalla al-Kubra is quite enlightening concerning this topic:
Communist or popular social movements most came from Mahalla al Kubra. The demands were less “politically worded” but essentially focused on equality, decent living conditions, end of corruption. 10, 20, 30 years before Twitter or Facebook ever existed, these movements already existed.
In the post-September 11th world, the natinonal scale movements did not start in 2011; for example, the call of national strike of the April 6th movement (who invented the know well spread in the Arab World expression “Yom elGhadhb“=”Day of Anger“) gathered millions of Egyptians, from all social conditions. One has merely to see 2011 and Tahrir Square like being the decisive step of the chain reaction called the Egyptian Revolution (where the Tunisian Revolution acted on Egypt like a catalyzer), but not being all the Egyptian Revolution itself. After the ousting of the Dictator on February 11th, the strikes, protests, calls from syndicated workers increase in power and ask for decent conditions.
Today, as Egypt celebrates the Workers’ Day, it has to be remembered that no democratic Nation builds without fair conditions for the working class. Most of Egyptian workers still earn as low as 2$ per day, most of the economy is still centralized in Cairo, letting the rest of Egypt poorly industrialy developped, too many Egyptians must emigrate to find a job, too many children labour is still used in factories of small businesses. A first workshop on the burning issue of the minimum wage in Egypt was organized by the Ministry of Finance with participation of international Labour Organization, syndicates and other experts and representative: a good first step towards equality.
One of the misleads to avoid is to open the Egyptian market to too much liberalist/capitalist market; indeed, entrepreuneurs/inverstors workshops often take place now in Egypt (like for example the Cairo Startup Weekend of April 28-30 powered by the Kauffmann Fundation, an American Entrepreneur association willing to expand American market model), where cooperations are willing to build, in a free market perspective. If economy growth has to be enhanced, and the cost of years of corruption to be damped, it would be a mistake to try to import to Egypt too much of “American business” style. Egypt is a ‘Social Republic’ since the Independance, and if these words were a bit meaningless until now, since Febrary 2011 we have in our hand the tools to not become an ultra competitive, consumption-centered society. A Revolution has been made by the Egyptians for the Egyptians; not for the benefit alone of investors and investment.