Omar El Shafei



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Cairo Papers in Social Science


Cairo Papers in Social Science


In the last paragraph of their masterpiece on the Egyptian workers' movement, Workers on the Nile, Joel Beinin and Zachary Lockman suggested that "[t]he strike and riot of textile workers in Kafr al-Dawwar in September 1984 may signal an end to the period of relative economic peace and labor quiescence" in Egypt. Their expectation turned out to be true. The 1984 upheaval in Kafr al-Dawwar was followed by five years of intensifying workers' struggle throughout Egypt. This culminated in two major sit-ins at the Helwan Iron and Steel Company in July and August 1989. Two salient aspects of this period particularly drew my attention to, and developed my interest in, the Egyptian workers' movement: (1) the violent confrontations between struggling workers and the Egyptian regime; and (2) the surprisingly hostile position adopted by Egyptian trade unions toward "their" workers. In 1991, I had the opportunity to have some practical connection with the Egyptian workers' movement, when I was employed by the Center for Trade Union and Workers' Services (CTUWS), an independent association that aims at promoting principles of democracy, independence and militancy within the Egyptian workers' movement. Through my activity at the CTUWS, I met with many labor activists and trade unionists. It was through numerous discussions with these activists that I settled upon the focus of this study: the interaction of workers, trade union leaders, and the state in some of the most important strikes and sit-ins that occurred in Egypt's industrial and transport sectors between 1984 and 1989. The theoretical framework within which this study is conducted is presented in Chapter One. Basically, it is the broadly defined school of thought that looks positively at workers' struggles in the context of Third World socioeconomic and political structures. Chapter Two outlines the history of workers' struggle in postwar Egypt, as a background for the more recent 1984-89 strike wave. In Chapters Three and Four, five major workers' strikes and sit-ins that erupted in contemporary Egypt are discussed. These events occurred at: Misr Fine Spinning and Weaving Company in Kafr al-Dawwar in September­October 1984; Esco Textile Company in Shubra al-Khayma in January­February and April 1986; Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalia al-Kubra in February 1986; Egyptian railways in July 1986; and the Iron and Steel Company in Helwan in July-August 1989. They were all massive ruggles that attracted the attention of public opinion, had an important impact on society and led to violent confrontations between workers and the state. In these two chapters, I essentially rely on three sources: a) press coverage of these ev.ents, especially from oppositional political forces ( With an emphasis on the leftist press); b) interviews conducted with nine labor activists and trade unionists who participated in three of these events; and c) written accounts by labor and trade union activists on the railway strike and the Iron and Steel sit-in. Time constraints and other difficulties prevented me from conducting interviews with wide numbers of rank-and-file workers, as I had originally intended. This limits the value and depth of this study, which, I hope, will constitute a starting point for further in-depth research into the politics of the Egyptian workers' movement during the 1980's, a subject which, to date, has received very little scholarly attention.



Publication Date

Summer 1995


American University in Cairo Press




third world, Workers struggle, labors, textile workers, railway workers, strikes


Cairo Papers in Social Science 18(2)


Labor Economics | Near and Middle Eastern Studies

Workers, trade unions and the state in Egypt, 1984-1989