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  • The Egyptian Revolution and Neo-Liberal Economics


    Workers protest as European Bank seeks to ratify $1.5 bn in loans to Egypt -   April 30, 2012
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    The Egyptian Revolution and Neo-Liberal EconomicsDANYA NADAR: WORSENING ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CONDITIONS FOR THE POOR AND MIDDLE CLASS WERE MAJOR FACTORS BEHIND LAST YEAR'S TAHRIR UPRISING. THESE WORKERS SAY LIFE HAS ONLY GOTTEN HARDER UNDER THE MILITARY JUNTA THAT REPLACED FORMER PRESIDENT HOSNI MUBARAK.

    From transport workers:

    o “Cooking gas is LE 25 ($5), a kilo of vegetables is LE 7 ($1.5), a kilo of meat is LE 70 ($10.50), a kilo of fish is LE 20 ($4)”

    NATSOT: Wide shot x2

    Bread, freedom, social justice

    NATSOT-

    “There is no social justice at all. There is no indication that there ever will be any.”

    - Light Rail Supervisor:

    o “As long as there are unmet demands among workers and poor Egyptians, it means that the revolutionary demands have not yet been met. The revolution was sparked for “freedom, social justice, and human dignity”. The administration is still trying to seek its best interests”

    VO— Since early 2012, international financial institutions have been negotiating loans for what they say will help rebuild Egypt’s ailing economy. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, [also called the EBRD], is awaiting approval from its shareholders to provide $1.5bn in annual loans to Egypt. This will be the first time since its establishment that the EBRD has lent to the Middle East. On February 2012, the EBRD published its technical assessment of the country, recommending the continuation of more than 20 years of privatization policies.

    SOT—FATMA RAMADAN, Vice President, Egyptian Independent Workers’ Union

    “Workers have expressed their opinion with regards to privatization by staging walk-outs, strikes, and sit-ins in front of the parliament over the last few years. We used to find five or six companies simultaneously protesting in front of parliament. On Labor Day, 2010 we saw another sit-in in front of parliament, workers from across industries: telecommunications’, or [Amoncito], or [Tanta le Ketan], or Ghazly Shebeen, and a slew of privatized companies simply to say: ‘privatization ruined our livelihoods’, privatization destroyed the company, privatization kicked us out of work, etc… All of their chants were against privatization and the reinstatement of the institution into public hands.”

    NATSOT: Shot of women, chanting

    Oh Egyptians, investors have ruined our homes

    SOT—AMR ISMAIL ADLY, Director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Social Justice and Economics Unit

    “What is stunning with the EBRD’s technical assessment is that it’s talking about new opportunities that can be available in further privatization. … I have no problem with privatization perse, it’s not that the state has to own everything or anything, it’s not about that, but there is this idea of pushing privatization into things that were never even put to sail before even under Mubarak. Like for example they are talking about the commercialization of what they call urban facilities, so what we’re talking about is potable water, infrastructure in big cities, in a way that the state relinquishes its ownership and these things go to foreign or domestic investors. And of course, we can imagine that drinkable water is quite critical for all basic social, and economic, and even basic human rights”

    NATSOT: This isn’t investment, it’s imperialism!

    DANYA NADAR— EBRD’s plan is to focus on privatization and investment in small and medium sized businesses in Egypt as, what they say, a means of job creation.

    SOT- AMR ISMAIL ADLY, Director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Social Justice and Economics Unit

    So the Egyptian economy ever since 2006 through 2010 was growing at quite an impressive rate—like averaging 6.5 or 7 percent annually, which is historically quite unprecedented. Yet, the poverty, unemployment, and low-productivity jobs that were created in the informal market, which are like very low waged, paying very low wages, has been the rule for the vast majority of the people. And this has been the reason behind the social and economic protests that took place and went out into the public sphere ever since 2005, and culminated into the January revolt.

    SOT— FATMA RAMADAN, Vice President, Egyptian Independent Workers’ Union

    “In 2002-2003 we saw about half a million workers who were forced into retirement because of privatization. The people who bought the companies didn’t want them with the existing employees. The government tried to get rid of its workers so it could sell the company by passing a law called “early retirement pension” which dismisses the worker even though he is able to continue working, and able to give, and throw them in the streets. We have an unemployment problem. The workers that received a pittance of an allowance, had spent it after a very short time, and thought they would actually be able to find a new job never found anything. In fact, we see some of them today working as street sweepers after they were producing in a factory.”

    SOT- AMR ISMAIL ADLY, Director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Social Justice and Economics Unit

    …One of the structural problems with the economy that most of the investment goes into extremely capital and extremely energy intensive sectors in a way that does not really create jobs, and does not contribute to the general welfare of those who participate in the labour market.

    DANYA NADAR--This World Bank graph shows that unemployment and malnutrition have been on the rise since 2004. During that same period, inflation has skyrocketed to almost 30 percent. Up until today the minimum wage remains unchanged since the 1980s.

    [Broll: world bank graph, images of poverty [old cairo], images of paystubs]

    NATSOT

    - How is a worker supposed to live with a LE 110 ($20) salary? A kilo of sugar is LE8 ($1.2). What about school fees, electricity is getting more expensive. What about gas, water, and transportation costs? We’ve told him before that this is not enough to provide for the worker himself on a daily basis, let alone his wife, children and household needs. When the government announces that they will increase salaries by 17%, people don’t realize that 17% of LE110 is only an increase of LE 17.5 ($3). There’s no justice; there are people at the very top, and others at the very bottom. Some people are making millions and some are making cents. Some people almost had a breakdown when they heard about the millions that were stolen.

    DANYA NADAR— Numerous cases of corrupt privatization deals have been fought and won during the Mubarak years, where public assets were underpriced and transferred into the hands of a few with close ties to the regime.

    SOT: Khaled Abdel Gawad, Factory worker, Legrand Company

    Up until this very moment, we still have no rights in this company. Neither a proper salary nor a pension, or any of these things. This is a result of the former corrupt regime’s laws, under Mubarak. The laws that were passed in the Parliament are in favor of businessmen. Exclusively for businessmen. All the members of parliament were businessmen.

    SOT— FATMA RAMADAN, Vice President, Egyptian Independent Workers’ Union

    It’s the workers who filed a lawsuit against 6 of the privatized companies, and won, like Tanta le Kettan, Ghazly Shbeen, Maragel el Bokhareya, and Omar Effendi among them. They won were ordered to return the companies into public hands, for two reasons: corruption in the sale, and the preservation of the workers rights/contracts]…The government is now filing a lawsuit against the workers because they want these companies back. So the workers have stated their opinion on privatization a while back, that privatization is not in the best interest of the country, nor in their best interests either.

    DANYA NADAR— Whether the EBRD lends to the Egyptian government or to the private sector, it will be almost impossible to avoid businessmen or officials with strong ties to the military junta' which has been ruling Egypt's politics and economy for 60 years

    SOT—Light Rail supervisor

    “During the January 25th Revolution, many martyrs and injured were sacrificed in the hopes for change. Although we ousted the head of the establishment, remnants of his regime continue to exist. You can find his cronies in companies, in banks, in politics, national media, in hordes.”

    NATSOT—Taxation workers:

    “Down with the Military Regime! Down down with corruption!”

    SOT: Khaled Abdel Gawad, Factory worker Legrand Company x2

    The problem is with the laws. These laws were passed, but they are unjust to the workers. So our problem is that these laws that were passed under the old guard has negatively impacted the workers and has made the average Egyptian’s life miserable.

    NATSOT: And he who kills Egyptians, cannot rule Egypt. He cannot rule Egypt

    DANYA NADAR—The EBRD is also proposing public-private-partnerships in the transport and power sectors, as well as municipal infrastructure. These projects have existed in Egypt since 2007, and critics say the EBRD ignores the rampant corruption and crony capitalism associated with these projects to date.

    SOT- AMR ISMAIL ADLY, Director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Social Justice and Economics Unit

    “… The inherent problems with PPPs is mainly that they are very prone to corruption. We don’t have, exactly, a strong regulatory framework that would make sure that the obligations from the state side are not so big with the private sector. We also run the risk that most of the profits are collected by the private sector, which happens to be a very well connected big business man, or of multinationals which get involved with mega infrastructure projects. We have this major problem that the regulatory framework has to be revised and has to become much more transparent than before.

    WORKER, Legrand Factory

    We’re asking this current government to undo the laws that are in favor of investors. Investors think that this is a great country to invest in: it has cheap workers, and cheap materials, low trade barriers, and in a central geographic location…and this is why they invest here. They sell the land at the price of sand, and they bend over backwards for them so they can invest and supposedly ‘create jobs’. So if they’re giving them all of these benefits, why aren’t investors giving us a proper salary? We want to properly raise our children and have a proper standard of living.

    SOT- AMR ISMAIL ADLY, Director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Social Justice and Economics Unit

    It has to do with the very terms. Sometimes, or usually, the terms themselves are quite imbalanced in favor of private investors. Even if it happens to be legally sound, then it becomes that the terms themselves are so imbalanced, in a manner that makes the government pay for such an enterprise, much bigger amounts of money than taking it on its own.”

    NATSOT: The striking is a legitimate struggle, against the remnants of an ousted regime

    Revolution, revolution until victory. Tora prison is ruling Egypt

    SOT- FATMA RAMADAN, Vice President, Egyptian Independent Workers’ Union

    Workers were pivotal in the last 3 or 4 days that led to Mubarak’s downfall. The military junta figured that if they allowed the revolution to continue, everything would fall apart—which is very dangerous for the establishment. So they had to decide whether to shove one person aside to preserve the regime, or allow a movement to disrupt the very system that privatizes, etc…

    SOT- AMR ISMAIL ADLY, Director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Social Justice and Economics Unit

    The technical assessment given by the EBRD, this approach of ignoring whatever happened, they are quite oblivious to the revolution and to the past privatization. And that’s why they want to base the whole thing, equating again conceptually development with privatization and external liberalization. Even the evaluation of the last couple of years under Mubarak’s rule, mainly under the neo-liberal team, the assessment was that it was a success story when it comes to liberalization, what they call external liberalization—mainly trade and capital liberalization—together with the privatization drive.

    NATSOT: Oh Field Marshal, the face of oppression, Tell me how much you make a month!

    SOT- AMR ISMAIL ADLY, Director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Social Justice and Economics Unit:

    And I don’t know how a success story be the case in the years that preceded a revolution that was mainly driven by the deteriorating social and economic conditions in a country. I have no idea how successful it was. That’s no success story at all!

    NATSOT: They’ve inflated sugar and cooking oil, Now we’re forced to sell our furniture.

    DANYA NADAR—WHETHER EBRD shareholders WILL ratify TO EXPAND ITS LENDING TO EGYPT AND NORTH AFRICA WILL BE DETERMINED IN the COMING MONTHS.

    AS THE ECONOMY CONTINUES TO FALTER WITH wages DROPPING AND gas shortages SPARKING WIDESPREAD OUTRAGE, workers across the nation vow that strikes and street protests AGAINST THE SAME FAILED ECONOMIC POLICIES will only intensify. This is Danya Nadar, for the Real News, in Cairo, Egypt.

    NATSOTs: Man with Megaphone:

    Striking is a legitimate struggle, against the remnants of an ousted regime .

    [Fade to black…]

    Striking is our weapon, against a military regime that’s slaughtering us


    More Info

    With special thanks to:

    Jihan Hafiz

    Reed Lindsay

    Jasmina Metwaly

    Mika Minio-Paluello

    Philip Rizk

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