Egypt Moves Toward Reforms, But Labor Protests Grow

BY News Desk  February 16, 2011 at 1:13 PM EDT


An Egyptian police man shouts as he and others take to the streets during a protest in al-Mansuriya on Feb.16, 2011, as workers in banking, transport, oil, tourism, textiles, state-owned media and government bodies went on strike to demand higher wages and better conditions. (AFP/Getty Images)

Egypt’s military rulers continued to move toward a series of promised constitutional reforms, but labor protests and other signs of a restive population were seen in Cairo and other cities.

Protesters from sectors ranging from welding to tourism have lobbied for better pay and conditions. An estimated 10,000 textile workers remained on strike Wednesday. Even members of the country’s infamous police forces have lobbied for changes.

Banks across much of the country also remain closed, underscoring the impact of mass protests on Egypt’s economy. Signs of protests near the Suez Canal, a key trade route, also caused jitters.

The acting government sent a text message urging those striking to return to their jobs. The message said “We urge citizens and members of professional and labor unions to go on with their jobs, each in their position.”

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As the country struggles to stabilize after weeks of upheaval, the Health Ministry released estimates Wednesday saying 365 people died during the clashes. That number accounts for civilians, but not police or prisoners.

The military has promised that a committee will present a plan to amend the constitution within 10 days, followed by a public referendum.

Wael Ghonim, a Google employee in Cairo who was imprisoned during the demonstrations and released on Feb. 7, was among eight protest leaders to meet with members of the Egyptian military Monday, CNN reports. Ghonim has become an unofficial figurehead of protesters since his appearance in Tahrir Square re-energized the demonstrations in the days before former president Hosni Mubarak stepped down.

Egypt’s Supreme Military Council has also signaled an openness to meeting with the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood. As the Washington Post reports:

The generals appointed a Brotherhood member to a panel of legal experts charged with rewriting the constitution. Meanwhile, the once-banned movement said it would form a political party for the first time to compete in legislative elections.

Mubarak regarded the Brotherhood as an enemy of the state and prohibited it from organizing a formal political wing during his nearly 30 years in power

On Wednesday’s NewsHour, our reporting team is taking a closer look at how the Mubarak government was able to impose an Internet blackout during Egypt’s uprising. Stay tuned.