Thursday, February 27, 2014

Egypt: Army scientists "cure" AIDS & Hepatatis C

The Telegraph 
Egypt army embarrassment after it 'cures' AIDS

Army general announces discovery of a wand that can cure disease using same technology as fake bomb detector 

February 27, 2014

Richard Spencer

A controversial Egyptian army decision to back a "detection" device for HIV and Hepatitis C based on a bomb detector revives a Middle East scam that saw a British man jailed for 10 years last year.
A wand has, according to army doctors, also shown almost miraculous success rates in diagnosing patients without the need for a blood sample.

However, international experts say contraptions attached to television aerials have been sold as bomb detectors and drugs detectors around the world. Most recently, a British businessman, James McCormick, was jailed for 10 years last year for selling £50 million worth of fake "ADE651" detectors to Iraq.

"This is a scam that has reared its head for two decades," said Dan Kaszeta, a security consultant who has worked in the - real - explosive detector industry. "The idea is that some very small amount of virus in the blood stream is emitting enough energy to move the aerial, as if some sort of magic waves is coming out of it."

While the country is divided over whether the military regime is brutal and dictatorial, or the saviour of the nation, few wanted to believe that it was abandoning the basic norms of modern science.

But when videos of the general's announcement started circulating online, highlighting the involvement of kebabs made of kofta, or minced meat balls, they became too difficult to ignore.

When the army at the weekend announced it had found an easy detection method and almost foolproof cure for Aids, as well as hepatitis C, it was met largely with an embarrassed silence.

It was not just that the "cure" had not been submitted to the usual international specialist scrutiny, or a peer-reviewed academic journal, it was that the head of the army medical service making the announcement seemed to think this was not necessary or even desirable.

Egypt had no intention of handing the cure over to anyone else, particularly the "international pharmaceutical mafia", one of his colleagues commented.

“I conquered AIDS with the blessings of my Lord, glory to him, with a rate of 100 per cent," the general, Dr Ibrahim Abdel-Atti, said. He said he had developed a method to break down the virus and feed it back into the body where it would attack it.

“I take AIDS from the patient, and feed the patient on AIDS, I give it to him as a kofta skewer to feed on,” he said. “I take the disease, and I give it to him as food, and this is the top of scientific miracles.”

“And I conquered the ‘C,’” he went on, referring to hepatitis C, a major scourge in Egypt which has the highest rate in the world.

The announcement has an added importance in that Field Marshal Abdulfattah el-Sisi, the defence minister and regime strongman, was present at the announcement, lending it his weight. His apparent willingness to attach his name to a dubious scientific precedent before, as everyone expects, declaring himself as a candidate for the presidency has worried those who fear that he has too little experience of civilian matters to tackle Egypt's myriad social and economic problems.

Among the critics was Dr Essam Heggy, the scientific adviser to the interim president, Adly Mansour, who told a local newspaper the announcement was a "scientific scandal". "An issue this sensitive, in my personal opinion, could hurt the image of the state," he said.

Mr Kaszeta said he feared that as with the bomb detector version, which was useless to prevent a wave of terrorist attacks in Iraq, the "Aids detector" could also cost lives as it offered a false sense of hope and security.

"The depths of human ignorance and craziness are effectively bottomless," he said. "Put things in pseudo-scientific language and come up with a plausible bit of terminology and it will always pass a certain level of scrutiny."

It sounds like a sick joke, but it is in fact the question being most avidly asked in Egypt today: how do you cure Aids with a kebab?

Doctors, pharmacists & dentists unify their strikes

Mada Masr

Doctors, pharmacists and dentists launch more unified strike

February 27, 2014

Jano Charbel

The Pharmacists and Dentists Syndicates joined the Doctors Syndicate in a one-day partial strike in public hospitals across the country on Wednesday with the general aim of improving Egypt’s healthcare system.

These syndicates claim that Wednesday’s strike was the strongest and most unified protest action that they have launched together —their average strike rate is 87 percent of their constituent members according to their own figures.

These medical syndicates, and tens of thousands of their constituents, are also threatening to embark upon open-ended strike actions as of March 8 if the Ministry of Health does not meet their demands.

Medical professionals have been increasing the frequency of their strikes – from one day per week in January, to two days per week in February. Their strikes are partial in that they are not supposed to affect any emergency healthcare services.

While each of these medical syndicates has its own list of specific demands, their common demands include improved safety and working conditions in public healthcare facilities, increased salaries (public healthcare professionals earn a starting salary of around LE1,000 and a top salary of around LE3,000 upon reaching the age of retirement.)

They are also calling for a larger allocation for healthcare expenditure in the national budget, an incremental pay scale and adequate compensation for contagious illnesses.

The strikers have criticized governmental officials for recently granting hazard and healthcare compensation to thousands of employees of the justice and interior ministries, while refusing to do the same for medical doctors.

These striking medical professionals claim that today’s strike action was the most successful and unified since they embarked on a string of partial strikes at the beginning of the year.

At a joint press conference held at the headquarters of the Doctors Syndicate on Wednesday, the central strike committee claimed an 87 percent participation rate amongst physicians at public hospitals, while the representatives of the Pharmacists Syndicate claim that 90 percent of pharmacists partook in today’s strikes, mostly in state-owned pharmacies. The Dentists Syndicate reported an 85 percent participation rate among its members.

However, the health ministry continued to downplay these strikes. The acting ministerial spokesperson, Mohamed Abu Suleiman, claimed that only around 23 percent of medical professionals heeded Wednesday’s strike calls. The ministry claimed that the doctors' strike was reported in 394 public hospitals out of 514 nationwide.

Since the start of the strikes in January, tensions between the ministry and these syndicates have increased significantly. This week the Doctors Syndicate referred Health Minister Maha al-Rabat to a disciplinary hearing for what they describe as her disregard for the rights of both Egyptian doctors and patients. The minister responded by stating that the syndicate does not have the authority or jurisdiction to do so. Her hearing is scheduled for March 9.

Among other grievances, the syndicate council ordered this disciplinary hearing in light of the ministry’s unwillingness to establish a specialized fact-finding committee to investigate the recent deaths of four physicians. They died after contracting fatal respiratory illnesses while working at the ministry’s hospitals.

While the cause of death has not been identified, the ministry has denied that it may be associated with Swine Flu or the H1NI Virus. Neither the Doctors nor the Veterinarians Syndicates have been able to identify the cause of death either. 

While expressing solidarity with the strikes launched by their fellow medical professionals, the Veterinarians Syndicate did not partake in Wednesday’s strikes. It maintained its symbolic protest camp at their headquarters.

Commenting on today’s medical strikes, Ahmed Abu Shanab, board member of the Veterinarians Syndicate, said, “despite our different specializations, we are all doctors, and we all have similar demands regarding the necessary healthcare reforms, along with nearly identical demands in terms of administrative and budgetary restructuring.”

The Doctors, Dentists, Veterinarians and Pharmacists Syndicates together constitute the Federation of Medical Professions. This federation’s board is composed of the president, secretary general, and treasurer of all four of these syndicates – making up a 12-member council.

“There have been some schisms and disagreements between the federation’s board members since the start of the strike action in January,” Abu Shanab said. “A lack of proper coordination among the different syndicates has weakened the potential strength of a unified medical professionals’ strike.”     
“Our most basic and common demand is an improved national healthcare system for all in Egypt,” he added.

The Veterinarians Syndicate Council has been reluctant to join in the strike actions, Abu Shanab predicted that it was unlikely that it would join in the unified medical strike planned for March 8.

The vet added that “political interests and other considerations” might be behind his syndicate’s reluctance to join the strikes organized by the other members of the Federation of Medical Professions.

“Maybe after we hold our [midterm] elections on March 14 we will end up with a new board that is more willing to join in the struggle for our rights as doctors,” he said.

The Veterinarians Syndicate has only participated in one day of strike action with the Doctors Syndicate this year – for a one-hour strike, on January 22.

*Archive photo by Jano Charbel

Court sentences youth to 3 years in jail for campaigning against constitution

Mada Masr

Strong Egypt members sentenced to 3 years for campaigning against constitution

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 

Three members of the Strong Egypt Party were sentenced in absentia Tuesday, after they were arrested in January for distributing material urging voters to reject the draft constitution.

Ahmed Badawi, Mohamed Abu Layla and Sami Ashraf were sentenced to three years in prison and a LE500 fine by Hadayek al-Qobba Misdemeanor Court.

“Members of the party committed a crime against concerned Egyptian state authorities when they practiced a right allowed only in free countries,” read a statement posted on Strong Egypt’s Facebook page. Egypt is not a free country under [the rule of] a government formed of a group of stakeholders who believe freedom is a luxury.”

The three men were arrested in early January. The “No to the constitution” flyers they were carrying were confiscated as criminal evidence, the party said at the time.

Soon after, the constitutional draft was ratified with 98 percent of the vote.

Newspapers, public figures, businessmen and politicians launched self-funded campaigns calling for the draft’s ratification, and Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi even hinted that Egyptians should vote for the document.


Over 100,000 workers strike & challenge new government

Mada Masr

Wave of labor strikes continues amid political uncertainty

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Jano Charbel

The government’s top priorities include the cessation of strikes, increasing productivity and output, along with restoring calm to Egypt’s streets, according to press statements released on Tuesday by newly appointed Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab.

Monday’s surprise resignation of Prime Minister Hazem al-Biblawi along with his entire Cabinet has been partly attributed to an upsurge of strikes and other industrial actions over the past month — together with the government’s apparent inability to address a host of labor grievances.

Despite the Cabinet’s sudden dissolution, well over 100,000 workers nationwide are still on strike or are engaged in other forms of labor protest nationwide.

Strikers include bus drivers and other employees of the Public Transport Authority (PTA), postal workers, employees of public notary offices, field surveyors, street cleaners, microbus drivers, doctors, pharmacists, veterinarians and dentists.

Topping the strikers’ list of common demands is the provision of the newly applied monthly minimum wage — of LE1,200 (around US$172) — among public sector enterprises. This new minimum wage went into effect at the end January.

Other demands include fulltime contracts for fulltime work, the payment of overdue bonuses, safer working conditions, re-operation of stalled factories, reinstatement of sacked workers, the resignations of state officials accused of corruption and mismanagement.

In his press statements Mahlab recognized the legitimate rights and grievances of Egypt’s strikers, and pledged to assist these disgruntled workers to the utmost of his ability — but within the confines of the government’s capacity and national budget.

However, Tuesday also witnessed the first official attempt at strike-breaking this year. The Ministry of Defense and Governorate of Cairo moved to operate both private minibuses and army buses with the aim of weakening a four-day-long PTA strike.

Officials from the ministry and governorate claim that the operation of these buses is merely intended to facilitate the transport of stranded commuters and to alleviate traffic congestions around Greater Cairo.

“Instead of attempting to resolve our grievances or granting us our basic rights, governmental officials are ignoring our demands and seeking to thwart our strike,” said Adel al-Shazly, President of the Independent Union of PTA Employees.

Speaking at a press conference at the headquarters of the independent Egyptian Democratic Labor Confederation (EDLC), Shazly added, “Government officials and their media outlets have gone so far as to claim that we are politicized troublemakers, or even members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s sleeper cells.”

Also speaking at the press conference was public post office employee Mohamed Saftawi. He described the postal workers’ strike as “a direct result of our being excluded from entitlement to the minimum wage.”

Saftawi went on to say, “Postal authorities refuse to accept our right to establish an independent union in the post offices in which we work. This while the Ministry of Communication and Ministry of Manpower neglect our many grievances.”

We have no access to arbitration or other dispute-resolution mechanisms while working with the postal authority,” he said.

According to Talal Shokr, EDLC board member, “Government officials continue to fail in providing the so-called minimum wage — even among public sector workers, who are supposed to be the primary beneficiaries of this new law.”

The new minimum wage – or minimum income – has been extended to some 4.9 million public sector employees from a total of around seven million in this sector. Those officially entitled to receive the monthly LE1,200 represent less than 18 percent of Egypt’s total workforce.

Shokr added that strikes could be averted by upholding the minimum wage on a national level, the state’s entry into collective bargaining agreements with local unions, replacement of outdated labor and union laws, the imposition of a maximum wage for state officials, the provision of adequate insurance payments and a minimum pension for retired workers.

Mohamed Omar, a worker at the state-owned Helwan Steel and Iron Company, commented, “Governmental authorities continue to ignore our labor rights and professional demands – until they are pressured by strikes or sit-ins.”

Omar claimed that the Helwan Steel and Iron Company has thus far incurred losses amounting to LE519 million.

According to Omar, “Corruption and financial mismanagement are a main source of labor grievances not only within our company or industry — but also in the (public sector) textile industry, along with other industries and services.”

Public sector textile workers had launched a 12-day strike at the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla (Egypt’s largest textile complex) on February 10. Some 22,000 workers at this company have been demanding the new minimum wage, and the resignation of the Textile Holding Company’s president, Fouad Abdel Aleem, who oversees 32 affiliated textile companies.

Twelve other public sector textile companies joined in Mahalla’s strike, leading to around 45,000 textile workers halting production to demand Abdel Aleem’s resignation.

Workers, and even state auditors, point out that several billion pounds worth of losses have been incurred under Abdel Aleem’s administration.

After receiving promises that their demands would be met, these striking textile workers chose to suspend their strikes on February 22. They announced their intention to resume strike action within 60 days if their demands are not realized.

Mahmoud Kashef a worker from the state-owned Kafr al-Dawwar Textile Company criticized the state’s provision of minimum wage and bonuses. Kashef pointed out that interim Egyptian “President Adly Mansour quickly responded to policemen’s protests and strikes earlier this month, while he chose to ignore our longstanding demands for a decent living wage.”

Kashef pointed out that following a few days of police protests, Mansour agreed on February 19 to raise policemen's bonuses by 30 percent. “Why are we denied the same decent treatment and respect shown to the police forces?”



Egypt: Interim government resigns amid labor strikes

Associated Press 
Egypt’s interim Cabinet resigns amid labor strikes

The resignation fuels speculation that the military chief, Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, will soon announce a presidential bid

February 24, 2014 

Hamza Hendawi

CAIRO — Egypt’s interim Cabinet resigned Monday in a surprise move that could pave the way for the nation’s military chief to announce his widely anticipated plans to run for president in the spring.

The resignation, announced by Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi in a televised statement, came amid a wave of labor strikes over the government’s failure to fix the economy and rising popular anger nearly a year after Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was ousted by the military.

The Cabinet will remain in office in a caretaking capacity until a new one is formed. Its resignation fueled speculation that the military chief, Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, will soon announce a presidential bid.

The 59-year-old career infantry officer, who has been defense minister since Morsi named him to the Cabinet post in August 2012, has already secured the support of Egypt’s top military body, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, to seek the presidency.

Military and security officials said the British- and U.S.-trained el-Sissi has been working with a team of advisers on a program of action that he intends to announce when he declares his candidacy.

Making the announcement against a backdrop of rising popular anger and harsh media criticism of el-Beblawi would not have looked good for el-Sissi.

El-Beblawi did not say why his Cabinet was resigning. His military-backed government was sworn in in July, less than two weeks after el-Sissi ousted Morsi.

El-Sissi has been increasingly acting in a presidential fashion.

He paid a highly publicized visit to Russia earlier this month, when he secured the Kremlin’s blessing for his likely presidential bid and negotiated a large arms deal. Last week, his wife made her first public appearance since he became defense minister. Intisar el-Sissi was seated next to him during a ceremony to honor senior officers.

Thousands of el-Sissi posters are plastered on walls and hoisted on lampposts across much of the country. Songs praising him are played on radio and blare from coffee shops. He has often been likened to a lion and Arab nationalist leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser and portrayed as a savior who will bring strength and prosperity to Egypt.

A new constitution adopted in a referendum last month gives the military the exclusive right to pick the defense minister for the next two, four-year presidential terms. In Egypt, the defense minister is routinely the armed forces’ commander in chief.

So if el-Sissi, as expected, is left out of the next Cabinet lineup, that will most likely mean that his announcement on a presidential bid is imminent. His chief of staff, Gen. Sobhi Sedki, is expected to succeed him.

El-Beblawi’s government is likely to be remembered for authorizing security forces in August to storm pro-Morsi sit-in protests in Cairo — a crackdown that killed hundreds — and for labeling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

El-Beblawi has been heavily criticized for failing to prevent high-profile terror attacks blamed on pro-Morsi militants. In the last seven months, several security headquarters have been bombed and dozens of policemen, some in key intelligence jobs, gunned down in the streets. Authorities daily announce the seizures of extensive caches of arms and explosives.

The latest wave of labor unrest to hit Egypt included strikes by public transport workers and garbage collectors and a partial stoppage by doctors. An acute shortage of cooking gas cylinders has also fed popular frustration. This week also saw the end of a crippling, 11-day strike by thousands of textile workers in the industrial city of Mahalla in the Nile Delta.

“The Cabinet has, in the last six or seven months, responsibly and dutifully shouldered a very difficult and delicate burden, and I believe that, in most cases, we have achieved good results,” the outgoing prime minister said.

“But like any endeavor, it cannot all be success but rather within the boundaries of what is humanly possible.”

Egypt: Trial of 20 journalists opens, quickly adjourned

Los Angeles Times

Egypt: Trial of 20 journalists opens, quickly goes into recess

February 20, 2014

Amro Hassan

CAIRO — Twenty journalists, including four foreigners, went on trial Thursday in Egypt on charges of aiding a terrorist organization, but the proceedings were quickly adjourned until March 5.

Only eight of the defendants, including Australian reporter Peter Greste, stood before the Giza governorate's criminal court. The rest remain at large and are being tried in absentia.

Greste was joined in the defendants' cage by Egyptian Canadian news producer Mohamed Fahmy and journalist Baher Mohamed. The trio, who were arrested Dec. 29, work for Al Jazeera's English network. Al Jazeera was banned from broadcasting in Egypt last year by an Egyptian court.

Other foreign defendants include two Britons and a Dutch freelancer, all of who managed to flee the country before charges were filed against them on Jan. 29.

The charges include illegal broadcasting and joining or cooperating with the Muslim Brotherhood to falsify news in order to "give the appearance that Egypt is in a state of civil war" following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi last July. The government has designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

If convicted, the defendants could face prison sentences ranging from five to 15 years.

The trial has been condemned by local and international rights organizations as a sign that the right to dissent is rapidly eroding in Egypt.

"Egyptian authorities in recent months have demonstrated almost zero tolerance for any form of dissent, arresting and prosecuting journalists, demonstrators, and academics for peacefully expressing their views," Human Rights Watch said in a statement issued Thursday.

"Journalists should not have to risk years in an Egyptian prison for doing their job," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for the rights group.

In the courthouse there were some emotional scenes as Fahmy promised his fiancée a big wedding after his release and Greste told his brother that he loves their family.

Fahmy told reporters that he has been denied medical treatment for a shoulder he said he broke after being forced to sleep on the floor during his 54-day-long detention.

European Union representatives and personnel from the Australian and Canadian embassies in Cairo attended the trial.

Lawyers and family members were hoping defendants could be released on bail, but Judge Mohamed Nagui Shehata denied their request.

*Photo courtesy of AFP

45,000 textile workers strike against mismanagement in 13 public sector companies

Mada Masr

Strikes in public sector textile companies reach new high

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Jano Charbel

A labor uprising in the textile industry is witnessing an unprecedented number of factory occupations, solidarity strikes and other protest actions among over 45,000 workers. At least 13 public sector textile companies have been on strike for the past nine consecutive days.

These tens of thousands of disgruntled workers have their sights set on the Textile Holding Company, the state-managed umbrella company that administers a total of 32 affiliated textile companies across the country.

At the heart of these massive and coordinated industrial actions is the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla. It is Egypt’s largest textile mill and employs over 22,000 workers.

The Mahalla workers launched their strike on February 10 and have been the focal point of this public sector textile uprising.

Across companies and governorates, these textile workers’ grievances and general demands are nearly identical. Topping their list of common demands is recalling Fouad Abdel Aleem — president of the Textile Holding Company — whom they accuse of repeated administrative failures, financial mismanagement and corruption. Rooting out corruption in these public sector companies is the chief objective around which the workers have united.

While the Textile Holding Company held its general assembly meeting on Tuesday, it does not appear to have acted upon workers’ demands to recall Abdel Aleem.

“Thus far we’ve received no response from the Holding Company regarding our demands,” said Kamal al-Fayyoumi, a worker and strike leader at the Mahalla company.

“We are being ignored and our demands are being disregarded. However, our unified strike will eventually succeed in saving the public textile industry from corrupt administrators and from corruption within the Holding Company,” he added.

The workers’ other demands include the provision of the newly applied LE 1,200 monthly minimum wage (around $US 175). This demand originated at the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla during a strike in December 2006, but the Mahalla company, along with all other companies affiliated to the Textile Holding Company, have been denied this new minimum wage.

Workers have also been demanding labor representation on their companies’ administrative boards (as stipulated by the national constitution and law), the re-operation of stalled companies and factories (to their original capacity), and the reinstatement of sacked workers, along with the payment of overdue profit shares.

The public sector textile industry has been incurring billions of pounds worth of losses for several years now, and company administrators point out that there are no profits to be shared.
Instead company administrators have offered to provide these periodic profit-shares in the form of bonuses — to augment the workers’ meager basic wages.

With the commencement of the strike in Mahalla, Abdel Aleem told the state-owned MENA news agency that the Textile Holding Company and the Cabinet have tentatively agreed to plans to provide LE 6 billion to develop and restructure this once-prosperous industry.

In an attempt to end this massive wave of strikes, the Textile Holding Company announced that it had allocated an additional LE 70 million to its monthly budget — so as to augment workers’ wages in this sector.

The striking textile workers have refused to accept the proposed bonus payments, however — until their primary demand is realized.

Administrators claim that the strike isn’t helping the textile industry, but harming it further. At the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla, administrative board members have told state media outlets that their company has incurred over LE 20 million in lost revenue since the strike began. Estimates suggest that the strikes and industrial actions at all 13 companies have cost the Holding Company over LE 45 million in losses.

Striking workers, however, have blamed the Textile Holding Company for billions of pounds worth of losses incurred since the 1990s.

Conflicting governmental and independent estimates suggest that the Holding Company has incurred losses of between 6 billion pounds and tens of billions of pounds since the 1990s.

Furthermore, as a result of privatization policies initiated in the 1990s, the state-owned spinning and weaving industries, which had employed some 360,000 workers, now employ a mere 60,000.

According to Fayyoumi, “The Holding Company intentionally implements policies to incur losses among the public sector textile companies, in the hopes of failing and then privatizing these companies.”

Fayyoumi explained that the Mahalla company was profitable and did not incurred losses until Abdel Aleem took over its administration around 10 years ago. 

A strike at the company in 2007 forced Abdel Aleem out of Mahalla’s administrative board — but to the dismay of the striking workers, he was promoted to preside over the entire Textile Holding Company instead.

Fayyoumi said that not only had dozens of public sector companies incurred losses under Abdel Aleem’s administration, but that most of them had their factories and production lines stalled as a result of his policies.

“Prior to this strike, we were operating at a mere 40 percent of our capacity at Mahalla,” he said.

“Other companies have been operating at only 30 percent of their original capacity.”

Workers and labor analysts have attributed this decrease in production and capacity to a lack of raw materials, to the use of outdated machinery, and to modern machinery which is not designed to work with long-staple Egyptian cotton.

“We demand increased investment in our companies,” Fayyoumi said. “We also demand the establishment of new administrative committees with genuine workers’ representation among them so as to keep our companies in check and free of corruption.”

While Abdel Aleem has made no mention of stepping down from the Holding Company, he told MENA that he hopes to radically restructure the public sector textile companies via industrial consulting companies within two or three years.

On February 13 the state-owned Al-Gomhurriya newspaper denounced the wave of textile strikes as being “manipulated from above by remote control” at the hands of those who seek to exploit striking workers to harm Egypt’s economy.

In a press conference at the Journalists’ Syndicate on February 15, Fatma Ramadan, deputy chief of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions, responded to this denunciation and others in the state-owned media.

“There is no room or basis or justification for slandering Egypt’s workers as being agents or traitors,” said Ramadan.

“Those who toil, build and struggle for Egypt’s advancement are not traitors. The real traitors are those corrupt officials who steal and squander public funds,” she added. “Textile workers in Mahalla and many other companies are demanding an end to the corrupt practices of officials who continue to drain the state’s coffers.”

“The striking workers’ demands are geared toward improving Egypt’s economy and its industries, toward the realization of social and economic rights,” she said.

This week several representatives and delegates from public sector textile companies have sought the intercession of the Ministry of Manpower and the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) to resolve the impasse between them and the Textile Holding Company.

Minister of Manpower Kamal Abu Eita announced Tuesday that he hopes to resolve the crisis.

“I have no jurisdiction regarding the sacking of the Textile Holding Company’s chief,” Abu Eita told media outlets on Sunday.

The Textile Holding Company falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Investment.
Statements have been issued by the Ministry of Investment this week regarding discussion of Abdel Aleem’s removal from office, but it has not yet set a date for such a decision.

ETUF president Gebali al-Maraghi also emphasized that he would push for the realization of the striking textile workers’ demands, although — like Abu Eita — he announced that neither he nor his federation could bring about Abdel Aleem’s resignation.

*Photo by Nasser Nuri courtesy of Reuters

Millions of Egyptian workers denied the new "minimum wage"

Mada Masr

Falling short: Egypt's new minimum wage, the haves and have nots

Monday, February 17, 2014

Jano Charbel

Tens of thousands of workers, employees, professionals and even policemen are embarking on strikes and other industrial action across the country to demand the new minimum wage, which the state had officially established in the public sector as of the end of January.

These industrial actions appear to be growing and spreading nationwide with each day.

Amidst a great deal of fanfare and talk of social justice from government officials, the new minimum wage of LE1,200 (roughly US$172) has been allocated only to the public sector – and not all public sector workers or employees for that matter.

The new monthly minimum wage has been made available to some 4.9 million workers of around 7 million employed by the state and public sector workers. Egypt has a total workforce of over 27 million, most of whom are now being denied this new minimum wage.

Saud Omar, labor consultant at the Suez Regional Workers’ Federation, pointed out that only around 18 percent of Egypt’s workforce is legally entitled to this minimum wage.

“This so-called national minimum wage should not be referred to as such. It is not applied on the national level or across sectors, and it is not the starting basic wage which new workers are paid,” Omar explained.

“Instead it amounts to a total wage or a total income of LE1,200 – this includes bonuses and pay-raises,” he said.

Moreover, in light of increasing inflation, and since the 2011 uprising many employees have been demanding the minimum wage be set at LE1,500 – rather than the outdated demand for LE1,200.

Officially proposed late last year by the Ministries of Manpower and Finance, then approved by the
Cabinet in the form of a cabinet decree, the state has allocated an additional LE9 billion to its annual budget so as to raise millions of its employees’ incomes – in line with the LE1,200 minimum income.

The state has even enshrined the minimum wage, along with a minimum pension and a maximum wage, in its new national constitution.

Minister of Manpower Kamal Abu Eita has considered this new minimum wage/income to be a realization of Egypt’s revolutionary demands: ‘Bread, Freedom and Social Justice.’

During a press conference held on December 18, 2013, Abu Eita said, “We have struggled to realize the slogan: A minimum wage for those living in cemeteries, and a maximum wage for those living in palaces.”

Abu Eita clarified that in Egypt, “National incomes are determined on the basis of 20 percent basic wages, and then around 80 percent from bonuses.”

During this conference Abu Eita said, “This is the highest minimum wage that the state can provide from its coffers under these pressing economic conditions.”

The minister added that the minimum wage should be raised in line with inflation.

However, the demands for a national minimum wage of LE1,200 date back to December 2006 during a massive strike in Egypt’s largest textile company, the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla city.

Nonetheless, over seven years later, the workers at Mahalla still have not had their demands realized.

An estimated 20,000 workers have launched a strike this week calling for the payment of the new wage, among other demands.

The average monthly total wage for a full-time worker at this company currently still averages around LE600 to LE800.

Sayyed Habib, a strike leader at the Mahalla textile company in December 2006, recalls, “It was back during this strike that we first raised the demand for a minimum wage of LE1,200 per month. This was our primary demand years ago.”

“Yet history keeps repeating itself, and our demands keep being ignored,” he added. Habib retired from the company and is now employed at the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers Services.

“We had calculated the LE1,200 based on monthly living expenses several years ago. Now price increases have rendered this sum outdated and insufficient,” he said.

Habib pointed out that the monthly rent for a small apartment in Mahalla costs no less than LE500 per month. “If an able-bodied worker is left with only LE700, how can he feed his family, educate his children, or save for retirement. It’s simply not feasible.

“Of course the monthly LE1,200 is now too little, and it is late. But it would nearly double the workers’ existing wages, and that would be warmly welcomed, he added.”

Habib said he aspires to see LE1,200 being paid as basic minimum wage, with the real minimum income amounting to LE1,600 or more.

Elsewhere, doctors, pharmacists and veterinarians employed at the Health Ministry’s medical facilities are still engaged in partial strikes across the country, since they initiated their protest actions last month. These medical professionals are demanding salary increases in line with the new minimum wage decree, amongst a host of other healthcare-related demands.

Joining in the medical syndicates’ strikes this week were health insurance employees in the governorates of Beheira and Daqahliya, who also demanded to be paid the new minimum wage.

This week custodial workers in Monufiya are on strike demanding fulltime contracts for fulltime work, along with their payment of the new minimum wage.

Even policemen protested in Gharbiya and Alexandria demanding the minimum wage. Policemen’s partial strikes were reported in Sharqiya, Minya and New Valley governorates.

Meanwhile, in Qalyubiya police forces were deployed to contain a protest by field surveyors’ in the city of Banha, who are on strike in demand of the minimum wage. Other public sector surveyors went on strike in Minya, Damietta, and Beheira calling for the same demand.

Employees of the state-owned Omar Effendi department stores have also been protesting and calling for the minimum wage; along with public transport employees in Cairo and Alexandria.

Public bus drivers are threatening to launch a nationwide strike by the end of February if they are not granted this new minimum income.

According to bus driver Ali
Fattouh of the Public Transport Authority (PTA), “We’ve been demanding LE1,200 as a basic monthly wage since the year 2007. We’ve launched several strikes for this specific demand, yet we are amongst the many sectors of public employees who are being excluded from receiving this minimum wage.”

Fattouh explained that amongst the some 40,000 PTA employees across Greater Cairo, the average total monthly income is between LE600 to LE1,500.

Fattouh commented that “the government’s lack of analysis and consultation with workers and their unions naturally means that there is a lack of proper implementation and distribution of this minimum wage. This will only lead to further unrest, protests and strikes amongst workers demanding the receipt of this minimum wage.”

Omar agreed. “Grievances regarding the non-payment of this LE1,200 will inevitably lead to additional unrest within the public sector and state-owned companies, which are excluded from receiving the minimum wage. These grievances and unrest will also spread to different industries, different economic sectors and services. All will be demanding the minimum wage on which they can subsist and meet their most basic demands.”

Omar went on to point out that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of full-time workers are employed within the public sector on part-time contracts. The lack of full-time contracts means that the employer is exempt from paying these precarious workers on par with those who have full-time contracts.

This policy of full-time employment on part-time contracts is common in both the public and private sectors. Employers have used this policy to guarantee that such employees are denied periodic bonuses, membership in their local union, insurance payments – and now they may also be denied the minimum wage.

*Archive photo of Mahalla textile workers' strike in 2007 by Mohamed al-Saeed

Resurgence of strikes & industrial actions across Egypt

Mada Masr 
Resurgence of strikes and industrial action across the country

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jano Charbel 

Over the past couple of days Egypt has witnessed the largest upsurge of strikes and industrial action this year, as tens of thousands of workers, policemen and professionals protest over their work-related grievances.

Recent industrial action includes workers at Egypt’s largest textile company, a nationwide doctors’ strike, police protests in several governorates, the occupation of the state-controlled trade union federation by sacked textile workers, along with a host of other labor manifestations.
Misr Spinning and Weaving Company — Mahalla City
An estimated 13,000 workers at Egypt’s largest textile company — the state-owned Misr Spinning and Weaving Company — have been on strike for the second consecutive day.

Launching their strike on Monday, thousands of disgruntled textile workers occupied their company and embarked on protest marches across the Nile Delta city.

Mahalla’s textile workers are striking over four main demands: overdue profit-sharing payments (amounting to two months wages per worker), the receipt of the new minimum wage, the dismissal of a top textile official, and the election of labor representatives on the company’s administrative board.

Workers have been demanding their profit-sharing payments, which they had periodically been receiving for several years prior to the company’s incurring of massive losses. The company’s administration has pointed out that there are currently no profits to be shared.

On Monday, Egypt’s cabinet proposed to inject LE157 million into the Mahalla company towards workers’ bonuses, in the hope that workers would call-off their strike — to no avail.

According to Sayyed Habib, a member of the (independent) Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, and a former worker at the company, “the primary demand of this strike is the permanent removal of Fouad Abdel Aleem from his post as chief of the Textile Holding Company, and his investigation.”

Abdel Aleem presided over the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company several years ago, during which time the company began to accumulate massive debts, which workers claim are attributable to his administration’s corruption, negligence, and financial mismanagement.

Despite his poor track record, state officials promoted Abdel Aleem to lead the Textile Holding Company, after having unsuccessfully presided over the Mahalla company for years.

Habib and others from Mahalla, are calling for an impartial investigation into the billions of pounds worth of losses incurred by the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company under Abdel Aleem’s administration in recent years.
Other textile strikes
An estimated 2,000 workers from two other public-sector textile companies — the Tanta Delta Textile Company, and the Zaqaziq Spinning and Weaving Company — launched strikes on Monday.

Textile workers put forth demands nearly identical to those of the Mahalla Spinning and Weaving Company.

Elsewhere, several hundred workers at the Misr Helwan Textiles Company — located south of Cairo — also went on strike for the same demands.

Other protests and work stoppages were reported in a host of smaller textile mills nationwide.
In light of these strikes in the public-sector textiles industry, the Minister of Investment proposed on Tuesday that the state invest LE6 billion over the course of the next 33 months to improve wages and working conditions in textile companies.
Police strikes and protests
Partial strikes were reported amongst low-ranking policemen in the governorates of Sharqiya, Minya and Wadi al-Gadeed since the beginning of the week for demands including: increased bonuses and compensations, a minimum wage, and (in some locales) the Interior Ministry’s provision of firearms to all policemen.

Meanwhile police protests — for nearly identical demands — have been staged in the governorates of Gharbiya and Alexandria.
Medical strikes
Doctors staged a strike on Monday, with another scheduled for Wednesday with the added participation of the Pharmacists Syndicate.

Doctors, pharmacists, and veterinarians have embarked on a string of partial strikes since the beginning of the year in demand of: improved salaries, an incremental pay-scale, safer hospitals/medical facilities/working conditions, and a larger national healthcare budget.

The Doctors Syndicate has also been calling on the Health Ministry to conduct investigations into the fatalities of four doctors who recently died after contracting unidentified respiratory illnesses from patients at public hospitals. Several other physicians have reportedly fallen ill as a result of similar respiratory conditions.

Both the Health Ministry and local representatives from the World Health Organization have denied that the four fatalities were the result of the H1N1 strain of Swine Flu.

The Health Ministry claims that the last two physicians’ strikes garnered participation of less than 20 percent.

However, the Doctors Syndicate claimed a participation rate of over 50 percent during the course of their strikes this month.

Although the Nurses Syndicate has not officially endorsed the medical syndicates’ strikes, around 400 nurses at the Sidi Salem Central Hospital in the Nile Delta Governorate of Kafr al-Sheikh went on strike Tuesday, demanding the payment of a 40 percent bonus, which the hospital’s board had cancelled.

Tanta Flax Company & Shebin al-Kom Textile Company
Around 100 sacked workers from the Tanta Flax Company and the Shebin al-Kom Textile Company have been occupying the headquarters of the (state-controlled) Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) since Sunday.

Thousands of workers from these two — previously state-owned — companies have been sacked over the course of the past ten years. Last year, the Administrative Court found that the two companies (along with three others) were sold-off to investors at far less than their true market value.

The court nullified the privatization contracts for the Tanta Flax and Shebin Textile Companies, and called on the state to re-operate these stalled companies.

According to Hisham al-Oql, a sacked worker/unionist formerly employed at the Tanta Flax Company, “we are simply demanding that governmental officials uphold the judiciary’s verdicts regarding the re-operation of our company.”

Following two days of negotiations with ETUF board members, President Gebali al-Maraghi sent telegraphs to the offices of the presidency, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Manpower, and Textile Holding Company, calling on these state authorities to re-operate the companies and to reinstate the sacked workers.

Workers from both companies — the Tanta Flax and Shebin Textiles — are planning a protest outside the Council of Ministers Wednesday. Cabinet sources have hinted that these two companies may be re-operating by 2015, yet workers are demanding an immediate and gradual return to operations.

*Photo of Mahalla's striking textile workers courtesy of Aswat Masriya