Egypt: Port Said strike enters day four despite cash pledge

Thousands of Egyptians protest and close down government offices and factories in the Suez Canal city of Port Said on Feb. 17, 2013.

PORT SAID, Egypt — A strike here entered its fourth day on Wednesday as Egyptian demonstrators demanding justice for protesters killed by police shrugged off a government pledge to inject money into the canal city.

Most factories and government offices remained closed, along with a Suez Canal port, witnesses said.

Sharq Al Tafrea, located in the district of Port Fouad, was shut by a group of canal workers and civilians who blocked the port's entrance overnight Tuesday.

Workers at the scene interviewed by GlobalPost said they planned to escalate their protest if demands are not met. Workers said they are considering blocking canal guides, which are required to steer ships out of the Suez and into the Red Sea, from boarding.

"This will disrupt traffic in the canal, and it will be a major escalation," said Sayed Yusuf, who works maintaining passenger boats. 

Protesters flew large balloons inscribed with "SOS" over the strategic water route linking the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. Canal officials say traffic through the passage has not been affected.

The protesters are demanding justice for at least 40 demonstrators killed in clashes with police in late January after a court sentenced 21 Port Said soccer fans to death over a deadly football riot last year.

While the protests have not affected international trade through the Suez Canal, they have brought the local economy to a halt with the closure of dozens of roads, shops and factories.

Central Port Said streets were largely deserted and the majority of shops were closed. Protestors said government employees at the provincial headquarters walked out in solidarity early Wednesday. Army soldiers and tanks guarded the closed building.

Magdy Kamal general manager of the Port Said Investors Association, said the government's lack of response to the Port Said resident's demands is the main reason for the recent strikes, the Egyptian Independent reported.

He said  losses in the city have exceeded $100 million since January 26, and that last month's ruling was politicized.

President Mohamed Morsi, who called in the army and declared emergency law in Port Said after January's violence, pledged on Tuesday to reserve $59 million of canal revenues for Port Said.

Morsi will also present a law to senate, which acts as the legislature pending parliamentary elections, on reopening a free trade zone in the city, a statement from his office said.

Residents of Port Said and other canal cities have long complained that Cairo marginalised them.

Last year's football riot, which killed 74 people, most of them supporters of a visiting Cairo team, exacerbated Port Said's isolation, they say.

January's clashes coincided with the second anniversary of a popular uprising that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak, bringing in a period of military rule and then Morsi's election last June.