A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, February 13, 2012

Arrests, Release Briefly Remind Us of Mahalla's Labor Unrest

Since 2008, the big Egyptian Delta industrial textile factory town of Mahalla has been the scene of persistent labor unrst and strikes. Some Egyptian activists feel it helped give birth to the Revolution (the April 6 Movement traces its birth to events in Mahalla), but it has not become as iconic as Tahrir Square, mostly because the current regime, like Mubarak's before it, has kept a sort of cordon sanitaire around the city, keeping out foreigners, journalists, photographers and others who might ask the wrong questions. It famously got some attention when an American activist was arrested there and used Twitter to contact the US Embassy. It is getting attention once again because an Australian journalist and a US student were arrested and held there for two days during an attempt to launch a nationwide general strike February 11, to mark the first anniversary of Mubarak's fall. They were released today.

With the bloodshed in Syria, it is little surprise Mahalla gets only fleeting attention from the outside world, and that only when a foreign national is involved. But the longer-term condition of Egypt may have more to do with whether any new government can improve the condition of Egypt's impoverished workers, including the textile workers in the big cotton mills of Mahalla, than whether SCAF shuts an NGO or the Muslim Brotherhood bans bikinis. (Cue something militant by Woody Guthrie in the background music.)

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