Egypt: fist fight erupts in Parliament over workers’ strike
Egypt: fist fight erupts in Parliament over workers’ strike
Sunday, February 28,2010 07:35
By Joseph Mayton

CAIRO: An ongoing workers’ strike and sit-in currently taking place in front of the house of Parliament in Cairo has left lawmakers frustrated and divided over how to deal with the workers from the Tanta Flax Company an hour north of the capital. On Monday, the frustration between members of Parliament who support the workers and government MPs ended in a fist fight, local newspapers reported.

Muslim Brotherhood MP Yousry Bayoumi and ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) MP Ahmed Shobeir traded insults at each other on the Parliament floor before engaging in a phsyical fight over how to deal with the workers stationed just outside their windows. Other MPs were forced to pull the men off each other.

The employees of the Tanta Flax and Oils Company have been staging daily protests in front of the Egyptian Parliament for three weeks and are continuing to demand their rights and pay be upheld by the government. Their ordeal began last summer when they started to protest at their Tanta factory over back pay never given by their new Saudi Arabian businessman overlord, who had purchased the company from the Egyptian government as part of Cairo’s push toward privatization.

The government has largely ignored the workers’, although reports of a deal has been reported. Sources say the government is willing to pay some LE 800,000 to the workers as back pay, however, some of the workers believe this to be a form of bribery to force the workers away from their downtown demonstration.

“I will believe it when I see it,” said Safwat Michel, a woker who spoken to media throughout the past 9 months. He says that last year Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif’s office also offered a monetary sum in an attempt to force the workers away from his Cairo office. “It won’t work, we don’t need a one-time solution, what we need is a long term agreement with the company adminstration that will let us go back to work without fear of being not paid again.

The protesters have called on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to intervene in the matter after workers complained the Saudi investor had fired all the employees without notice after they began demanding appropriate pay and overtime.

Police have yet to violently intervene on the protest, although last year during the workers’ sit-in in Tanta, police were in full force, barring journalists from entering the factory, including pushing and punching Bikya Masr’s editor as he attempted to gain access to the workers in front of the factory.

“We hope that for our families we can resolve this situation and go back to living,” said Michel. “All we want is to live our lives without having to worry about the future.”

Other factories in the Nile Delta have also gone on strike in the last year, highlighting the growing frustration among factory workers in the country. Arabawy, Egypt’s top blogger, reported that many of the employees across the Nile Delta are working on less than $2 per day and have been at the job since they were young teenagers.