Thu, Feb 17, 2011 - Page 6 News List

FALLOUT FROM NORTH AFRICA: More labor unrest in Egypt despite appeal

UNCERTAINTY:A Saudi official said former president Hosni Mubarak is not in good health. Meanwhile, the new constitutional reform committee met for the first time

Reuters, CAIRO

Some workers ignored a call by military rulers to return to work yesterday, and a committee hammered out changes in Egypt’s Constitution to pave the way for a democracy to replace 30 years of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s iron role.

The Higher Military Council had urged Egyptians to put aside the revolutionary ardor, that has found expression in protests and strikes about poor pay and working conditions, in the interests of national unity and restarting the damaged economy.

Banks were closed across Egypt because of labor rows that were having a spillover effect across many sectors, while 12,000 workers went on strike at a textile plant in the city of Mahalla el-Kubra and Cairo’s airport was also hit by industrial action.

“Mubarak has left, but the problems are still the same if not more,” said John Sfakianakis, economist at Banque Saudi Fransi. “At this stage I would be more optimistic than last week given that you don’t have hundreds of thousands on the streets.”

There was a frenzy of rumors about the health of Mubarak, 82, who is holed up at his residence in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh after flying from his Cairo palace. In last-ditch addresses, Mubarak said he wanted to die in Egypt.

“He is not dead, but is not doing well at all and refuses to leave. Basically, he has given up and wants to die in Sharm,” a Saudi official in Riyadh said, adding that Saudi Arabia had offered to be his host.

Life was far from normal five days after Mubarak was forced from power by a whirlwind 18-day uprising, with troops and tanks on the streets of Cairo, schools and banks closed and Egyptians still finding their new found freedom hard to believe.

Youth activists behind protests that toppled Mubarak asked for a meeting with the Higher Military Council, which has promised a swift handover to democracy and civilian rule, but had yet to receive a reply, a leading activist said.

With no clear leadership, the youth movement that was pivotal to the revolution because of its use of social networking sites to organize protests, is seeking to overcome divisions and unite to form political parties.

“There are various strands of youth who have similar demands. The next step is to unite their ranks,” AbdelRahman Samir, a youth activist who has previously met with the military council said, adding: “Some youth coalitions have formed.”

Opposition leaders are calling for the immediate release of political prisoners and the lifting of emergency laws.

A committee, set up to amend the Constitution within 10 days as a prelude to parliamentary and presidential elections in six months, also met as the military dismantles the apparatus used to maintain Mubarak’s rule.

Egyptian pro-democracy leaders plan a big “Victory March” tomorrow to celebrate the revolution — and perhaps remind the military of the power of the street.

The military had hoped tens of thousands of Egyptians would heed its appeal to get back to work yesterday. However, anecdotal evidence suggested unions are still pressing their demands.

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