People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 32

August 11 , 2013

Developments in Egypt and Trade Unions� Role

J S Majumdar

THE popular uprising in Egypt, what is being widely called as the 25 January 2011 revolution and which forced removal of the USA-backed and army-packed regime of Hosni Mubarak, had had a working class component too, side by side with the secularists, liberals and the major Muslim Brotherhood component.

It was in 1976 that the Egyptian government imposed a trade union law, according to which the unions were legally required to operate only within the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF). After the removal of the Mubarak regime in 2011, there were hopes that the interim government would introduce legal reforms in order to allow free functioning of the trade unions. Almost a thousand new unions were then formed and many if them joined the newly formed Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) and the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress (EDLC).


There were nearly 1,400 strikes and other forms of labour protest in 2011. According to the statistics compiled by the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, there were 3,150 collective actions of workers during the eight months of 2012. During the two rounds of the referendum on Egypt�s newly adopted constitution, a large number of industrial workers went on strike; these included 13,000 workers of the public sector Eastern Tobacco Company demanding securing restoration of their production incentives, and 8,000 workers of the public sector Egyptian Aluminum Company demanding restoration of the profit sharing bonus. There were struggles by municipal real estate tax assessors, teachers, workers of the Cairo bus and Metro services, those of iron, steel and ceramics industries, and by Ain Sokhna port workers demanding restoration of trade union and collective bargaining rights.

These continuing struggles of workers created hurdles in implementation of the joint plan of and November 2011 agreement between the Egyptian ruling elite and the International Monetary Fund for revival of Egypt�s sagging economy. This was imposed in lieu of a 4.8 billion dollars IMF loan Egypt; up to five billion dollars in aid from the European Union and 1.4 billion dollars in foreign aid and financial guarantees from the United States in addition to the annual 1.3 billion dollars in military aid. It is estimated that the associated austerity programmes would further increase the existing rate of unemployment and annual inflation --- at 12 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.

Ahmad Burai, the manpower and immigration minister in the interim government, resigned in protest in November 2011 over the refusal of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to allow the government to enact the �Trade Union Freedoms� law which his ministry had drafted in consultation with the representatives of trade unions, employers and political groups.

Five trade union leaders were arrested and they faced three years of imprisonment for leading a strike of 1500 workers in the Container & Cargo Handling Company of Alexandria to demand improved employment conditions.

The Muslim Brotherhood regime of President Mohamed Morsi then, once again, shelved the draft labour law prepared by the interim government. President Morsi�s constitutional declaration of November 22, 2012 granted him almost dictatorial powers. Immediately thereafter, Decree 97 was issued on November 25, 2012, which amended the trade union law, removed all office holders of the Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions and dissolved its executive board. The amendment set a mandatory retirement age for union leaders and granted the government the authority to appoint members on vacant seats in the boards of various unions. By leaving the Mubarak era law largely in place, the amendment effectively disallowed recognition of the new unions.

Having a majority in the parliament and an elected president, Muslim Brotherhood attempted to control the education system, labour unions, and religious institutions, charged Al Ahram Online on January 20, 2013.

Now the removal of elected president, Morsi, and dissolution of the parliament by the army raises several questions. These include those related to restoration of democratic rights, future status of trade union legislation and regulation etc.


The military and the Muslim Brotherhood are the two dominant actors in the current situation; this was formalised in President Morsi�s constitutional declaration of 2012. Egypt�s new constitution, approved by a referendum in December 2012, allows the military to choose the defence minister, creates three different �councils� (National Security Council, Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and National Defence Council) with each comprising a majority of military officers and having ultimate authority over the defence budget, and continues the practice of allowing civilians to be tried by military courts on the alleged ground of harming the forces. While the Muslim Brotherhood went on to consolidate its power in all spheres of governance, the army retained a large measure of control over national security and some foreign policy decision making.

However, in early 2013, Egypt experienced a wave of popular unrest directed against President Morsi himself. The latter forced the process forward, starting with his November 2012 declaration that provided him immunity from judicial oversight, which he made in order to avoid having the courts annul the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly charged with drafting the document. When protests occurred outside the presidential palace, the Muslim Brotherhood violently dispersed the protestors.

In January 2013, a court verdict sentenced 21 hardcore Egyptian soccer fans to death, sparking widespread violence against the Muslim Brotherhood and the police forces in three canal cities of Egypt. Over several days, authorities remained devoid of actual control over Port Said, which the protestors now controlled. Army chief and defence minister, General Abdul Fattah al Sisi, issued a warning, charging his own government with failure to meet the demands of the people. General Al Sisi removed and arrested the Egypt�s first elected president Morsi, dissolved the elected parliament, suspended the constitution and arrested several of the leaders of Muslim Brotherhood. This Morsi said was a military coup. The chief justice was nominated as the interim president who appointed an interim government, with General Al Sisi installing himself as its first deputy prime minister cum defence minister. US president, Barak Obama, called for Morsi�s release, but kept mum on restoration of democracy and its elected president. The US�s massive military aid to Cairo could have been cut by law if Washington had said the removal of President Morsi was a coup. Obviously, General Al Sisi�s action received approval from Washington.


The United States has long term strategic relations, including military relations, with Egypt since the late 1970s. But this relationship is �built primarily on long-running military cooperation and on sustaining the March 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Successive US administrations have viewed Egypt�s government as generally influencing developments in the Middle East in line with US interests.� That is how the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report of June 27, 2013 explained the US-Egypt ties. President Obama has requesting a total of 1.55 billion dollars in bilateral aid to Egypt --- 1.3 billion dollars in military aid and 250 dollars million in economic aid.

Further, the US is going ahead with its plan to deliver four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt despite the political unrest in the country. They are part of an already agreed bigger order of 20 planes --- eight of which were sent to Egypt in January. The remaining eight are expected to be shipped later this year

Egypt is at present the third largest recipient of US military aid --- next only to Afghanistan and Israel, but receiving more than Iraq.