Egyptian Army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s call for massive protests against terrorism on 26 July has won wide support with many independent unions endorsing the demonstrations. The April 6 Youth Movement and the Revolutionary Socialists, along with activists in the Constitution Party’s student groups have rejected al-Sisi’s appeal.
The demonstrations come after two weeks of tension following the removal of president Mohamed Morsi in the face of huge protests on 30 June calling for his resignation. Clashes between supporters and opponents of the former president have left dozens dead in cities across Egypt, including over fifty pro-Morsi activists who were shot by the Army during a protest outside the Republican Guards headquarters.
Despite this, many leading activists in the independent unions are arguing that the Muslim Brotherhood is attempting to return to power with the help of foreign governments, such as the USA. The Independent School Teachers Union said in a statement on 24 July “we will all answer the call from our great army to go down into the streets to complete our revolution … standing in the face of terrorism which only knows the language of blood”.
The ‘Rebel’ campaign which launched the signature drive against Mohamed Morsi has also backed the demonstrations.
A small number of revolutionary groups, including the 6th of April Youth Movement and the Revolutionary Socialists have issued statements opposing the protests. In a statement on 25 July, the Revolutionary Socialists said: “We will not go into the streets on Friday offering a blank cheque to commit massacres. If Al-Sisi has the legal means to do what he wants, why is he calling people into the streets? What he wants is a popular referendum on assuming the role of Caesar and the law will not deter him.” Popular support for the army would be used as an excuse to repress the workers’ movement, the statement continued.
Some trade unionists also raised similar concerns. Mohamed Hardan, deputy president of the Independent Union of Workers at Cairo Water Company commented on Facebook “I hope that history does not repeat itself and we find ourselves prisoners of laws which limit our freedoms, repress and silence us, in the name of [fighting] terrorism”.
The army’s mobilisation comes a week after the appointment of Kamal Abu Aita, president of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Unions to the post of Minister of Labour in the new government. Abu Aita has pledged to implement workers’ demands, including the minimum and maximum wage and a new law on trade union freedoms. Abu Aita’s call for workers to shun strikes during the “transitional period” after Morsi – made while he was still EFITU president – sparked controversy, however. Fatma Ramadan, one of the leaders of EFITU who publicly opposed Abu Aita’s stance, warned: “the strike is workers’ right and their weapon, do not disarm yourselves in the face of any government”.
Meanwhile, several strikes over pay and conditions have erupted in the last week alone, including walkouts at the Iron and Steel Company in Suez and Toshiba.