Food-riot watch: Egypt protests spook government

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images Egypt’s economic and political pressure cooker gave a kick and a hiss yesterday as a crackdown to prevent a general strike resulted in over 200 arrests throughout the country. The unrest was provoked by rising prices and falling wages. As Blake has reported, Egypt is a big wheat importer with a corrupt ...

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595607_080407_egyptian2.jpg

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

Egypt's economic and political pressure cooker gave a kick and a hiss yesterday as a crackdown to prevent a general strike resulted in over 200 arrests throughout the country. The unrest was provoked by rising prices and falling wages. As Blake has reported, Egypt is a big wheat importer with a corrupt bread subsidy program, and the country heads into local elections tomorrow.

Given that Egypt has virtually no organized political opposition, it's not entirely clear who called the strike but those who threatened to stay home included professionals, government workers, and factory laborers as riot police around the country were called out to put down any unrest. A scuffle between textile workers and riot police erupted into exchanges of tear gas and stone throwing in Mahalla al Kobra, north of Cairo.

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

Egypt’s economic and political pressure cooker gave a kick and a hiss yesterday as a crackdown to prevent a general strike resulted in over 200 arrests throughout the country. The unrest was provoked by rising prices and falling wages. As Blake has reported, Egypt is a big wheat importer with a corrupt bread subsidy program, and the country heads into local elections tomorrow.

Given that Egypt has virtually no organized political opposition, it’s not entirely clear who called the strike but those who threatened to stay home included professionals, government workers, and factory laborers as riot police around the country were called out to put down any unrest. A scuffle between textile workers and riot police erupted into exchanges of tear gas and stone throwing in Mahalla al Kobra, north of Cairo.

The government has succeeded in stemming the tide for now.  The Muslim Brotherhood stayed out of the strike, state security agents conducted home visits to make sure government workers reported, and masses of state security forces intimidated a group of protesting workers back to duty.  Abdel Ahad El Meseery of the Kifaya opposition group told the International Herald Tribune:

I am not about to claim that the Egyptian people are finally rebelling…The element of fear is there.  The people are afraid of the government, but the government is afraid of the people.”

With so many factions behind the mobilization, and the help of the internet and cell phones, it seems that more than a few officials’ faces went pale this past weekend. At least seven of the arrests relating to the protests targeted people who used the internet to advertise the strike.  It’s bad news for the Mubarak regime if Egypt’s disorganized interest groups are starting to coalesce into something resembling civil society. 

Worse yet, the government may be powerless to control the underlying causes of the unrest.  As as Paul Krugman notes today in his op-ed for the New York Times, “Cheap food, like cheap oil, may be a thing of the past.” 

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