Egypt Military's Pleas to End Strikes Fall on Deaf Ears

Despite warnings, some 18,000 workers in leading textile factories went on strike Wednesday, as did maintenance and customs employees at Cairo's airport.

Millions of Egyptian cell phone users on Tuesday evening received the following text message from the "Armed Forces": "The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces urges honest citizens to take part in efforts to reach a save haven."

This was a poetic way of warning the public against continuing to strike, continuing to close the country's bank and stock market, and continuing slowdowns in industrial production.

Protests in Cairo - AP - Feb. 16, 2011

Despite these warnings, workers in key industries continued to stage strikes Wednesday. Some 18,000 workers in leading textile factories went on strike, as did maintenance and customs employees at Cairo's airport. Because of the airport strike, 11 flights were canceled, news agencies reported. The demands of striking workers range from higher wages to the dismissal of senior executives over corruption charges.

At some factories, managers decided at their own initiative to shut down the work place for several days. Some plants, including a manufacturer of ceramic wares, have already announced that they will consent to worker demands.

Under orders of the central bank, banks remained closed Wednesday, creating difficulties for factories and business, which are unable to carry out various transactions.

The construction industry has also been affected by production slowdowns at various factories, including cement factories.

Education Ministry officials and university administrators have decided to postpone the opening of schools and institutions of higher learning for another week.

Despite the uncertainty, the strikes and the economic slowdown, Egypt's civil society remains robust. While the army addresses the public on the radio and television in a unified voice, civil society groups and organizations that took part in the revolution disseminate their messages sporadically, mainly via emails.

In an open act of defiance against the army, 31 human rights organizations issued a joint statement asserting that the committee appointed by the military council to change the constitution appears to include a coalition of members of the old regime and the Muslim Brotherhood. They also criticized the fact that not a single woman serves on this committee.

Its composition, the activists charge, does not reflect the true political character of Egyptian society.

Another group of opposition forces - a coalition of 17 associations of white collar professionals and university academics which eventually hopes to represent 8 million people - has published its own recommendations for appointments to the interim government and the presidential council.

In these recommendations, they hope to prove that Egypt already has highly trained and skilled individuals able to assume senior government positions. The coalition has also called for a just minimum wage and for tax reforms.