The Social History of Labor in the Middle East

by Christopher Alexander
published in MER210

Ellis Jay Goldberg, ed., The Social History of Labor in the Middle East (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1996).

The advent of structural adjustment programs since the 1980s has rekindled interest in workers and labor organizations, perhaps the greatest “losers” in recent reform processes. This edited volume includes chapters on Turkey, Egypt, Syria, the Maghreb, Israel and Iran. Its chronological range extends from the Ottoman era to the contemporary period.

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Egyptian Privatization

New Challenges for the Left

by Marsha Pripstein Posusney
published in MER210

After decades of delay, privatization in Egypt is now taking off. [1] Since 1993, 119 of 314 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have been fully or partially sold. [2] These have been mainly manufacturing ventures, but the government has also pledged to offer utilities, public sector banks and insurance companies, maritime and telecommunications firms and leading tourist hotels. In May 1998, the International Monetary Fund, long skeptical of the Mubarak regime’s commitment to privatization, pronounced itself satisfied with the program’s progress. Measured in terms of annual privatization receipts as a percentage of GDP, their report noted that Egypt ranks fourth internationally, trailing only Hungary, Malaysia and the Czech Republic.

Labor and the Challenge of Economic Restructuring in Iran

by Djavad Salehi-Isfahani
published in MER210

During the last 20 years, the Iranian economy has had to adjust to a revolution, an eight-year war with Iraq, economic isolation and the collapse of its oil revenues. As a result, Iran witnessed the complete undoing of its gains in per capita income from the boom years of the 1970s. The generation of Iranians who grew up before the revolution, at a time of steadily increasing incomes, view the last 20 years of decline and stagnation with disbelief. For the new generation, which came of age after the revolution, the pressing issue is not past losses but the current reality of stagnation and unemployment: One in four Iranian youths cannot find jobs.

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Reform or Reaction?

Dilemmas of Economic Development in the Middle East

by Karen Pfeifer , Marsha Pripstein Posusney , Djavad Salehi-Isfahani , Steve Niva
published in MER210

This issue of Middle East Report presents critical -- and timely -- analysis of the impact of neoliberal economic policies in the Middle East and North Africa. Authors representing a variety of disciplines and viewpoints explore the dilemmas confronting progressive forces searching for alternative programs to restore growth and promote equity.

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Migrant Women in Waged Domestic Work in Turkey

by Işik Urla Zeytinoğlu , Ömür Tımurcanday Özmen , Alev Ergenç Katrınlı , Hayat Kabasakal , Yasemin Arbak
published in MER211

“If we were to continuously work until 5 o’clock as hard as the employer wants, we would not be able to get to work the next day. No human being can work as much as that.”
-- Domestic Worker

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A Modern-Day "Slave Trade"

Sri Lankan Workers in Lebanon

by Reem Haddad
published in MER211

In what can be termed a modern-day slave trade, Sri Lankan women arrive in Lebanon only to find themselves abused, imprisoned, raped, hungry, defenseless and alone. Siriani P., 27, came to Beirut in a desperate attempt to save her family from a life of poverty. Just ten months later, however, she grabbed the first opportunity to run away from her employers.

Keeping Migrant Workers in Check

The Kafala System in the Gulf

by Anh Nga Longva
published in MER211

For nearly half a century, the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- have been a destination point for international labor migration, annually attracting large numbers of workers from the Middle East and Asia. The GCC states are unique because of the skewed character of their demographic profile: Expatriate workers make up more than 50 percent of the total population in Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE, [1] and more than 25 percent of the populations of Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

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Recent Trends in Middle Eastern Migration

by David McMurray
published in MER211

Although the history of Middle Eastern labor migration to North America is not as well known as that of Irish and Southern European immigrants, Yemenis were working in Detroit by the 1920s and Palestinian and Lebanese diasporas existed around the globe before the end of the nineteenth century. North Africans were migrating to France by the thousands during World War I, and by the tens of thousands after World War II. Yet it was not until the 1970s, with the advent of the Middle East oil boom, that rates of inter-Arab and Asian-Gulf migration took off. The new requirements for labor as well as the vast differences in wealth between sending and receiving countries fueled the process. Male workers from Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia headed to Libya.

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Egyptian Labor Activists Assess Their Achievements

An Interview with Kamal Abbas and Kamal Abu Eita

by Lauren Geiser
published in MER256

On August 3, the AFL-CIO presented its Meany-Kirkland Human Rights Award to the workers of Egypt. It was the first time in the award’s 20-year history that the recipient was from an Arab country. In its award resolution, the American labor federation cited the remarkable burst of Egyptian worker activism that began in late 2004, with wildcat strikes in the textile sector. The ensuing strike wave crested in 2006 with militant actions in the Delta town of Mahalla al-Kubra, and culminated in the April 2009 formation of the first independent trade union in Egypt in more than 50 years, the Independent General Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Workers.

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The Militancy of Mahalla al-Kubra

by Joel Beinin | published September 29, 2007

For the second time in less than a year, in the final week of September the 24,000 workers of the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla al-Kubra went on strike—and won. As they did the first time, in December 2006, the workers occupied the Nile Delta town’s mammoth textile mill and rebuffed the initial mediation efforts of Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Yet this strike was even more militant than December’s. Workers established a security force to protect the factory premises, and threatened to occupy the company’s administrative headquarters as well. Their stand belies the wishful claims of the Egyptian government and many media outlets that the strike wave of 2004-2007 has run its course.