A Year Since Mubarak Ousted, Strike Call Reveals Divisions
Egypt marked the first anniversary of the popular overthrow of Hosni Mubarak on Saturday, but a poor turnout for a strike called by activists to protest the slow pace of change from military rule laid bare the country’s deep divisions.
The general strike, called to press demands for the immediate departure of the military council that replaced Mubarak, failed to cause major disruption. It was opposed by religious figures and political groups, including the powerful Islamists.
It was business as usual at Cairo’s railway station and airport. Buses and the metro ran as normal and an official said the strike call had no impact on the Suez Canal, the waterway linking Europe to Asia and a vital source of revenue for Egypt.
“We are hungry and we have to feed our children,” said bus driver Ahmed Khalil, explaining why he was not taking part in the labor action called by liberal and leftist groups, together with some student and independent trade unions.
“I have to come here every morning and work. I don’t care if there is a strike or civil disobedience,” he said.
Hailed as heroes a year ago for unseating Mubarak, the army has faced growing criticism for its management of Egypt since assuming power at the culmination of 18 days of mass protests fuelled by poverty and demands for democratic government.
Though the generals have pledged to hand power to an elected president by mid-year, the protest groups which ignited the anti-Mubarak uprising doubt their intentions, seeing them as an extension of his rule and an obstacle to real democracy.
A year after hundreds of thousands of people packed into Tahrir Square united in their demand for an end to Mubarak’s three-decade rule, Egypt faces a more divided picture.
Many have grown tired of street action and are urging a more patient approach, arguing Egypt needs stability to allow the recovery of an economy battered by a year of turmoil.
State-run media rallied behind a campaign against the strike call. “The nation rejects civil disobedience,” read the headline in Al-Ahram, a widely circulated state-owned newspaper.
At Cairo’s main railway station, banners echoed the theme. “Train drivers and their assistants refuse civil disobedience,” read one.
While Saturday’s call for action failed to make an impact, one of the activist groups expected more strikes in the coming days. “Today is the first real step toward civil disobedience,” said Mohamed Abdel Aziz, coordinator of the Kefaya movement.
The army deployed extra soldiers and tanks to protect state buildings and public property in the build-up to Saturday’s anniversary.