On 28 April Ahmad Ezz, appearing on Christiane Amanpour’s CNN show, spoke with pride of the demonstrations staged daily in front of parliament by “good Egyptians.” He went on to remark that the image of Egypt “stifling dissent… with no freedom of expression, is far from the mark.”
Sunday 23 May, proved claims of the Egyptian regime’s stifling dissent to be right on the mark.
The morning started with escalations by the workers of the Amonsito factory. Their union representatives were due to meet with Minister of Manpower and Immigration Aisha Abdel Hady and General Union head Hussein Megawer at 10am that morning.
What was to be discussed once more was the government’s backing out from a deal singed on 21 March between Bank Misr, the government’s Ministry of Manpower and Immigration and the worker’s union. Following the signed agreement the government-owned bank backed reduced the agreed upon amount of LE106 million to be paid out to the 1700 workers, to LE50 million.
Over the past week the workers have been progressively escalating their acts of protests in an attempt to get the government and the passers-by attention.
Sunday morning the workers were using whistles, chanting and beating the barricades the police uses to cage them onto the sidewalk. The deafening noise could be heard multiple streets away, drawing the attention of anyone in the vicinity. On Friday, some of the workers ripped their clothes and wrote message of dissent on their bodies.
Their calls of protest have reached a new level of urgency.
On Sunday the messages on their bodies and torn clothes included, “the thieving government,” “I want my rights.”
Around 1pm the union representatives returned from the parliament building with bad news. The head of the General Union and Manpower Minister had stood their ground and would not return to negotiate the original 21 March agreement.
After the announcement of this news, the workers tried to enter the gates of the parliament upon which security forces encircled them. When some of the workers managed to break through the barricade, the forces attacked them with wooden sticks, beating them severely and then arrested seven of the workers.
Minutes later many of the workers had dispersed all over town, Ragab Khidr was taken to a nearby hospital having loosing consciousness after security forces beat him over the head. Khidr later received stitches to his head.
Security forces did not spare Amonsito union head Khaled al-Shishawy, who also received multiple blows to his body. While showing me his wounds, he explained, “security forces faced us, the officers beat us up with their batons, we kept trying to hold back their blows.”
The representative of the 1700 workers went on, “we’re not leaving even if they shoot us. May they detain us all and put us behind bars.”
Four hours later security had forced all the workers away having threatened them with further use of violence and without having released the initial seven kidnapped workers.
The government-aligned Radio Misr station announced later that day that the workers had gone home, after having come to an agreement with the government.
Just a few minutes walk away from the Amonsito protest site, security forces forced similar sit-ins of the Nubariya and the Helwan Telephone Company from their sites of protest.
Al-Shishawy ended his statement saying, “I hope the world knows what democracy is like in Egypt, we are only asking for our rights.”
NDP parliamentarian Ahmad Ezz will have to drive to work tomorrow on streets cleared of protesters.
For the workers, the government spokesman’s words have never rung so hollow.