We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

The Strike

There was a call for a general strike here in Egypt this past Sunday, April 6. From what I read, it originated with some textile factory workers who wanted to lodge protests about low wages and high inflation (issues I’ve blogged about elsewhere), and morphed into something national. Free speech may not be a uniquely American concept, but it’s certainly not a reality for most Egyptians either. My understanding is that most demonstrations that actually happen are spontaneous, and planned protests usually fail.

All the same, I was concerned about going downtown, where I work and the center of Cairo’s planned strike, on Sunday, the first day of the work week. The US Embassy did not issue any warnings, and my employer sent us a note a few days before which said it’d be business as usual. I talked to a supervisor the night before, who said things would probably be fine, and I was also reassured by another colleague who explained that the only people who needed to worry were those demonstrating or those taking photos of the demonstrators. I planned to be neither.

I did now to expect a heavy police presence downtown. What I did not expect was the absolute chill I felt as I walked up the steps of the metro and saw rows of riot police. The police, I’m sure, weren’t concerned about a white American woman walking to work, but I felt sufficiently intimidated, which, indeed, was the whole point.

And, they won, it seems. I’ve read on some blogs that police surrounded the Cairo factory at the center of the planned strike, and forced people to stay at work. Elsewhere I read that Cairo University, often a center of demonstration, had a very strong police presence.

Tahrir Square is a bustling place typically. On Sunday, many people stayed home, whether out of solidarity or concern for their safety, I do not know.

Here’s how empty it looked mid-day, in what was supposed to be the middle of the Strike.
Tahrir Square 1

Tahrir Square 2

One theory about why people stayed home was the big sandstorm. Here’s another.
riot police

riot police 4

So, the strike failed in most of Cairo. A strike, by the way, that apparently was organized through SMS text messaging (via mobile phones), Twitter, and Facebook.

However, Mahalla, a city in the Delta, was very active. Rather than repeating everything on someone else’s blog, let me know point you to a few, all with photos and lots of information. The blogs also have a lot of information on what happened around Cairo and the rest of Egypt in the days before the strike.

The Arabist
Egyptian Chronicles
Rantings of a Sandmonkey

You can also read some mainstream media reports from the New York Times (by a reporter based in Cairo) and the BBC.

Finally, there’s apparently a call for another strike, this time on May 4, coincidentally, Mubarak’s 80th birthday.


8 April 2008 - Posted by | our life in egypt


  1. Sounds like it’s time to plan an early May vacation. Hey, that meme you tagged me for? I finally did it. You know where to find my scintillating answers…

    Comment by Paige | 9 April 2008

  2. Ms. Four,

    Thanks for sharing. Hopefully the May 4th protest will be well attended and peaceful, although I guess it’ll be tough to have a peaceful protest if the police respond with violence as they did in Mahalla!

    I attended a briefing on Capitol Hill this week where members of congress discussed the rising food prices. There was mention of the food riots in Haiti, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, but not in Egypt. Hopefully, we’ll see a coordinated global response from our leaders…although I never get my hopes up with our current president. This crisis needs to be seen not only as a moral issue, but as a security issue as well. Just look at the violence in Haiti.


    Comment by matt | 12 April 2008

  3. […] spring, during the failed national strike, I saw hundreds of police all gathered in downtown Cairo’s Tahrir Square. It was quite […]

    Pingback by Halloween « We Four in Egypt | 31 October 2008

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