Would anyone have imagined that the employees of Egypt’s over 5000-year-old bureaucracy would ever rise up in revolt? Would anyone have imagined that civil servants would unleash themselves from the government’s grip, flouting the constant threats and terror tactics practiced by government officials intent on crushing their will, to achieve their demands?
For over a week now close to 20,000 employees at the Real Estate Tax Authority have been on strike. They are asking for salary increases and bonuses, demands they share with all Egyptians and are not limited to certain institutions or professions.
This is, however, a good time to contemplate the increase in the degree of political awareness of Egyptians during the past three years.
The main feature of this particular strike is that it has been one of the most organized strikes to take place over the past two years. So far there have been no clashes or outbursts of violence to distract protestors from the main purpose of their sit-in. In this, they have surpassed the performance of the student protests that have taken place in the suburbs of Paris in the past few weeks in terms of composure and self-control. If anything, this proves their high degree of political intelligence which has prevented them from getting side-tracked about their main goal.
The second feature of this strike is that it’s an institutionalized one. It’s not haphazard whether in terms of how the protestors present their demands or how they negotiate with the government, because they have set up their own committee to speak on behalf of the employees, thus supplant their representatives at the Egyptian Labor Union, which has lost credibility because of its failure to secure workers’ demands.
It was remarkable how all the department heads of the Real Estate Tax Authority all over the country’s provinces handed over their office keys to their main representative and spokesman Kamal Abu Eitta in a symbolic gesture marking their unified stance and common demands.
Another important feature of this strike is the strength of these employees’ resolve and their persistence that their demands are met even if this means continuing the sit-in for months. It was astonishing how the protestors’ families also supported them; a move which has placed more pressure on the government to respond to their demands and work towards finding swift solutions to the stand-off.
But what were the results? At first the government attempted to ignore them, but because of their persistence, it had no choice but to take a serious look at the issue, which set the wheel on motion.
Both the People’s Assembly and the Shoura Council held special sessions to discuss the issue. Finance Minister Youssef Boutros Ghali was forced to sit down with the workers’ delegation of representatives and promise them solutions through a new tax law that would increase the government’s financial resources. This money will, in turn, be partly allocated to the Real Estate Tax Authority employees, whose salaries will eventually become aligned with those of their counterparts at the General Tax Authority affiliated to the finance ministry.
And to those who cast doubt on the effectiveness of such strikes in terms of achieving the goals of civil servants, I would say that similar popular action had succeeded in toppling governments and regimes in places like Latin America and Eastern Europe.
I believe that this type of “politically aware strike and sit-in is the beginning of the path towards real democracy in Egypt. It is cause for optimism about a better future for our country.
We are witnessing an upheaval within the Egyptian citizen who is now emancipating himself from a culture of submission to the status quo and starting to adopt an attitude of persistence on effecting peaceful change.
It’s like throwing a stone in the stagnant waters of political tyranny that has been in place for over half a century.
Khalil Al-Anani is an expert on Political Islam and Deputy Editor of Al Siyassa Al Dawliya journal published by Al-Ahram Foundation.