From Cairo to Madison, Workers Demand Rights

Egypt Supports Wisconsin (

Egypt may be receding from international headlines, but the protest movement that led to President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation continues. As the New York Times reported Wednesday, Egypt’s already vibrant labor movement has been invigorated by the mass protests in Tahrir Square. Localized actions are turning into national strikes, as workers demand higher wages and more rights, and the unemployed demand jobs.

Kareem Fahim of the Times reported, “The [labor] movement had been building for years, despite the heavy hand of the security services… Joel Beinin, a Stanford professor who has followed Egyptian labor movements, said strikes over the past decade accelerated in the past six years in response to the government’s efforts to privatize the economy.”

The importance of the labor movement in Egypt’s revolution was an under-reported story in most of U.S. mainstream media. As the Times article points out, though, their organizing groundwork continues to be an important complement to the widespread but more impersonal organizing done online. More importantly, the strikes in Egypt are a reminder that the revolution is not just about political demands. Egyptians are demanding an alternative not only to autocracy, but also to an economy that produces low wages and high unemployment.

In that regard, the protests in Egypt resonate with movements of workers not only elsewhere in the Middle East, but all over the world – including in Madison, WI, where tens of thousands of students and public sector workers gathered this week to demand their rights to unionize. Closer to home, some PI staff and Poverty Scholars this week joined Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York at a rally in support of restaurant workers at Del Posto, who are demanding fair wages and working conditions. While there are differences between these struggles, there are also striking similarities. Countless workers around the world share the experience of low wages, job insecurity, and suppression of workers organizing against these threats of neoliberalism.

On Saturday, 24-year-old Egyptian activist Gigi Ibrahim wrote on Al Jazeera, “The revolution is not over … Rebuilding Egypt is going to be tough and we all have to take part in this. There are organised strikes demanding workers’ rights for better pay and conditions and those are the battles to be won now.”

The same could be said today in Wisconsin, New York City and across the United States.

The Revolution Has Been Televised

Contrary to the old saying, the Revolution has indeed been televised. Al Jazeera, despite Mubarak’s shut-down of both new and old media, has carried live coverage of a peaceful revolution in Egypt.

This is a great day. Twenty-one years ago today, Nelson Mandela was freed from Victor Verser Prison: this too was televised. The media has a great responsibility to the people not as our opiate but as a partner in liberation.

Mubarak has resigned.

الله أكبر

Let My People Go

Protester faces off against police forces in Egypt

We are so accustomed in the Abrahamic tradition to see Egypt as the oppressor to be overthrown. It is a central part of the Exodus narrative, which has been crucial in Jewish history as well as African-American Christian identity. So what happens when Egypt itself yearns for freedom?

That is precisely what we are seeing now. The people of Egypt are straining against the bonds of a modern-day Pharaoh, and he’s one that the United States has nearly unequivocally supported. The Sarthanapolos blog has an excellent guide about “How Not To Say Stupid Stuff About Egypt”, which contains many corrections to the distorted view that we have had of our Muslim sisters and brothers for years. Notably, it points out that Mubarak and Nassar before him were not peace-seeking fonts of stability but repressive dictators and that the Muslim Brotherhood is not anything like Al Quaeda.

How long must we follow Constantine before we remember Christ?

More information:
Al Jazeera English’s special coverage
follow @AJELive on Twitter
NPR has coverage of Egypt and the wider Middle East