Special Thanks to Mary Rowles for pulling together all of the minutes of this great dialogue.
The Organizers Forum visited Cairo during a transition period when the excitement of overthrowing the regime had started to evaporate in the face of the monumental task of nation-building.
The revolution had affected many people with a new sense of agency. We met women whose first organizing efforts were neighbourhood protection committees, and who went on to start up women’s organizations; we met organizers, dispirited under the Mubarak regime who were now charged with new optimism that community organizing might lead to real change where before it would dead -end in bribery. Tahrir square revolutionaries were forming new networks and civic organizations.
Like all most industrial countries Egypt is facing the challenge of economic development and job creation. Activists are looking for ways to end the economic inequalities, high unemployment and low wages that were partly responsible for the explosion of anti-Mubarak animosity in Tahrir Square last January.
But Egypt has particular challenges that we heard about in meetings with community organizers, presidential candidates, young revolutionaries, unions and workers’ centres. They told us that before even beginning to address the deep social and economic problems Egyptians must work out new power-sharing arrangements, new election rules, and an orderly transfer of power from military caretakers to civil authority. They must establish a clear relationship between religion and the state, and the role of religion in government. They must establish new attitudes and practices within the state apparatus, including respect for civic freedoms; and they must deal with pervasive corruption.
Some young revolutionaries are looking to take their place in new power structures. Women’s organizations will be looking to a new government to create a legal context for women’s rights and to assist in shifting cultural attitudes and practices. Minority populations are looking for state protection. Workers and unions demand freedom of association, free collective bargaining, the right to strike, and freedom from state reprisals, interference and control.
During our visit political elites were trying to negotiate ,with the SCAF, the new rules for elections that must precede the shift to a civil government. The nation- building will depend on achieving change throughout a society distorted by the political power of one family, expressed through the state. Mubarkak is gone but the attitudes and practices of the regime remain.
Many of our assumptions about the events in Tahrir Square were up-ended. The information provided in our dialogues by Egyptian activists deepened our understanding of the complexities of organizing under the repression and in the post revolutionary period. North American participants gained a deep respect for the personal courage, and determination of activists working to build a nation in the midst of the resilient wreckage of the Mubarak regime.
Watch this website (and Social Policy magazine) for articles by dialogue participants on politics, unions, women, and revolutionary arts and culture. Below are links to blogs written by dialogue participants that capture first impressions and some reflections on Egypt in a time of transition. We thank our Egyptian colleagues for their generosity in our meetings, taking valuable time to explain their experiences, their vision and their aspirations.
Amer Al Wakeel, activist, journalist
Mohamed Mahmoud Abdelai, advisor, researcher
Gehad Saif, radio host and producer
Fekry Nabil, Muslim Brotherhood affiliate
Walaa Coptic, community leader
Mohammed Gamal Masi Alhorra
Ahmed Saad, journalist
Ahmed Rehab, Exec Director, Committee for Islamic Relations, Illinois
“You could walk into Tahrir Square and smell freedom.” Ahmed Rehab
These activists emphasized the revolution was not entirely spontaneous; there was thoughtful organization in the days leading up to January 25-28 even if there was no specific program apart from the rallying cry “Bread, Freedom, Human Dignity!” As Gehad Saif stated, “The goal was revolution, it was not an ideological time.”
They were also agreed on many of the factors that turned the January demonstrations into a revolution. Ahmed Rehab pointed out the revolution was not Cairo- based alone, it involved people across classes, regions, and ages. In his view, however, those few days were youth led, and facilitated by modern communications technologies —“a revolution 2.0”, he called it. Fekry Nabil agreed and said that although cell phones, internet access and Facebook were subsequently disrupted, during the key planning period, the government was watching the usual suspects for signs of activity and not paying attention to the web.
The broadly- spread and non-hierarchical leadership in Tahrir Square also contributed to the success. According to journalist Almer Alwakeel, “In the past single leaders were identified quickly, arrested and shut down.” Mohammed Gamal Masi Alhorra agreed saying that unlike Libya or Syria the Mubarak regime had allowed Egyptians to protests, but events were previously small and unsuccessful. “It was a police tactic to allow these to proceed so they could better identify the troublemakers and organizers. They would squeeze protests into a small area, and arrest the troublemakers.” he said.
Activists confirmed the murdered Alexandrian blogger Khaled Saeed was a grim inspiration for protesters, particularly the young. January 25 —National Police Day—-was deliberately chosen to protest police brutality and by extension the repressiveness of the regime.
Key organizing strategies included multiple assembly points, both transparent and hidden and deliberately postponing the second day of action to January 28 in order to exhaust the police who were on high alert during the interval. This delay also allowed organizers to capitalize on the weekly assembly of thousands of men at mosques throughout Cairo and near Tahrir.
On January 28, marchers met no police resistance until they reached the bridge to Tahrir Square. They were first attacked with batons and tear gas. Then police snipers began firing live rounds into the crowd from the police station rooftop. Armoured trucks ran over protestors. Fekry Nabil saw people killed by rubber bullets fired at point blank range. Mohammed Gamal Masi Alhorra saw an elderly woman killed by a tear gas canister fired directly into her face.
The commitment to non-violence was dropped in response to police brutality and a six to seven hour pitched street battle ensued. New energy and new tactics were provided as protesters marching in from Giza finally reached the square. When the military appeared protestors realized the police had withdrawn, and they had won an important victory.
Mubarak’s response to the collapse of police authority, the violence and unrest was only to promise Cabinet changes. Protesters decided to occupy the square until Mubarak resigned. As they settled in, they organized their own security, a radio station and a medical unit in the square.
“My name is Michael and I am here whether the Pope likes it or not!” sign held by Christian protester at Tahrir
Activists emphasized the cooperation between Christians and Muslims during the revolution. Christians ignored instructions from the Coptic Pope to sit out events and participated “not as marginal players but as equal players”, said Walaa. Revolutionary wall paintings, still visible throughout the city during our visit, showed a crescent and cross combined. We were told Christians created a human shield to protect Muslims responding to the call to prayer in the midst of the battle with police.
The question of why the regime toppled now was addressed by many of the activists we spoke with during the week. Ahmed Saad believed that between 2007 and 2010 the system had reached a breaking point because of widespread housing shortages, unemployment, and a collapsing standard of living. “Although many believed the explosion would come from the marginalized peoples this was not the case. The middle class and the wealthy started it.”
“My birthday is not the day I was born, but the day my voice was heard.” Ahmed Saad
In the aftermath of the Tahrir Square occupation many protesters experienced a renewed commitment to organizing. Walaa is organizing Egypt Free Copts, insisting Christians must end the self victimization, and fight for all Egyptians. Almer Al Wakeel envisions a network of journalists committed to independence and accuracy in reporting. Ahmed Saad is now on the executive of a coalition, the Egypt Arab Alliance.
Gehad Saif who has attached himself to the new Arab Egypt United party, spoke of a progression “from dreaming to organization to the creation of a political structure” –a progression that could describe both a personal and a national journey.
Social, environmental, and community organizations
Rebecca Porteous, and Ali, Nature Conservation Egypt
Yehia el Gammal, Egyptian Women for Democracy and Against Harassment
Marwa Boushra Al-Sawi Centre for Egyptian Women’s Aid
Rabie Wahab, Ahmed Mansour, Gamal, Makaun, Habitat International
Radwa, SOS Children’s Village
“Everything has changed, but nothing has changed!” Rebecca Porteous
“Before the revolution,” said Porteous “No matter the issue you’d find organizing led nowhere. You eventually would pay your way out of the problem.” She had just about given up on organizing to protect a fragile desert area that one of the military wanted to develop. “Now there seems to be opportunity,” she said. Porteous and Yehia el Gammal spoke of the community level organizing that has continued since January and could be a source of profound change.
After the police withdrew from the streets many Cairo neighbourhoods, including el Gammal’s were fearful of attack by criminals, thugs and disgruntled police. Neighbours organized themselves for the first time to protect themselves from violence. These popular committees have survived in many communities and are providing education on civic rights, or are cooperating to make up for missing civic services, like garbage collection.
“We are building a movement, not an organization.” Yehia el Gammal
In the aftermath el Gammal, founded Egyptian Women for Democracy and Against Harassment, which in one month drew 700 members to its Facebook page. The organization aims to build a voting block at the village level. Their strategy is to increase women’s empowerment through increased literacy levels. The tactic is to undertake family needs identification, and link families with existing NGOs providing the needed service or support. The precondition for assistance is a family commitment to send the woman of the household for literacy or skills training.
The explosion of organizations, in the post revolutionary period has been both invigorating and frustrating. Yehia el Gammal spoke disparagingly about some NGOS formed for tax evasion purposes only. Al- Sawi agreed and expressed frustration with the slow pace of the international NGOs, and the over centralization of their Egyptian offices.
Like the young revolutionaries, these community organizers were not discouraged by political fragmentation. Said El Gammal, “Before the revolution I had no political opinion other than “It sucks”. People are concerned about the divergences of opinion and lack of unity but that is how you find your political identity.”
The Centre for Women’s Aid and SOS Children’s Village were two groups organizing for changes in law. Within the Centre, Marwa Boushra Al Sawi was focused on a campaign to reform the Personal Status Law, particularly sections on custody in divorce, and cross religion marriage. Currently divorce rights and other family law matters are not codified in state law for Christians—these are left to the jurisdiction of the Coptic church.
“Both Liberal and Islamist views in Egypt would negatively affect children—but it is a change to have a debate and not be dictated to by the regime—there has been no debate on social issues for 30 years.”
Radwa from SOS Children’s Village is advocating for children’s’ rights to be recognized in the constitution and has engaged children in writing their own Bill of Rights. The centre is also promoting changes to the Early Marriage Law which currently fails to protect girls. She acknowledged their legal strategies are an insurance policy against any increase in the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, (who oppose changes in the early marriage law) or neo-liberals (who are advocating free education be discontinued).
The child labour law also needs improvement. It conforms to ILO standards but does not protect children working for their families, particularly in the agricultural sector or, in urban areas, the service sector. Regulations are needed to govern the length of the workday for children, and protect their health and safety.
The number of children on the streets is one sign the revolution has not yet affected socio-economic realities.
Children selling goods are part of families who have capital to buy a few bracelets, matches or gum. They are not technically homeless but they are disadvantaged by being taken from school to earn money for the family.
A smaller percentage of children are truly homeless and have been propelled into the streets by domestic violence. They congregate in gangs, but lack money to buy goods for sale; and may be trying to wash cars, for example. These children were abused by the police during the revolution—some were shot, some were used by the police to attack protestors. They have no future.
“No one is putting the rights of women and children on the political agenda,” Radwa.
Radwa expressed concerns that elections will reproduce the old political order ensuring nothing really changes. In rural areas she reported, strong families have always ruled, and vulnerable families are loyal to them. During the Nasserite revolution, in 1952, they lost land but then gradually reinserted themselves in the power structures. She expects them to reinsert themselves again, post revolution, and to turn up in the People’s Assembly.
One sign that the relationship between SCAF and civic organizers remains fragile was the information that Save the Children must still spend up to 30% of its time getting security clearances. Save the Children is reluctant to enter into political debates, but as she remarked “children’s issues are political”.
The activists with Habitat International/Egyptian Centre for Housing Rights claimed only an indirect contribution to the revolution through their training of and development of community level leaders.
They are urgently working to stop evictions from informal settlements. Despite the events of January, armed forces have continued their capricious and arbitrary evictions, and destruction of homes in informal settlements throughout Greater Cairo.
Amnesty International recently reported at least 850,000 Egyptians live in the 404 areas in the country that have been officially deemed unsafe. At least 18,300 homes are in risk of imminent collapse.
A short video prepared by housing activists for use in awareness campaigns showed the government response is to forcibly evict families, without notice and relocate them far away from their source of income. The new housing often lacks utilities, and comes without the paperwork needed to establish ownership. One house shown had unconnected pipes dumping raw sewage directly into the yard. Sometimes no alternate housing is provided at all, particularly if households are headed by women.
The Cairo 2050 urban plan is a major impetus behind the forced relocations. The plan proposes massive development and investment schemes and relocation of approximately two thirds of greater Cairo’s population into new cities on the outer fringes.
Under these pressures Gamal and Makoun reported they have shifted from charitable activities to advocacy, and campaign training. Although they continue to run literacy programs, especially for young people, their main focus on organizing around the issues of eviction and health problems caused by high tension wires.
One immediate negative effect of the revolution was to embolden thieves to take down the street car wires. These of course have not been replaced, so the neighbourhood has lost access to a relatively inexpensive public transportation and must rely on taxis.
Political parties and organizations
Amr Moussa, Presidential candidate
Abdel Moneim Abul Fotough, Presidential candidate
Omer Smaita, founder, Arab Egypt United Party
Mohamed Selim Al Awa, Presidential candidate
Nabil Deyebes, Modern Egypt, Presidential candidate
Katie Croake, National Democratic Institute
“There is no room for Egypt to fail.” Amr Moussa
Several presidential candidates we met had tremendous personal stature. Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, is former member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Mohammed Selim al Awa, is a well respected jurist, educator and writer, known across the Arab world. Frontrunner Amr Moussa is the candidate most closely tied to Mubarak. He was Egypt’s Ambassador to the UN, India and Switzerland. After serving as Egypt’s Foreign Minister from 1991-2001 he became Secretary General of the Arab League.
In the absence of well defined party platforms, candidates often outlined uniquely personal priorities. Several common themes emerged, best encapsulated by Moussa as “democracy, reform and economic development”.
Candidates expressed concerns about income disparity, illiteracy and the 25% official unemployment rate. Job creation and rebuilding the economy topped everyone’s list. But few candidates proposed any alternative to the neo-liberal agenda embraced by Mubarak. There was no discussion of an import replacement strategy; the only economic stimulus suggested was increased foreign investment. Moussa, Deyebes, and Al Awa were particularly enthusiastic about the opportunities for industrial and irrigation projects and settlements in the Suez Canal area and the Sinai Desert. Deyebes was enthusiastic about corporate tax cuts, and while he stated support for the poor was a priority, he did not see this as a state responsibility.
Reforms in education, health care, the tax system and the national budget process were frequently mentioned. Fotouh put a particular emphasis on dealing with corruption. Fotouh comes from a labour family (medical unions) and like Moussa insisted unions needed to be seen as a part of the economy. Both expressed strong support for independent trade unions. There was some discussion by several candidates of establishing minimum wages.
The issue of democracy encompassed not only the electoral process itself, but the question preoccupying foreign governments—the role of religion and its relationship to the state. The issue will ultimately be resolved by the framers of the Constitution when they are selected by the People’s Assembly next year.
Moussa was the only candidate who expressed concerns that the government would become Islamist. He insisted on the need for a strong secular presidential candidate, saying “Parliament must be composed of several groups, so Muslim parties must play a role, but it cannot be a dominant one.” On the other hand, Fotouh insisted the President must be religious himself. While he was critical of people “who issue binding edicts people must follow” he also insisted “religion permeates life, culture, conversation and all social interactions. Religion cannot be put in a box.”
The practical application of some statements was unclear, and many conversations were nuanced enough to leave you wondering what really was being said.
“Who Dr. Al Awa is meeting with and what he is saying are questions that belong to an era that was over 8 months ago!” aide and supporter.
Our meeting with Al Awa offered a small insight into the pervasiveness of the security forces and the persistent, casual suppression of democratic freedoms. Fifteen minutes into our meeting with Al Awa, the chief of hotel security and several guards crowded into the room demanding to know if this was a political meeting and insisting the video camera operated by Al Awa’s aide be turned off. A loud and angry argument erupted. The security chief insisted he was following verbal orders from SCAF—Al Awa and his people insisted on new rights to freedom of assembly and speech. They reached contacts within the Ministry of the Interior and the ruling military council to protest, but the camera was turned off. At least until the security detail left the room. Al Awa held a press conference following our meeting and spoke in Tahrir Square the following day.
All candidates expressed concern about the ongoing lack of clarity in the electoral process and their general dissatisfaction with the military council. During our visit the unresolved electoral issues included; what proportion of seats would be from party lists or from individual candidacy; the survival of quotas for farmer/workers and women; the position of women candidates on the lists; the prolonged 4 month election period for the People’s Assembly; the timing of the Presidential elections.
A majority of parties declared their opposition to the electoral details released mid-week by the SCAF, claiming the system was now weighted to favour the Muslim Brotherhood, and former members of the NDP and would encourage election fraud. A Popular Consensus Initiative that week brought together 60 political groups demanded SCAF hand power to a civilian authority by April 2012. As feared SCAF extended and broadened emergency laws on September 30—the day the laws were supposed to expire. They also proposed an election timetable that will keep them in control until well into 2012. Al Awa suspended his presidential campaign in protest.
Several American organizations including the National Democratic Institute, and the National Republican Party were actively exporting their particular brand of electoral politics to Egypt. Katie Croake from NDI explained the Cairo office opened in 2005 and had now expanded to include 50 staff and a presence in Alexandria. The organization provides voter education, technical support and training for election monitors, candidates, managers and members of parties. Of the 120 political parties currently operating, 10-12 are working closely with NDI. The Muslim Brotherhood and the former NDP have sent candidates for campaign training, including door knocking, polling, and focus group research.
NDI has faced media criticism because the source of some of its funding is from the a congressional endowment fund. They also survived criticism that they were too close to the established political parties of the Mubarak era.
Unions, workers’ centres and marginalized workers -
Peter Shea, Second Secretary, Office of economic and Political Affairs, US Embassy
Hassan Ahmed, Chair, and delegation, Teachers’ Independent Union
Abdel Hafiz, Vice Chair, Egyptian Federation of Independent Unions, (also Vice Chair, Teachers’ Independent Union)
Marion Fadel, AFL-CIO Solidarity Centre
Khaled Ali, Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights
“This wasn’t a Facebook revolution, it was a workers revolution.”
teacher, Teachers’ Independent Union
Union leaders, activists, and embassy officials we met were emphatic that the revolution began long before Tahrir Square. And they insisted strikers and independent unions played a pivotal role in pushing Mubarak out of office.
For several years leading up to Tahrir Square there was increasing labour militancy. Workers angry with their inert state -controlled federations began forming independent unions and demanding recognition. Medical technologists, teachers, retirees, and drivers all broke away. Workers held hundreds of non-sanctioned strikes. There were approximately 200 strikes in 2010 alone although under strikes were technically illegal.
The young revolutionaries in Tahrir defeated the police forces on January 28, but Mubarak did not yield power until mid-February. In the intervening weeks, a new national federation of labour established itself. Workers on the trains, in power plants, oil production, in hospitals, and schools went on strike –disrupting significant parts of the economy.
Since Mubarak stepped down unions have continued the revolution —struggling to root out the entrenched powers in the state apparatus, demanding the resignation of key Ministers.
During our one week in Cairo, thousands of bus drivers, teachers, health care workers and others were all taking some kind of strike action. Our group joined health care workers who were calling for the resignation of the Minister of Health. The demonstration took place in front of the Ministry building which was heavily protected by barbed wire and a tank. Some individuals were circulating through the crowd trying to convince strikers that good Muslims should not be taking militant action. Armed forces of some kind or other were already on the roadway in significant numbers and reinforcements arrived to implement a military decision that the demonstration was ending at 5 pm.
Workers had achieved an important early change in the state apparatus — the appointment of a new Minister of Manpower. Initially someone from the old state- controlled federation was appointed but he lasted about 2 weeks before workers rebelled. The current Minister, El Bourai is a professor, and former ITUC staff member with connections to the ILO.
El Bourai immediately issued a declaration confirming freedom of association and dismantled 7 of the 23 unions in the state federation of labour. This opened up space for organizing. There are now 30-40 new unions. The need for new leaders is being met by organizations like the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Rights Services. Centre Director Kamal Abbas is providing a new generation of leaders able to take over and run the independent structures. He is targeting the training of 300 leaders across all sectors of the economy.
The old labour law remains in place, but implementation is haphazard. The Army is unenthusiastic about unions in general, and this April introduced a new law that gives them more power to restrict strikes, particularly where these disrupt productivity. El Bourai’s declaration on freedom of association is just that, a declaration, not a law.
A new framework for dues check off has not been worked out. Dues at a level of 7% are still collected from individual members for now defunct state controlled unions. But there is no mechanism to direct these to new unions.
A further problem is caused by the ongoing existence of both syndicates and unions, covered by different legislation, with different oversight and separate dues structures. The syndicates are professional organizations that control credentialing and certification. The unions handle advocacy and bargaining.
The government has always taken it upon itself to approve or threaten worker organizations beyond unions. For example, government spokespeople have been openly and worryingly critical of worker organizer Kamal Abbas and the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services. The centre was was even shut down in 2007 for a period of time.
During the dialogue the issues for workers themselves became very clear—high unemployment, low wages, the increasing use of short term contracts and poor working conditions.
Industrial workers we met at the ECESR were making between 1500 Egyptian pounds EL and 1700 EL a month, and were supporting families of as many as 5-7 children on these wages. Teachers reported that they can earn as little as 500 EL a month, and are expected to make up a full salary through private tutoring. For the past decade, government, with outside advice, moved to put as many teachers as possible on short term contract.
Some, like ECESR see minimum wages for different sectors as a solution. Said Khaled Ali, the centre director, “Strikes often produced results in individual enterprises, but a solution to the low standard of living is required across sectors.” In March, the centre won a lawsuit for a minimum wage in one sector. Other sectors want something similar.
The low wages and high unemployment have very broad social repercussions. Young men cannot marry unless they have an apartment and furniture—the income required to secure this is beyond them, and thousands are simply stalled in their human development. The result is pent up anger and frustration with a government that cannot deliver.
Working conditions even in white collar work were appalling. Teacher delegates reported class sizes of 70 children were the norm. They also reported seven teachers died during one summer, while administering exams in the Upper Nile. No accommodations had been provided for them; they were sleeping in the examination hall on chairs. Exhaustion and heat prostration killed them. Despite protests to the Ministers of Education and of Health no action was taken against Ministry officials responsible.
“The head of our corrupt system was brought down. Inshallah, each corporate dictatorship will also fall.” –woman activist, Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights
The problems for workers have been exacerbated by misguided state enthusiasm for privatization of state -owned enterprises. The program was promoted by the World Bank and the IMF, and enthusiastically pursued by the Mubarak family to swell the family bank account. Profitable and efficient enterprises were sold off at fire sale prices then either run into the ground by corrupt and inefficient management or were deliberately destroyed.
A woman activist reported one company was purchased by a Palestinian who owed the company money. The real goal was access to the 16,000 acres of property. The company was dismantled within a year to make way for high rises. People were offered very small early retirement packages and threatened with firing if they refused to accept.
These workers suggested public outrage over the theft of state assets through privatization was the beginning of the end of the Mubarak regime. Said one activist, “Gamal (Mubarak)and his cronies did this, with western help; help from the US and the World Bank –they saw us as a cooked turkey! And they were prepared to bring in any partners except the workers.”
The nine lawyers at the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR)have succeeded in convincing the Supreme Court to overturn four separate privatizations. The case against TeleEgypt, may go to an international court.
At the conclusion of the ECESR meeting, the workers realized a prominent Tahrir Square revolutionary, was in our midst—- Gehad Saif —now active in the pre-election parliamentary maneuverings. A heated debate broke out as workers were clearly holding the young revolutionaries responsible for failing to move the revolution forward and deeper. The exchange presented a clear example of the tensions and frustrations among people who were on the same side of the revolution.”
“Perhaps tomorrow we will have new heroes.” teacher delegate, Education Union
One union expressed fears the era of state reprisals is not over. They told us the Education ministry is still ruled by the old politicians who are running things in the same way. The names of the leaders of the strike are being passed from office to office. They believe the authorities are still collecting names, under cover of encouraging committee work.
Teachers remain concerned the government still views education as a matter of security and politics, –“this makes it impossible to achieve the changes required to meet Egypt’s growth and development goals.”
We briefly toured Mokkatam, one of several the Coptic Christian recycling settlements on the outskirts of Cairo. The door to door collection and recycling of Cairo garbage has been done by zabaleen, descendents of subsistence farmers who emigrated from upper Egypt in the 1940s and began harvesting garbage.
Refuse collected in Cairo proper is brought back by truck and donkey cart to the community where it is stored and hand-sorted at ground level of brick buildings three to five stories high. Conditions at street level were as expected—dirty, fly-ridden, smelly, organized chaos.
The family- based competitive organization of the work , and the lack of control placed these communities somewhere between workers and entrepreneurs.
At Mokkatam, there was a rigid structure governing access to collection routes, all controlled by powerful “Factors” outside the community.
The government also made decisions that squeezed the recyclers. Mubarak agreed to IMF inspired -privatization of garbage collection in Cairo, and insisted on wholesale contracting. The government would not divide up collection contracts into sections, or refuse type—so zaballeen (who are not without savings) were unable to mobilize the kind of capital needed to bid.
Some Cairo inhabitants have continued to pay for door to door collection, but large sections of the harvesting are out of reach. Ironically the collection service is far less than what Cairo residents previously enjoyed. The multinational corporation places bins on the street and residents are required to lug their garbage down to the corner.
Cairo has so far not acquired the urban practice of separating garbage into food refuse, plastic, paper has not been acquired as an urban practice. This both contributes to difficulty in splitting up contracts, and increases the health hazards for zabaleen who continue to harvest and sort.
We were told the government arbitrarily eliminated a source of income and food when it also unilaterally slaughtered every pig in the country during the swine flu scare. Mokkatam lost a way to recycle food refuse, their food source (pork) and manure for enhancing their compost operation. The government did not pay any compensation.
At present we were told that a family could earn1.400 EL a month which is just below the monthly income for a single industrial worker in textiles. The more prosperous Mokkatam families were building upwards to get away from street level garbage, noise, confusion and dirt.
The Association for the Protection of the Environment has been organizing in Coptic recycling villages for about 20 years to develop environmentally- safe solid waste management. Projects aim at empowerment of women and youth and improvement in the health education and social standards of the zaballeen. The APE had organized small scale clean rag-recycling, and paper production, plastic shampoo container recycling for Proctor and Gamble; literacy and numeracy programs for boys and girls, manure composting and a plastic pelleting operation.
Perhaps the only discouraging aspect was that programs were still not entirely self sustaining. Long-standing programs, like the quilt-making operation still relied on personal contacts for donations of clean fabric offcuts from factories, and an international network of friends and supporters to organize sales of finished quilts.
Our group was told the zabaleen want more control over their economic futures, and more capacity to continue harvesting. They also are trying to achieve a separation between manufacturing/recycling activities and housing. Environmentally unsound activities at the Tora recycling village have already been moved to Katamey. A factory of recycling machines and training workshops were also established there. The composting plant was transferred from Mokkatam to Katameya in 2002.
Some of the community organizing we saw, even though inspired or unleashed by Tahrir Square was occurring far from the dramatic political struggle for new forms of power sharing. Some was still operating along old models of foreign government funds, funneled through international NGOs with Cairo offices. The old practices of state surveillance and repression though much reduced had not entirely ended.
At the political level, the SCAF were demonstrating a clear reluctance to yield power, while showing no real capacity to deal with the complex issues of state. And as several politicians pointed out, the prolonged negotiations and electoral pre-occupations meant it was impossible to make any effort to address the large socio-economic problems that were not resolved by regime change alone.