Formation of the Egyptian Working Class

by Joel Beinin
published in MER94

The roots of the Egyptian working class reach back into nineteenth century when Muhammed ‘Ali (1805-1849), founder of the dynasty which ruled Egypt until 1952, initiated his abortive industrialization program. Beginning in 1819 his regime built European style factories in three major sectors: Military production, agricultural processing and textiles. The leading element was textiles. With the dramatic expansion of long-staple cotton cultivation after 1820, by the early 1830s 30 cotton mills were in operation with a labor force of 30,000. [1] But a decade later most of these new factories had failed because of inexperienced management, lack of adequate natural resources (especially fuel), peasant resistance to factory discipline and competition from Europe.

Hill, Mahkama!

by Peter Gran
published in MER96

Enid Hill, Mahkama! Studies in the Egyptian Legal System (London: Ithaca Press, 1980).

Enid Hill has produced an unusual and important contribution to understanding the political economy of modern Egypt. Her book, clear and easy to follow, adopts an anthropological approach to the study of the Egyptian legal system. She shows how the poor, the lower middle class, and the rich get what they can out of this structure. Hill treats “the legal system of Egypt as a modern system in its own right,” what she calls the law of a periphery capitalist formation, following the earlier work of Hossam Issa and others dealing more generally with Egypt and the world market.

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Massive Arrests Precede Sadat's Assassination

by Joe Stork
published in MER100-101

On September 3 and 4, 1981, just four weeks before he was assassinated, President Anwar al-Sadat launched a crackdown that overnight swept nearly 1,600 Egyptians into prisons. Hundreds more were detained under house arrest, or stripped of official positions in professional associations. Sadat attributed the crackdown to the “national emergency” created by sectarian tensions between Muslim and Coptic communities, but those arrested included persons such as Nawal El Saadawi, the prominent physician and feminist writer. MERIP editor Judith Tucker spoke in London with Lutfi el-Kholi, a left opposition leader, shortly after the arrests. “If Nawal El Saadawi has been arrested for stirring up tensions between men and women,” he said, “I might believe it.

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"The Masses Speak the Language of Religion to Express Themselves Politically"

by Mohamed Sid-Ahmed
published in MER102

Mohamed Sid Ahmed is an Egyptian journalist and left opposition leader. He is a member of the secretariat of Tagammu‘, the National Progressive Unionist Party, and is a representative of the party’s Marxist component. He was an editorial writer with al-Akhbar from 1965 to 1968 and chief political analyst of al-Ahram through 1976. He is the author of When the Guns Fall Silent (1976J, and other books. He was imprisoned several times between 1959 and 1974, and narrowly escaped arrest in early September 1981. He spoke with MERIP editors Judith Tucker, Joe Stork and Penny Johnson, and with Selma Botman, a friend of MERIP, in Cambridge, Massachusetts on October 19, 1981.

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The Humble Tomato

by Tessa Farmer | published January 16, 2015 - 12:52pm

In early February 2011, shortly after the beginning of the January 25 revolution that toppled Husni Mubarak, I made a phone call to a friend in an informal area of Cairo. I wanted to check on her wellbeing, and was interested to hear her perspective on reports that some of the thugs hired by the government to harass protesters in Tahrir Square were coming from her neighborhood. The first thing my friend wanted to talk about, however, was the dramatic rise in the price of tomatoes. “Twelve pounds a kilo! Can you imagine?”

Doubling Down on Dictatorship in the Middle East

by Amanda Ufheil-Somers | published December 30, 2014

For a moment, four years ago, it seemed that dictators in the Middle East would soon be a thing of the past.

Back then, it looked like the United States would have to make good on its declared support for democracy, as millions of Tunisians, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Yemenis, and others rose up to reject their repressive leaders. Many of these autocrats enjoyed support from Washington in return for providing “stability.”

Yet even the collapse of multiple governments failed to upend the decades-long U.S. policy of backing friendly dictators. Washington has doubled down on maintaining a steady supply of weapons and funding to governments willing to support U.S. strategic interests, regardless of how they treat their citizens.

The Wretched Revolution

by Yasmin Moll
published in MER273

“We live in a country where liberals renege on democracy, Islamists harm Islam and human rights activists champion oppression,” an Islamic television producer cynically remarked three months after Muhammad Mursi was ousted from Egypt’s presidency in July 2013. That summer, the televised images of multitudes of flag-waving protesters were uncanny in their resemblance to those of the 2011 revolution that forced Husni Mubarak from power. The arc of the unfolding political drama, it seemed, was also strikingly similar: The people took to the streets peacefully; the president was unmoved, vowing to complete his term and threatening chaos if removed; the military decided to side with the people; the revolution was saved.

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The Battle of Egyptian Football Fans Against Dullness

by Dalia Abd El-Hameed | published December 3, 2014 - 3:56pm

Ultras, or organized groups of football fans, represented an influential faction of the Egyptian revolutionary multitude in 2011. The ultras’ long experience of street fights with police at stadiums aided the revolutionaries in achieving many victories over riot cops in the early days of the January 25 uprising and subsequently. And the ultras’ combat prowess was not their only contribution to the uprising. More important was the carnivalesque character of their resistance, which transformed the protest scene into something more colorful, vital, choreographed and performative.

Mutiny in Cairo

by Ann Lesch
published in MER139

Wednesday, February 26. The story was on BBC at eight this morning. Central Security Forces (al-amn al-markazi) mutinied last night at the big camp at Dahshour and at two camps in Giza, on the road to Alexandria. Thousands of conscripts burst out of the camps and burned nearby luxury hotels. The government says that the mutiny was sparked by a false rumor that the conscripts’ tours of duty would be extended from three to four years. Many people believe the rumor was accurate.

Losing Hope in Iran and Egypt

by Parastou Hassouri | published November 10, 2014 - 2:31pm

The decision to leave your country, especially when you leave for political or ideological reasons, can be gut-wrenching. My parents made that decision for me when they left Iran in my early adolescence. Unlike some Iranians forced to flee, my parents were not members of a persecuted religious minority. Nor were they high-profile political activists at immediate risk of arrest. But as people who had demonstrated against the Shah’s dictatorship, and had hoped that the 1979 revolution would bring democracy and social justice to Iran, witnessing their country plunge into authoritarianism and turn into a theocracy was more than they could bear. It was like the country they knew and hoped for no longer existed.