On Sunday night, police forces assaulted a group of dismissed workers and activists at the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation where they were protesting to demand unemployment assistance payments.
This is the latest incident in a series of police crackdowns on workers’ protests in downtown Cairo, in what is believed by some to be one of a range of measures to tame dissent ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections slated for the end of November.
Tens of fired workers along with lawyers and labor activists–around 50 altogether–had congregated at the ETUF headquarters in downtown Cairo at 11 AM on Sunday to demand the workers’ monthly assistance payments. The workers and demonstrators, campaigning for labor rights under the slogan “we will not be afraid,” remained within the ETUF building for several hours until workers received pledges from federation officials that the monthly assistance payments would be delivered. Most workers left upon receiving the promises, but around a dozen activists and a few workers remained within the ETUF headquarters, where they said they intended to sleep-in until they received the payments.
Central Security Forces were deployed at the entrance of the building while, shortly after 7:30 PM, police officers and plain-clothed security moved into the building to forcefully clear out the remaining demonstrators. A nurse, a youth activist, and at least two workers were reportedly beaten.
One of the workers, Samir al-Qazaz from the Indorama Shebin Textile Company, was pushed down a flight of stairs. The fall seriously injured his back and leg. Because of a suspected broken back, al-Qazaz was transferred to the nearby al-Helal Hospital, where he is being held while recovering. A complaint was filed at the closest police station, although activists say al-Qazaz’s x-rays and medical report were confiscated by police officers at the hospital.
Ghareeb Saqr, a fired worker from Misr-Iran Textile Company, said “we were conducting negotiations with the officials in a peaceful and civilized manner. We had intended on sleeping-in at the federation until we received our assistance payments, as we have done in the past. But police forces switched off the lights where we were sitting-in, then they began assaulting us and pushing us outside.”
Police forces were previously deployed within the ETUF headquarters on 1 September, where many of the same workers had been sitting-in. A number of workers were assaulted in the incident, although no serious injuries were reported. The workers managed to secure their assistance payments from the ETUF the following day.
The ETUF’s media spokesperson, Ali Othman, was not available to answer questions regarding the incident, but a front-desk secretary said the workers had received their payments. When asked whether the President of the ETUF, MP Hussein Megawer, had called in the police to clear out the demonstrators, the secretary replied, “I have no information about this, and I cannot comment.”
One worker, requesting that his name be withheld, said, “Megawer is expected to run again in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Because of this he does not want the media or the populace to see workers protesting, or conducting sit-ins at the federation or elsewhere. He will silence the workers with payments or violence.”
“Megawer wants to maintain his seat in parliament, and the ruling party wants to maintain its control over parliament. That’s why workers’ protests are being crushed these days,” added the worker.
A number of the workers present at Sunday’s protest have been issued court decisions calling for their reinstatement, on the grounds that they were arbitrarily or punitively sacked for their labor activism. Among the workers protesting at the ETUF, a group of 33 rural health guides (female social workers affiliated to the Ministry of Health in the Governorate of Assiut) did receive their assistance payments on Sunday–although their monthly payments have been reduced from LE350 to LE200. They are expected to return on Monday, when federation officials will reportedly look into the renewal of their contracts, and their re-employment.
The other workers were told to return to the ETUF on Tuesday to receive their assistance payments.
Another protest, scheduled for Tuesday, will include hundreds of employees from the Information Decision Support Centers (IDSC, affiliated to the Ministry of Local Development) who are demanding an increase in their unrealistically low wages. On 11 October, around 600 IDSC employees protested outside parliament demanding that their minimum wage be raised from LE99 to LE320. After a few hours on the sidewalk, police forces moved in to forcefully disperse the workers.
On 23 May officers forcibly dispersed hundreds of disgruntled workers from different companies, who had been sleeping-in and demonstrating outside parliament for several weeks. Police forces assaulted tens of workers, journalists, and activists, while several others were arrested–and released shortly afterwards. Since then no sit-down protests have been tolerated outside the legislative councils–including both the People’s Assembly (lower house of parliament) or the adjacent Shura Council (consultative upper house of parliament).