Military urges halt to strikes gripping Egypt

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 14, 2011 16:44 EDT
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CAIRO – Egypt’s military government on Monday urged a halt to widespread strikes inspired by a popular uprising that threatened to paralyse the country following Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow.

The orders came after the elderly generals now ruling the country met some of the young Internet activists who triggered the revolt against Mubarak, reportedly promising a referendum on a new constitution within two months.

European governments, meanwhile, moved on Egyptian requests to freeze the assets of several officials of the ousted regime amid accusations that they had salted away billions of dollars in ill-gotten assets.

In its latest announcement since it took power on Friday, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces urged trade union leaders to call off their action but stopped short of issuing a decree banning strikes, as it had been rumoured to be preparing to do.

“Honourable citizens can see that protests at this critical time will have a negative effect in harming the security of the country,” its spokesman said.

The nationwide uprising that toppled Mubarak’s 30-year rule has splintered into scattered pay strikes by workers in the banking, transport, health care, oil, tourism and textiles sectors, as well as state-owned media and government bodies.

“It’s difficult to say exactly how many people are striking and where. Who isn’t striking?” Kamal Abbas of the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services said.

Many of the strikes were aimed at removing corrupt union leaders tied to Mubarak, he said.

At one such protest, public transport workers demanded better working conditions and accused officials of corruption.

“They send us out with vehicles with bad brakes… There is no maintenance on the cars,” said one demonstrator.

At another protest, hospital workers formed a human chain to stop traffic on the highway south out of the capital, causing a major traffic jam and infuriating motorists who shouted: “Shame on you!”

The strikes prompted the stock exchange to again delay reopening until next week, citing “fears of instability.”

In the shadow of the Great Pyramids of Giza a different kind of protest was held, with hundreds of guides urging tourists to return, holding banners in English, French, Russian and German that: “Egypt loves you.”

The cyber campaigners said the junta, which dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution on Sunday, vowed to rewrite the document within 10 days in line with the protesters’ demands for democratic change.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has set a six-month timetable for holding elections but said the cabinet Mubarak hastily appointed on January 31 — headed by a former air force commander — would stay on.

“We met the army… to understand their point of view and lay out our views,” said 30-year-old Google executive Wael Ghonim and blogger Amr Salama, in a note on a pro-democracy website that helped launch the revolt.

Ghonim became an unlikely hero of the uprising after tearfully describing his 12 days in detention in a televised interview, and has since embarked on a high-profile media blitz despite denying he has political ambitions.

The sweeping changes announced by the council dismantled the political system that underpinned Mubarak’s rule, which ended on Friday when he was driven from power after the 18-day pro-democracy uprising.

The dissolved parliament was seen as illegitimate following elections last year that were marred by widespread allegations of fraud and gave Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) an overwhelming majority.

The protesters had also demanded the overhaul of the constitution, which placed restrictions on who could stand in elections and made it virtually impossible to seriously challenge the NDP.

Several members of the previous government, including sacked premier Ahmed Nazif and widely hated interior minister Habib al-Adly, have been banned from leaving Egypt by authorities investigating graft allegations.

Hundreds of members of Mubarak’s police force — which was widely viewed as corrupt and brutal — have demanded in an attempt to show their solidarity with the uprising that Adly, their former boss, be publicly executed.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said his government had been asked to freeze the assets of several former regime officials. A German foreign ministry said Berlin had received a similar request.

The Tunisian uprising was an inspiration to Egypt’s protest movement, which in turn triggered anti-government demonstrations around the Middle East, from Algeria to Iran and Yemen.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Egyptian military had so far taken “reassuring” steps towards democratic reforms but warned there was still much work to do.

“This is a very challenging moment for the Egyptian military,” Clinton told reporters during a visit to the US Congress.

“The steps they’ve taken so far are reassuring, but there’s a long way to go, and the United States has made it clear that we stand ready to assist in any way appropriate,” she said.

Agence France-Presse
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  • http://www.BaltimoreGreenCurrency.org Shrapnel

    Ok everybody take a breath. Earlier reports indicating an immediate return to military dictatorship were a tad overblown wouldn’t you say? There is a world of difference between a request to end the strikes, and an order banning all public meetings. Eternal vigilance, that’s what we need, and I think that implies watching carefully rather than assuming the worst, and acting accordingly. If the transition to freedom and democracy turns out to be a sham, the reaction will be bigger than Egypt – I’ll be signing off for a while to head for the embassy in DC if that happens, and I am sure I won’t be alone. All I am saying, is give peace a chance (and Viva la Revolution!).

  • Anonymous

    Now that the cheering is ebbing in Cairo, we’ll see what the military is going to do. It is all-powerful, and is run like a giant corporation. Are they going to allow the people to rule? We’ll see. My guess would be they’ll make a few cosmetic changes and just move the furniture around. Progress? Yes. Much progaress? No.

  • Anonymous

    “Honourable citizens can see that protests at this critical time will have a negative effect in harming the security of the country,” its spokesman said.”

    Translation of “a negative effect in harming the security of the country”:
    They’d like to protect the wealthy status quo from being harmed after their decades of corruption and oppression of the people.

  • Anonymous

    shrapnel wrote:
    “All I am saying, is give peace a chance (and Viva la Revolution!).”

    The people of Egypt already gave peace a chance. Then Mubarak’s goon squad viciously attacked and killed a bunch of people — while the military stood and looked on, after being given orders from the top brass that they weren’t to protect any of the protesters.
    That same military top brass is now in charge of the entire country.
    So if you believe in Viva la Revolution!, ‘Give Peace a Chance’ is not the right song at this juncture.
    Bob Marley’s ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ would be a lot more appropriate for this moment.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    Are they walking this back? The decree banning strikes seemed certain earlier today.

    Any success of militant labor here will be very bad news for the ethereal types who want to give all the credit to Twitter, Mark Zuckerberg, and the Beatles.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    But if all-powerful, why are they (apparently) backing off the anti-strike decree that seemed certain earlier today?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    Claims overblown? Or are the military merely retreating from a confrontation with organized labor when their bluff is called?

    You Beatles types can be awfully tetchy when frustrated.

  • Anonymous

    Nothing is certain there. Yesterday I read that the military had gotten rid of the cabinet and here we are being told that they are still there.

  • Anonymous

    You’re right. All-powerful is over-stated. Very powerful, extremely powerful would be more accurate.

  • http://www.BaltimoreGreenCurrency.org Shrapnel

    The attack order came from Mubarak, not exactly the same, although similar. The top brass who are now in charge are the ones who sent their underlings to hand out tea and juice to the demonstrators outside the state television HQ while they were busy persuading Mubarak to throw in the towel. There are different branches of the security service and they are not of one mind. For the straight poop – http://www.jadaliyya.com/

  • http://www.BaltimoreGreenCurrency.org Shrapnel

    Damn straight we get tetchy – a mob of scousers is not to be scorned – even if its a mob of one!

  • Anonymous

    The top brass generals in Egypt are all of one mind, and the people would be fools to trust any of them for a minute. And if you don’t believe me, then I suggest you read an article on the website that you just linked to above. It’s entitled ‘The Workers, Middle Class, Military Junta, and The Permanent Revolution’.

    Here’s a quote:

    “Those activists want us to trust Mubarak’s generals with the transition to democracy–the same junta that has provided the backbone of his dictatorship over the past 30 years. And while I believe the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who receive $1.3 billion annually from the US, will eventually engineer the transition to a “civilian” government, I have no doubt it will be a government that will guarantee the continuation of a system that will never touch the army’s privileges, keep the armed forces as the institution that will have the final say in politics (like for example Turkey), guarantee Egypt will continue to follow the US foreign policy whether it’s the undesired peace with Apartheid State of Israel, safe passage for the US navy in the Suez Canal, the continuation of the Gaza siege and exports of natural gas to Israel at subsidized rates. The “civilian” government is not about cabinet members who do not wear military uniforms. A civilian government means a government that fully represents the Egyptian people’s demands and desires without any intervention from the brass. And I see this hard to be accomplished or allowed by the junta.

    The military has been the ruling institution in this country since 1952. Its leaders are part of the establishment. And while the young officers and soldiers are our allies, we cannot for one second lend our trust and confidence to the generals. Moreover, those army leaders need to be investigated. I want to know more about their involvement in the business sector.”

  • http://www.BaltimoreGreenCurrency.org Shrapnel

    I read the article you suggested, and I believe it represents a familiar point of view that I am sure will resonate with the majority on the left.

    I found this to be more interesting,

    “Micro-entrepreneurs, new workers groups, and massive anti-police brutality organizations obviously do not share the same class position as Sawiris and Badrawi and the rich men in the “Council of the Wise.” Nevertheless, there are significant overlaps and affinities between the interests and politics of nationalist development-oriented groups, the newly entrepreneurial military, and the vitally well-organized youth and women’s social movements. This confluence of social, historical and economic dynamics will assure that this uprising does not get reduced to a photo opportunity for Suleiman and a few of his cronies.”

    From “Why Egypt’s Progressives Win” by Paul Amar on the same site. This is quite a long article, but it provides some interesting details which led me to the conclusion that the security forces are not monolithic in their thinking, and there might be a chance for something other than the usual outcome in the case of Egypt.

  • Anonymous

    This has happened before. Ex Mubarak police, thugs and their families who work in the gov’t factories pull this from time to time. They’re trying to disrupt things in any way they can….they aren’t just regular strikers as it might seem.