As Egypt is gearing up for a presidential election in March and with several cabinet reshuffles taking place, economic demands remain overwhelming
Zeinab, a journalist for the partisan newspaper Al-Karama, demands that the Ministry of Social Solidarity collaborate with the Press Syndicate to incorporate the newspaper under the Supreme Media Council so that journalists in the institution can benefit from the services of the syndicate and the have the legal protection implicit in syndicate membership. Hundreds of Egyptian journalists work at partisan newspapers, but few are recognised by the syndicate and other state-owned press institutions, leading to a situation where they do not have insurance, pensions, or services, contrary to journalists who are under the syndicate’s umbrella.
Since 2011, several demonstrations were held by journalists of party-affiliated newspapers, demanding the government consider their petitions and to allow a governmental newspaper to run their institution in order to provide financing and to assist in management. A new contracts system stipulates that the minimum wage of each journalist should be EGP 1,200 per month, which a large number of journalists do not receive.
Beside salaries, journalists who are registered with the syndicate receive allowances of EGP 1,380 allocated by the Ministry of Finance. There are about 11,000 journalists registered with the syndicate, which implies that the government provides about EGP 15m in allowances.
Moatasem, a factory worker at Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla, said that many workers do not have contracts and face being suspended at any time. He demands that the Ministry of Labour look into their everlasting demands for them to have contracts, in order for them to stabilise their economic situation. The 32-year-old man said that there are no options to protest such issues. “The general syndicate is controlled by the management, and we [the workers] cannot demonstrate or protest.”
Workers demand 10% bonuses and the payments of overdue wages. In April 2017, a strike started as the workers did not receive the 10% bonus, which the parliament agreed to this year. The Holding Company for Spinning and Weaving is one of Egypt’s major industrial infrastructures and is reported to include more than 75,000 workers.
In 2006, a group of Mahalla workers went on strike, seeking bonuses and better wages. The demands motivated workers in several other factories across Egypt to do the same. The 2006 strike is often seen as one of the major movements leading up to the 25 January revolution. However, five years after the uprising, strikes in Egypt are usually dispersed by force or by threats of suspension and have acted as a main source of opposition to different governments. Also, a Cairo high court ruled in May 2015 that any employee proven to have participated in a strike will be forced into retirement for “delaying the interests of the public.”
Mohamed Imam, a preacher at a mosque in the Ain Shams district east of Cairo, works as a reward-based preacher at the Ministry of Religious Endowments who works without a permanent contract and its accompanying financial security.
He demanded that the Ministry of Endowments give him and his colleagues the same pay as preachers from Al-Azhar and government employees. This comes as part of the ministry’s policy to limit acts of religious preaching to its employees, prohibiting others from the practice. So-called reward preachers are reserve staff for the ministry, who are given employment and are paid on an on-call basis that often leaves them without any degree of stability as to their financial situation.
He called upon President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to “intervene in their dispute with the Endowments Ministry,” vowing that they might hold a general strike if their demands are not met. The preacher said they are different from hired preachers. “We are on call. If there is a governorate or a city that is missing a preacher to lead prayers and manage the mosques, we are called by the ministry,” the preacher said.
He estimated that there are approximately 3,000 to 4,000 subjected to these precarious conditions, working under contracts of indefinite duration or without contracts at all. He said they receive around EGP 140 for leading prayers and are not provided with the benefits given to full-time preachers. “Some of us have served as preachers for more than 10 years.”
The majority of mosques in Egypt are controlled by the Endowments Ministry. In every mosque, a preacher and a group of workers are appointed to administrate the mosque, hold prayers, and enforce ministry policies. In early 2014, the Ministry of Religious Endowments affirmed its official responsibility for Friday prayers and rites. In an attempt to counter the control of Islamist groups on mosques, the ministry announced it would decide the topics discussed at all Egyptian mosques during the Friday prayer sermon.
Under the new policy, the ministry releases a monthly plan on its website with the topics to be discussed every Friday, followed by a more detailed description for each topic, which is released weekly.
Also, the ministry vowed that it will hold accountable Imams who do not adhere to the topics. The preachers called on Religious Endowments Minister Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa to resign. They added that they are supporting the regime and its leadership, but refuse their current economic status.
Also commenting on the control of the ministry, Ashraf, a philosophy school teacher in the Haram area of Giza, demanded the government to reopen closed small, independent mosques, many of which also operated charity centres and medical clinics. He explained that many of these charity groups provided services for people in poor areas, where the government’s role is really limited.
Mohamed, a resident of popular slums known as “Maspero Triangle”, including Bulaq neighbourhood, was born and raised, got married, and gave birth to his children in that very area. He says that the area was on the government’s agenda, where several foreign investors were reportedly interested in transforming it—the reason why residents have always rejected leaving. During the past 30 years, the government tried several means of moving Maspero Triangle residents out of the area, but their solutions never came to fruition due to several factors, whether the dissatisfaction of residents or changes occurring inside the government.
However, earlier in 2017, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development handed out to the area’s residents forms to fill, in which they had to pick one of five “alternatives” to the status quo.
The five alternatives revolved around three main principles: either move out and let the government decide where they would be relocated, receive compensation and leave, or stay in the triangle under the condition of paying rent after reconstruction begins.
The Maspero Triangle resident Mohamed demands that the government fulfill its promises of reconstructing the area, adding, “they said that the whole area [Bulaq] would be removed, so we decided to take money and leave, because reconstruction is not guaranteed. If this area is removed, we will be homeless, on the streets.” He hopes that his family can move to the newly established Asmarat area.
The Asmarat neighbourhood was inaugurated by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in 2016 to help eradicate slums around Cairo. The neighbourhood reportedly has 11,000 housing units and was established with a budget of EGP 1.5bn.