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As Egypt's presidential election presents extraordinary challenges, GlobalPost offers this continuing series to shed light on how the country will move forward under its first-ever civilian head of state and how the soon-to-be-drafted constitution will protect civil rights in a new Egypt. 

Egypt: Uncertainty is bad for business

A country's economy caught between social justice and the "production wheel."

back home.

"These protest harm us, there are no tourists here," said Hassan, pointing out at the pyramids. "I used to earn LE 200 a day, now I barely earn LE 20," she added.

Although she can easily sell her goods in Tahrir Square during the hot days of the protests, Hassan said she fears of getting caught up in the violence.

"Here in the pyramids, police trucks are here to protect the tourists, so I feel secure. But in Tahrir, a police truck means a catastrophe, so I do not want to get myself in trouble," she added.

Ashraf El-Gammal, a camel jockey, who worked for the last 20 years in the industry, said that the months following the revolution were the worst.

"We had to sell our camels to feed our children," El-Gammal said. "We need to restore to calmness so that the government can work to boost the production wheel," he added.

Ahmed El-Naggar, head of the economic division in Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, blamed the counter revolution and remnants of the old regime for the fall of tourism.

"The revolution was completely civilized and peaceful, but allowing thugs to attack the protesters, allowing state security forces to operate freely to use excessive violence against the protesters during the revolution, and the withdrawal of police forces from the streets created a security vacuum that negatively affected the tourism industry and foreign investment," he said.

El-Naggar added that overcoming the crisis is possible if there is a political will to control the security vacuum.

Labor strikes and the fight for social justice: Destabilizing the economy?

Recently, labor strikes have extended from workers in privatized factories to doctors, teachers, public transport drivers, and communications company employees, among many other sectors.

In 2006, labor strikes demanding social justice started in Mahalla textile factories and extended for different sectors in the economy, reaching their peak on April 6, 2008 when police forces used violence to crackdown on the protests and dozens were killed and injured.

The protests coincided with a call for a general strike against increasing prices of basic goods called by a group of youth who later founded April 6 movement that later became one of the forces calling for January 25 revolution.

"Any strike in the world directly affects the production process of the institution where the strikes take place, but the question we should answer is: Are they demanding legitimate rights or not? Definitely they are, and actually the demands are below what they really deserve," El-Naggar said.

"Then the other logical question that should follow is how far the government is willing to meet these demands, I would say that government can immediately tackle them," he added.

El-Naggar explained that one step could be taken to stop all labor strikes by setting a minimum wage of LE 1200 and maximum wage of 15 times this number.

"Restructuring the wage system in Egypt is a major step towards achieving one of the revolution's demands to achieve social justice," El-Naggar said, describing wages in China, mostly known for being the lowest worldwide, as triple the wages of the minimum wage called by the labor movements in Egypt.

"What the government needs LE 40 billion monthly to meet the minimum wage demands. The government allocates LE 95.5 billion for energy subsidies, LE 75 billion goes to heavy industries like Cement, Steel and Fertilizers industries that export their products higher than the international prices" El-Naggar added.

On the contrary, the government pays the poor only LE 2.4 billion in the form of social security pensions, "which go to 1.5 million families, nearly 7.5 million citizens, giving only LE 26 per person, being extremely unfair," he explained.

Renationalization of government-owned factories that were sold through corrupted privatization contracts are on the rise after the revolution, as rights organizations coordinating with labor movements managed to stop the privatization contracts of many companies that were sold before the revolution.

Shebine El-Koom Textile Factory is one of these companies, sold for LE 174 million despite an original estimated value of LE 600 million, according to a report released by the Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights.

Even after winning a court case in September to end the company's privatization contract, workers in Shebine El-Koom factory see a crisis looming as the investor is reluctant to hand in the factory to the government ownership.

"Moreover, the Indian investor is preventing row materials to be processed into the factory, completely paralyzing the production process," Ali Nour, a factory worker told GlobalPost as he prepares for a protest in front of the cabinet demanding the government's intervention to end the crisis and implement the court verdict.

"We have been fighting since 2006 to get this factory back to Egypt. We were the only competitors for the investors' main company in Turkey and India, so this deal was done to end Egypt's competition in the international markets," Nour added.

Nour expresses his concern about the "production wheel," saying that workers are most affected by the economic crisis. "But we cannot bear the burden of the increasing prices of basic goods as our salaries cannot feed our children. People are asking us to wait. Wait for what? The death of our children?" Nour wondered.

Head of Mahalla worker union Wael Habib said that the crisis in textile sector is more than just privatization.

"Even if the factories are government-owned, cotton prices are on the rise especially after the revolution, as land rents, prices of fertilizers and chemicals dramatically increased," said Habib, adding that the government is unwilling to buy cotton from the farmers to process the needed row material to the textile industry.

"Why isn't the government directing some of the excessive energy subsidies to partially subsidize cotton so that we can boost an industry?" Habib asked.

Between calls by political activists and analysts for a swift transition to civilian rule to achieve social justice, and accusations by the SCAF and the interim government of the labor movements of causing the economic turmoil, hopes in the future remain high as parliamentary elections are scheduled to start late November and tourism sector promising of a hike starting February.

"This is all what we have, hoping for a better life, hoping for finding the bread to feed our children, raising our hands to God and say: Ya Rab!" Om Hassan said.

 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/egypt/111106/egypt-uncertainty-bad-business