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Egyptians Go on Strike En Masse
February 9, 2011

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Cities across Egypt were awash in labor activity — or inactivity. Workers in the thousands refused to go to work, continuing their protest against President Hosni Mubarak and his government.

Some businesses — most notably schools and banks — in Cairo and elsewhere across the country have been open for a few days, but Wednesday was the first day of a more general business opening since the protests began in earnest two weeks before. But when the business doors reopened, the workforce that showed up was quite small, with many thousands of people in Cairo, Suez, Port Said, and other cities refusing to go to work and voicing their discontent with their working and living conditions.

The strikes came in the aftermath of a news report on the wealth that the Mubarak family has built up during the nearly 30 years of power, while much of the country has struggled to stay out of poverty. The revelations put renewed impetus into the protests, not only in the capital but also elsewhere in the country. Angry residents of Port Said slums set fire to the governor's headquarters. Thousands of farmers in Assiut, in the southern part of the country, blocked the main highway and railway to Cairo to protest against their lack of basics such as food.

In Cairo, where the largest protests have taken place, workers on railways and buses and in factories and state electricity companies stayed off the job, in a repeat of similar work stoppages that have taken place in the past several years.

In response, Vice President Omar Suleiman warned of harsher measures to come, if protesters did not maintain a nondisruptive presence. Already, the country has lost millions of dollars because productivity has nearly ground to a halt. The recent strikes would have only served to increase those losses.

The crowd in Tahrir Square was much smaller than on the previous day, but a few thousand protesters ringed parliament and voice their disapproval with its members. Also worrying for the government was the seeming about-face of Al-Ahram, the state-owned newspaper that had has taken to criticizing the very government that it has supported for so long.

There was worry on the ancient front as well, with Supreme Council of Antiquities chief Zahi Hawass having to answer questions from his workers when he arrived for work. The Pyramids at Giza reopened, but few people were in line for a viewing. When the protests began, looters made away with some loot from the country's museums, but security forces soon secured King Tut's Tomb and other antiquities.

Discussions between government officials, including Suleiman, and protesters, including representatives of the outlaws Muslim Brotherhood and representatives of opposition leader Mohammed El-Baradei, have broken down in recent days.  The government has made major concessions in recent days &#151; including vows to lift the 30-year-old emergency laws — but the protesters refuse to take seriously any government promises until Mubarak steps down.

For the most part, the protests in Cairo have been peaceful and nonviolent. Under the threat of armed watch, the protesters have chanted, sung, and made their demands known without resorting to militant means. In response, army soldiers have refrained from doing more than patrolling the outskirts of Tahrir Square. Some initial scuffles in the square and some confrontations in other cities have resulted in a death toll of 300 and an injury toll in the thousands. Rioting in the small town of Kharga, southwest of cargo, has killed five people already.



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