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Egypt’s Textile Workers Protest Government

Reports of unity in Egypt following its recent constitutional referendum, which was affirmed by a 98 percent vote, may gloss over deepening cracks in the coalition.

An official boycott by the Muslim Brotherhood and low participation by the young has resulted in a voter participation rate of only about 38 percent.  While the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) has backed the referendum and the new government, workers who wish to remain unnamed claim that the union, like the struggling state-owned textile factories, are controlled by the state, leaving many millions of workers and retired pensioners disenfranchised and dissatisfied.

Textile workers at the Weaving and Textile Company in Mahalla in northern Egypt continue to lead opposition to what they call Egypt’s military junta.  Their militancy has a rich history in recent years.  They lead strikes against Mubarak in 2006 and 2008, and were active in the uprising that brought about his ouster in 2011.

Further, textile workers have distanced themselves from Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood and, joining with students in Mahalla, declared themselves “autonomous” from the state under his control.  Now, under the “junta” they find little cause for celebration, striking in both August and October of 2013.  Indicative of the distrust among revolutionaries, the textile workers are in continual conflict with whatever power assumes control of the state and the state-run textile industry.

Saddled with unmanageable debt and unmitigated distrust of its constituents, the current Egyptian government has made some small steps toward rapprochement.  Its December announcement to restructure textile manufacturers with the assistance of $725.7 million dollars put up by banks has partially alleviated the concerns of the 60,000 people employed in the industry.

Additionally, an agreement reported in the Egyptian Daily Al-Hayat a week before the referendum will provide a loan of $7.1 million dollars from a coalition of twelve banks, headed by the Central Bank of Egypt, to the Weaving and Textile Company in Mahalla.

So far, only words and promises have been forthcoming from Egypt’s current government, according to the disgruntled workers.  This has not been enough to persuade more than 38 percent of its citizens to vote in the referendum held on January 14-15.