The rise of Egypt's workers
Source: Carnagie Endowment , Author: Joel Beinin
Posted: Fri July 20, 2012 1:54 pm

EGYPT. Workers have long sought to bring change to the Egyptian system, yet the independent labor movement has only recently begun to find a nationwide voice.

As Egypt’s sole legal trade union organization and an arm of the state for nearly sixty years, the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) has had a monopoly on representing workers.

Though its mission is to control workers as much as it is to represent them, ETUF has been unable to prevent the militant labor dissidence that has escalated since the late 1990s. Workers were by far the largest component of the burgeoning culture of protest in the 2000s that undermined the legitimacy of the Mubarak regime.
 
Workers have largely been concerned about economic issues that gained salience as Egypt accelerated the privatization of public enterprises. Until 2010, only a small minority of labor activists advanced democratization as a strategic objective.

Commonly seeking to co-opt rather than openly contest the regime’s power, the independent labor movement was unprepared to take the lead when unrest swept through the Arab world in January 2011. It had no nationally recognized leadership, few organizational or financial resources, limited international support, no political program, and only a minimal economic program.
 
Despite this, workers were quick to mobilize in the early stages of the groundswell that eventually unseated Hosni Mubarak, and they deserve more credit for his ouster than they typically receive. Soon after the uprising began, workers violated ETUF’s legal monopoly on trade union organization and formed the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU)—the first new institution to emerge from the revolt.

 Labor mobilization continued at an unprecedented level during 2011 and early 2012, and workers established hundreds of new, independent enterprise-level unions. They also secured a substantially higher minimum wage.
 
Yet, though the labor movement has made headway, problems persist. New unions face funding difficulties and the independent labor movement is internally divided. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)—the ultimate power in Egypt since Mubarak’s demise—and ETUF have both repeatedly asserted their power to oppose independent unions and have scored some successes.

The movement has a very limited presence in the emerging institutions of the post-Mubarak state and is thus left without much leverage to fend off attacks from its political opponents.
 
Going forward, the independent labor movement should consider looking beyond street protests over immediate grievances, where it has achieved its greatest successes, and begin training enterprise-level leaderships and forging political coalitions with sympathetic sections of the intelligentsia.

Independent trade unions remain the strongest nationally organized force confronting the autocratic tendencies of the old order. If they can solidify and expand their gains, they could be an important force leading Egypt toward a more democratic future.

Note: Joel Beinin is the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History and Professor of Middle East History. He has lived in Egypt and Israel and has taught Middle East history at Stanford University since 1983. From 2006 to 2008 he served as director of Middle East Studies and professor of history at the American University in Cairo. His research and writing focuses on workers, peasants, and minorities in the modern Middle East and on Israel, Palestine, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

This article was first published on the Carnagie Endowment website.

About the Carnegie Middle East Program

The Carnegie Middle East Program combines in-depth local knowledge with incisive comparative analysis to examine economic, socio-political, and strategic interests in the Arab world. Through detailed country studies and the exploration of key cross-cutting themes, the Carnegie Middle East Program, in coordination with the Carnegie Middle East Center, provides analysis and recommendations in both English and Arabic that are deeply informed by knowledge and views from the region. The Carnegie Middle East Program has special expertise in political reform and Islamist participation in pluralistic politics throughout the region. The program produces Sada, a site dedicated to regular analysis of political reform in the Middle East.

For more information, please click here

About the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing cooperation between nations and promoting active international engagement by the United States. Founded in 1910, its work is nonpartisan and dedicated to achieving practical results.

Carnegie is pioneering the first global think tank, with offices now in Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Beirut, and Brussels. These five locations include the centers of world governance and the places whose political evolution and international policies will most determine the near-term possibilities for international peace and economic advance.

For more information, please visit http://carnegieendowment.org/

© Carnagie Endowment 2012

 

MIDDLE EAST BUSINESS COMMENT & ANALYSIS

date:Posted: July 23, 2014
UAE. Emerging capital markets are expected to double their global index share by 2030, according to the Credit Suisse Research Institute's "Emerging Capital Markets: The Road to 2030" report.
date:Posted: July 23, 2014
UAE. Colliers' Capital Flows Quarterly Report highlights Middle East investors' appetite for alternative product including hotels and serviced apartments.
date:Posted: July 23, 2014
INTERNATIONAL. The opening of the Saudi stock market to international investors is "something we have been looking for from Saudi Arabia for some time, and it's welcome news.
UAE. Emerging capital markets are expected to double their global index share by 2030, according to the Credit Suisse Research Institute's "Emerging Capital Markets: The Road to 2030" report.
dhgate