The Arab Left at the World Social Forum

The WSF is talking place in Tunis this year — and apparently features a strong anti-Islamist sentiment, as well as strong sentiment against the perceived backers of Islamism — Qatar and… the United States:

With strong Arab participation, the forum’s opening day witnessed slogans calling for “bread, freedom and social justice,” which echoed the demands and ambitions of the now two-year-old popular uprisings across the region.

Flags of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Morocco and Algeria dominated the scene, waved by participating groups as they converged on 14 Janvier (January) Square, named to commemorate the Tunisian revolution, where tens of thousands gathered to start the opening march.

“The people of Tunisia are free people … No to America, No to Qatar,” was one of the chants voiced by Tunisian groups in reference to the countries believed to be allies of the ruling Islamist Nahda Party.

Pictures of slain leftist figure Shokry Belaid, who was killed — allegedly by Salafists — in February, were seen throughout the forum. Young children wore his image on their jackets, while many wore pins with his picture.

The famous, “The people want the fall of the regime” slogan was also repeatedly chanted.

Barbed wire, police guards, and armored vehicles surrounded the Ministry of Interior located only metres away from the central square where the forum was launched, forcing the marches to redirect their path.

“The interior ministry are thugs,” Tunisian and Egyptian activists — whose struggle was largely directed against police brutality — jointly chanted when passing by security forces.

Other common chants condemned the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, whose parties now dominate parliaments in Egypt and Tunisia and from which the Egyptian president hails.

“Down with the rule of the Supreme Guide,” the Egyptians chanted.

“El-Ghanoushi is a murderer,” chanted Tunisian activists, holding the head of the Nahda Party accountable for Beleid’s death.

Street cafes and restaurants were crowded with the masses who came to participate. Political side chats could be heard coming from all different corners. Arab activists were sharing experiences.

I guess the new themes in Arab leftism are anti-Brotherhood — as a tool of Western neoliberalism. If someone had told me that in 2010 I would have thought them crazy.

Chairman of Ghazl Mahalla sacked

Al-Ahram announced this morning that Mahmoud Gabali, the chairman of Mahalla for Spinning and Weaving, has been sacked and that workers would be given 135 days of pay. The decision, taken by the company’s board, was based on accounting inconsistencies detected by the Central Auditing Agency, a government watchdog. Apparently the audit uncovered irregularities in inventory stock, large discounts given to local traders, and other possible signs of mismanagement or corruption.

The decision appears to meet most of the pay-related demands of the workers and has been greeted with joy by those who organized the biggest strikes in decades at the factory this year. It appears the government has finally shown sense and investigated the allegations made by the workers regarding the chairman of the company. This will no doubt encourage workers elsewhere to persevere with their own demands. I am certain that Hossam, who is traveling at the moment, will follow up with more details once he gets news from his labor activist contacts.

Update: Here is an English report.

Blogging Egypt’s Factory Strikes

Blogging Egypt’s Factory Strikes:

Whether or not this is picked up in the American press shouldn’t matter. It’s a story to pay attention to, however you can.

The textile factory at Ghazl el-Mahalla in the Nile Delta is Egypt’s largest, with over 27,000 workers. Nearly all of the factory’s workers went on strike last December to demand their yearly bonuses, which had been withheld and which provide most of their annual salary.

On Sunday, some 10,000 of those factory workers went on strike again, demanding 150-day shares of annual profits, improved industrial safety, and a raise in their monthly bonuses.

Within a few hours the number swelled to 15,000 as Egyptian police surrounded the factory.

The Egyptian government quickly declared the strike “illegal.”

“The numbers of strikers are expected to rise in the coming few hours…the factory is under police siege,” according to posts today by Egyptian blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy. His blog, 3arabawy, is one of Egypt’s most widely read in English. Along with Wael Abbas, an Egyptian blogger who gained international attention last year by posting (and continuing to post) videos of police brutality, el-Hamalawy is a go-to source on the rumblings of a wide scale labor movement in Egypt.

Keep track of Hossam’s frequent updates to follow news of the strike. And come on, American journalists in Cairo, make the effort to do a different kind of story and head over to Mahalla al-Kubra. They make the best taamiya in Egypt.

Update: AP has a report on the arrest of labor leaders.

Labor strikes could turn into opposition?

At last some Western coverage of Egypt’s labor strikes — Labor movement possible future for Egypt opposition:

For every single strike over the past few months, government agencies have been quick to negotiate with the workers and grant their demands, which have generally been for unpaid bonuses, benefits, and salaries.

“The government has the money to pay it because the price of oil is high and they’ve sold off a bunch more public sector enterprises,” explained Joel Beinin, the head of the Middle East Studies department at the American University in Cairo and a long time observer of Egypt’s labor scene.

“This is the biggest, longest strike wave at least since the fall of 1951,” he added. “Just in terms of the size of what we are talking about, it is substantially different from what we’ve had before.”

In his writings, Beinin has described the strikes as “the most substantial and broad-based kind of resistance to the regime.”

In 2006 alone, the independent daily Al Masri Al Youm counted 222 instances of labor unrest, including a weeklong strike at the massive spinning and weaving complex at Mahalla Al Kobra north of Cairo involving some 20,000 workers.

The trend has continued in 2007 with daily reports of strikes.

There are indications, however, that the government has become fed up with these protests and sit-ins, and labor minister Aisha Abdel Hadi has suggested that rabble rousers are behind the wave.

“This situation has gone on long enough – we are working to solve the problems of the workers, but there are those who want to ignite a revolution,” she said on television mid-April.

Government ire has recently focused on labor nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like the Center for Trade Union and Worker Studies (CTUWS), which they have publicly accused of fomenting the strikes.

In April, the organization’s offices were closed down in the southern town of Nag Hammadi, the northern industrial complex of Mahalla, and Wednesday police dragged activists out of their headquarters in Cairo’s gritty industrial suburb of Helwan.

“Closing the offices of a labor rights group won’t end labor unrest,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of the Human Rights Watch. “The government should be upholding legal commitments to Egypt’s workers instead of seeking a scapegoat.”

Don’t forget to read our own Arabawy for obsessive coverage of Egypt’s labor movements!

Final Schedule: 5th Cairo Anti-War Conference and 3rd Cairo Social Forum جدول الندوات واللقاءات بمؤتمر القاهرة الخامس والمنتدى الإجتماعي الثالث

The final schedule for the Conference and Forum meetings is now available in Arabic and English. Click on the poster below to download it…

Time table of the Cairo Conference

I’ll be speaking in two meetings. The first is on the fight against police torture in Egypt…

Sorry, some last-minute rearrangements… I won’t be speaking at the anti-torture forum. Blogojournalist and friend Abdel Moneim will be kindly replacing me.

Cairo 3rd Social Forum
Raise your Voices against Torture
Activists against Torture
Friday 30th of March 2007
3.30 – 6.00 pm
Press Syndicate – 3rd floor

Slide show: Victims and Tormentors
Interventions by activists against torture
Testimonies by survivors and their families
Join us with testimonies and recommendations for an international movement against torture

منتدى مناهضة التعذيب

And the other one on “Citizen Journalism,” scheduled Saturday, 6pm, at the Press Sydicate 4th floor, Room 5..

I’ll be speaking on the Egyptian blogosphere, part of the following forum: “Young Journalists: State Oppression and Violation of Economic Rights, Saturday from 3.30-5.30 pm, The Press Syndicate’s 4th floor, Room 4

Blogs and political change in Egypt

The conference should be a golden opportunity for us ya shabab to exchange experiences with international and local activists. I hope to see as many of you there. Click on the cartoon below to download the invitation and a background on the conference in Arabic, English, and French…

Invitation to the 5th Cairo Conference & 3rd Cairo Social Forum

Press Conf 22 March: Organizers of 5th Cairo Conference Against Imperialism & Zionism

The organizers of the Fifth Cairo Conference Against Imperialism and Zionism invite you to attend their press conference, 22 March, 12 noon, at the Press Syndicate.
Representatives from the Muslim Brothers, Karama Party, The Revolutionary Socialists’ Organization, Labor Party will brief journalists and activists on the international gathering of anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist activists planned from 29 March to 1 April, and will take questions from the audience.
Activists from at least 15 countries, including Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Venezuela, South Korea, Turkey, Greece, Nigeria, Britain, Canada, Tunisia, Sudan, France, Iran, will be taking part in the conference sessions and forums, starting from 29 March. Such international contingent will be comprised of young and veteran trade unionists, human rights activists, leftists, Hamas members, several social movements representatives.

Click on Latuff’s cartoon below to download the invitation to the conference in Arabic, English and French…

Click to download invitation

The conference sessions will tackle the challenges and prospects facing the international anti-war and pro-Intifada movements, as the clouds of war on Iran gather. The participants will also discuss strategy and tactics for bridging the gap and uniting Islamist and leftist ranks in the face of US imperialism and Zionism.

Click on the poster below to download the final shedule of the conference talks and forums (in Arabic)…

Click to download schedule

Click on the logo below to download the registration form…

Registration Form