By Roger Annis, August 28, 2013
Joel Beinin of Stanford University has published an article on August 23 titled ‘Egytpian workers after June 30‘. He is a preeminent scholar on the subject of workers and unions in Egypt. This latest article contains much important information about the subject. But the article’s accusations about the repressive policies of the Freedom and Justice Party government of President Mohamed Morsi seems contradictory and imprecise.
The article says, “Its [Morsi-led government’s] repressive measures were often more severe than those of the late Mubarak era”. This is curious because Mubarak ruled for several decades while Morsi’s four-year electoral mandate was cut short in a military coup d’etat after only one year.
Furthermore, in a previous article from January 18 of this year, ‘Workers, trade unions and Egypt’s political future‘, Beinin explains that union organizing flourished following the fall of Mubarak in February 2011. He writes, “During the week of December 15-22, 2012, between the two rounds of the referendum on Egypt’s newly adopted constitution [and seven months after the election of Morsi–RA], workers struck at three large, strategic industrial enterprises. At two, the strikers quickly achieved their main demands.”
Further, “Since the uprising against the Mubarak regime, some 1,000 new unions independent of the state-sponsored Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions (ETUF) have sprung up.”
Hmm, Morsi’s “repressive measures were often more severe than those of the late Mubarak era”? I’ve not heard of strikes under the short-lived government of Morsi being treated worse than during the Mubarak regime, including in Beinin’s own writings. From the aforementioned article again. “According to the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, during 2012 there were over 3,400 protests over economic and social issues, mostly labor actions. This number is nearly five times greater than the number of collective workers’ actions in any year of the 2000s. Over 2,400 of these protests occurred after Muhammad Mursi’s inauguration as president on June 30.”
Beinin’s argument is made similarly by union leader Fatma Ramadan in this short interview on July 10. She says, “Morsi’s regime and the Military Council practised the same policies against workers and their leaders”.
Here is a June 21, 2013 statement by the textile workers at the giant textile mill in Mahalla al-Kubra (Nile River delta) that condemns the company directors and the Morsi government’s ministry of labour for failing to negotiate in good faith and harbouring a secret plan to privatize the state-owned mill. These workers went on strike for two days in early August 2013 over a salary dispute and won a settlement.
Here is an article from November 2012 reporting on the reaction to the attempts of the Morsi government to remove directors from the leadership councils of the discredited union federation EFTU that was allied with the Mubarak regime and replace them with its own appointees. Egypt’s independent unions opposed the move, saying it was an intrusion into internal union affairs. (And another article on the same subject here.)
Clearly, the Morsi regime was not friendly to union rights. But was it ‘the same as Mubarak’, as some claim? My concern with this idea is whether or not is is factual and also whether it downplays the significance of the labour upsurge that followed the overthrow of Mubarak and that continued under the Morsi presidency. One of the reasons, I’m sure, that the military moved to a coup is its perceived need to curb an insurgent working class and trade unions. (This is not the same as saying that Egypt was on the verge of a new ‘revolution’ that the military felt compelled to head off, hence its coup. I don’t subscribe to that thesis.)
A few other thoughts
I have written about the accusations of attacks on the Coptic Church in Egypt that are being levied against the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. See my text below. This is one of those stories that should send up political radars (think ‘stolen baby incubators in Kuwait’ in 1991 and ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in Iraq in 2003, etc). The MB and its allied anti-coup coalition have issued statements explicitly condemning such attacks. And the Mubarak regime has a history of attacks on churches which it then blamed on Islamists. So caution, nuance and careful reading is called for in all of the accusations being tossed about concerning Egypt.
One side of the story of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government that none of its accusers have addressed is the consequence for that government of the fact that it was presiding over a still-intact Mubarak-era state, ie military, police, judiciary, government bureaucracy, etc. and a largely intact Mubarak-era constitution.
I recall how during the 2004 paramilitary coup in Haiti, a central component of justification for the coup were the reports that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was orchestrating widespread vigilante attacks against the political opponents of his government. Those accusations were repeated endlessly as fact by international media, charities and ngo’s before and after the coup. They are very much present today in the political discourse surrounding Haiti. Some on the political left joined in, particularly in French-speaking countries. The accusations were entirely bogus. This was documented by many writers, most notably by Peter Hallward in his 2008 book, ‘Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment’.
I’m not saying that Egypt is a repeat of this or that the Muslim Brotherhood and the government it led should not be held to account for its actions. But observers of Egypt are obliged to take the time to carefully distinguish fact from exaggeration or fiction. There’s an awful lot of exaggeration or downright fiction going around.
- Egyptian Workers After June 30, by Joel Beinin, published on Middle East Report Online, August 23, 2013
- Dwindling hopes for workers’ rights in post-Brotherhood Egypt, Arabia MSN, Aug 23, 2013
- Where Were the Egyptian Workers in the June 2013 People’s Coup Revolution?, By Heba F. El-Shazli, published on Jadaliyya, July 23, 2013
- For more on workers under Morsi, see Joel Beinin, Workers, trade unions and Egypt’s political future, Middle East Report Online, January 18, 2013.
- Egyptian labour between Morsi and Mubarak, By Dina Bishara, Foreign Policy, November 28, 2012
- For more on workers under military rule in 2011-2012, see Hesham Sallam, Striking back at Egyptian workers, Middle East Report #259 (summer 2011).
- Al-Sisi’s “permission” is a deadly poison, statement by Fatma Ramadan, July 26, 2013, member of the Executive Committee of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions. Published on MENA Solidarity Network.
Appendix: On the attacks against the Coptic Church in Egypt
Note by Roger Annis, August 26, 2013:
The views of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird as expressed in this article are bad enough. Unfortunately, the reporter and his editor have, probably unwittingly, implied in the first paragraph of the article that “hundreds” of Coptic Christians have died in Egypt since the July 3 coup. This is not true.
The Muslim Brotherhood has condemned in several statements the attacks that have taken place on churches. The Coptic Church has criticized the Egyptian army and police for its failure to protect churches.
Egyptians know well the story of the bombing the Church of the Saints in Alexandria one month before the January-February 2011 uprising to overthrow the dictator Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak’s interior minister Habib Al-Adly and the security apparatus were found responsible, part of the regime’s effort to discredit Islamists and spread suspicion and acrimony.
Human Rights Watch, mainstream media, governments such as Canada’s and many, many other agencies are insinuating or accusing leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood of orchestrating attacks on Christian churches. But in this lengthy report by Human Rights Watch of August 22, the sum total of the “evidence” presented is that Muslim Brotherhood leaders are accusing the Coptic Church of supporting the July 3 coup d’etat. But this happens to be true. The HRW report goes on to list examples where Islamic religious leaders are accused of inciting attacks on churches.
Are Brotherhood leaders expected to remain silent about the political situation and context while its members and followers are killed, maimed and imprisoned in their thousands by the coup regime?
Here is an interesting background print report on the Coptic Church in Egypt published on Al-Jazeera.