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Cablegate: Labor Unrest Returns to Nile Delta


DE RUEHEG #2887/01 2680912
O 250912Z SEP 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. 06 CAIRO 7256

Sensitive but unclassified. Please handle accordingly.


1. (SBU) Up to 24,000 workers at one of Egypt's largest
public textile factories, Ghazl el Mehalla, have been on
strike since September 23 demanding unpaid bonuses, pay
increases, and changes in company and factory union
leadership. The GOE has deemed the strike illegal although
security interference has been largely limited to the
detention of several strike leaders after a scuffle between
workers and a union representative. Negotiations have not
yet borne fruit, and some smaller solidarity strikes are
underway, including in a nearby textile factory. Ghazl el
Mehalla was the scene of some of the largest strikes in
recent Egyptian history in December 2006 (ref A). End summary.

On Strike in el Mehalla

2. (SBU) An estimated 24,000 workers are currently taking
illegal strike action at the state-owned Ghazl el Mehalla
textile factory in Egypt's Nile Delta region. The factory
was the scene of mass strikes in the winter of 2006 that shed
light on Egypt's malfunctioning trade union structures and
spawned copycat actions in several sectors throughout the
country. The workers walked off the job on September 23,
protesting the non-delivery of concessions gained during the
December 2006 strikes, and demanding wage levels to meet
increasingly higher prices for basic commodities. Unlike in
previous large strikes, neither Minister of Manpower Aisha
Abdel Hady nor Minister of Investment Mahmoud Mohieldin has
become directly involved in mediating the dispute as of
September 24. The protest is centered on the public Talat
Harb Square across from the factory gates, with workers
overnighting in the open air and being joined by family and
others for the performance of special Ramadan rituals.

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3. (SBU) In addition to criticizing the National Democratic
Party (NDP)-controlled trade unions as not representing
worker interests, the workers are also voicing opposition to
the GOE's overall privatization policies, chanting "We will
not be ruled by the World Bank! We will not be ruled by
colonialism!" Solidarity strikes among other public textile
factories have begun, with textile workers from another Nile
delta factory, Ghazl Kafr el Dawwar, announcing their plans
to join the strike by Tuesday. Opposition organization
Kefaya's "Workers for Change" group announced that it was
mobilizing demonstrations of solidarity at the South Giza
Grain Mills near Cairo.

4. (SBU) NGO contacts monitoring the strike told us that the
uniformed police presence was light throughout the day on
September 23 but increased with the approach of iftar (the
breaking of the Ramadan fast at sunset). Leftist bloggers
with contacts among the strike leaders are reporting that the
city is "swarming" with plainclothes police, however. The
strike has been primarily peaceful, although some workers
reportedly roughed up the head of the factory's Workers Union
Committee Sedik Siam on September 23 during an attempt by
Siam to dissolve the strike. Siam escaped with minor
injuries. Workers had cast a vote of no confidence in Siam
before beginning the strike.

Strike Leaders

5. (SBU) Mohamed el Attar, a textile worker who emerged as a
prominent leader of the December 2006 Mehalla strike, and who
was subsequently threatened by company management with
relocation to Alexandria (reftel), is once again playing a
prominent role among strike leaders. Striking workers report
that an Egyptian State Security Prosecutor (SSP) summoned el
Attar and four other strike leaders, Faisal Lekoush, Wael
Habib, Mohamed Abo el Esaad, and Magdy Sherif, for
questioning at 1000 a.m. on September 24, ostensibly with
regard to the attack on Siam. The three strike leaders were
released soon thereafter and emerged with twelve defense
attorneys at their side, according to an NGO contact.
However, the release was only a temporary reprieve to allow
the leaders to break the fast with their families, and police
subsequently returned the five to detention where they spent
the night. As of OOB September 25, the five were still in
police custody. Contacts also tell us that the SSP summoned
two journalists from opposition newspaper El Wafd for
questioning under the accusation that they were involved in
inciting the strike.

MB Meddling?

6. (SBU) The Muslim Brotherhood is expressing solidarity with
the striking workers, although their direct input to the
action appears limited. MB MP Saber Aboul Fattouh expressed
his full solidarity with the striking workers, called on the
Minister of Manpower and Minister of Investment to respond
immediately to the workers' demands, but also reaffirmed the
independence of the striking workers from any political
movement. According to press reports, MB MP's Saad El
Hussainy, Magdy Ashour, Mohamed el Adly, and Yehia el
Messairy have joined with other opposition parliamentarians
have demanded that the Peoples Assembly work to contain the
crisis, and that the GOE live up to its promises made during
last year's strikes. State-controlled MENA wire service
quoted an anonymous "unionist source" as blaming the MB of
being behind the strikes, although one of the prominent
strike leaders, Karim el-Beheiri, complained on a leftist
blog of "the weak solidarity coming from the Muslim Brothers.
They are hardly noticed. But I can see virtually all other
political forces present."

The Demands

7. (SBU) The Ghazl el Mehalla workers passed out leaflets
printed with the following demands:

1. Impeachment of the company's Chairman of the Board.
2. Impeachment of the factory's Union Committee officials.
3. Linking monthly incentives to a fixed percentage of the
monthly basic salary.
4. Increasing the food allowance to match the increase in
food prices.
5. Salary increase commensurate with increased prices.
6. Paying the workers a one-off 130-day payment as part of
their annual share of profits.
7. Solving the transportation crisis.
8. Paying the workers' housing allowances.

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