Egypt workers continue to strike amid fears of revolution backlash
Anger is brewing below the surface, threatening to erupt as more time passes without the hoped-for changes being made and the demands being swiftly met.
CAIRO - While Egypt's new cabinet ministers are promising to meet the demands of the revolution and save the country from disorder and economic collapse, the opposition wants the new cabinet dismissed immediately.
Meanwhile, thousands of workers throughout Egypt continue their strike for higher wages and the ouster of corrupt management.
Fears are also rising that there will be a backlash from supporters of ex-President Hosni Mubarak's regime, and of the use of provocateurs to stop the democratic momentum.
Anger is brewing below the surface, threatening to erupt as more time passes without the hoped-for changes being made and the demands being swiftly met. Moreover, there is a lack of consensus as to what those changes should be.
A Coptic priest was killed in the city of Asyut Wednesday, leading to protests both there and in Cairo. As some Egyptians suspect Mubarak and his Interior Ministry of being behind past attacks on Copts, they could justify keeping emergency regulations in place - which give the security forces unlimited power to repress political opposition and arrest its supporters.
Interreligious violence - completely absent during the revolution - would provide a good excuse for "restoring order," for the police and army to be used to stop reforms.
The danger of provocateurs was brought up Wednesday at a press conference given by the "national coalition" - comprised of a number of opposition groups and parties. The coalition said it would continue protesting to curb attempts at counter-revolution.
Yesterday, under circumstances that are still unclear, a police officer shot and killed a taxi driver in the Cairo neighborhood of Maadi. According to reports, hundreds of people then attacked the officer, beating and seriously injuring him. A protest against the Interior Ministry and the police later ensued.
On Wednesday, thousands of police officers who had been dismissed prior to the revolution broke into the Interior Ministry in Cairo and set fire to it. Reports said numerous documents were burned, including those connected to the investigation of ex-Interior Minister Habib el-Adly. Ten of the ministry's vehicles also went up in flames.
Over the past few days, additional ministers and businessmen suspected of corruption have been arrested, joining Adly and other officials detained about two weeks ago.
One of the demands of the opposition is to dismantle the State Security Intelligence, a branch of the Interior Ministry. A spokesman for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces - the ruling power in Egypt since Mubarak's ousting - pledged that the heads of that intelligence service would be replaced, and that its former chief has already been dismissed and will be questioned on suspicion of torture.
The country's new welfare minister, Gouda Abdel Khalek, was quoted in Egyptian newspapers as promising to reinstate progressive taxes (as opposed to the across-the-board 20-percent tax now levied ). Egyptian Finance Minister Samir Radwan, however, has told businessmen that progressive taxation will not be instituted.
The social tensions due to wide economic gaps were evident yesterday at a tile factory in the Gulf of Suez. The owner, Mohamed Abou El Enein, is a senior figure in Mubarak's National Democratic Party. The more than 9,000 workers in his five plants have instituted a protest over his refusal to discuss their various pay demands. According to the Egyptian daily Al-Shuruq, the owner instead sent in armed "gangs of Bedouin" to break up the protests.
Meanwhile, some 1,800 workers in an agricultural processing facility in the southern part of the country threatened to set it on fire if their demands for fair wages were not met, according to the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.
They are also seeking the dismissal of the manager, who they said embezzled more than 35,000 Egyptian pounds, the paper reported.
At least 10 other strikes have broken out around the country over the past few days.
Concern by students and faculty over the presence of security forces in public universities led the new education minister to postpone the reopening of those institutions for the third time.
Egyptian high schools are set to reopen tomorrow, but there is concern that teachers will protest or strike if their wage demands are not met. There have also been calls for senior officials in the education ministry to step down.
While the army ordered strikes and demonstrations to cease some 10 days ago, it is not doing anything to prevent them. Activists view this as a sign that that those in charge are aware that the revolutionary urge has not subsided, and that people continue to see protests and strikes as a legitimate tool - as long as the old-new rule is still in its twilight.