Egypt strike plans fizzle out



Plans for a general strike in Egypt collapsed Sunday after the government made good on its warning to take firm action against protesters by arresting nine people, including bloggers, for incitement.

 

"People are going to work normally, there are no demonstrations, there is no strike," a security official told AFP.

 

"Nine people have been arrested for inciting unrest, whether on their blogs or through other channels," he said.

 

Among the nine detained are three bloggers, two members of the opposition Ghad party, one from the Nasserist party and three members of the opposition movement Kefaya.

 

Plans for a strike at Egypt's largest textile factory also collapsed on Sunday after pressure from security forces and internal divisions among the workers, employees said.

 

"Police in civilian clothes entered the factory in the middle of the night, and the strike failed due to intimidation," Karim Al Baheiri, a worker at the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla told AFP.

 

Another leader, Sayyed Habib, who lead factory protests in 2006, told AFP that "demands made have already been fulfilled a week ago" highlighting divisions between workers at the factory.

 

A strike would have been considered illegal without the backing of unions, which are mainly linked to the ruling National Democratic Party. In Cairo, police and riot police trucks were deployed in downtown areas where protests had been planned.

 

Sky-rocketing food prices in Egypt since the start of the year have been matched in recent weeks by a rumbling wave of popular discontent and unprecedented strikes and demonstrations. International organisations, including the United Nations, the French embassy and the American University in Cairo have warned staff to avoid the Cairo city centre, where a protest was planned for the afternoon.

 

On Saturday the interior ministry threatened "immediate and firm measures against any attempt to demonstrate, disrupt road traffic or the running of public establishments and against all attempts to incite such acts".

 

The call for a general strike has been circulating for more than a week on the internet, via text messages and on the social networking site Facebook.

 

It is unclear who initiated the call which snowballed after some 25,000 employees at the textile plant in Mahalla announced plans to strike from Sunday over low salaries and price hikes. The interior ministry insisted that all public institutions, including schools and state-run factories, should be open for business as usual on Sunday. It accused "provocateurs and illegal movements" of having "spread false rumours and called for protests, demonstrations and a strike on Sunday".

 

A Facebook group called "April 6" calling for the strike has attracted over 64,000 members.

Protest movement Kefaya has called for a sit-in against the price hikes across Egypt's 26 provinces, one of its leaders George Ishak told AFP. The state-owned daily Al Ahram for its part warned that those inciting or participating in the strike could face prison.

 

The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood has said it supported the strike, but would not be participating.

The UN's World Food Programme said this month that average household expenditure in Egypt had risen by 50 percent since the start of the year.

 

Liberal economic reforms and price hikes have led the social gap to grow, Cairo University's Mohammed Kamel Al Sayyed told AFP, but said "a large social explosion" was unlikely.

 

"Violent local tensions, it's probable, but a national explosion, I don't think so." (AFP)

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