Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Monday, April 21, 2008

Food shortages emboldening Egypt’s democratic opposition

In Egypt, political submission has been bought with subsidized bread for the last 50 years. But now, soaring global wheat prices and an entrepreneurial black market are making it impossible for the government to keep bread on the shelves. Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl believes the latest bread crisis has triggered the democratic opposition’s revival, and may be creating the “first, tentative alliance between Egypt’s angry workers and its alienated middle class.”

The bread crisis came to a predictable result on April 6, Diehl writes. Unable to feed themselves or their families, textile workers in Mahalla el-Kubra, attempted to strike. They were met by “a massive deployment of security forces.” Violence broke out, and riots shook the city for two days, leaving two demonstrators dead after police open fire into the crowds. After the situation had calmed, the government came into town with its traditional carrot and stick tactics. The alleged riot organizers were all immediately rounded up and arrested, while bread, wage bonuses and new medical clinics were promised to the areas affected by the unrest.

What should have been “business as usual” for the government of President Hosni Mubarak instead took a new turn. Learning of the workers’ plans for the Mahalla strike, a loose alliance of activists called for a national strike on the same day, Diehl notes. They used cellphones and the Internet to spread their message. A Facebook group advertising the strike was even created; and it now has over 72,000 members.

With the bread crisis continuing and another national strike planed for Mubarak’s 80th birthday, Egypt may be witnessing the “birth of a new political movement,” dubbed “the Facebook party,” by one analyst, Diehl writes.

For the full op-ed, click here.


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