Workers and Thieves: Labor Movements and Popular Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt 9780804798648

The book describes the central role of workers and the unemployed in the run up to and the aftermath of the popular upri

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L a b o r M ov em en ts a n d P o pu l a r U p ri si ngs i n T un i s i a an d E g y pt



stanford briefs An Imprint of Stanford University Press Stanford, California

Stanford University Press Stanford, California ©2016 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system without the prior written permission of Stanford University Press. Printed in the United States of America on acid-free, archival-quality paper Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Beinin, Joel, 1948- author. Workers and thieves : labor movements and popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt / Joel Beinin. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 978-0-8047-9804-4 (pbk. : alk. paper) — isbn 978-0-8047-9864-8 (electronic) 1. Labor movement—Tunisia—History. 2. Labor movement— Egypt—History. 3. Working class—Political activity—Tunisia— History. 4. Working class—Political activity—Egypt—History. 5. Tunisia—History—Demonstrations, 2010- 6. Egypt—History— Protests, 2011- I. Title. hd8784.b45 2015 961.105'2—dc23 Typeset by Bruce Lundquist in 10/13 Adobe Garamond


“ A J O B I S A R I G H T, Y O U P A C K O F T H I E V E S ! ” T U N I S I A , G A F S A , 2 0 0 8 ; S I D I B O U Z I D, 2 0 1 0

“ B R E A D, F R E E D O M , S O C I A L J U S T I C E ” E G Y P T, 2 0 1 1 P R O T E S T S


Introduction: Workers, Collective Action, and Politics


1 Colonial Capitalism to Developmentalism


2 The Washington Consensus


3 Insurgent Workers in the Autumn of Autocracy


4 Popular Uprisings in 2011 and Beyond


Conclusion: Workers, Social Struggles, and Democracy




Note on Transliteration


Acronyms and Abbreviations








In 2004 Kamal ‘Abbas, the general coordinator of Egypt’s Center for Trade Union and Workers Services, told me, “The best thing that can be done for democracy in this country is to promote the rights of workers.” An upsurge of wildcat strikes, sit-ins, demonstrations, and other workers’ collective actions that began in the late 1990s was escalating as we spoke. But neither of us understood its full significance at that time. During the 2000s only a handful of Western journalists occasionally reported on these contestations. Inside the Beltway think-tankers almost completely disregarded them. No journalists or foreign policy “experts” considered these collective actions in the context of the accelerating privatization of Egypt’s public resources and the attendant loss of job security, social services, and workers’ status as productive contributors to the national economy—the most common contentious issues.1 Until the January 25, 2011 popular uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, most observers of contemporary Egypt focused on its putative economic and political liberalization and its role in the nonexistent Palestinian-Israeli “peace process.” EuroAmerican scholars and foundations engaged in democracy promotion and their Egyptian counterparts enthused about the 1



expansion of civil society since the 1980s, by which they typically meant nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Only three foreign foundations and two local NGOs devoted serious attention to Egypt’s largest social movement in half a century.2 The regime of Tunisia’s President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, despite promises of political liberalization after he seized power on November 7, 1987, was even more repressive than Mubarak’s in the 2000s. International advocacy NGOs duly documented Tunisia’s egregious human rights violations. But most Western Tunisia experts and political leaders expressed only pro forma concerns about them. Instead they focused on what French presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicholas Sarkozy and many others acclaimed as Tunisia’s “economic miracle.” Tunisian workers engaged in an even larger number of strikes and collective actions than their Egyptian counterparts in the 2000s, although they are less well documented due to more severe media censorship. A six-month-long rebellion in the Gafsa phosphate-mining basin in 2008 prompted by a demand for jobs targeted both the phosphate mining company and nepotistic local officials of the national trade union federation (L’Union générale tunisienne du travail, UGTT), while the leadership of the phosphate miners union stood with the regime. The slogan raised in Gafsa—“A job is a right, you pack of thieves!”—­ reappeared three years later in Sidi Bouzid and the center-west regions where the uprising that ousted Ben Ali on January 14, 2011 began.3 Young cultural revolutionaries like Egypt’s Ramy Essam and Tunisia’s “El General,” youth groups like Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement, Facebook pages like “We are all Khaled Said,” bloggers like Tunisia’s Lina Ben Mhenni and Slim Amamou and Egypt’s Zeinobia, and digital media like were certainly factors in mobilizing the 2011 popular uprisings. However, the satellite TV channel Al Jazeera had a far larger audience and a broader impact than any digital media or radical cultural expressions.



Moreover, digital media and radical cultural expressions were not the principal factors in the most intense contestations that unfolded in the decade before those uprisings. Using the examples of Egypt and Tunisia, this book seeks to explain why the experts were wrong and Kamal ‘Abbas was right. Workers’ participation in the social ferment preceding the ouster of the autocrats and in the political realignments after their demise was far more important than most observers have acknowledged. However, the role of workers cannot fully be explained by their economic grievances. Who are the workers Kamal ‘Abbas was referring to? Throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the terms “workers” (al-‘ummal ) and “working class” (al-tabaqa al-‘amila) are commonly used and understood, although popular definitions are imprecise. Who is included in the working class, and why this is a commonly used term, depends on a complex matrix of historically forged local and national economic, political, social, and cultural relationships. Workers do not have fixed, immutable identities, universal forms of consciousness, and certainly not a predetermined historical trajectory. Workers are “free” wage laborers in two respects: they are free to seek employment in the market and to accept it on the best terms available, and free of independent access to the means of production. In the MENA region wage labor is often seasonal. Some industrial and agricultural workers or their families also own or rent small plots of agricultural land. Since the early twentieth century, an important part of the North African (Maghrebi) working class has migrated to France in search of jobs that did not exist at home. Labor migration in the MENA region became widespread with the oil boom of the 1970s. Egypt has been, since then, the leading Arab labor exporter, with important consequences for the experiences and consciousness of its workers. Those employed in mechanized transport and industrial enterprises, as well as handicraft artisans and the self-employed who possess little capital



other than their hand tools, have been members of trade unions and are popularly considered part of the working class. White-collar workers are powerful actors in the Tunisian labor movement. Schoolteachers and healthcare, postal, and telecommunications workers have long been the most militant members of the UGTT. Many were radicalized during their university studies and brought their political commitments into their unions, where they often served as the organic intellectuals of insurgent forces in the middle and lower levels of the UGTT. As they aged, some became bureaucrats, pragmatists, apologists for autocracy, and opportunists. Others persisted in maintaining a variety of left political views. In Egypt, the enormous contingent of civil servants and lowerlevel white-collar public employees (muwazzafun) is unionized and affiliated with workers. But they have never engaged in public contestation with the regime; indeed they have comprised one of its principal bases of support. Teachers belong to a corporatist Teachers Syndicate established by the regime in 1954.4 Until recently, teachers as well as municipal tax assessors, postal workers, university professors, and publicly employed health professionals were not associated with manual or clerical workers. They came to be so during the workers movement of the 2000s. The MENA region has the highest level of youth unemployment in the world, concentrated among those with a tertiary education, and within that category, among women. The unemployed, especially university graduates among them, do not belong to the working class. But they are children of the working class. Many were able to go to university because their families benefited from the social welfare policies of postcolonial Egypt and Tunisia. Therefore, campaigns of unemployed degree holders demanding jobs may be allied with, and even an organic part of, workers’ struggles, depending on the political orientation of the leadership. In Tunisia, activists of the Union of Unemployed Graduates (L’Union des diplômés chômeurs, UDC) were leading figures in



the social struggles of the late 2000s. In Egypt, while their lack of opportunity was a factor in the social tensions leading to the 2011 popular uprising, unemployed degree holders have no organization and therefore no political leverage. The social and political identities of Egyptian and Tunisian workers were inflected by the initial formation of working classes during the second half of the nineteenth century—the era of colonial capitalism. Private property rights were then gaining legal recognition, but coercive relations of production—sharecropping, forced labor, or recruitment by labor contractors—persisted. ­Europeans dominated the most lucrative economic sectors. The economies were extraverted and shaped by exports of cash crops or primary products and the hyperdevelopment of transportation to facilitate their movement. Urban quarters where Europeans and local elites resided enjoyed modern utilities and services. ­European overlordship limited the capacity of states to regulate markets and social relations and promote industrialization. Indigenous capital was weak and could not compete with most European manufactures. The political and cultural identities of workers in the MENA region and the histories of their labor movements are inseparable from anticolonial struggles for national independence. Labor histories are both integral parts of the national histories of Tunisia and Egypt and central to the stories of their insertion into the global capitalist market. Until the end of the colonial era in the 1950s, “worker” often meant someone employed by a European enterprise or army or a waged employee supervised by a foreigner and who earned less than a European performing a similar job. Political parties and trade unionists alike often regarded workplace contestations as an integral component of nationalist struggles against colonial rule. Many workers were concentrated in urban centers and strategic, large-scale, modern enterprises and were more easily mobilized for anticolonial campaigns than the peasant majority. Therefore workers constituted a valuable political asset



for nationalist parties and leaders of postcolonial states, perhaps none more so than Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser (1952–70) and Tunisia’s Habib Bourguiba (1956–87). Postindependence Tunisian and Egyptian workers employed in public sector industries and utilities were relatively privileged and took pride in their contributions to developing modern national economies. Their economic security and social status were increasingly undermined from the 1970s on. These threats constituted the broad context of several cycles of workers’ contentious actions in the decades before the overthrow of Ben Ali and Mubarak. The UGTT provided Tunisian workers with a national trade union organization that had its own sources of legitimacy, a history of political and economic struggle, and a degree of autonomy from the state. Bourguiba and Ben Ali never fully subjugated the UGTT. Dissidents at its lower and middle levels of leadership could often deploy its organizational structures for militant contestations on economic issues, which sometimes had political ramifications. The Egyptian Trade Union Federation (al-Ittihad al-‘amm li-niqabat ‘ummal misr, ETUF) was created by the Nasser regime as an instrument of the state and continued to be so under his successors. The Nasser regime markedly improved the lives of working people even though ETUF did not actually represent them or offer them a political forum. Therefore, most workers eschewed politics and were suspicious of oppositional intellectuals who sought to intervene in their economic struggles and offer what they understood to be the “correct” political orientation. This comparison does not naively idolize the UGTT. Like trade unions everywhere, it is encumbered with bureaucratic organizational structures and undemocratic practices. Like many other political figures and institutions in Tunisia today, the UGTT is rewriting its history to portray itself as a consistent defender of democracy and human rights. But its actual past is not pristine. No real historical person or institution can be. The number and magnitude of the errors, misjudgments, compromises and crimes



that may be committed before being consigned to villainy is the terrain of historical interpretation and debate. Workers and the groups associated with them are the principal historical subjects of this book. But I do not argue that the Tunisian and Egyptian popular uprisings of 2011 were due solely to the collective actions of workers. Those uprisings were the outcome of many different determinations and even historical accidents, like the increased price of food from 2008 to the end of the decade. The workers movements do highlight the transformations in the political economy of the Arab region since the 1970s, which the Arab uprisings targeted, albeit mostly indirectly. The social movements of Tunisian and Egyptian workers and those affiliated with them were the most persistent contestations of the 2000s and the largest demographic component of the culture of protest that empowered Arabs to want the fall of autocratic regimes. Mobilizations of workers and the unemployed infrequently demanded democracy or regime change as such. Consequently most NGOs and regime-approved political parties were not regularly engaged with them. Some even disdained their “­apolitical” nature. Class prejudice, accommodations with “secular” autocrats to fight against Islamists, and the NGO-ization of politics impeded the understanding that democracy is an outcome of social struggles, not the proliferation of NGOs and housebroken parties, the “correct sequencing” of economic and political policy changes, and certainly not European culture or teleological progress toward the “end of history.” The political economy of the workers movements in Tunisia and Egypt is similar. But the possibilities and limitations on workers’ agency were structured by their organizational capacities, their relationships with the intelligentsia, political parties, and NGOs, as well as changes in the local and global political economy. These factors explain why the UGTT decisively influenced Tunisia’s post–Ben Ali trajectory toward procedural democracy. In contrast, ETUF remained loyal to Mubarak until the end, and beyond.



Newly established independent unions and federations did not have the organizational capacity or political experience to influence the post-Mubarak political agenda or prevent the installation of a praetorian autocracy more vicious than the Mubarak regime.




The dominant position of foreign or resident European capital and the national/racial component of relations between labor and capital were central features of colonial capitalism and the formation of working classes in both Tunisia and Egypt. But there were also significant differences. Egypt was nominally independent, a far richer prize, and strategically located at the crossroads of the British ­Empire. Tunisia was a settler colony, albeit on a much smaller scale than neighboring Algeria. Settler workers established strong unions informed by the language of socialism and class. Their blindness to colonialism prompted Tunisian workers to form their own trade unions informed by a nationalist understanding of class. Among Egypt’s relatively small population of resident Europeans and ­Levantines there were some pioneer trade unionists and socialists. Resident Greek cigarette-rollers went on strike in 1899 and subsequently formed Egypt’s first trade union. But as early as 1908 Egyptian nationalist politicians—lawyers, journalists, and other modern professionals—embraced workers and led many trade unions. They avoided the language of class until Marxists reintroduced it in the 1930s. The Tunisian nationalist intelligentsia was slower to support workers and their issues, so trade unions became a salient, relatively autonomous actor in the nationalist movement. 9




From the 1860s to the 1950s, the distinctive elements of Egyptian colonial capitalism were cultivation and export of raw cotton; concessionary contracts with Europeans for infrastructure, transportation, and public utilities projects; and financial bondage to European banks.1 The most important transportation concession was the Suez Canal. It opened in 1869 and was built, owned, and operated by a Paris-based multinational corporation. The Egyptian government supplied twenty thousand corvée laborers annually during the decade of the canal’s construction. In return, it received 44 percent of the company’s shares. Under financial duress, Khedive Isma‘il sold Egypt’s shares to the British government in 1875. Egypt’s state bankruptcy in 1876 and a popular movement of resistance to European economic and political domination in 1879–82 led to British military occupation of Egypt in 1882. A nationalist uprising in 1919 compelled Britain to issue a unilateral declaration of independence in 1922, although Britain retained ultimate power in collaboration with the monarchy it created, the large cotton-growing magnates, and an emergent urban business class. From the formation of the first nationalist parties in 1907 until 1954, ending the British occupation was the principal issue in Egyptian politics. The Euro-American financial crisis of 1907 triggered a collapse in the global market price of raw cotton and its byproducts, which comprised over 90 percent of Egypt’s exports. Tal‘at Harb, a financial manager for the Egyptian Sugar Company, seized the occasion to begin campaigning for economic diversification and industrialization. By then a cosmopolitan Egyptian bourgeoisie including aspiring industrialists was in formation, consisting of resident foreigners, Levantine minorities, and indigenous Muslims, Christians, and Jews. The 1919 nationalist uprising was the formative moment for the



mobilization of both labor and capital under a patriotic banner. In March the British arrested and deported Sa‘d Zaghlul, the leader of the Wafd (delegation) Party, which had been formed only months before to demand Egyptian independence. During the ensuing national uprising, urban workers engaged in dozens of strikes, formed new trade unions, and readily conjoined their workplace issues with the nationalist cause. In 1920 Tal‘at Harb and his colleagues established Bank Misr (Misr is the Arabic name for Egypt). He promoted it as the first Egyptian-owned bank with a mission to finance industrial development. Bank Misr’s flagship enterprise, established in 1927, was the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company—popularly known as Ghazl al-Mahalla after the central Delta town of ­al-Mahalla alKubra, where it is located. At the end of World War II Ghazl alMahalla employed twenty-five thousand workers and was the largest industrial enterprise in the entire MENA region. Egypt regained tariff autonomy in 1930, enabling the government to ban imports of sugar and cotton thread and encourage agrobusiness and industrial enterprises. During both world wars large allied armies stationed in Egypt employed hundreds of thousands of Egyptians. The Anglo-American Middle East Supply Center established during World War II promoted industrial production for the war effort. Modern transportation networks, state-supported private enterprises, and allied military requirements made Egypt the most industrialized Arab country with the largest working class by the end of World War II. Nonetheless, Egypt could not manufacture producer goods or agricultural machinery like tractors or harvesters. The fundamental contours of the political economy were unaltered: cotton remained king. The departure of the allied armies after World War II collapsed the domestic market. Tens of thousands of first-generation industrial, transport, and service workers were morally and economically shocked to find themselves “arbitrarily fired,” as they understood their situation. Local capital was too weak to provide



an adequate number of comparable jobs or compete with the renewed flow of imported manufactures. Stimulated by the growth of the textile industry, and supported by cosmopolitan intellectuals engaged in renewing Egyptian Marxism, a trend advocating trade union independence from all political parties emerged in the 1930s. Marxist-influenced workers led large textile workers unions in suburban Cairo during and after World War II. Three strike waves in 1945–46, 1947–48, and 1950–51 infused the nationalist movement with a progressive social component, inextricably intertwining class and national identities. C O LO N I A L C A P I TA L I S M I N T U N I S I A

Predatory loans by French banks led to Tunisia’s state bankruptcy in 1869. Its finances fell under joint British-French-Italian control. Political control followed. France declared Tunisia a protectorate in 1881. In the nineteenth century, Italians were the principal European settlers. Italian and French settlers employed Tunisian sharecroppers to cultivate olive trees in the Sahel (the coastal plain extending south of Hammamet through Sousse and ­Monastir to Mahdia) and French or Tunisian laborers in the vineyards of the Mejerda River valley. To offset the Italian presence, France promoted settlement of its citizens and their investment in agriculture. By 1930 the rate of mechanization and productivity of settler colonial agriculture in Tunisia was greater than in metropolitan France.2 When Tunisia became independent in 1956, French citizens comprised some 145,000 of its 255,000 European settlers. The single most important French economic interest in Tunisia was mining and export of raw phosphates. The Compagnie des phosphates et des chemins de fer de Gafsa (CPCFG) received a concession in 1896 and began exporting raw phosphates after completing its railway line to Sfax in 1899. In the late 1920s ­Tunisia’s



twenty-one thousand miners (including 3,600 Europeans) formed the largest single component of its industrial workforce. But the CPCFG contributed little to Gafsa’s development other than employment. The railway was “the equivalent of an oil pipeline: a long-distance system of inhaling the resources of Gafsa.”3 French and Italian railway, tramway, postal, public service, and construction workers established Tunisia’s first trade unions before World War I and its first labor federation in October 1919—a section of France’s Confédération générale du travail (CGT). French socialists (La Section française de l’international ouvrier) and communists (the Tunisian section of the Communist Party of France) were the main political forces in the CGT. They imagined that the more “advanced” French working class would lead the colonies to socialism. Therefore they opposed separate Tunisian national trade unions and Tunisian independence. French citizens’ wages were officially one-third higher than indigenous wages. In August 1924 Tunisian dockworkers in Tunis and Bizerte went on strike demanding a unified wage equal to the twenty-four francs a day earned by dockworkers in Marseille.4 Other sectors followed. The European unions refused to support the strikers, prompting the formation of the first Tunisian national trade union federation, the Confédération générale tunisienne du travail (al-Jami‘a al-‘amma al-tunisiyya lil-shughl, CGTT) led by the legendary M’hammed ‘Ali Hammi. French authorities viewed this first mobilization of the emergent Tunisian working class as an anticolonial uprising. In 1925 they dissolved the CGTT and exiled most of its leaders, including Hammi. Tahar Haddad, a professor at the modernist Zaytuna mosqueuniversity, befriended Hammi and briefly succeeded him as the leader of the CGTT. While Haddad was critical of capitalism and familiar with European Marxism, he articulated the foundational doctrine of Tunisian trade unionism: the primacy of the anticolonial struggle. Consequently, Haddad joined Tunisia’s first nationalist party, the Destour (Liberal Constitutional Party, al-Hizb al-hurr



al-dusturi). The Destour program prioritized the demand to restore the Constitution (dustur) of 1861, the first in the Middle East and North Africa. It supported the principle of “equal pay for equal work.” But it had in mind primarily government clerical workers. It eschewed mass politics and disdained manual workers. When the Destour did not defend the CGTT, Haddad left the party.5 Despite being foreign dominated, the CGT filled the vacuum left by the demise of the CGTT. It eventually embraced “equal pay for equal work.” French authorities conceded the demand for public sector workers in 1936.6 In 1934 a group of French-educated young men from the Sahel led by Habib Bourguiba broke away from the Destour and founded the more assertively nationalist Neo-Destour Party (New Liberal Constitutional Party, al-Hizb al-hurr al-dusturi al-jadid). The multinational composition of the CGT and its opposition to Tunisian independence was a negative factor for the Neo-Destour that overrode its substantial contributions to workers’ economic struggles. Therefore the Neo-Destour sought to rebuild a national labor federation under its aegis. Farhat Hached is generally considered the founder of that federation—the Union générale tunisienne du travail (al-Ittihad ­al-‘amm al-tunisi lil-shughl, UGTT). In 1944 he resigned his post as assistant secretary general of the CGT to organize Tunisian workers on a national basis. By November Hached and Ahmed Tlili, a native of Gafsa and an advocate for its phosphate miners, formed a southern federation of Tunisian trade unions. A sister northern federation was established shortly thereafter. In 1946 the two regional federations united in the UGTT, which claimed 80,000 members by 1952.7 The 1955 census of the Neo-Destour tallied 221,000 members, but no more than 12,000– 15,000 activists (militants).8 The UGTT was by far Tunisia’s largest civic organization and could mobilize thousands of workers. Hence, it constituted the most important social base of the nationalist movement. This allowed the UGTT to remain allied



with but organizationally autonomous from the Neo-Destour. The UGTT enhanced its political clout through Hached’s close alliance with Bourguiba and his Francophile, secular-modernist faction of the Neo-Destour.9 During a brief period of armed struggle for independence and consequent French repression, Hached was the principal nationalist leader living in Tunisia. On December 5, 1952 terrorist settlers acting on orders of the French Counter-Espionage Service assassinated him. Hached’s death bequeathed to the UGTT unassailable nationalist legitimacy, which it retains to this day. Idolization of Hached’s leadership and martyrdom for the national cause tends to obscure the historic tensions between the UGTT and the Neo-Destour and the regional/class conflicts in Tunisian political history. Three of the five historic UGTT founders—Hached, Habib Achour, and Mohammed Kraïem—hailed from the Kerkennah Islands.10 Another of the five, Abdelaziz Bouraoui, was born in Sfax. Tunisian railway workers on the SfaxGafsa line independently formed a union in 1944.11 Thus the historic social base of Tunisian national trade unionism was the southern axis of Gafsa-Sfax-Kerkennah, which later mounted several challenges to Bourguiba and his economic policies. The rivalry between Sfax and Sousse and the underdevelopment of the interior regions of the center-west and the south in contrast to the coast have been constant undercurrents in both national and trade union politics. The marginalized regions have disproportionately embraced forces opposed to coastal elites— communists, Youssefists (see below), and Islamists. Regional deprivation and class exploitation intersected in Gafsa, as they still do today. The Francophile modernism of Bourguiba’s wing of the Neo-Destour and his allies in the UGTT never commanded unchallenged support there. Thus, the CGT led nearly half the 159 strikes in the Gafsa phosphate mining basin from 1946 to 1956 and joined with the UGTT in leading an additional one third of them.12




Overt colonialism ended in most of the global South in the decades following World War II. During the same period Western states and bankers, hoping to avoid a recurrence of the Great Depression, remade global capitalism. The 1944 Bretton Woods Conference established the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to regulate the postwar economic order.13 “­Fordism-Keynesianism,” in the terminology of the regulation school of political economy, captures the essential features of the new regime of capital accumulation.14 Fordism-Keynesianism was based on domestically oriented mass production and mass consumption (introduced by Henry Ford, pioneer of the moveable assembly line) and governmentmanaged demand and spending to stimulate employment (advocated by John Maynard Keynes). Fordism-Keynesianism was politically secured by the New Deal and European social democracy, which established a compromise between labor and capital that delivered the high wages, high productivity, and high profits in Western Europe and North America from about 1948 to 1971. The success of Fordism-Keynesianism depended on U.S. military power and economic supremacy, the dollar’s function as an international currency, and U.S. leadership in shaping the economic reconstruction of Europe and Japan. Fordism-Keynesianism in this form was not a feasible regime of capital accumulation in the decolonizing countries of the global South. The typical economic entailments of colonialism were limited mechanized industry and low-wage, low-consumption economies with large subsistence agriculture and seasonal wage labor sectors. Therefore, the IMF and the World Bank fostered developmentalism, an economic strategy based on import-substitution industrialization: replacing imported consumer goods with domestically manufactured products targeted to local markets and protecting uncompetitive “infant industries” with high tariff barriers. Large agricultural landholdings were redistributed to en-



hance social equity and increase the purchasing power of poor, or more commonly middling, farmers. States led economic development through planning and public investment in industry, public utilities, and strategic economic sectors like petroleum, and provided a substantial social safety net for urban workers. Developmentalism has also been termed “peripheral Keynesianism,” a term indicating that, like Fordism-Keynesianism in the developed capitalist economies, it secured a class compromise comparable to the New Deal or European social democracy. I use both terms interchangeably. PERIPHERAL KEYNESIANISM IN EGYPT

On July 23, 1952 Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser led the “Free Officers” in executing a coup d’état. Most Egyptians came to consider the coup a revolution based on the land reform of September 1952; significant wage increases for urban workers; the evacuation of British troops by 1956; construction of the Aswan High Dam and other major industrial projects; Egypt’s leading role in the nonaligned movement; and most audaciously, nationalization of the Suez Canal on July 23, 1956. Nationalizing the canal was wildly acclaimed in Egypt, the Arab world, and among nonaligned nations. Along with Tunisian and Moroccan independence from France only months earlier and ­Algeria’s ongoing war of independence, it heralded the demise of European colonialism. Despite a military defeat by Anglo-FrenchIsraeli invaders in October 1956, Egypt retained control of the Suez Canal thanks to U.S. and Soviet intervention. Nasser emerged from the war as a hero of anti-imperialist pan-Arab nationalism (al-­ qawmiyya al-‘arabiyya)—the ascendant ideology throughout the Arab region from 1956 until the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. After the Suez War, Egypt nationalized British-, French-, and Belgian-owned enterprises. Nationalization of Bank Misr and its affiliated enterprises in 1960 and subsequently every other major



industrial, commercial, and financial enterprise in the country further augmented the public sector. A new state ideology formally declared the leading role of the public sector: Arab ­Socialism—essentially an intensification of developmentalist policies already in place. Workers, like most Egyptians, enthusiastically supported the army movement of July 23, 1952. But the Free Officers distrusted civilian organizations they did not fully control. The regime blocked efforts to establish a national labor federation, in part because of the continuing influence of the left in the textile unions. Nasser appreciated the enthusiastic support of the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions for his decision to nationalize the Suez Canal and was somewhat embarrassed that Egypt was the only member state with no national labor federation. Therefore, in January 1957 the Egyptian Workers Federation, predecessor of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), was established on the basis of a corporatist bargain: the government would authorize a national trade union federation but exercise a veto power over its leadership, ban strikes, and supervise its activities.15 Most workers, except for a small number of Marxists, accepted these arrangements. ETUF became an arm of the state, a status consolidated by its president serving simultaneously as minister of labor for most of the next three decades. At a meeting convened to discuss the 1962 National Charter, the foundational document of Arab Socialism, ETUF President Anwar Salama criticized the charter’s failure to mention the role of unions in defending workers’ rights. Nasser responded angrily, “The workers don’t demand; we give.”16 ETUF never negotiated with private sector employers over wages and working conditions. Its national leaders bargained with other elements of the state apparatus, since the vast majority of its members were (and remain today) employed in the public sector. In 1962 Egypt negotiated IMF assistance to alleviate a crisis in its balance of payments, a common problem of import-­substitution



industrialization. Nasser agreed to devalue the Egyptian pound but rejected IMF proposals to impose austerity.17 When the IMF sought an additional 40 percent devaluation during further negotiations in 1965, Nasser cut them short declaring that the IMF’s demands insulted Egypt’s national dignity. Nonetheless, no new social legislation was introduced after that year. Egypt’s military intervention in Yemen and its defeat in the 1967 war proved fatal to Nasser’s goal of increasing public investment and private consumption simultaneously. The March 30, 1968 Manifesto promoted technocratic solutions to Egypt’s economic problems, implicitly signaling a retreat from Arab Socialism.18 PERIPHERAL KEYNESIANISM IN TUNISIA

With Bourguiba’s support, Ahmed Ben Saleh, an avowed socialist, succeeded Farhat Hached as UGTT secretary general in 1954. On the eve of independence a factional struggle within the NeoDestour erupted. Salah Ben Youssef led a culturally Arabo-Islamist faction inspired by Algeria’s armed struggle and based in the ­center-west and southern regions against Bourguiba’s Francophile modernist faction based in Tunis and the Sahel. Ben Saleh supported Bourguiba, thus increasing the UGTT’s already considerable influence in the Neo-Destour. At the 1955 UGTT congress, Bourguiba disingenuously announced he would support its plan for socialist development. But after independence in March 1956 Bourguiba had no further need for Ben Saleh and encouraged his ally, Habib Achour, to undermine Ben Saleh by splitting the UGTT. This crisis was resolved in 1957 by the reunification of the UGTT based on the understanding that it would not push the regime in a socialist direction. Nonetheless, four UGTT leaders became members of Tunisia’s first postindependence cabinet, and UGTT members comprised a quarter of the ninety members of the first National Assembly. The economic report presented at the September 1956 UGTT congress



became the guide for Tunisia’s first Ten-Year Plan.19 The UGTT leadership loyally supported Bourguiba and the Neo-Destour and urged workers to restrain their wage demands from 1954 to 1965. In return it gained progressive legislation, workers’ cooperatives, social welfare programs, an expanded social security system, and participation in government consultative bodies. In 1961 Bourguiba returned Ben Saleh to power as minister of planning and finance and the guiding force behind Tunisia’s “­socialist experiment”—a version of peripheral Keynesianism. Bourguiba had not become a socialist. Rather he adapted to the powerful impact of Nasser’s Arab Socialism throughout the region. In addition, the poor record of industrial development since independence—largely because the Tunisian business class lacked the capital and technical and managerial skills, not necessarily the desire—led Bourguiba to conclude that only public investment and state-led development could build the infrastructural and institutional foundations for the private sector. The large landowners of the Sahel, a powerful constituency within the Neo-Destour, vehemently opposed Tunisian socialism. Ben Saleh established seven hundred agricultural cooperatives. But they only encompassed holdings smaller than 40 hectares. The large olive orchards of the Sahel would have had to be included to provide enough capital for the socialist experiment to succeed. In 1969 the World Bank supported the large landowners by refusing to finance Ben Saleh’s proposal to extend the agricultural cooperative program to their lands. In April 1964 the IMF required Tunisia to devalue its dinar by 25 percent in return for credit assistance, a more severe version of its 1962 deal with Egypt. Devaluation significantly cut real wages.20 Ben Saleh’s socialist supporters in the UGTT—mainly better-paid, educated, white-collar workers—were able to tighten their belts. Achour’s base—lower-paid, blue-collar phosphate miners, railway workers, and longshoremen, especially in the south and center-west—could not manage with lower real wages. In



September 1964 Achour and the UGTT executive bureau demanded that workers receive wage increases to offset the increased cost of living. Bourguiba excoriated Achour and his supporters as khobzists— trade unionists who prioritized bread over loyalty to the party and the nation—and launched a broad purge of the UGTT leadership.21 Achour was arrested after delivering a May Day 1965 speech upholding the UGTT’s position on wages and ousted from his post as UGTT secretary general. But in January 1970 Bourguiba sought to placate restive workers by reinstalling Achour. As he did previously with Ben Saleh, Bourguiba often forgave chastened opponents willing to acknowledge his red lines, and reintegrated them into the regime. Despite the Neo-Destour’s reincarnation as the Socialist Destour Party (al-Hizb al-Ishtiraki al-Dusturi, PSD) in 1964, ­Tunisian socialism did not survive the decade. Ben Saleh was arrested and sentenced to ten years in jail. In 1970 Hédi Nouira, the director of the Tunisian Central Bank who opposed Ben Saleh’s policies, became prime minister. PERIPHERAL KEYNESIANISM: A BALANCE SHEET

Despite the sharp political differences between Egypt under Nasser and Tunisia under Bourguiba, until about 1970 the economic and social programs of both countries were variant forms of peripheral Keynesianism relying on state planning, importsubstitution industrialization, high tariffs, and public investment—the same strategy adopted by almost every country that has successfully industrialized, including the United States. The priority was to overcome the economic legacy of colonialism by indigenizing the economy and public administration. Both countries nationalized high-profile foreign assets: the Suez Canal in 1956 followed by other British, French, and Belgian enterprises in Egypt; 350,000 hectares of French-owned land in the



Tunisian Sahel in 1964, and the phosphate company in 1966. After independence Tunisian nationals replaced some eight to twelve thousand French government functionaries. After the Suez War large numbers of indigenous Jews, Levantine minorities, and foreigners left Egypt, opening up many white-collar jobs for Muslims and Copts. Both states developed extensive social welfare projects. Statesponsored feminism and education programs were more effective in Tunisia than in Egypt, with long-term consequences for their political cultures. But in both countries women entered all levels of the wage labor force in greater numbers, and children of peasants and the urban working and lower-middle classes gained access to university education for the first time. Egypt doubled the minimum wage of industrial workers in 1953. The index of real hourly wages of industrial workers increased from 101 in 1951 to 190 in 1964, before dropping to 165 in 1970. In addition, workers received social insurance financed by employers, a 25 percent distribution of net profits, increased sick leave, and higher disability pay, while employers’ prerogatives to lay off or fire workers were sharply curtailed.22 The 1952 land reform and its amendments were not radical measures but improved equity and eliminated the political power of large landowners, the largest fraction of the ruling class during the monarchy. During Egypt’s first Five-Year Plan (FY 1960/61–1964/65), the average annual rate of GDP growth was a moderately high 5.5 percent. Well over 90 percent of planned investment goals were achieved. At the same time, overemployment in the public sector, which continues today, became substantial, and some of the growth in exported manufactures was due to the devaluation of the Egyptian pound in 1962.23 The second Five-Year Plan was cut short because of the military intervention in Yemen and the 1967 war. Nonetheless, from 1965/66 to 1971/72, a period of severe economic difficulties, the average annual rate of GDP growth was 2.7 percent.24 Therefore, using the indicator most favored by the interna-



tional financial institutions, it is not a foregone conclusion that radical restructuring of the economy was necessary. The precipitous decline in Tunisian agricultural production during the 1960s tends to overshadow all other economic indicators. Food imports dramatically increased the trade deficit. However, the agricultural failure was largely due to poor weather and harvests in 1964–68 and large landowners’ redirection of their capital due to fears that their property would be brought into the cooperative system. In addition, public sector mining and manufacturing enterprises generated profits in only one year between 1963 and 1969, partly due to the decline in world phosphate prices.25 Nonetheless, major public sector projects like the SOGITEX textile factory in Ksar Hellal and the refinery at Bizerte to process petroleum, discovered in 1966, provided a foundation for future industrial growth. The government invested 90 million dinars a year in economic and social projects between 1962 and 1969; the number of state-owned enterprises grew from 25 in 1960 to nearly 185 in 1970; and industry’s proportion of the GDP rose from 10 to 23 percent in the 1960s. Per capita GDP in constant prices increased modestly from $833 in 1962 to $1,090 in 1970.26 But relatively equitable social and redistribution policies reduced the proportion of Tunisians living below the poverty line from 73 percent in 1961 to 42 percent in 1970.27 From 1962 to 1969 the real average wage in Tunisia rose by only 1 percent, while the cost of living rose 30 percent. Unemployment remained above 20 percent. Wage austerity and unemployment eroded support for socialist policies among urban workers. Large landholders retained and even increased their political power—a sharp divergence from Egypt. Despite his initial support for the socialist experiment, Bourguiba was never hostile to the private sector. State credits and other assistance to the private sector amounted to 75 percent of all investment in the 1960s, and local private investment averaged 6.6 million dinars a year from 1962 to 1969.28 There was no comparable increase



in private investment in Egypt until the post-1973 oil boom.29 In Egypt the state, its economic managers, and its military/political class dominated every aspect of the economy and society. In contrast, Tunisia retained a substantial private sector and a viable business class, even if it was too weak to lead industrial development. Because the UGTT resisted wage austerity during the latter half of the 1960s, it retained a certain degree of autonomy from the state and the ruling party and credibility among its base. The lack of wage austerity in Egypt until after the 1967 war meant there was no need for ETUF to mobilize around this issue. More importantly, it could not have done so even had it wished to. When workers did protest wage austerity after the 1967 Arab-­ Israeli War, ETUF stood against them. TO W A R D A N E W R E G I M E O F C A P I TA L A C C U M U L AT I O N

The Arab defeat of 1967 signaled the decline of pan-Arab nationalism and Arab Socialism. In Egypt, authoritarian populism gave way to bureaucratic authoritarianism and economic and political embrace of the West. In Tunisia, Nasser’s diminished prestige facilitated abandoning the socialist experiment. The spike in oil prices following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War reoriented the political economy of the MENA region toward oil-based rents, empowered Saudi Arabia and the oil monarchies of the Gulf, and valorized their so-called Islamic social norms. Coincidentally the decline in manufacturing profits in the West in the late 1960s and early 1970s presaged the demise of the ­Fordist-Keynesian regime of capital accumulation established at Bretton Woods.30 Its death knell was the unilateral decision of the United States to delink the dollar from gold in 1971 (until then, $1 bought 35 ounces of gold). Then followed the global recession of 1973–75 and a decade of stagflation. The crisis of Fordism-­ Keynesianism is often incorrectly attributed to the increased price of crude petroleum from $14 a barrel in 1972 to a peak of $79 a



barrel in early 1981 (in constant 2010 dollars).31 However, international petroleum companies were major beneficiaries of the oil boom; the decline in manufacturing profits was a more fundamental cause of the crisis. Oil-poor countries of the global South, facing rising petroleum prices and declining terms of trade for their primary products (like cotton and phosphates), successfully pressed the United Nations General Assembly to adopt a Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order in 1974. The statement advocated: (1) the right to regulate multinational corporations and nationalize or expropriate foreign property; (2) establishing associations of primary commodities producers modeled on OPEC; (3) a more equitable international trade regime; and (4) technology transfers and no-strings-attached economic aid to developing countries. The international financial institutions, Western governments, and their camp followers resolutely rejected these proposals. They declared developmentalism a failure—a logical extension of the impasse of Fordism-Keynesianism—and began to promote a new economic strategy for the global South based on market-driven, export-led growth. Tunisia and Egypt were early adopters of policies repudiating developmentalism and peripheral Keynesianism. However, rents derived from oil generated sufficient hard currency to allow them to avoid fully acceding to the IMF–World Bank program during the 1970s. As they are only modest oil exporters, the labor migration associated with oil was more important than oil itself. As many as 3.5 million Egyptians, about one third of the formal wage labor force, migrated to oil-producing states, mainly Saudi Arabia and Libya, during the oil boom. In 1988 at least 20 percent of Egyptian wage earners were employed abroad, and officially recorded annual remittances of migrants amounted to about $3.2 billion.32 Remittances comprised between 10 and 11.8 percent of Egypt’s GDP in the 1980s. Massive labor migration to conserva-



tive countries undermined the Nasserist ethos of many workers in the 1970s and beyond. The number of Tunisian migrant workers was absolutely and proportionally much smaller. From 1974 to 1994 the average annual number of Tunisian labor migrants was about 100,000.33 In 1988 officially recorded remittances of migrant workers comprised 4.93 percent of the GDP.34 Most Tunisian migrants and many students went to France, where some were influenced by the European left. OLD AND NEW LEFTS

In March 1968 Palestinian-Jordanian forces held off the Israeli army at the Battle of Karameh. This symbolic victory allowed Fatah and other armed groups to take over the Palestine Liberation Organization. Many Arabs embraced the Palestinian struggle as the new anti-imperialist vanguard, replacing failed state-led pan-Arab nationalism and Arab Socialism. Palestine became the leading edge of Arab participation in the global new left. The intellectual center of the Arab new left was Beirut. But it inspired radical student movements in Egypt, Tunisia, and other Arab countries. Michel Foucault’s observations on the student movements of 1966 and 1968, when he taught in Tunisia, foreshadow the 2011 Arab uprisings: What was the meaning of that outburst of radical revolt that the Tunisian students had attempted?. . . . My answer is that the dissatisfaction came from the way in which a kind of permanent oppression in daily life was being put into effect by the state and by other institutions and oppressive groups. . . . It was no longer acceptable to be “governed” in a certain way.35

Student-based Arab new lefts resolutely opposed the new economic policies promoted by the international financial institutions. But they were not deeply rooted among workers and other popular strata.



Old and New Lefts in Egypt

Egyptian Marxism was fatally disabled by its convoluted history of sectarianism, its limited presence in the working class, xenophobia, and the exceptional burden of posing an alternative to the “hero of Arabism,” Gamal Abdel Nasser.36 Factionalism and personality clashes blocked formation of a single political party until the belated formation of the united Communist Part of Egypt (al-Hizb al-Shuyu‘i al-Misri, CPE) on January 8, 1958. Before the year was over it had split, largely reproducing previously existing factions. Like orthodox communists everywhere, Egyptian Marxists espoused the “two-stage theory” of revolution, which viewed the struggle for national liberation led by a democratic national bourgeoisie as a necessary predecessor to the struggle for socialism. Class questions were therefore secondary to the struggle against imperialism. The Marxists were outflanked when Nasser, certainly not a bourgeois democrat, realized the most important nationalist objectives, embraced Arab Socialism, and aligned with the Soviet camp in the Cold War. Nearly all Egyptian communists enthusiastically supported these measures. Nonetheless, Nasser rejected their insistence on maintaining organizational and ideological autonomy, which was expressed in their preference for the policies of Iraq’s ‘Abd al-Karim Qasim (because he openly allied with the Communist Party of Iraq) and one faction’s opposition to Egyptian-Syrian unity in the United Arab Republic (because it meant liquidating the Communist Party of Syria). Consequently, thousands of Egyptian communists were imprisoned in late 1958 and early 1959 and subjected to harsh conditions, including torture, before being released in 1963–64. A year later, both communist parties formally dissolved themselves and directed their members to join the Arab Socialist Union—the third iteration of the Nasser regime’s single party. Former communist intellectuals assumed prominent positions in the state cultural apparatus. Former communist workers were often blacklisted



from employment in the public sector. Many of them began to distrust the left intelligentsia and “politics.” During 1971–72 workers at several public sector enterprises sought to recover their losses from the austerity measures enacted after the 1967 war: the first sustained expression of workers’ discontent since Nasser consolidated power in 1954. The six thousand workers at the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company in Helwan went on strike twice. Most leftist intellectuals did not support them because, misled by the brief presence of two former communist leaders in the cabinet, they harbored false hopes that Nasser’s successor, President Anwar Sadat (1970–81), would lead Egypt onto a more democratic path. Dissatisfaction with the subordination of former communists to the Nasser regime and, even less tolerably, the Sadat regime gave birth to a new communist movement. In 1975 some former communist leaders reestablished the Communist Party of Egypt and aligned it with the Soviet Union. The CPE managed to rebuild some presence among workers, but rarely in its own name. Some of those radicalized in the student movements of 1968–73 who were critical of the historic trajectory of the CPE and the decision to dissolve it formed the Egyptian Communist Workers Party (Hizb al-‘ummal al-shuyu‘i al-misri), which supported workers’ struggles but never succeeded in establishing a base among them before it disappeared in the 1980s. A multi-tendency socialist group at Cairo University in the 1970s issued statements supporting several workplace collective actions but also had little direct contact with workers.37 Although he was vehemently anticommunist, Sadat sought to legalize a left he could control. Many former communists, having already subordinated themselves to the state for a decade, participated in this project. In 1975 Sadat began incrementally implementing a severely constrained multiparty system by authorizing three “platforms” within the Arab Socialist Union—left, right, and center. When the transformation was complete, the “center



platform” became the National Democratic Party (NDP), the ruling state party until 2011. In April 1976 the “left platform” became the legal, and necessarily housebroken, Tagammu‘ (National Progressive Unionist Party). Most communists and former communists who remained politically active joined the Tagammu‘, along with activists from the 1968–73 student movements, Nasserists, independents, and “progressive Islamists.” The regime tolerated the Tagammu‘ but banned most public activity outside its Cairo headquarters. Still, many workers were supporters and members through the 1980s. The Old Left and the New Left in Tunisia

The Communist Party of Tunisia, first established as a section of the French party in 1920, functioned legally from 1934 until the Vichy regime banned it in 1939 and from 1943 until Bourguiba banned it in 1962. Because the communists opposed Tunisian independence, they had little influence by the 1950s and were a safe, inconsequential opposition. Therefore the party was relegalized as part of the ostensible political liberalization proclaimed at the April 1981 congress of the Socialist Destour Party. Members of two other left parties were permitted to run in the November 1, 1981 parliamentary elections. At the last minute, frightened by the possibility that the Movement of Democratic Socialists might win a seat in Tunis, the government brazenly fixed the vote count. The communists lost credibility by agreeing to participate in the electoral charade, while the newly established Islamic Tendency Movement (Harakat al-ittijah al-islami, MTI) enhanced its reputation by appearing to uphold democratic principles and boycotting. Disoriented by the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1993 the Communist Party became Ettajdid (Renewal Movement, Harakat al-tajdid) and further diminished its credibility by aligning with the regime against MTI’s successor, Ennahda (Renaissance Movement, Harakat al-nahda).



In 1963 socialist students residing in France established the Tunisian Group for Socialist Study and Action (Le Groupe d’études et d’action socialiste tunisien), usually known by the name of its French journal, Perspectives. The 1967 Arab-Israeli War and the May 1968 events in France radicalized the group; some became Maoists. In an effort to reorient itself toward the working class, Perspectives launched an Arabic journal in 1969. Perspectives participated in several labor actions in the early 1970s and established secret cells in Tunis and several provincial cities. Although it was more successful in making ties with workers than the Egyptian new left, Perspectives was also debilitated by factionalism. In 1975 it split into several tendencies.38 One faction (L’Ouvrier tunisien, la ligne dure) upheld Maoism and became the incubator of the Tunisian Communist Workers Party (Le Parti communiste des ouvriers de Tunisie, PCOT) established in 1986. PCOT adopted an exceptionally dogmatic pro-Albanian line but persisted as a force in underground politics until it emerged as the legal Workers Party in 2011. Another faction, the Democratic Patriots (Le Parti unifié des patriotes démocrates, the precursor of today’s Watad), established in 1981, combined pan-Arabism and Maoism. Members and supporters of political tendencies derived from Perspectives became active in the UGTT and second-level leaders—a sharp contrast to the exclusion of radical leftists from leadership positions in the Egyptian Trade Union Federation as a condition of its establishment. E G Y P T ’ S T R A N S I T I O N F RO M D E V E LO P M E N TA L I S M

President Sadat waited until after he declared victory in the ArabIsraeli War of October 1973 to proclaim a new course for Egypt.39 The October Working Paper promulgated in April 1974 announced the “open door” economic policy. For the rest of the decade, this meant primarily encouraging Saudi and Iranian foreign investment, permitting the establishment of privately owned



banks, and speculation in luxury housing. Few industrial investors entered the open door until the 1990s. Workers responded quickly to Egypt’s economic reorientation. On January 1, 1975 public sector manufacturing workers protested against a government budget proposal about to be submitted to the People’s Assembly that would exclude them from annual promotions and wage increases, while white-collar civil servants would receive them. They occupied downtown Cairo’s Bab al-Luq train station, while iron- and steelworkers in Helwan at the other end of the line (since replaced by the Metro) simultaneously occupied their workplace. ‘Abd al-Rahman Khayr and other left-leaning trade unionist members of the People’s Assembly who had prepublication access to the prime minister’s budget speech organized this protest. Several well-known former communists were arrested afterward. Some of them, like Muhammad ‘Ali ‘Amr, who had led a large suburban Cairo textile workers union after World War II, boasted arrest records for labor and political activism dating from the 1940s. They supported and participated in the sit-ins but were not its initiators or organizers. The January 1, 1975 action initiated a cycle of contention in large public sector manufacturing and transport enterprises that lasted through 1976. The emblematic collective action of this period was a three-day occupation of the Ghazl al-Mahalla textile complex in March 1975 during which workers maintained production. They won a wage increase from nine to fifteen pounds a day for all public sector manufacturing workers—a version of the demand raised on New Year’s Day.40 There were also large strikes at the Cairo Joint Public Transport Authority, the Eastern Tobacco Company in Giza, the Nasr Automobile Company, and several Alexandria textile firms in 1976. During the 1975–76 cycle of contention, public sector workers sought to restore the Nasserist social pact and the gains of Arab Socialism. Despite the repressive character of the Nasser regime



and its corporatist approach to trade unionism, many workers and farmers regard Nasser as a hero to this day because he improved their standard of living and urged them to “Lift up your head.” Demonstrators in the 1970s often chanted “Nasser!” or, “Abdel Nasser always said, ‘Be mindful of the workers’” (‘Abd al-Nasir da’iman ’al, khali balak min al-‘ummal). T U N I S I A’ S T R A N S I T I O N F R O M D E V E LO P M E N TA L I S M

Despite abandoning the socialist experiment, Bourguiba continued to support a strong state that would guide the national economy and regulate relations between labor and capital. In 1973 the regime brokered a collective bargaining framework that established the UGTT’s right to negotiate with the national association of employers (L’Union tunisienne de l’industrie, du commerce et de l’artisanat, UTICA) and the government.41 This gave the UGTT a tool that ETUF has never had: an authorized but controlled form of class struggle. During 1974–77 the UGTT negotiated forty-two collective agreements with UTICA establishing wages and working conditions in the private sector and statuts with the government for over seventy public sector enterprises.42 By the early 1970s students influenced by the new left graduated, began careers as teachers and white-collar workers, and joined UGTT-affiliated unions. They argued that since socialism was officially abandoned, the UGTT ought to see itself as representing the interests of the working class rather than as a component of a nationalist united front. Secretary General Achour initially tried to purge the radicals from the national leadership of the UGTT but could never fully control the white-collar unions. Under the pressure of the wildcat strikes over wages, Achour eventually embraced the radicals and adopted a version of their views. In 1976 he entrusted them with the editorship of the UGTT weekly, al-Sha‘b (The people). They made al-Sha‘b the



voice of those who had never previously been heard in Tunisian politics and the leading mouthpiece of leftist critics of the regime. Its print run increased from seven thousand in January 1976 to seventy thousand in January 1978.43 Although prices rose at least 11 percent during the period, the UGTT made no wage demands from 1955 until the mid-1960s.44 In the 1970s, although the data are contradictory, the cost of living rose more sharply due to the increased influence of market forces and inflation transmitted by the oil boom. The economic report of the 1977 UGTT congress claimed that from 1970 to 1977 consumer prices increased 36 percent while real wages increased only 7 percent.45 The figures in Table 1.1 suggest that the spike in strikes in 1975 was a reaction to the widening gap between prices and wages that year. Strike action brought prices and wages closer into line in 1976 and 1977. This lesson was not lost on workers, who continued striking in large numbers for the rest of the decade and into the 1980s. Workers’ perception that they were falling behind drove the ta b l e 1 . 1 Industrial Disputes in Tunisia, 1970–1980 Year 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980

Number of Disputes 25 32 150 409 (215)* 131 363 372 452 178 240 346

Workers Involved 5,887 2,623 18,458 18,473 21,000 40,671 67,386 88,335 21,433 22,430 51,027

Days Lost 6,104 3,587 31,589 49,653 8,197 11,750 27,500 140,201 36,938 35,287 83,781

source: International Labour Organization, Yearbook of Labour Statistics (Geneva: ILO, various years). * Alexander’s figure for 1973 (in parenthesis) seems more likely; see “Between Accommodation and Confrontation,” 166.



strike wave of the 1970s, which developed into the most substantial social protests since Tunisian independence. On January 19, 1977 the government attempted to quell the strike wave by signing a social pact with the UGTT that included substantial wage increases.46 But wildcat strikes continued, compelling Achour and the UGTT leadership to change course and defend the strikers. The regime reacted with harsh repression. On October 10, 1977 twelve hundred workers at the public sector SOGITEX textile factory in Ksar Hellal stopped work for one hour and demanded the removal of the director and deputy director of the firm, claiming they had burned a large quantity of ­water-damaged cloth and endangered workers’ safety.47 As the birthplace of the Neo-Destour, Ksar Hellal and its concentration of textile enterprises had a symbolic importance comparable to Ghazl al-Mahalla in Egypt. The dispute escalated into a full-scale sit-in strike. Police attacked the workers occupying the factory. Townspeople supported the workers, transforming a labor dispute into an urban uprising that lasted until October 14. After the police failed to restore order, the army deployed armored vehicles and aircraft to suppress the rebellion. Ksar Hellal became a rallying cry prompting more wildcat strikes and intensified repression of the UGTT. Habib Achour claimed that a Socialist Destour Party (PSD) activist threatened his life. In November thirteen thousand phosphate miners struck to secure application of the 1966 law giving them a 20 percent share of the company’s profits. Their victory in December encouraged strikes of railway and agricultural workers. On January 10, 1978 a stormy meeting of the UGTT’s national council adopted a resolution criticizing the government’s economic policies and its provocations against the UGTT. Perhaps against his will, Achour resigned from the central committee of the PSD. The central committee resolved to bring the “deviationist” UGTT leadership to heel.48 PSD militias attacked the offices of several UGTT regional federations on January 22, 23, and 24.



Abderrazak Ghorbal, secretary general of the Sfax regional federation, was arrested on January 24. The UGTT executive bureau responded by calling for a general strike and a mass demonstration in Tunis in front of its national headquarters on January 26. PSD leaders directed the party militia to prevent the strike at all costs. From midday on January 25, police surrounded the UGTT headquarters and prevented two hundred officials from leaving. Bourguiba then declared a state of emergency that remained in effect until February 25 and a curfew in Tunis that lasted until March 20. In addition to strikes and demonstrations by workers, crowds in Tunis, Sousse, Sfax, Gafsa, and Tozeur began rioting. The army deployed U.S.-supplied helicopters and armored personnel carriers to disperse them. According to the government, 46 died and 325 were wounded in clashes with the security forces. Others estimated between 150 and 300 deaths and up to 1,000 wounded. Activists claimed that the general director of national security, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was responsible for the bloodbath. January 26, 1978 became known as “Black Thursday.” Not only was it the culmination of the most intense social contestation in Tunisia since independence, but the UGTT national leadership, despite its initial inclinations to the contrary, was compelled by the wildcat strikes and other initiatives of the membership to organize this unprecedented challenge to the government and its economic policies. Consequently, over a hundred UGTT leaders, including most of the executive bureau, were put on trial. Achour and Ghorbal received ten-year jail sentences with forced labor. Thirteen others received sentences up to eight years. The next week state officials imposed a new, compliant executive bureau on the UGTT. Nearly all the members scorned this maneuver and referred to their new “leaders” as fantoches (puppets). The state apparently coerced the UGTT into submission. But just as after the 1956–57 crisis, its size, historic legitimacy, and capacity to maintain a certain degree of autonomy from the party-



state as well as clashes of personalities and factions among political elites ultimately made it impossible to rule without at least passive UGTT support. TRANSITIONS FROM SOCIALISM: A B A L A N C E S H E E T, 1 9 7 7 – 1 9 8 6

Buoyed by petroleum rents, good harvests, and high prices for agricultural commodities and phosphate, Tunisia’s GDP averaged a very robust annual growth rate of about 7 percent in the 1970s before declining to about 3.8 percent in the early 1980s.49 However, this growth was not due to accelerated private sector investment. All economic indicators except gross fixed capital formation showed an increased share of the public sector in the national economy from 1969 to 1980, despite new investment codes in 1972 and 1974 providing incentives for private sector investment.50 The state established 110 new public enterprises from 1973 to 1984. In 1981 public sector enterprises still contributed about 60 percent of the value of all manufacturing production. In addition, during the 1970s and early 1980s the state expanded consumer subsidies in response to inflation due to the oil boom and invested in infrastructure and social services.51 Postsocialist Tunisia did not create enough jobs to substantially reduce unemployment. The highest estimate is that 87,500 new jobs were created between 1973 and 1978, 87 percent of them in clothing assembly, textiles, and leather and largely in small and medium textile firms employing women. However, after the European Economic Community adopted restrictions on textile imports in 1977, many factories closed—nineteen in 1978 alone— eliminating two thousand jobs (and more in supplier factories).52 More than 75 percent of the new jobs were located in Tunis, the northeast, and the Sahel—the traditional centers of capital accumulation and growth. Inequitable regional distribution of new job opportunities and the relatively high proportion of young, unmar-



ried women workers meant that the most persistent categories of the unemployed—young men and inhabitants of the interior and northwest—were relatively unaffected. The business and upper middle classes prospered in the 1970s. But well over 30 percent of Tunisians still lived below the poverty line in the early 1980s. Egypt’s GDP grew at an impressive average annual rate of 8.4 percent from 1975 to 1985, largely due to the oil boom.53 The Gulf Organization for the Development of Egypt invested $2 billion from 1976 to 1978 in industrial projects, financing imports, and guaranteeing loans from Chase Manhattan and other Western and Japanese banks to pay off short-term debt and meet the balance of payments deficit. By 1981 annual foreign aid from the United States, Europe, and Japan—a reward for signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 necessary to replace terminated Gulf ­investments—totaled $1.6 billion, or 7 percent of the GDP.54 The public sector remained the center of gravity of Egypt’s economy in the mid-1980s. Its labor force continued to increase, reaching 32 percent of the total in 1981. The public sector still accounted for nearly 40 percent of all investment in 1990.55 Public investment as a proportion of gross fixed capital formation peaked at 25 percent in 1983/84 before declining sharply in 1986/87, the first time private capital comprised the majority of gross fixed capital formation since the 1950s.56 However, the contribution of manufacturing to the GDP decreased from 1970 to 1980, while the proportion of services remained constant at just under 50 percent.57 The biggest economic change prompted by the open door economic policy was an increase in consumption from 63 percent of the GDP in 1973 to 75 percent in 1975, while imports nearly quadrupled.58 Foreign exchange earnings financed imported luxury and durable consumer goods for the elites and upper middle classes and, increasingly, wheat for the poor and lower middle classes. There was also a regression in the share of wages of the GDP, a good indicator of the relative well-being of workers and salaried employees. The entire increase from 45 percent in the late 1950s to 50 per-



cent in the early 1970s was wiped out as wages declined to 44 percent of GDP in 1975.59 The proportion of absolutely poor rural households—the core of the social crisis of the monarchy—­ declined from 51 percent in the early 1970s to 30 percent a decade later.60 But labor migration to oil-rich countries, not new private sector jobs, was the main driver of the decline in rural poverty. As late as 2000, after decades of pressure from the international financial institutions to cut back the public sector, it still absorbed about 35 percent of all employment in Egypt and 22 percent in Tunisia. In neither country did the private sector provide enough jobs to replace those cut from the public sector. Moreover, public sector employment generally provided higher wages (48 percent higher in Egypt, 36 percent in Tunisia), greater job stability, and better social benefits.61 By the mid-1980s, the balance sheet for the new policies promoted by the international financial institutions was mixed at best. The oil boom drove impressive economic growth rates during the 1970s and early 1980s, while poverty was reduced. The oil bust of 1986 ended the economic honeymoon. Private business remained reluctant to make substantial investments in industries other than textiles, high-end housing, and tourism. High unemployment rates, especially in Tunisia, persisted. Despite the absence of solid evidence, the international financial institutions more insistently advocated their new policies, arguing, as they have consistently since the 1970s, that more rigorous implementation would achieve the desired results.



In the 1980s Western business classes and the international financial institutions, seeking to recover from the declining profits of the late 1960s to early 1970s and the protracted economic crisis of the 1970s and avert the challenge of the call for a New International Economic Order, abandoned Fordism-Keynesianism. Extolling “freedom” and markets, they aggressively rolled back the class compromises of that era. President Ronald Reagan’s defeat of the 1981 air traffic controllers’ strike by breaking their union and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s defeat of the 1984–85 coal miners’ strike heralded a new regime of capital accumulation: neoliberal globalization (or “flexible accumulation” in the terminology of the regulation school). The IMF and the World Bank, with strong support from the U.S. government, extended this regime of capital accumulation to the global South through policies known as the “Washington Consensus.” The IMF acknowledged that developmentalist policies were relatively successful until 1985. It now proclaimed their failure and argued that reliance on markets, foreign direct investment, and export-oriented manufacturing generated higher rates of economic growth, an extraverted economic strategy recalling aspects of colonial capitalism.1 39



The oil bust enabled the IMF and its partners to impose these policies more stringently than their earlier, more tentative efforts because countries in economic distress became more vulnerable to external pressures. During the oil boom, international banks rushed to lend money to countries awash in petrodollars. The price collapse of 1986 triggered foreign exchange and debt crises throughout the global South. The IMF disbursed loans to over­ indebted countries above their normal quotas on condition that they adopted Washington Consensus policies. This commonly took the form of an Economic Reform and Structural Adjustment Program (ERSAP). John Williamson summarized the prescriptions of the Washington Consensus in “ten commandments”: (1) reduce government budget deficits to less than 2 percent of GDP; (2) prioritize primary health, education, and infrastructure (practically impossible under an austerity regime); (3) broaden the tax base and cut tax rates; (4) unify interest rates; (5) unify currency exchange rates at low enough levels to encourage exports; (6) remove trade restrictions and reduce tariffs; (7) encourage foreign direct investment; (8) privatize public enterprises; (9) abolish restrictions on establishing new businesses; and (10) secure private property rights.2 Williamson acknowledged that in the 1980s Washington “was essentially contemptuous of equity concerns.”3 Disregard for ­equity provoked 146 “IMF food riots” throughout the global South from 1976 to 1992.4 The January 1977 Egyptian “bread intifada” was among the first. Egypt signed a standby loan agreement with the IMF in the spring of 1976. In the fall, an IMF delegation visited and recommended that the government cut subsidies on consumer staples by up to 50 percent. The government accepted the advice but delayed announcing the cuts until after the October parliamentary election. On January 17, 1977 the deputy prime minister for financial and economic affairs, ‘Abd al-Mun‘im al-Qaysuni, presented a budget that entailed cutting subsidies on sugar, tea, flour, rice, and



cooking oil, thus increasing their price by 25–50 percent. That evening steelworkers in Helwan and arsenal workers and residents of working-class districts of Alexandria began protesting. The next morning more workers, students, and the general population joined in. Riots erupted in urban centers throughout the country that evening and continued on January 19. Neither the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) nor any leftist political party planned or participated in the protests in an organized manner. In contrast, Islamists made one of their first appearances on the street, directing protestors to trash the casinos on Pyramids Road in Cairo, which they had long denounced as immoral. The official casualty toll was 73 killed in clashes between security forces and demonstrators, nearly 800 injuries, and 1,270 arrested. The government rescinded the price increases and reintroduced them gradually over the next three and a half decades.5 Tunisia’s IMF food riot reprised Egypt’s experience. Mohammed Mzali became prime minister in April 1981. Having no independent base of power, he sought to ally with the UGTT. In May 1981 he authorized a special UGTT congress aimed at rehabilitating the federation. Most of the leaders arrested after January 26, 1978 received presidential pardons before the congress. Habib Achour was pardoned later that year and in 1984 reelected UGTT secretary general. Mzali authorized several large raises of the minimum wage in 1981–83 and increased commodity subsidies nearly 80 percent from 1981 to 1984.6 These measures did not break the strike wave of the 1970s. The rank and file continued to press for a more militant and aggressive policy. (See Table 2.1.) The increasing number of strikes conducted with the legally required ten-day warning in the early 1980s indicates that the UGTT leaders responded to their constituency by authorizing strike action. But they sought to avoid another confrontation with the regime on the scale of January 1978. An IMF mission visited Tunisia in the fall of 1983 and recommended cuts in subsidies on wheat, semolina, and pasta. Mzali’s



ta b l e 2 . 1 Strikes in Tunisia, 1980–1987 Year 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987

Strikes with Authorization 16 50 56 86 42 46 0 15

Strikes without Authorization 350 525 474 484 403 267 170 226

Total Strikes 346 575 530 570 545 391 170 241

Workers Involved 51,027 115,528 101,331 132,983 N/A 95,612 19,555 21,075

sources: Bellin, Stalled Democracy, 110, 114; ILO, Yearbook of Labour Statistics, 1989–90, 1004.

government adopted the advice but delayed announcing the price increases until the end of the year. Rioting erupted in several southern cities on December 29, even before the announced price increases—ranging from 70 percent for semolina and pasta to 80–108 percent for bread—went into effect on January 1, 1984. By January 3, riots spread throughout the country, including Tunis. The rioters and protesters were mainly youth, women, migrants from rural areas who intermittently worked in construction, and other nonunionized, informal workers. The UGTT and the legal opposition parties all distanced themselves from the protests. ­Islamists participated actively along with perhaps half a million people—many more than in the 1978 general strike. At least 143 people were killed, 900 injured, and perhaps 1,000 arrested in clashes between security forces and demonstrators. On January 6 Bourguiba announced the price increases would be canceled; they were reintroduced gradually.7 Tunisia and Egypt drew opposite conclusions from the IMF food riots that greeted their first efforts to implement Washington Consensus policies. Egypt signed agreements with the IMF in 1978 and 1987. But presidents Sadat and Mubarak were concerned that precipitous implementation of Washington Consensus policies would risk another food riot and did not fully implement the



conditions of the agreements. In Tunisia, Mzali, who opposed Bourguiba’s decision to rescind the price increases that provoked the January 1984 riots, persisted in implementing the IMF’s policy recommendations. He abandoned the economic populism and faux political liberalization that characterized his first years in office and moved sharply to the right. EGYPTIAN WORKERS AND ECONOMIC RESTRUCTURING

The oil bust drove Egypt’s GDP growth rates down to an annual average of 3.7 percent between 1986 and 1991.8 By 1989–90 the government budget deficit soared to over 21 percent of GDP, inflation reached 25 percent, foreign exchange levels were critically low, and the total foreign debt was nearly $50 billion—about 150 percent of GDP, perhaps the highest ratio in the world.9 Egypt was on the verge of economic disaster. Catastrophe was averted by political intervention. As a reward for aligning with the U.S.-led coalition that expelled the Iraqi occupiers from Kuwait in 1991, Western and Arab lenders forgave one half of Egypt’s foreign debt on the condition that it swallow Washington Consensus medicine. Egypt concluded an ERSAP with the IMF and World Bank in May 1991. Law 203 of 1991 established the framework for privatizing 314 public enterprises. By the 1990s ETUF, though it officially opposed privatizing the public sector, had little will or capacity to oppose state economic policy. After 1985 the president of ETUF no longer served concurrently as minister of labor (the ministry was subsequently renamed Manpower and Migration), further reducing its clout and subordinating it to state executive authority. Unlike the UGTT executive bureau, the national ETUF leadership could not be moved by pressure from its base. It opposed all but one strike during the entire Mubarak era and became ever more closely identified with the regime and the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).



The Electrical, Engineering, and Metal Workers Federation led the limited organized trade union opposition to privatization at the national level. Its president, Niyazi ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, was a Nasser­ist and a onetime member of the Tagammu‘. The federation had a history of militancy, and ‘Abd al-‘Aziz was one of the few national union leaders who did not belong to the NDP. In April 1992 he invited trade unionists to a meeting at ETUF headquarters to discuss the government’s privatization plans. Security forces pressured invitees not to attend, surrounded the building, and declared the meeting illegal. As a member of the People’s Assembly, Sayyid Rashid, ETUF president from 1992 to 2006, had voted in favor of Law 203 of 1991. Other ETUF leaders objected to privatizing the public sector for the next decade but never mobilized their members to protest. In 1994 Rashid announced that Egyptian workers supported Law 203 of 1991 and the privatization program. Workers began wildcat actions in response to the government’s decisions to reduce its budget deficits by cutting back their gains during the Nasser era. From 1984 to 1994 they burgeoned into a protracted cycle of contention. Due to media censorship, the number of collective actions in this period cannot be accurately determined. Collating several conflicting and partial accounts, I calculated a rough annual average of thirty-three strikes from 1986 to 1993—the most substantial mobilization of workers since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1952. Many strikes in this cycle of contention were more intense than those of 1975–76. However, left political forces rarely planned or coordinated them. Legislation enacted in the summer of 1984 doubled workers’ contributions to health and pension plans. Workers at several enterprises, including the Nasr Automotive Company and the Alexandria Transport Authority, refused to accept their salaries—a technique from the Nasser era repertoire of protest, when workers typically maintained or even increased production when making demands to demonstrate their patriotism. In September–October, when the



legislation was applied at factories in Kafr al-Dawwar—a city with over eighty thousand textile workers about 30 kilometers southeast of Alexandria—workers and urban crowds cut telephone lines, set fires, blocked transportation, and destroyed train cars in a three-day uprising. Security forces killed 3 protestors and arrested over 220 in a massive crackdown before order was restored. In January and February 1986 nearly forty thousand textile workers at ESCO in Shubra al-Khayma and Ghazl al-Mahalla launched strikes demanding one day of paid vacation each week, which they had not received despite 1981 legislation authorizing this for all public sector manufacturing workers. In both cases the security apparatus responded with violent force. But ultimately all public sector textile workers received a weekly paid vacation. In September 1988 termination of annual grants to public sector workers to buy clothing and supplies for their children at the start of the school year provoked a strike initiated by women at Ghazl al-Mahalla, closing the factory for three days. During the first half of the 1984–94 cycle of contention the ­Tagammu‘ reached the peak of its influence. It had perhaps 150,000 members, an active core of 20,000, including many workers, and a weekly newspaper, al-Ahali (The people), whose circulation sometimes reached 130,000 copies. The Tagammu‘ supported the workplace actions of the mid-1980s by publicizing them in ­al-Ahali and in some cases organizing material or legal assistance. But even the government acknowledged that its members were usually not the initiators. The state prosecutor declared striking workers arrested at Kafr al-Dawwar in 1984 innocent of any political involvements. Unlike Tunisian workers, who could compel the national UGTT leadership to support their demands at least in part, Egyptian workers could rely neither on ETUF nor the Tagammu‘. They increasingly resorted to local organizations or informal networks. The Workers’ Defense Committee at Ghazl al-Mahalla led the 1986 strike. It was established in the early 1980s under the auspices of the



Tagammu‘ but had broken away over policy differences and adopted more radical positions before the strike. The Sanaya‘iyya (Workers) organization at the Egyptian Iron and Steel Co. in Helwan and the League of Railway Workers, which led an important strike of train drivers in July 1986, were not linked to the Tagammu‘. In several cases workers or retirees who were Tagammu‘ members or supporters participated prominently in local workers organizations. Veteran textile union activists Taha Sa‘d ‘Uthman and Muhammad Mutawalli al-Sha‘rawi were among the editors of Sawt al-‘Amil (Workers’ voice), which began publication in 1985. Sawt al-‘Amil sharply criticized the historic co-optation and repression of the labor movement by the Nasser regime, putting it at odds with the Nasserists as well as the communists and former communist intellectuals in the Tagammu‘ who remained critically supportive of Nasser, primarily on the basis of his foreign policies. The left intelligentsia knew little of the social relations of production in the public sector, which were no less hierarchical than in the private sector. Two sit-in strikes at the Iron and Steel Co. in July and August 1989 constituted the climax of the 1984–94 cycle of contention. Workers sought a wage increase and a meal during their workday. During the second strike they occupied the factory. Security forces firing rubber bullets and tear gas invaded the mill, killed one worker, wounded a dozen, and arrested five to six hundred. Members of the Communist Workers Party (CWP), the Communist Party, the Tagammu‘, and other intellectuals, none of whom had any organizing role in the strikes, formed a committee to support the jailed workers. Sixty-three members of the committee were themselves arrested during the last week of August.10 The CWP had been severely debilitated by repression earlier in the decade. The trials of the support committee members completed its destruction and intimidated the Communist Party and the Tagammu‘. The last large-scale action in this cycle of contention—a sitdown strike at Misr Spinning and Weaving in Kafr al-Dawwar in



September–October 1994 protesting recent firings and cuts in bonus and incentive pay—was violently crushed. Security forces killed four members of strikers’ families, including a ten-year-old boy, who were trying to deliver food to the factory, and dozens were injured. At least seventy-five workers were arrested. Ultimately, two thousand recently fired workers were rehired.11 The violent suppression of the 1989 Iron and Steel Co. strikes and the 1994 Misr Kafr al-Dawwar strike signaled the diminished tolerance of the Mubarak regime for labor dissidence, an aspect of its generally more repressive character in the 1990s. Despite the escalating repression against all forms of opposition, the Communist Party and the Tagammu‘ aligned with the regime against an Islamist insurgency centered on Upper Egypt and the informal neighborhoods (‘ashwa’iyyat) of Cairo. Their credibility and influence subsequently declined markedly. They continued to oppose privatization of the public sector. Consequently, the State Security Investigations Service blocked almost all opponents of privatization from running for local leadership positions in the 2001 and 2006 ETUF elections. During the 1984–94 cycle of workers’ contentious actions the Tagammu‘ aligned with the regime against its Islamist opposition while the new communist left was smashed. Intellectuals whose political roots were in the student movement of 1968–73 and who wished to remain politically engaged at a lower threshold of risk than membership in illegal organizations began to join or establish advocacy NGOs. Consequently, most left intellectuals became distant from grassroots mobilizations of workers. During the 1990s and 2000s only two NGOs regularly addressed labor issues. After the 1989 Iron and Steel Co. strikes the veteran communist and labor lawyer Yusuf Darwish (Darwiche) sought out Kamal ‘Abbas, a prominent strike leader. ‘Abbas had been arrested several times, tortured, and eventually fired for participating in an “­illegal” strike. In 1990 Darwish and ‘Abbas cofounded the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (Markaz al-Khadamat ­al-Niqabiyya wa’l-‘Ummaliyya, CTUWS), Egypt’s leading labor-



oriented NGO for the next twenty years. ‘Abbas became general coordinator and continues in this position today. The CTUWS was the most substantial meeting point between militant workers and intellectuals in the 1990s and 2000s. It supported many insurgent labor actions, although it rarely initiated them. Like most other labor organizations of the Mubarak era, the CTUWS was not a Tagammu‘ project. Yusuf Darwish had never been a Tagammu‘ member because he rejected the concept of a multi-tendency left party and the Tagammu‘’s “legal opposition” status. In 1989 Darwish left the Communist Party and together with another veteran communist lawyer, Ahmad Nabil al-Hilali, and Michel Kamil, who had been the party’s representative in Europe, established the People’s Socialist Party. Kamal ‘Abbas and others in the CTUWS milieu were briefly members. By the late 1990s ‘Abbas and those close to him abandoned revolutionary politics and focused on promoting democratic trade unionism. Darwish and Hilali died in 2006. The People’s Socialist Party expired some time before them. The Coordinating Committee for Trade Union and Workers Rights and Liberties led by Sabr Barakat was the other principal labor-oriented NGO of the 2000s. Barakat was fired for leading a strike at Delta Steel and after several years in prison graduated from law school. The Coordinating Committee was established to observe the 2001 ETUF elections. It remained in existence for the rest of the decade as a forum for exchange of ideas and legal advice from Barakat and Khalid ‘Ali, a cofounder of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, which hosted its meetings. In 2010 it folded into the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights directed by Khalid ‘Ali. TUNISIAN WORKERS AND ECONOMIC RESTRUCTURING

From 1984 to 1987 the real value of Tunisia’s minimum wage lagged 20 percent behind the increased cost of living. In April 1985 Prime Minister Mzali signaled his new economic orientation by



announcing that future wage increases would be linked to increases in productivity rather than in the cost of living. The UGTT opposed this policy and threatened a general strike. This provided a pretext for the government to attack the UGTT more fiercely than ever before: eliminating the automatic one percent dues check-off for public sector workers; prohibiting workplace union meetings; suspending publication of al-Sha‘b for six months; ceasing to pay salaries of public sector workers elected to full-time UGTT leadership positions; sequestering UGTT bank accounts; and revoking UGTT control of several public enterprises. In late 1985 the campaign against the UGTT escalated with occupations of provincial UGTT headquarters by the Socialist Destour Party militia. Over 350 elected union representatives were dismissed and arrested. On November 7, 1985 Habib Achour was again placed under house arrest on fabricated charges; he was imprisoned the next year. The rest of the leadership refused to repudiate Achour. Consequently, on January 21, 1986 police raided national UGTT headquarters, removed the elected leaders, and installed regime loyalists.12 The UGTT’s resistance to Washington Consensus policies was rooted in its origins as an organization distinct from the NeoDestour and the history of its struggles to retain some degree of autonomy from the party and the state. Its opposition to wage austerity was defeated by repression. But the UGTT’s resistance, albeit limited and subordinated to its “responsibility to the nation,” enhanced its legitimacy and political influence in the post–Ben Ali era. With most of the legitimate UGTT leadership in prison, the government had more room to maneuver as its economic crisis intensified. Falling oil revenues and remittances from migrant workers and a decline in tourism after an Israeli air raid on the PLO complex at Hammam Lif in 1985 raised Tunisia’s international debt to $5 billion in 1986, about 60 percent of the GDP.13 Cereal harvests decreased by 50 percent due to drought in 1982 and 1984–86, and exports fell due to a recession in Europe. Con-



currently, subsidies on basic commodities rose from 10 million dinars in 1973 to 80 million by 1986. Tunisia’s most serious economic challenge was, and remains, unemployment, which has been chronically high since before independence. In 1986 the World Bank estimated unemployment at 15 percent; unofficial sources placed it closer to 25 percent. Private investment has never created sufficient jobs at a living wage. The previously dominant Keynesian consensus maintained that in such circumstances increased public investment to create jobs, not austerity, is the appropriate remedy. The Washington Consensus scorned such thinking. The Mzali government anticipated and willingly accepted the policy recommendations of the international financial institutions. After 1983 successive budgets reduced government spending and commodity subsidies. Unsurprisingly, this aroused popular discontent. So in July 1986 Bourguiba replaced Mzali with his minister of economy, Rachid Sfar, who pursued exactly the same economic policies. In consultation with the IMF and World Bank, Sfar revised the 1986 budget and imposed even more severe austerity measures. Tunisia adopted an ERSAP, and a Five-Year Plan for 1987–91 based on Washington Consensus policies. The dinar was devalued by 10 percent (after a 13 percent devaluation in 1985). The resultant cut in real wages, frozen since 1983, was not offset by even a nominal increase. Sfar and his successors promoted business-friendly economic policies: lifting import restrictions for firms exporting over 25 percent (15 percent after 1987) of their output; deregulation of prices of manufactured goods; new laws to facilitate foreign investment including longer tax holidays; a plan to privatize all nonstrategic public sector firms; and reducing tariffs and personal income taxes (but enacting a more regressive value-added tax). Tunisia was rewarded by the rescheduling of its foreign debt and some $737 million in credit and aid from the IMF, the World Bank, the Paris Club, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.14



The repressive measures of 1985–86 prevented the UGTT national leadership from resisting the ERSAP. However, local and regional unions responded to its adoption with an immediate spike in strikes: from 170 in 1986 to 241 in 1987. During the next seven years, as the ERSAP became operational, there were 3,279 strikes—far more than the 1,909 in the seven years preceding the January 26, 1978 general strike (see Tables 1.1 and 2.2). The annual average of 468, although lower than the 555 in 1981–84, is still impressive under the circumstances. No more than one fifth of these strikes in any year were legal—that is, with advance notice and approval of the UGTT executive bureau—indicating a high level of militancy among the members despite the increasingly close alignment of the national leadership with the regime. THE UGTT AND THE BEN ALI REGIME

On November 7, 1987 Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had replaced Sfar as prime minister only a month earlier, seized ultimate power by deposing Bourguiba after having him declared medically incapacitated and unable to fulfill the duties of the presidency. In fact, this had been the case for some time. The first priority of the Ben Ali regime was to implement the ERSAP agreement signed a year earlier. In the 1989 parliamentary elections it became clear that Islamists constituted the strongest opposition to the regime. ­Ennahda memta b l e 2 . 2 Strikes in Tunisia, 1988–1994 Year 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994

Number of Strikes 385 430 564 466 496 513 425

% Legal n.a. 6 21 n.a. 11 13 18

Number of Strikers 52,017 48,485 133,393 48,861 48,463 44,084 39,528

sources: Bellin, Stalled Democracy, 189; ILO, Yearbook of Labour Statistics, 1995, 957.



bers, running as independents, officially received 14 but perhaps as much as 30 percent of the national votes. However, they won no parliamentary seats due to electoral procedures designed to keep opposition parties as small as possible (just as in Mubarak’s Egypt). Islamists had begun organizing in the trade unions in the early 1980s and became a factor in some of them by the end of the decade. Ennahda’s threat to both the regime and the UGTT leadership created a common interest between them. The establishment of a new state party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (Rassemblement Constitutionnel Démocratique, RCD) on February 27, 1988, the proclamation of a National Pact on the first anniversary of Ben Ali’s coup, and the legalization of some tamed opposition parties modestly enhanced the UGTT’s bargaining power with the regime. For the UGTT to be an effective partner for the regime against Ennahda it first had to be rejuvenated and reunified. A national labor commission appointed by Ben Ali supervised elections in local, regional, and national unions before convening a “reconciliation congress” in April 1989 to elect a new leadership. Isma‘il Sahbani became secretary general. Sahbani was among the UGTT leaders jailed after the January 26, 1978 general strike. But he had since been domesticated (and perhaps also corrupted by money). There were many procedural flaws and undemocratic exclusions of Ennahda and PCOT sympathizers in the preparations for the 1989 congress. Nonetheless, the membership generally accepted the process as legitimate. Kheireddine Bouslah, a member of the outgoing executive bureau who was not reelected, justified the leadership’s conciliation with the regime on the grounds that there was “no alternative” and that moderation enabled the UGTT to rebuild its organizational capacity after the repression of the 1980s.15 The executive bureau elected at the 1989 congress embraced “social dialogue and a cooperative relationship between the state and social actors . . . [and making] social solidarity the highest



priority in order to block those advocating political and economic extremism” (that is, Islamists and the radical left).16 Henceforth the national leadership restricted its purview to the issues of wages and working conditions and abandoned efforts to influence national economic policy. It certainly did not demand democratic reforms or regime change. In 1995 an executive bureau member announced that the UGTT’s “chief goal is to create immunity for union representatives in the workplace”—a very narrow, bureaucratic objective, although such guarantees were necessary for the UGTT to organize in the private sector, which it did with some success.17 In 1992 Sahbani formally announced the UGTT’s abandonment of opposition to the ERSAP: Our union . . . has chosen in principle to adapt itself to international transformations by adopting new methods of work. . . . Today the union is trying to adapt to changes in the international economic system, the structural adjustment program, the new world order and the market economy.18

Abandoning opposition to the ERSAP and supporting Ben Ali in successive fraudulent presidential elections was the price the executive bureau chose (or was compelled) to pay so that the UGTT could continue to exercise collective bargaining rights in the workplace and achieve modest gains on wages and other ­issues. While it opposed militant strikes, like those that created crises with the regime in the 1970s and the 1980s and a level of repression the UGTT could not sustain, the executive bureau did allow national sectoral federations to threaten to strike during wage negotiations. This was usually sufficient to achieve results.19 If it did not, it authorized one-day warning strikes but not open-ended general strikes in an entire sector. The trajectory of Ali Ben Romdhane, an assistant agricultural engineer who served two terms on the UGTT executive bureau, exemplifies Ben Ali’s (and before him Bourguiba’s) technique in disciplining the UGTT. Like Farhat Hached and Habib Achour,



Ben Romdhane hailed from the Kerkennah Islands. He saw himself as their legitimate heir, and there was a personal rivalry between him and Isma‘il Sahbani over the post of UGTT secretary general in 1989. Had he been elected, Ben Romdhane would likely have had no choice but to be as submissive to the regime as ­Sahbani. But Ben Romdhane failed to win a seat on the executive bureau at the 1989 congress and was ousted from all UGTT leading bodies.20 Ben Romdhane was no radical. In 1993 he told a journalist that the UGTT “should be careful to preserve the interest of the institution that gives it its income—the enterprise.”21 However, the rivalry between him and Sahbani did have a political component. Ben Romdhane advocated that the UGTT sponsor a labor party to compete in the ostensibly multiparty elections after 1989. Ben Ali refused to tolerate this. Personal ambition, the pervasive corruption of politics and public culture in the Ben Ali era, and Ben Ali’s limited tolerance for dissidence make it impossible to distinguish between the personal and the political elements of the Ben Romdhane–Sahbani rivalry. Ben Romdhane became a founding member of the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties (Le Forum démocratique pour le travail et les libertés)—a social democratic party popularly known as Ettakattol. The party was unrecognized for eight years. Its legalization in 2002 signaled that it was housebroken. Ben Romdhane was then allowed to rejoin the UGTT leadership and became one of twelve assistant general secretaries. Despite the UGTT leadership’s demonstrations of “national responsibility,” it never succeeded in completely eliminating the politics and culture of class struggle. In the early 1990s a new generation with a pan-Arab and/or left orientation, who had been student activists in the 1980s, joined the UGTT leadership. Their presence was reflected in the character of strike actions in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Table 2.2). At least 25 percent of the fifty strikes in June 1991 were solidarity strikes of workers in one enter-



prise undertaken to support strikers in another enterprise—a militant tactic illegal in the United States.22 Typically a regional UGTT office would coordinate strikes in industrial zones like Ksar Hellal, Monastir, Sfax, or Bizerte. The strikes won wage increases and a revised collective bargaining framework between the UGTT and the employers association (UTICA) that permitted union assemblies on company premises and paid time off for union representatives to attend UGTT training sessions. The government adopted similar provisions for the public sector. Thus actions led by militant local and regional leaders strengthened the UGTT institutionally even as the national leadership largely accommodated the regime. E C O N O M I C M I R AC L E S A N D OT H E R I L LU S I O N S

In 1993 the IMF proclaimed Tunisia “a prime example of the successful transformation of an economy from one heavily regulated by the government to one based on market orientation.”23 French presidents Chirac and Sarkozy and many others hailed Tunisia’s “economic miracle.” This enthusiasm was apparently based on selected macroeconomic indicators. Annual GDP growth increased from an average of less than 2 percent during the late 1980s to 4 percent in the 1990s and 2000s—respectable but far from spectacular compared to India and China in the same period.24 Foreign exchange reserves climbed steadily from 1987 to 2009 and remained far above their early 1980s levels.25 From 1987 to 2011 the balance of payments deficit as a percentage of GDP remained negative. But in 2004–7 it seemed to be stabilizing at less than 2 percent. Structural adjustment did not proceed as rapidly as one might have expected given the IMF’s designation of Tunisia as a success story. The UGTT successfully lobbied to slow the pace of privatizing the public sector and liberalizing trade to reduce the loss of jobs. By 1996, a decade after the ERSAP agreement, Tunisia had privatized only forty publicly owned enterprises. The pace of priva-



tization subsequently accelerated; 217 public sector enterprises were privatized by 2008.26 But subsidization of consumer commodities and public enterprises continued, and public social expenses increased from 17 to 19 percent of the GDP from 1987 to 1994. Despite Tunisia’s slow pace of implementing the ERSAP, it was allowed to join the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1990 and the World Trade Organization in 1995. On July 17, 1995 the European Union signed an association agreement with Tunisia—the first southern Mediterranean country to achieve this status. The European Union subsidized a technological upgrading program (mise à niveau) so that Tunisian manufactures would not be overwhelmed by European competition. Foreign direct investment totaling $14.3 billion flowed into Tunisia between 1995 and 2005, creating perhaps 235,000 export-­ oriented jobs, mostly in textiles, automotive parts, electrical machinery, and processed olive oil.27 Even this substantial investment only modestly lowered unemployment. These sectors rely mainly on low-skilled, cheap labor. They do not provide large numbers of jobs for high school and college graduates or unskilled men, as young women are a significant component of the labor force in textiles and clothing.28 In 2005 the official national rate of unemployment was 13.5 percent, higher than average for the MENA region, which has by far the highest unemployment rate in the global South. Because about 80 percent of Tunisia’s GDP is generated on the coast, unemployment rates were double the national average or more in the centerwest and southern regions. The lack of economic opportunity and social and cultural marginalization of these regions is the longterm grievance undergirding the outbreak of the uprising against Ben Ali. The World Bank is concerned with reducing poverty. An independent “country assistance evaluation” it commissioned claimed Tunisia’s poverty rate had been reduced from 40 percent in 1970 to 4 percent in 2000—an extraordinary achievement if it were



genuine.29 The bank uses data supplied by national governments. In this case, as in many others, the author of the evaluation and the bank, which published it without critical comment, were too quick to trust them. After the 2011 uprising it emerged that the Ben Ali government had manipulated the poverty indicators, as anyone familiar with the impoverished center-west and southern regions of the country would have suspected. Revised data revealed that the poverty level was 32.4 percent in 2000 (eight times what the independent evaluation stated), 23.3 percent in 2005, and 15.5 percent in 2010.30 These figures do not include the “near poor” living just above the poverty line. By another calculation, in 2014, 24.7 percent of Tunisians were living on less than $2 a day (purchasing power parity), about the same as in Egypt.31 The Tunisian “economic miracle” was built on its postcolonial relationship with France, and by extension the European Union. It entailed subsidized technology upgrading, politically motivated investments, falsification of data on poverty, and myopic declarations by self-interested French political and economic elites and journalists. Western enthusiasts disregarded the possibility of government falsification of data, the unequal distribution of the fruits of economic growth, and the nature of the jobs created by that growth. They obscured Tunisia’s persisting poverty and unemployment concentrated in the interior of the country and disproportionately among educated youth, and, of course, its appalling human rights record. The international financial institutions stopped short of proclaiming Egypt’s economic performance a miracle, although for three successive years in the mid-2000s the World Bank designated it as one of the top ten reformers in enhancing the ease of doing business.32 Foreign exchange reserves were restored to healthy levels. From 1991 to 2008 Egypt registered a current account surplus in most years. Nonetheless, in the fifteen years after the conclusion of the



ERSAP, annual economic growth exceeded 5 percent in only two years until reaching impressive rates of over 7 percent from 2006 to 2008.33 Foreign direct investment did not lead a boom in Egyptian exports. From 1980 to 2000 exports declined from 46.6 percent to 24.6 percent of GDP. The public sector continued to provide as much as 70 percent of nonagricultural formal employment in the mid-2000s. The expanding private sector did not provide enough jobs to replace those lost in the public sector; informal employment provided as much as 55 percent of all nonagricultural employment. In 2005 the official unemployment rate was 10 percent, a lower rate than Tunisia’s despite Egypt’s considerably lower literacy rate.34 In the 1990s the World Bank also cherished illusions about poverty levels in Egypt. But by the mid-2000s they had dissipated. A 2007 study determined that 44 percent of the population was “poor” or “near poor.”35 Moreover, the proportion of the poor increased from 16.7 percent in 2000 to 19.6 percent in 2005 to 21.6 percent in 2009, progressing parallel to implementation of the ERSAP.36 In both Tunisia and Egypt, Washington Consensus policies sought to reduce security of employment (anesthetically termed increasing the flexibility of labor). Tunisia’s 1996 labor law allowed the proportion of workers employed on fixed-term “temporary” contracts in a given enterprise to increase from 15 percent in 2001 to more than 50 percent in 2010. Temporary workers’ wages were 25–40 percent less than those employed on permanent contracts.37 Egypt’s 2003 Unified Labor Law also permitted workers to be employed on fixed-term “temporary” contracts giving them no social benefits and lower wages than permanent workers. This practice is common, though there are no reliable figures on its extent. Even regularly employed Egyptian workers did not prosper in the new economy. Many female textile and clothing workers received pitifully low wages—$80–100 a month basic pay in a “good” job,



less than half that in the worst cases.38 Real wages in the private sector grew erratically in the 1990s but declined from 2000 to 2007. In contrast, real wages in the public sector grew from 1995 to 2007, although the rate of increase diminished by about half in the 2000s compared to the 1990s. In Tunisia, average real wages increased 31 percent from 1983 to 2009 due to a tripartite UGTT-UTICA-­ government agreement that real wages would increase at the rate of productivity growth. However, employers benefited more than workers from increased productivity, and real wages in manufacturing increased only 4 percent.39 The ERSAPs failed to integrate Tunisia and Egypt into the global economy. Their average percentage of total global foreign direct investment inflows as well as the total stock of global foreign direct investment declined steadily from the 1980s through the 2000s.40 Both countries became increasingly dependent on remittances of migrant labor. Moreover, the proportion of migrants with high school and tertiary educations increased over time—an escalating brain drain that undermined their ability to transform their economies through improved technology.41 In other words, like all forms of capitalism, neoliberal globalization, or flexible accumulation, is fraught with contradictions. Tunisia and Egypt remained on the margins of the global economy, although in a different form than when developmentalism, or peripheral Keynesianism, prevailed.




In the decade before January 25, 2011 Egypt ventured into a perceptible, but erratic and limited, political opening. Public expressions of opposition still risked administrative detention, prosecution on spurious charges, jail, beatings, and torture. The middle-class intelligentsia initiated several cycles of contention, which only sporadically intersected with the escalating workers movement. A nongovernmental press (but not exactly independent, as its contents were sometimes censored and editors subjected to periodic repression) burgeoned, beginning with al-Misri al-Yawm (The Egyptian today) in 2004 and the reopening of alDustur (The constitution) the next year. Over twenty privately owned periodicals appeared by the end of the decade. However, no irreversible political liberalization was underway. Among the intelligentsia, opposition to U.S. foreign policy dominated the early 2000s. Egyptian security forces allowed dissidents to blow off steam by tolerating public demonstrations in solidarity with the second Palestinian intifada in 2001–2 and again in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Chants against Mubarak infiltrated into these demonstrations. But they were not part of a campaign or strategy.1 Dormant networks of the oppositional, educated, urban middle classes—leftists, Nasserists, 61



l­iberals, and sometimes Islamists—which were activated around opposition to Israeli and U.S. bellicosity, and sometimes joined by legal or semilegal parties, subsequently mobilized around domestic issues, including democratization.2 President Mubarak reluctantly indulged the Bush administration’s rhetorically energetic but practically flaccid campaign of democracy promotion in the “greater Middle East.” Security forces alternated between lesser and greater degrees of repression, the brunt of it born by the Muslim Brothers. In 2005 Egypt conducted somewhat more open parliamentary elections and its first contested election for the presidency. Muslim Brothers won nearly 20 percent of the seats in the all-but-powerless People’s Assembly. This enabled Mubarak to convince the Bush administration that its choice was to support him or empower Islamists. The secondplace finisher for the presidency, Ayman Nour, officially won 7 percent of the votes. He was jailed for two months in early 2005 and again for three years after the election—a realistic gauge of Egypt’s “democratization.” The emblematic mobilization of the intelligentsia in the 2000s was the Egyptian Movement for Change. Its slogan and popular name—Kifaya (Enough!)—captured popular dissatisfaction with the regime. Kifaya’s first public demonstration, in December 2004, featured slogans opposing Mubarak’s prospective run for a fifth presidential term in September 2005 and the grooming of his son, Gamal, to succeed him and called for reduced executive ­powers. Kifaya spinoffs, including “Workers for Change,” proliferated. But most middle-class activists had no real ties with workers and even fewer with rural dwellers. Kifaya lost steam by the time of Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon, which refocused dissidents on foreign policy issues. Its constituent elements mobilized periodic contestations throughout the rest of the decade. But none had as much staying power as the original movement. In Tunisia, in contrast to Egypt’s limited political opening, proliferating NGO activity, and freer press, two journalists writing in



2008 lamented, “Civil society in Tunisia is politically battered, flattened long ago by a hyper-repressive regime.”3 Tunisia ­harassed, beat, jailed, and tortured opposition figures, especially Islamists, and journalists more extensively than Egypt. Many fled to exile in France or England. The Tunisian Human Rights League (Ligue tunisienne des droits de l’homme, LTDH), established in 1976, was the first Arab human rights advocacy NGO and the only such organization recognized by the Ben Ali regime. Reacting to Ennahda’s demonstration of electoral viability, in 1991 the regime arrested twenty-five thousand of its supporters. Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi and five thousand others fled to England. The LTDH’s sharp criticism of this repression provoked the regime’s ire, which disabled the league as a national organization for most of the 1990s and 2000s, although some provincial branches functioned on a low burner. In 1998 Moncef Marzouki, former UGTT official Ali Ben Romdhane (see Chapter 2), and other defectors from the LTDH who opposed its conciliation with the regime established the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia. It was under constant pressure and never received legal recognition.4 Police ransacked the office of a founding member; several leaders were banned from travel; and Moncef Marzouki, Sihem Bensedrine, Mohamed Abbou, Zakia Dhifaoui, and Mohamed Ben Saïd were all arrested at one time or another. Marzouki went into exile in France in 2002 after the political party he founded, the Congress for the Republic, was banned. The government repeatedly harassed and eventually tamed the Arab Institute for Human Rights, a panArab NGO founded in 1989. In 2005 the regime proscribed the founding congress of an independent journalists association (Le Syndicat des journalistes tunisiens). Instead, in 2008 it recognized another professional organization (Le Syndicat national des journalistes tunisiens), whose registration had previously been refused. The regime expected the



latter association to be more compliant.5 When this turned out to be mistaken, regime loyalists ousted independents from the board and took it over. The World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis on November 16–18, 2005 was an important symbol of Tunisia’s global integration for Ben Ali. He invited Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to attend, provoking considerable protest. On March  5, 2005 police beat and manhandled demonstrators severely. Several detainees were tortured in the Sfax police station.6 In the face of hardening authoritarianism, three contestations of the second half of the 2000s exemplify the varieties of oppositional sentiment that converged in the December 2010–January 2011 popular uprising against Ben Ali. First, on October 18, 2005 seven political personalities representing a wide swathe of the political spectrum—communists, liberals, Islamists—declared a hunger strike to demand freedom of association, freedom to form political parties, freedom of the press, and release of all political prisoners.7 Despite the conspicuous absence of the dysfunctional LTDH and Ettajdid (the legalized former Communist Party), this event was a rare moment when secular and Islamist forces united against the Ben Ali regime. The strikers timed the action to achieve maximum international publicity, a month before the information society summit convened. On its last day, when some of them were dangerously ill, they ended their action. Second, in May 2006 thirteen graduates of the University of Tunis, inspired by a Moroccan movement active since 1991, announced the formation of a union of unemployed graduates (L’Union des diplômés chômeurs, UDC).8 They had been politically active as members of the national student union, long a site of contestation between the regime and its opponents. After graduation they could not remain members, nor, since they were unemployed, could they join the UGTT. Having no organizational framework for political activity, they created their own. Eventually,



168 local committees were established throughout the country. They engaged in numerous contentious actions in the second half of the 2000s. Police violently broke up UDC demonstrations in 2006 and 2007, hospitalizing several participants. As repression often obstructed the UDC from working as a national organization, regional and local committees acted on their own initiative. Third, the phosphate mining basin erupted in a six-month rebellion in 2008 (see below). EGYPTIAN WORKERS AND THE GOVERNMENT OF BUSINESSMEN

In July 2004 Hosni Mubarak appointed a “government of businessmen” led by Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif.9 Western-educated CEOs and PhD and MBA holders belonging to his younger son Gamal’s coterie occupied the economic ministries. Nazif ’s mandate was to accelerate Egypt’s economic restructuring and the selloff of the public sector. He was largely successful. Workers responded to the Nazif government by immediately escalating the number of strikes and other collective actions, which had been trending upward since 1998 when the early retirement program offered to public sector workers to reduce the labor force and make firms more saleable to prospective private investors was phased out. From 1998 to 2003 there was an average of 118 contentious collective actions per year, compared to about 33 at the height of the previous cycle of protest (see Chapter 1). From 2004 on, the nongovernmental press began to report workers’ collective actions, thereby enhancing their social reach even if the accounts were often minimal or incorrect. A workers movement with a common repertoire of contention was emerging. In 2004 there were 265 collective actions—more than double the 1998–2003 average (see Table 3.1). Although centered in the textile industry, which had been targeted for privatization, by 2007 the movement encompassed nearly every sector of the ­economy.



Not only did the number of workers’ collective actions spike sharply in 2004; they assumed a more militant character than previous upsurges. There were more strikes as opposed to factory occupations while continuing production. Strikes also became longer, several lasting for months. ta b l e 3 . 1 Strikes, Sit-ins, and Other Collective Actions in Egypt, 1998–2010 Year

Number of Actions



















Alternative Number of Actions

386,346 141,175










2010 TOTAL


Workers Involved











sources: Markaz al-Ard li-Huquq al-Insan (Land Center for Human Rights), Silsilat al-huquq al-iqtisadiyya wa’l-ijtima‘iyya, no. 5 (December 1998); no. 14 (April 2000); no. 18 (May 2001); no. 22 (March 2002); no. 28 (March 2003); no. 31 (January 2004); no. 34 (July 2004); no. 35 (February 2005); no. 39 (August 2005); no. 42 (January 2006); no. 49 (July 2006); no. 54 (February 2007); no. 56 (July 2007); no. 58 (February 2008); no. 65 (March 2009); no. 75 (March 2010) no. 76 (May 2010); no. 79 (July 2010); no. 81 (August 2010); no. 84 (January 2011) at note: Figures should be considered approximations. A more detailed version of the table appears in Beinin and Duboc, “A Workers’ Social Movement on the Margin of the Global Neoliberal Order,” 213–15. * LCHR considers a series of actions over a dispute in a workplace as one action. The larger figures (when available) count each individual action. ** Figures according to Khalid ‘Ali ‘Umar, ‘Adil Wilyam, and Mahmud al-Munsi, ‘Ummal misr, 2009 (Cairo: al-Markaz al-Misri li-Huquq al-Iqtisadiyya w’al-Ijtima‘iyya, 2010), 17.



The strikes at ESCO Spinning Company in Qalyub, north of Cairo, exemplify the new spirit of contentious collective action in response to the accelerated privatization of the public sector. An Egyptian investor, Hashim al-Daghri, had leased the firm for three years in 2003 for 2.5 million Egyptian pounds a year. A year later al-Daghri bought the enterprise for only 4 million pounds. In October 2004 the workforce of about four hundred—sharply reduced in preparation for selling the firm—struck briefly to demand that their workplace not be privatized. If privatization was implemented, the ESCO workers wanted their jobs to be guaranteed; if that was not possible, they sought adequate early retirement packages. Receiving no satisfaction, they began a second strike on February 13, 2005. ESCO workers believed that the workers, who owned 10 percent of the firm’s shares, and the public, not the state managers, were the rightful owners of the firm. Gamal Sha‘ban, a skilled worker with twenty-three years of seniority, asked, “With what right was the sale conducted?” ESCO workers were not consulted about the sale or the extent of their compensation for the loss of their jobs. The ESCO workers failed to reverse the privatization. But they received an economic settlement far better than the original offer and compelled the state to adjudicate the dispute, even though it had already sold the enterprise. From 2004 to 2011 the government only exceptionally used violence to disperse workers’ protests. No definitive evidence explains this turnabout from the practices of the 1980s and 1990s. Because strikes and other workers’ collective actions were regularly if not always accurately reported in the privately owned media after 2004, the regime may have feared that repression would create unfavorable publicity that might deter foreign investment. The sale of public assets, the high price of oil, and higher receipts from Suez Canal tolls generated sufficient revenue to allow the government to meet workers’ economic demands. It apparently chose this option rather than confrontation. However,



accelerated implementation of neoliberal structural adjustment and privatization of public assets provoked more protests. As striking proved effective in winning economic gains and entailed lower risks than before, every successful action encouraged others. Paradoxically, then, economic restructuring created the threat that motivated workers’ collective actions and increased the likelihood of their success. Until 2004 most collective actions were in public sector enterprises, where workers fought to preserve gains made in the era of Arab Socialism. The ESCO strikes were among the first of many at recently privatized public firms, where workers often protested new owners’ failure to uphold their contractual commitments. After 2004 more workers in the expanding private sector mobilized to protect their jobs and working conditions. By 2009, 37 percent of all collective actions were in the private sector; in 2010 the figure reached 46 percent. Women workers, who previously had participated in collective actions mainly in an auxiliary capacity, became increasingly assertive. Some became prominent activists and even spokespersons in strikes and supporting actions. This was partly due to the increase in the proportion of women’s labor force participation in the formal economy from 10.9 percent in 1981 to 26.9 percent in 2006. The proportion of females in textile manufacturing doubled from 15 to 30 percent from 1998 to 2006. But they are concentrated in the lowest-paying garment-sewing sector, where better-paid women workers earned about $180 a month in the mid-2000s— less than the United Nations’ poverty line of $224 for the average Egyptian family of 3.7.10 At the Mansura-España garment factory in the eastern Delta town of Talkha, women were the main force in a two-month strike. A private sector firm established in 1985, Mansura-España did not do well despite some early subcontracting for Wal-Mart. The United Bank, its principal creditor, acquired the largest share of the firm. Mansura-España did not pay bonuses or profit divi-



dends to its workers from 1999 to 2006. During 2007 the workforce was reduced from 1,200 to 284. In response to rumors that the company would be liquidated, the remaining workers, three-quarters of them women, occupied the factory from April 21 to June 21, 2007. The women, who earned a miserable monthly base pay of 135–150 pounds (then about $26–$28), were desperate to save their jobs. Several went on a hunger strike, and five threatened to commit suicide. The ­women’s supposed “docility” and “traditional” background, which employers typically regard as good reasons to hire them, did not inhibit their active participation in the strike. A front-page photo in al-Misri al-Yawm (May 5, 2007) depicted them wearing hijabs (headscarves) and niqabs (face veils), standing shoulder-to-­shoulder in solidarity with their male colleagues. At the privately owned Hinnawi Tobacco Company in Damanhur, ‘A’isha ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Abu-Sammada, a member of the ETUF local union committee, was the principal organizer of a successful strike in August 2007 prompted by the reduction in annual bonuses and nonpayment of the annual social raise after new management took over in March 2003. During 2007 Hagga (an honorific indicating that she has performed the pilgrimage to Mecca) ‘A’isha, as she is known, led the 350 men and women workers in several collective actions. She organized a petition, signed by 250 of the workers, to withdraw confidence from the other members of the trade union committee who did not support them. In retaliation, the General Union for Food Industries, claiming this was illegal, suspended her from the union committee. Management understood this as permission to fire Hagga ‘A’isha. A year later, thirty-three other women were dismissed. By this time Hagga ‘A’isha had become a public personality with ties to some of the more radical NGOs. With their support, she negotiated with Hinnawi to secure the rehiring of the thirtythree in December 2008. Hagga ‘Ai’sha herself was rehired only a year later.



Unlike the 1974–76 and 1984–94 cycles of contention, no political organizations were involved in the strikes and collective actions of the 2000s. The Tagammu‘ and the Communist Party were by then thoroughly subordinated to the regime. The Center for Trade Union and Workers Services and the Coordinating Committee for Trade Union and Workers Rights and Liberties offered training, advice, and support but did not initiate or organize direct collective actions. The Hisham Mubarak Law Center provided legal advice and defense. Perhaps a dozen labor journalists, among them a few members of the very small Revolutionary Socialists organization (a Trotskyist group linked to the British Socialist Workers Party), were the most consistent source of support for workers’ collective action among the oppositional intelligentsia. S TAT E S A N D T R A D E U N I O N F E D E R AT I O N S

In September 2000 UGTT secretary general Sahbani was ousted over corruption charges. His successor, Abdessalem Jrad, and eight of the other national executive bureau members elected in 2002 were thoroughly subservient to Ben Ali but somewhat more respectful of democratic procedures than their predecessors.11 Three “dissidents,” Ali Ben Romdhane and two of his allies, were also elected. They had learned to contain whatever oppositional views they formerly espoused within acceptable boundaries. Leaving the UGTT to pursue a more militant trade union action was not a viable option. The regime adamantly rejected trade union pluralism. In February 2007 Habib Guiza and some five hundred senior UGTT members opposed to the organization’s conciliation with the regime applied to reestablish the CGTT (see Chapter 1), declaring that it would be a “platform for a radical reform of the Tunisian trade union movement.”12 The Ministry of Interior deployed serial ruses to avoid acknowledging their application. In November 2008 the aspiring CGTT organizers called a public meeting to commemorate the founding of the original



CGTT in 1924. Guiza reported that police blocked entry to the event and told those seeking to attend that it was canceled. The CGTT, which had perhaps ten thousand members before 2011, only attained recognition after Ben Ali’s ouster. The generation of Arab nationalists, Maoists, Trotskyists, social democrats, and independent leftists who joined the UGTT in the 1990s was well represented in the unions of primary and secondary school teachers (where perhaps as many as 90 percent of the leaders were leftists of some sort in the 2000s), health, postal, and telecommunications workers, and in smaller numbers in air transport, railways, and among engineers in the phosphate mines. 13 They regarded the top UGTT leadership as collaborators, tout court. By the 2000s some UGTT second-rank leaders were children of the founding generation. They were not necessarily leftists. But they respected the institution and its history and sought to preserve its autonomy from the ruling party and the state. Consequently, the 2002 UGTT congress featured more transparent democratic procedures than any since 1989. By 2004 younger militants and their allies were influential enough to force a real debate in the administrative committee over supporting Ben Ali’s fourth campaign for the presidency. Although no outcome other than passage of the resolution was realistic, the regional unions of Sfax, Kairouan, Mahdia, and Jendouba and the national unions of primary, secondary, and higher education, health workers, public health doctors, university hospital doctors, bank employees, public works, and postal workers (seventeen votes altogether) voted “no” on the executive bureau’s motion to support Ben Ali, while the large regional unions of Kef and Ben Arous abstained.14 In 2005 the UGTT refused to nominate candidates for the upper house of the legislature, criticized Ben Ali’s inviting Israeli prime minister Sharon to the World Summit on the Information Society, protested the banning of the congress of the LTDH, participated in the Tunisian Social Forum, and supported the bar association when it clashed with the regime. It also offered occasional



encouragement to the UDC, although according to some accounts the UGTT sought to control rather than empower the UDC. No top-level UGTT leaders sought a confrontation with the regime. But the executive bureau and other leaders were obliged to support a significant number of strikes in the late 1990s and 2000s (see Table 3.2), parallel to the escalation of collective action in Egypt. The per capita number of strikes was far greater in Tunisia than Egypt. But most lasted only a day or two because the UGTT executive bureau typically authorized them to release pressure from rather than to mobilize the membership. Figures reported to the International Labour Organization (ILO) by the government indicate that some 40 to 75 percent of the strikes from 1996 to 2007 were in the manufacturing sector, followed at a considerable distance by construction. No strikes were reported in the education, public health, and social work sectors, raising suspicion that the total number of strikes was greater than reported because the radical left was strong in those sectors and there were, in fact, several strikes of secondary school teachers in the mid-2000s. ta b l e 3 . 2 Strikes in Tunisia, 1996–2007 Year 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007

Number of Strikes 300 305 277 308 411 380 345 395 391 466 392 382

Number of Strikers 27,751 35,683 28,160 31,989 35,886 38,242 33,386 46,893 44,637 78,953 115,443 98,210

source: ILO, International Yearbook of Labour Statistics, various years. note: 2007 is the last year for which official statistics are available.



As Table 3.2 and those in Chapter 2 demonstrate, neither Bourguiba nor Ben Ali succeeded in fully intimidating the UGTT, except briefly in the late 1970s and mid-1980s. The subservient leaderships they installed never totally silenced oppositional voices, including supporters of both legal and illegal opposition parties. Militants retained a margin of freedom as long as they addressed trade union, but not political, issues. Local, regional, and national unions, and even many congresses, preserved an internal life that the regime could not fully control, a space where the political left could survive, and a forum for democratic debate in an institution with profound national legitimacy. This was not due to the generosity of the Bourguiba or Ben Ali regimes or even to a deep commitment to democracy by most UGTT national leaders. Their leadership styles were typically no more democratic than most trade union bureaucracies anywhere. However, if it did not wish to rule by force alone, the ruling party/ regime was compelled to permit UGTT leaders to tolerate debate, disagreement, and occasional militancy in order to retain sufficient credibility with their members to restrain their more expansive demands. Consequently, the UGTT was neither “totally submissive [n]or totally aligned.” It comprised an “unstable cohabitation between a neutralized leadership and an uncontrolled base.”15 In contrast, ETUF never enjoyed significant autonomy from the Egyptian state. Those of its leaders who emerged from workplace struggles of the monarchy era were reduced to a bureaucratic faction in the state apparatus, increasingly detached from and unresponsive to their membership. In the 1970s and 1980s ETUF leaders opposed liquidation of the public sector, if only because it constituted their base of power. But even the best intentioned could do no better than stall for a decade before accepting extensive privatization of the public sector in 1991. ETUF leaders similarly opposed and delayed by a decade enacting the Unified Labor Law (No. 12) of 2003. Ultimately they acquiesced and were enticed to accept the law because it confirmed



ETUF’s legal monopoly over trade union activity, first enshrined in the Trade Union Law (No. 35) of 1976. In exchange for legalizing temporary contracts, the new law permitted strikes, but only under highly restricted conditions controlled by the ETUF executive board, which thereby increased its control over the membership. While the ETUF leadership largely abandoned defending the interests of its primary constituency in the public sector, it made no significant efforts to organize in the private sector. Few workers in the new satellite cities surrounding Cairo that hosted Special Enterprise Zones and Qualified Industrial Zones designed to attract foreign direct investment enjoyed union representation before 2011. In 2005 the twelve hundred enterprises in 10th of Ramadan City employed one hundred thousand workers. But there were only fourteen trade union committees, ten of which existed before the enterprises moved there from Cairo (three later ceased to function).16 There were one thousand enterprises in 6th of October City; only six had trade union committees.17 Of the two hundred enterprises in Sadat City employing seventeen thousand workers, only two had trade union committees.18 Unlike ETUF, the UGTT did organize in the private sector. In the mid-1970s, Tunisia adopted the European model of national tripartite negotiations among trade unions, the employers association (UTICA), and the state. In this framework there could be regular disagreements over wages and working conditions, but rarely anything more fundamental. The Tunisian parties had learned to live with this practice. European investors had long been accustomed to it and were not intimidated. The Mubarak regime had neither consistent policies nor functional institutional structures for dealing with workers’ demands in the era of structural adjustment and neoliberal globalization. Egyptian autocrats and tycoons could not imagine negotiating with the rabble, and ETUF had neither the legitimacy nor the organizational capacity to compel them to do so. When strikes escalated, the most common response was to temporize or con-



cede, at least partially, to economic demands, while rejecting demands with political implications. S T R I K E S AT M I S R S P I N N I N G A N D W E AV I N G

The largest industrial strikes in Egypt during the 2000s erupted in 2006 and 2007 at Ghazl al-Mahalla.19 Most accounts of the Egyptian workers movement of the 2000s consider the December 2006 strike the “beginning” of the strike wave, which persisted until President Hosni Mubarak’s demise and well after it. As noted previously, this is imprecise and misses the point that the installation of the “government of businessmen” in July 2004 and its accelerated implementation of structural adjustment immediately prompted an upsurge in strikes and collective actions. Moreover, viewing the 2006 strike at Ghazl al-Mahalla as a “beginning” tends to promote the view that the intelligentsia’s discovery of the workers movement, which was largely due to that strike, established its significance.20 Nonetheless, the symbolic importance of Ghazl al-Mahalla, the concentration of one fifth of all public sector textile workers there, their long history of struggle, and oppositional political forces’ acknowledgment of the significance of the strikes marked a qualitative intensification of workers’ collective action and its significance. On March 3, 2006 Prime Minister Nazif decreed an increase in the annual bonus given to all public sector workers, from 100 pounds to two months’ salary. That fall, intervention of the security forces in the ETUF elections for local union committees, which the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services described as “unequivocally the worst in the history of the Egyptian trade unions,” resulted in replacement of popular leaders with regime sycophants at Ghazl al-Mahalla and elsewhere.21 In a much more democratic procedure than the ETUF balloting, several ousted leaders were subsequently elected to what became the Ghazl al-Mahalla strike committee.



One of them, Muhammad al-‘Attar, a foreman in the garment division, recalled, “December [when annual bonuses are paid] came, and everyone was anxious. We discovered we’d been ripped off. They only offered us the same old 100 pounds. Actually, 89 pounds to be more precise, since there are deductions [for taxes and social benefits].” On December 7 production ceased when about three thousand female garment workers, many of them supervised by al-‘Attar, left their stations. They marched over to the spinning and weaving sections, where their male colleagues had not yet stopped their machines, and stormed in chanting, “Here are the women! Where are the men?” The men then joined the strike. Some ten thousand workers gathered in the central square of the factory complex, shouting, “Two months! Two months!” The Central Security Forces quickly deployed around the factory and throughout the city. But they did not attempt to disperse the strike with force. With the encouragement of state security, management offered a bonus of twenty-one days’ pay. But as al-‘Attar laughingly recalled, “The women almost tore apart every representative from the management who came to negotiate.” “As night fell,” said Sayyid Habib, another strike leader, the men found it “very difficult to convince the women to go home [if they had stayed, the regime and conservative social opinion would have tried to discredit the strike by labeling them ‘prostitutes’]. They wanted to stay and sleep over. It took us hours to convince them to go home to their families, and return the following day.” Al-‘Attar proudly added, “The women were more militant than the men.” On the fourth day of the occupation, government officials offered a forty-five-day bonus, assurances that the company would not be privatized, and a promise that if the company earned more than 60 million pounds in profit in the current fiscal year, 10 percent of it would be distributed to the workers. This victory reverberated throughout the textile sector. In the subsequent three



months as many as thirty thousand workers in at least ten textile mills in the Delta and Alexandria participated in strikes, slowdowns, and threats of collective action, demanding to receive what the Ghazl al-Mahalla strikers had won. In nearly every case the government acceded. Soon after the December 2006 Ghazl al-Mahalla strike, the elected strike committee launched a campaign to impeach the official local union committee because it had not supported the workers’ demands. By February 2007 nearly thirteen thousand workers had signed a petition to the General Union of Textile Workers, demanding elections for a new union committee. Other­wise they threatened to resign from ETUF. The ETUF bureaucrats, already humiliated by the successful strike, which they had opposed, adamantly opposed the impeachment demand. Conceding might have triggered a flurry of similar protests because of the exceptionally fraudulent 2006 trade union elections. Rebuffed by their national “leaders,” some three thousand Ghazl al-Mahalla workers officially resigned from the General Union of Textile Workers. This was illegal. In publicly owned enterprises workers were required to join an ETUF-affiliated union if one existed. Consequently, ETUF did not recognize these resignations and continued to deduct dues from their paychecks. Resignation from an ETUFaffiliated union also posed additional problems: members’ retirement benefits, subsidized vacations, and other services were disbursed through the ETUF Social Fund. Resignation from ETUF, as long as current labor legislation remained in effect, would entail forfeiting these benefits. In September 2007, because promises made at the conclusion of the December 2006 strike were unfulfilled, the Ghazl al-­ Mahalla workers struck for the second time in a year—and won. The second strike was even more militant than the first and belied the wishful claims of the government and its media that the strike wave had run its course.



The privately owned press published reports that Ghazl al-­ Mahalla earned between 170 and 217 million pounds in fiscal year 2006/7. Consequently, the workers claimed that they were due bonuses equal to 150 days’ pay. After a six-day strike they won an additional seventy days’ bonus, payable immediately. A meeting of the company’s administrative general assembly after the strike was to increase this to a total of at least 130 days’ pay. Much-hated CEO Mahmud al-Gibali was eventually dismissed. The biggest victory was in the political arena: after declaring their refusal to do so, regime representatives, including ETUF president Hussein Megawer, were forced to come to Mahalla alKubra to negotiate with the strike committee. Thus while the workers did not formally win their demand to impeach the trade union committee, they rendered it irrelevant. In contrast to most other workers’ collective actions in the 2000s, in September 2007 some of the Ghazl al-Mahalla strike leaders explicitly framed their struggle as a political contest with national implications. Sayyid Habib told Voice of America Radio, “We are challenging the regime” (September 28, 2007). Chants and banners raised during the strike opposed the economic policies of the Nazif government. Kareem Elbehirey uploaded video clips on his Egyworkers blog featuring workers chanting, “We will not be ruled by the World Bank! We will not be ruled by colonialism!”22 Muhammad al-‘Attar and seven other leaders were arrested for two days during the strike. On his release he told journalists, “We want a change in the structure and hierarchy of the union system in this country. . . . The way unions in this country are organized is completely wrong, from top to bottom. It is organized to make it look like our representatives have been elected, when really they are appointed by the government.” Later that day al-‘Attar told a pre-iftar (Ramadan breakfast) workers’ rally: “I want the whole government to resign. . . . I want the Mubarak regime to come to an end. Politics and workers rights are inseparable. Work is poli-



tics by itself. What we are witnessing here right now, this is as democratic as it gets.” APRIL 6, 2008

In early 2008 the Ghazl al-Mahalla strike committee proposed a national labor strike on April 6 in support of the demand to increase the national monthly minimum basic wage to 1,200 pounds (then about $210; the prevailing minimum wage was about $25).23 It soon became clear that a national action was beyond their organizational capacity. Previous efforts to establish a coordinating body among Delta area textile workers had failed. The movement did not recognize a unified leadership. The strike committee decided to proceed with a strike at Ghazl al-Mahalla without making further efforts to persuade others to join in. The regime drew a red line at linking local grievances in a strategic and symbolically laden workplace and national economic policy. On April 2 security forces occupied Mahalla al-Kubra and the factory complex. Hussein Megawer brought the strike committee members to ETUF headquarters in Cairo and exerted intense pressure on them to abandon the strike. Concurrently, the company granted several outstanding demands and agreed to implement previously promised free transportation to and from work. Succumbing to this carrot-and-stick combination, a majority of the strike committee agreed to cancel the strike. Few other enterprises struck on that day. While there was no strike at Ghazl al-Mahalla, after the 3:30 p.m. shift change, a crowd of mostly young boys and women gathered in the main city square and began chanting slogans denouncing the high price of unsubsidized bread, which had recently been in short supply. Organized ranks of plainclothes thugs of the regime unleashed volleys of rocks to disperse the crowd while uniformed Central Security Forces fired volleys of tear gas. As the violence escalated, the crowd burned the banners of the National



Democratic Party candidates for the municipal elections scheduled for April 8. On April 7 an even larger crowd than the day before gleefully defaced a large poster of Hosni Mubarak. Over the next two days, security forces arrested 331 people, beat up hundreds, critically wounded nine, and shot dead fifteen-year-old Ahmad ‘Ali Mubarak with a bullet to his head as he was standing on the balcony of his apartment. On April 8 a delegation of high government officials led by Prime Minister Nazif rushed to Mahalla al-Kubra to restore calm. Nazif announced a bonus of one month’s pay for Ghazl al-­Mahalla workers and fifteen days’ for all other public sector textile workers. Many of the latter promptly threatened to strike if they did not also receive a thirty-day bonus. The minister of investment, ­Mahmoud Muhieldin, promised better transportation facilities, special bakeries to increase the supply of subsidized bread, revival of the cooperative store to provide subsidized rice, oil, sugar, and flour, and new medical equipment and specialized staff for the city’s general hospital, where several patients had recently died due to insufficient expertise and equipment. Following the clashes of April 6–7, forty-nine protesters were tried by an emergency State Security Court. Twenty-two were convicted and sentenced to three-to-five-year jail terms. Several workers were given disciplinary transfers, though most of them were ultimately reversed. This level of repression was exceptional in the 2000s and likely due to the government’s sensitivity about the high profile of Ghazl al-Mahalla and fear that workers there might successfully organize a national protest. Although the abortive strike sought to advance an economic demand that was commonly, if erroneously, regarded as “nonpolitical,” a nationally coordinated workers’ action would have posed a substantial challenge to the government’s economic policies and its authority. Disagreements over whether to strike on April 6, 2008 split the insurgent leadership at Ghazl al-Mahalla. By March 2009 one group had abandoned the goal of establishing an independent



union. Another faction was demoralized. A third continued to pursue a more confrontational strategy. This disarray at the site where the workers movement was best organized and nationally most visible indicates that it is not necessary to agree on values and strategies in order to constitute a social movement, as many social scientists have argued.24 However, the failure to do so eventually had important political consequences, which could not be foreseen because very few participants in the workers movement imagined that Mubarak would soon be ousted. Despite its superior level of organization (until the leadership became divided in April 2008), the strategic character of its enterprise, and its leading role in winning economic gains, the Ghazl al-Mahalla strike committee could not establish social movement institutions or an independent union. Instead the previously unheralded real estate tax collectors achieved the greatest economic gains of the entire movement and succeeded in establishing the first independent trade union in Egypt in more than half a century. THE INDEPENDENT GENERAL UNION OF R E A L E S TAT E TA X AU T H O R I T Y W O R K E R S

While workers mounted powerful enterprise-level actions, the only case in which a sectoral action generated a lasting institution in the 2000s was the Independent General Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Workers—representing tax assessors employed by local authorities.25 (The union calls itself the Real Estate Tax Authority Union in its English correspondence and abbreviates its name as RETAU, so that terminology is used here.) The municipal tax assessors’ mobilization began in the fall of 2007. They formed a national strike committee led by Kamal Abu Eita to lead a campaign to promote their demand for wage parity with tax workers employed directly by the Ministry of Finance, whose salaries were far higher. The disparity arose after a bureaucratic reorga-



nization several years earlier created a group of poorly paid clerical workers employed by local authorities with fewer resources than the central government. The campaign culminated in an elevenday occupation of the street in front of the offices of the cabinet in downtown Cairo in December 2007. Some eight thousand workers and their families resolved to remain until the demand for wage parity was met. Astonishingly, the minister of finance, Yusif Boutrus Ghali, capitulated; the Real Estate Tax Authority workers won a 325 percent wage increase. Building on the momentum of this achievement, the strike committee spent the following year organizing an independent union. By December 2008 over thirty thousand of some fifty thousand tax assessors employed by local authorities throughout Egypt left their ETUF-affiliated union and joined RETAU. Partly due to pressure from a visiting ILO delegation, the Ministry of Manpower and Migration unexpectedly recognized the new union in April 2009—the first trade union independent of the regime in over half a century. Much smaller and less-established independent unions of healthcare technicians and teachers were also founded before the end of 2010. The real estate tax assessors did not have a long history of militant action. But their leader, Kamal Abu Eita, was a leading member of the Nasserist Karama Party. Based in Giza, across the Nile River from Cairo, he had access to the party’s premises and its logistical support. Party leader Hamdeen Sabbahi publicly supported the Real Estate Tax Authority workers; but the party did not mobilize on their behalf.26 CENTER AND PERIPHERY IN TUNISIA

Even before the French occupation of Tunisia in 1881, there were substantial gaps between the standards of living, educational levels, and extent of integration into Mediterranean regional markets of Tunis, Bizerte, and the Sahel on the one hand, and the interior



regions on the other. Except for the French phosphate mining interests, the economically and culturally marginalized interior has typically been written out of Tunisia’s modern history in favor of a story centered on Bourguiba and the Neo-Destour stronghold in the Sahel and Tunis.27 A similar narrative dominates about the singular role of Farhat Hached in founding the UGTT. Coastal elites commonly view inhabitants of the interior as culturally retrograde people who “only understand force.”28 Regional loyalties are intertwined with primordial affiliations (actual or metaphoric), political and trade union rivalries, and secular or Islamist cultural orientations, making them difficult to disaggregate. The impoverishment and marginalization of the interior and the relative wealth of the coast impelled social mobilizations that were simultaneously a component of the nationalist and trade union movements and regional revolts of the interior against the center in both the colonial and postindependence eras: (1) the strike wave in the Gafsa phosphate mines of the 1940s; (2) the formation of the UGTT by leaders whose origins and social base were geographically centered on the southern Gafsa-Sfax-Kerkennah Islands axis; (3) the armed struggle against the French in 1952–53 led by Ahmed Tlili and based in Gafsa; (4) the Youssefist opposition to Bourguiba in 1955–56; and (5) the January 1984 bread riots, which actually began in Gabès and Gafsa in late December 1983. The 2008 rebellion in the Gafsa phosphate mining basin was simultaneously a series of riots by teenagers and young men protesting their lack of economic opportunity; an uprising against poverty and unemployment intensified by the local implementation of neoliberal structural adjustment in the phosphate industry, in which leftist trade unionists and members of the Union de diplômés chômeurs (UDC) were prominent; and a rebellion against the local face of autocracy and corruption embodied in the Gafsa Phosphate Company (CPG) and the regional UGTT leadership. It was not explicitly a movement for democracy, although similar issues ignited the uprising that overthrew Ben Ali.



I emphasize the participation of Gafsa and neighboring centerwest regions in the contestations that led to Ben Ali’s demise, and in so doing decenter the activities of young, tech-savvy coastal dwellers, bloggers, rappers, and human rights advocates who have received the lion’s share of attention, especially in the West. They were important, even critical at certain moments. But the Tunisian uprising began in the hinterlands, initiated by the unemployed and the dispossessed. Trade unionists, especially schoolteachers who were local leaders of the UGTT, and leftists, who opposed the regional and national UGTT leaderships and their conciliation of the regime, lent support and organizational resources. STRUCTURAL ADJUSTMENT AND REBELLION IN GAFSA

The phosphate mining enterprise was nationalized at the expiration of the French concession in 1966; in 1976 it adopted a new name: La Compagnie des Phosphates de Gafsa (CPG).29 Until the mid-1970s the CPG and related enterprises provided full employment for most males in the western Gafsa governorate (population 324,000 according to the 2004 census), and even migrants from the coast. This changed radically with implementation of the “Plan to Rehabilitate the Gafsa Phosphate Company” in 1986. The plan was consistent with the Economic Reform and Structural Adjustment Program (ERSAP) adopted the same year and a precursor of the industrial upgrading program funded by the European Union and the World Bank (see Chapter 2). The World Bank had funded an earlier round of upgrades at the CPG in 1974–81. The African Development Bank Group, which follows similar policies, financed the 1986 rehabilitation plan. Executing the plan sharply reduced employment. In 1985 the company all but ceased to make new permanent hires. From 1980 to 2006 the number of employees fell from 14–15,000 to 5,000– 5,800. The completion report of the rehabilitation plan myopi-



cally claimed that elimination of these jobs by compensating workers who voluntarily left or took early retirement at age fifty was “generally well received by the personnel and social partners of the company.”30 The strategic plan failed. The company registered operating losses in six of the seven years from 1989 to 1995. Ten years later its fortunes improved markedly as the world price of phosphates soared: in May 2008 prices were 3.55 times higher than the average price during 2005.31 However, the working population of the region saw no benefit from the company’s good fortune. In 2004 the national unemployment rate was officially 14.1 percent, but perhaps as much as 20–25 percent. In the four phosphate mining towns of Gafsa governorate—M’dhila (population 12,383), Métlaoui (37,099), Moularès (24,487), and Redeyef (26,143)—­unemployment ranged from 20.9 to 38.5 percent. Poverty rates in the Gafsa governorate were 30–40 percent and had increased in the phosphate basin since the 1990s, although greenhouse agriculture moderated poverty in the eastern parts of the governorate.32 Unemployment and poverty rates were similar in the neighboring center-west regions of Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid. Hassen Ben Abdallah, a secondary school teacher and member of the Tunisian Communist Workers Party (PCOT), led the UDC branch in Redeyef. In October 2006 it organized a sit-in, protesting the government’s inadequate policies to combat unemployment and unfair hiring practices at the CPG. There were several other protests against high unemployment in the Gafsa governorate throughout 2007. Consciousness and anger over this issue were well established. After six years of no new hiring, the CPG administered a competitive examination for 380 temporary technical, administrative, and manual labor positions to over 1,000 applicants. The jobs were to be allocated according to the examination results and a 1986 agreement giving preference for 20 percent of all new positions to



qualified locals and children of former employees disabled or deceased due to work accidents. On January 5, 2008 a list of new hires was posted. Four UDC members immediately protested the list and accused the CPG management and local UGTT leadership of colluding to ignore the examination results and hire their relatives, friends, and clients. They occupied the Redeyef UGTT offices, proclaimed a hunger strike, and asserted their right to a job. ­Widows of miners killed in work accidents and their families pitched tents in front of the building in solidarity. The next day hundreds of high school students, unemployed youth and their families, and some trade unionists joined them in a peaceful demonstration that culminated in a march across the town and a onehour sit-in in front of the Redeyef CPG offices. The number of hunger strikers—all high school, technical school, or university graduates aged 29–42—grew to twenty-five in three days. The protests targeted both the CPG and the secretary general of the UGTT regional union, ‘Amara ‘Abbasi, a member of both the parliament and the central committee of the ruling party. Abbasi and two of his relatives owned three manpower firms that supplied janitorial, maintenance, and other workers on temporary contracts to the CPG. The charges of nepotism and corruption were more than plausible. The protests in Moularès and M’dhila had less-organized leadership and were less disciplined than in Redeyef: burning tires to block roads, torching a maintenance company owned by ‘Amara ‘Abbasi, and setting up tents on roads and railroad tracks to block the transport of phosphate. Hundreds of unemployed workers and their families blocked the main street in Moularès for hours and obstructed entry and exit from the CPG head office. In the evening they sat in at the town’s phosphate-washing factory holding banners proclaiming, “Everyone Has a Right to a Job . . . No to Corruption and Opportunism.” A tent of eleven widows whose husbands had died in work accidents and who demanded that the



CPG hire their children became the movement’s symbol in ­Moularès and provided some organizational structure. The ­widows ended their protest on February 24 in exchange for a promise from Ben Ali that their children and those of sixty other widows would be offered jobs. Sit-ins of unemployed graduates at the local UGTT office continued until mid-March, when one of the subcontracting companies agreed to offer twenty jobs to the unemployed. In M’dhila, the protests died out by mid-February. The movement in Redeyef was the strongest and most organized. On January 6 five dissident UGTT leaders led by Adnene Hajji, secretary general of the local elementary school teachers union, formed a negotiating committee. The other members were Bechir Laâbîdi and Taïeb Ben Othmane, both members of the same union; Adel Jayyar, a member of the local committee of the  secondary school teachers union; and Boujemaâ Chraïti, a nurse and secretary general of the local health workers union. They formulated their role as mediating between the protesters and the local government. No officials of the miners union supported this effort. The committee organized weekly demonstrations of unemployed manual workers and graduates, temporary workers, high school students, and their parents proclaiming, “A job is a right, you pack of thieves!” and “Work, Freedom, National Dignity.” The same slogans were prominently deployed in the uprising that ousted Ben Ali three years later. On April 4 national student union members, PCOT supporters, and others organized a national day of solidarity with the Gafsa rebellion. The unemployed, trade unionists, and people from the phosphate mining towns marched with students and other middle-class oppositional elements in Tunis that day, giving the movement a national character for the first time—three months after it began. On the night of April 5, masked youth attacked the Redeyef police station. PCOT activists claimed that hirelings of the regime carried out the action, seeking to provide a pretext to escalate



r­ epression in response to the wider expressions of solidarity. Whatever the case, the authorities did intensify efforts to quash the protests—sweeping neighborhoods and raiding homes of movement leaders using tear gas grenades. The five members of the Redeyef negotiating committee and thirty-three others were arrested. In response, all the local trade union committees in Redeyef, except the miners union, called for an open-ended general strike—­ uniting workers, including some employed at the CPG, employees of the subcontracting firms, shopkeepers, and professionals, for the first time in the mobilization. Teachers occupied one of Redeyef ’s schools, while groups of youngsters hounded the police in the streets. The combination of repression and the government’s subsequent unwillingness to sustain it broadened the movement and escalated contentious action. After the early April clashes in Redeyef, marches, sit-ins, and demonstrations resumed in Moularès and M’dhila, while mobilization in Redeyef continued. On April 9 women marched to the office of the subprefecture (mu‘tamadiyya) of Redeyef and sat in, demanding the release of those arrested. They were joined by hundreds of unemployed, trade unionists, and delegations from branches of the LTDH in Kairouan, Jendouba, and Monastir led by Messaoud Romdhani, a teacher and head of the Kairouan LTDH branch who had initiated a National Support Committee for the Residents of the Mining Basin. The authorities backed down and released twenty-two of the thirty-nine arrestees; the others were freed the next day. On May 5 a group of unemployed youth, protesting the authorities’ failure to uphold their agreement that the CPG would hire more of them, occupied an electric generator in order to stop the operations of the phosphate washing facilities in the village of Tabbedit. When tear gas failed to disperse them, authorities started up the generator, thereby electrocuting Hichem Ben Jeddou El Aleïmi, who died on the spot, and Taoufik Ben Saleh, who went into a coma. On May 30 demonstrations and sit-ins resumed in Métlaoui and were suppressed with exceptional violence. On



June 2 a National Guard vehicle pursuing young demonstrators ran into Nabil Chagra and killed him. The authorities proclaimed a curfew and shot unarmed demonstrators in Redeyef on June 6, killing Hafnaoui Maghdhaoui and wounding twenty-six others (Tunisian authorities claimed eight). A wave of at least two hundred arrests continued throughout June and July. Those detained included the five leaders of the ­Redeyef negotiating committee and Mohamed Merzougui and Boubaker Ben Boubaker—both activists in the Redeyef UDC.33 The deaths and the arrests ended the active movement on the ground in the mining towns, although solidarity actions protesting the repression continued on the Tunisian coast, on the Internet, and among Tunisian émigrés in France, Italy, and Canada. DYNAMICS OF CONTENTION IN GAFSA

Tunisia’s legal political parties offered ineffective assistance to the Gafsa rebellion. They were beaten down by repression and had little organized support beyond Tunis. Moreover, they were focused on the futile exercise of preparing for the 2009 presidential elections, especially the Parti démocrate progressiste of Ahmed Néjib Chebbi and Maya Jribi. Its roots were in the new left Perspectives group, but it abandoned any sort of socialism after obtaining legal recognition in 1988. The oppositional intelligentsia in the provinces was more assertive, perhaps because their lower national visibility afforded them some protection until the regime decided on a strategy of massive repression. Even before the participation of delegations of LTDH members from Kairouan, Jendouba, and Monastir in the April 9 demonstration, a delegation of the Gafsa LTDH branch visited the hunger strikers of Redeyef on January 9. Its president, Zouhair Yahyaoui, and another active member, Fethi Titay, often participated in demonstrations and sometimes mediated between demonstrators and authorities.



On July 27 wives of arrested trade unionists and activists held a demonstration in Redeyef to demand their release. Zakia Dhifaoui—a resident of Kairouan, a teacher, and a member of the Tunisian National Council for Liberties and the social democratic Ettakattol party—attended the demonstration. She was arrested with several others and threatened with rape during her detention at a police station. At her trial the judge refused to enter her complaints about sexual abuse into the record and sentenced her to eight months in jail.34 The Gafsa rebellion also received support from the Paris-based Fédération des Tunisiens pour une Citoyenneté des deux Rives (FTCR), a support committee based in Nantes, which had a significant community of migrants from Redeyef, and others in Italy and Montreal. The FTCR formed a Committee to Support the Struggles in the Gafsa Mining Basin, which circulated the news of the May 6 electrocutions and other information and photos to an international audience.35 FTCR member Omeyya Seddik spent a month in Gafsa and coauthored an informative article with ­Karine Gantin on the events in Le Monde diplomatique. But it appeared in August, after the struggle had subsided.36 During the summer the FTCR also collaborated with the Committee to Respect Liberty and Human Rights in Tunisia to publish an extensive Internet dossier documenting the events of April–June.37 The émigrés defused news and photographs of the events, largely over the Internet. Although the impact of Internet activism was belated and hardly decisive, it was significant enough for the regime to block access to Facebook from August 18 to September 2, 2008. Fahem Boukadous—a Paris-based journalist working for the privately owned al-Hiwar Ettounsi (Tunisian dialogue) satellite TV channel and a PCOT member—provided the only real-time professional photojournalistic coverage of the Gafsa rebellion. French and Italian TV picked up some of his reports. The PCOT had invested heavily in the Gafsa region, immediately understood



the significance of the events, and played a substantial role in them.38 Ammar Amroussia, an elementary school teacher and PCOT member in Gafsa, wrote regularly about the rebellion for the party’s Internet publication.39 Several different leftist currents of thought were represented among the leaders and prominent supporters of the Gafsa rebellion. Adnene Hajji, who emerged as the charismatic leader of the protest and was especially popular among women and children, had been close to the PCOT in the mid-1980s. But he opposed its openness to working with Ennahda against the Ben Ali regime and PCOT leader Hamma Hammami’s Stalinist leadership style. Bechir Laâbîdi, another member of the Redeyef negotiating committee, belonged to the Left Socialist Party (now Socialist Party). It split from the PCOT in 2006 because it opposed Hamma Hammami’s participation in the October 2005 hunger strike with Ennahda member Samir Dilou. Gantin and Seddik observed, “It’s true that billboards proclaiming ‘Ben Ali 2009’ for the presidential elections have been removed since the start of the protest (when not altered to read ‘Ben Ali 2080’ or ‘Ben Ali 2500’). But the organizers forbid political slogans at rallies and meetings.”40 Indeed, Hajji explicitly addressed the government asking for a dialogue to resolve the problems of those who had occupied the UGTT headquarters, insisting that the protest had no link to any political party or external body.41 Like most Egyptian worker activists, Hajji understood that the only chance to win concessions was to assert the nonpolitical character of the demands. But a poster at a demonstration captured in a documentary film of the events read, “The wealth of the people is in the palaces, the children of the people are in prison.”42 People understood whom they were protesting against and why. Thirty-eight of those arrested during the rebellion were charged with “forming a criminal group with the aim of destroying public and private property” and “armed rebellion and assault on officials



during the exercise of their duties.” The social profile of thirty-six of the thirty-eight, according to the court records, offers a rough gauge of the social composition of the leadership of the movement. Twenty were employed workers; eight were schoolteachers; three were high school or elementary students; two were engineers in the phosphate mines; one was a nurse, one unemployed, and one a civil servant. The greatest number of participants in the mobilizations had been the unemployed, students, and their families. While designations are often imprecise in such legal proceedings, the state’s showcase trial highlights the predominant role of workers and teachers, who served as the organic intellectuals of the working class.43 In December 2008 thirty-three of those tried were convicted in what Amnesty International called “grossly unfair trials” and sentenced to prison terms of up to ten years. The sentences were appealed and the maximum reduced to eight years in February 2009. On November 5, 2009, to mark the twenty-second anniversary of his accession to power, Ben Ali conditionally released or amnestied sixty-eight convicted prisoners, including Hajji, Laâbîdi, Jayyar, and Ben Othmane.44 CONTESTING AUTOCRACY IN THE 2000S

The 2008 Gafsa rebellion was the most important social movement in Tunisia since the bread revolt of 1984. The UGTT did not openly support the 1984 protests; in 2008 the rebellion targeted the local UGTT leadership along with the government. The Gafsa insurgents did not raise demands for democratization as such, a­ lthough their persistence posed a strong challenge to the regime’s social power and legitimacy. The Gafsa rebellion demonstrated the potential of the unemployed and their families to generate a social movement with considerable stamina. However, unemployment, poverty, and lack of opportunity do not automatically lead to politicized protest. In



Redeyef, but less so in Moularès, the rebellion was well organized by UGTT dissidents like Adnene Hajji and the negotiating committee, the UDC, and leftists, both independents and party members. They served as the organic intellectuals of the movement and could draw on the UGTT’s historic legitimacy and their secondary leadership positions in it to deploy at least parts of its organizational structure for contestation. Nonetheless, weak support among political parties and NGOs, except the PCOT and certain local branches of the LTDH, relegated the Gafsa rebellion and other contestations in the interior regions literally to the margins of Tunisian political life. Egyptian workers had far fewer resources than their Tunisian counterparts, and there was no organized movement of the unemployed. The escalation of workers’ collective actions began with relatively weak actors, like the ESCO workers, who were motivated by fears about losing their jobs and social benefits. The strongest actors—the Ghazl al-Mahalla workers—did not join the movement until late 2006, when the pattern of greater government tolerance for workers’ protest was established. Even after the riot of the security forces at Mahalla al-Kubra on April 6, 2008, most workers continued to believe that their demands were nonpolitical. The workers movement developed through tactical agreements on actions to achieve specific demands and a conception of workers’ “rights” rooted in the authoritarian bargain of the Nasser regime—higher wages, job security, and social benefits, but no political participation. After the canceled April 6, 2008 Ghazl al-Mahalla strike, the struggle for a monthly minimum basic wage of 1,200 pounds continued. But it was not based on workplace mobilizations. It was advanced by a relatively small number of local leaders who had emerged in the previous decade with support from a limited circle of intellectuals and NGOs. The Egyptian intellectuals who sustained the most consistent relationships with workers were labor journalists, who sometimes



risked their own safety to heroically report on strikes. Political parties and NGOs, except the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services, the Coordinating Committee for Trade Union and Workers Rights and Liberties, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights established in 2010, and the Revolutionary Socialists, contributed little to the workers movement. The reticence of most of the intelligentsia to effectively support workers’ economic demands reinforced the local and informal character of the networks that enabled workers’ mobilizations in the 2000s. Those networks could not be replicated beyond the local level without protracted, conscious efforts. Therefore, Egyptian workers did not develop a national organization, leadership, or political program before January 25, 2011. The contentious actions of Egyptian and Tunisian workers and the unemployed in the 2000s suggest that neither “political opportunity structures,” in the terminology of social movement theory, nor the “expansion of civil society,” much favored by democracy promoters and “transitologists,” reliably explain the origins, character, capacity to persist, or the divergent outcomes of social movements in Tunisia and Egypt. While movements of the intelligentsia did emerge in response to political opportunities in Egypt, workers movements predated them. Lack of similar opportunities may explain the more limited mobilizations of the Tunisian intelligentsia. In both Tunisia and Egypt workers and the unemployed only rarely targeted the institutional or ideological aspects of economic restructuring or the autocratic regimes explicitly. Their leaders, like those of the intelligentsias, had a variety of political views and no long-term strategy. Nonetheless, mass actions of workers and those in their social ambit in Mahalla ­al-Kubra and in Gafsa comprised the most significant contestations of autocratic power in Egypt and Tunisia in the 2000s. Workers acted primarily in response to perceived economic threats and, for the most part, perceived their class interests in those terms. Their mobilizations were a response to a class project:



economic reform and structural adjustment programs and neoliberal globalization promoted by Western governments, the international financial institutions, and their local allies. Class is, therefore, a key category for understanding both the social movements of workers and the unemployed as well as the divide separating workers and the unemployed from the oppositional intelligentsia.




Contestations throughout Egypt during the 2000s created a “culture of protest” and normalized demonstrations in public space.1 The liberal oppositional intelligentsia, like most workers themselves, considered the workers movement “nonpolitical.” Most Western journalists and think-tankers, if they were aware of the upsurge of workers’ collective actions at all, repeatedly asked when (or if ) the movement would become “political.” The harsher climate of repression blocked the emergence of a culture of protest in Tunisia. The regime methodically obstructed advocacy NGOs like the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH). Although no similar contestation reached the intensity of the 2008 Gafsa rebellion, unemployed graduates and youth of the interior regions repeatedly protested their marginalization, poverty, and high unemployment rates: in May 2008 in Kasserine and during 2010 at the port of Skhira, Sidi Bouzid, and Menzel Bouzaiane.2 The legal media rarely reported such contestations, and the liberal coastal intelligentsia was not engaged in them. They did not imagine that such social struggles might acquire more political impact than Tunis-centered NGO work or legal political opposition. In both Egypt and Tunisia, most of the oppositional intelligentsia failed to appreciate that in an authoritarian regime, recurring 97



mobilizations of large numbers of people seizing control of public space—workers, the unemployed, devotees of the “apolitical” preacher ‘Amr Khalid, or soccer fans—are inherently political. P U B L I C S PA C E A N D C Y B E R S PA C E

On International Women’s Day, March 8, 2008, the New Woman Foundation organized a celebration in a Cairo park to honor women who had been prominent in the workers movement and other social protests. The foundation’s president, Nawla ­Darwiche, is the daughter of the veteran communist labor lawyer, Yusuf ­Darwiche (see Chapter 2). She inherited both her father’s commitment to workers and the respect of thousands who knew him. Hundreds of female and male workers and supporters from Cairo and the Delta attended the celebration. On May 1, 2010 several hundred workers and others demonstrated in front of the People’s Assembly demanding that the government implement a 2009 court order to establish a “fair” monthly minimum basic wage, which they believed was 1,200 pounds. They chanted, “A fair minimum wage, or let this government go home,” and “Down with Mubarak and all those who raise prices!” Labor lawyer Khalid ‘Ali, executive director of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, told the press, “The government represents the marriage between authority and money—and this marriage needs to be broken up. . . . We call for the resignation of Ahmad Nazif ’s government because it works only for businessmen and ignores social justice.”3 Unlike his more timid colleagues in the NGO world, ‘Ali had the boldness and rhetorical skill to characterize the regime accurately in popular language that suggested the necessity of regime change. Except for the December 2007 municipal real estate tax assessors’ strike, no more than several hundred workers came to demonstrate in Cairo on any single occasion. The expense, inconvenience, and risks were prohibitive. Nonetheless, increas-



ingly frequent occupations of public space consolidated a new practice in the Egyptian repertoire of protest that emerged early in the decade with the occupation of Tahrir Square in solidarity with the second Palestinian intifada. During 2010 workers and others advancing social demands gathered in front of the People’s Assembly on over a dozen occasions. These protests establishing the right to occupy public space made the decision to continue occupying Tahrir Square after the demonstration of January 25, 2011—the critical exercise of agency and judgment that turned a larger than usual demonstration into an uprising—seem “normal.” Those subsequently dubbed the “Facebook youth” were not integrally connected with the workers movement or its efforts to occupy public space. On March 23, 2008 Esraa Abdel Fattah, in collaboration with several other young professionals with marketable skills who did not benefit from crony capitalism, established a Facebook page to support the strike that Ghazl al-Mahalla workers announced for April 6, 2008. She urged people to stay home that day—a tentative call for a general strike. The page received some seventy thousand Likes in two weeks. But this small group of youth had no grassroots organizational capacity. There is no way to know how many people stayed home or why. The April 6 Youth Movement (A6YM) emerged from this ­cyber-activism. Abdel Fattah and others were detained for two weeks after April 6 along with Kifaya activists, prominent opposition figures, and workers. But no A6YM members had been present in Mahalla al-Kubra on April 6 or had direct contact with Ghazl al-Mahalla workers. When Abdel Fattah was released she renounced political activism. A6YM cofounder Ahmed Maher and a dozen others were detained for a second time in July. Due to such repression, A6YM all but disappeared from public view for the next two years. In December 2008 one A6YM-er traveled to New York to participate in a State Department-organized “Alliance of Youth Movements Summit.” Another visited Serbia in 2009 to study the experience



of Otpor. Few Egyptians knew about these trips or any lessons they may have yielded. Tunisian cyber-dissidence first emerged in 1998. But bloggers rarely discussed workers or protests in the interior regions. Many adopted an apolitical, “moderate” stance. Lina Ben Mhenni (“A Tunisian Girl”), one of Tunisia’s most acclaimed bloggers, was among the organizers of the May 22, 2010 protests in Tunis, Paris, Bonn, Montreal, and New York demanding an end to Internet censorship. They instructed participants not to bring “flags or music which could give a political or a religious meaning to the demonstration.”4 Many Internet activists lived abroad. The ­Debatunise blog noted, “Cyber-dissident speech remains confined to a limited Tunisian reality responding to frustration of a particular social group. . . . There is no doubt that the members of this ‘club’ are the local or immigrant bourgeoisie.”5 Visual images made a decisive difference in the dynamics of contention. Suicide by self-immolation was an established element in Tunisia’s repertoire of protest, but had never become a focus of contestation. Ninety-four people attempted or succeeded in burning themselves to death between 1992 and 1995.6 Two or five (reports conflict) followed suit in the first eleven months of 2010. Among them was Abdesslem Trimech, a street-cart food vendor frustrated by the bureaucratic difficulties of obtaining a permit to pursue his livelihood. He immolated himself in ­Monastir on March 10, 2010. Internet visuals of the disconcertingly similar last case of 2010 sparked an uprising against Ben Ali. But they did not emanate from the cyber-dissident club. On December 17, 2010 Mohamed Bouazizi—a twenty-six-yearold street-cart vendor in the bleak center-west town of Sidi ­Bouzid—set himself ablaze in front of the municipality after a police­woman seized his produce, publicly berated him because he did not have a vending license, and eventually slapped him. A crowd led by his mother spontaneously gathered on the spot. His relatives, Rochdi Horchani and Ali Bouazizi (a member of the Parti démocrate



progressiste, PDP), posted an Internet video of the gathering. Al Jazeera TV picked it up from Facebook and aired it that night. Horchani told Al Jazeera, “We could protest for two years here, but without videos no one would take any notice of us.”7 ‘Ali Zer‘i—a high school teacher, a member of Sidi Bouzid’s UGTT regional executive board, and a Watad militant—and Atiya Athmouni, another high school teacher and PDP member, took Mohamed Bouazizi to the hospital, drawing further media attention.8 Lina Ben Mhenni “wanted to travel to Sidi Bouzid and see what was happening, but . . . was unable to afford it.”9 A year later she characterized Ben Ali’s ouster as a “dignity revolution,” a popular term among the middle classes that obscures its economic and social aspects and the aspirations of its initiators. Because the oppositional intelligentsias of Egypt and Tunisia failed to build effective mechanisms of solidarity and support for their demands, most workers, unemployed, and marginalized populations regarded them as distant, privileged, and even arrogant. They were largely indifferent to abstract calls for democratization advanced by legal “opposition” parties, advocacy NGOs, and their international supporters. Only a few were involved in the social media that became popular among educated youth. MOHAMED BOUAZIZI IGNITES AN UPRISING

Demonstrations in Sidi Bouzid continued every day after Bouazizi’s self-immolation and escalated after twenty-two-year-old Houcine Falhi committed suicide by electrocuting himself on December 22 after shouting, “No to misery, no to unemployment!” Protests quickly spread to other center-west towns—Menzel Bouzaiane, Regueb, Meknassi, Jelma, and Ben Oun. As they had in Gafsa in 2008, protesters chanted, “A job is a right, you pack of thieves!” and “Work, Freedom, Social Justice.” Police responded violently, shooting dead two demonstrators in Menzel Bouzaiane on December 24. Security forces attacked a rally organized by the



UGTT regional leadership in Gafsa on December 25 and stormed another UGTT-sponsored meeting in Gafsa the next day. Lawyers and all levels of the UGTT denounced the police violence, along with members of illegal and legal opposition parties. Khaled Aouania, an in-law of Mohamed Brahmi, founder of the unrecognized Nasserist Unionist (later People’s) Movement, and others organized the first lawyers’ sit-in at Sidi Bouzid’s municipal courthouse the day after Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation.10 On December 27 police harshly beat and arrested lawyers sitting in at the courthouses of Sidi Bouzid and neighboring Kasserine and Médenine. In the first solidarity demonstration in Tunis on December 25 hundreds of citizens gathered in front of the UGTT headquarters and proceeded on a peaceful march chanting, “Shame on you government! Prices are on fire,” “Work is a human right,” and “Freedom is part of our national dignity.”11 Two days later about one thousand demonstrated in Tunis, and others in Sousse, in solidarity with the inhabitants of the center-west regions. On December 28 a large lawyers’ sit-in at Tunis’s courts ended with the arrest of Abderraouf Ayadi, a cofounder of the Congress for the Republic, and Chokri Belaïd, the leader of the Parti unifié des patriotes démocrates (Watad). To protest the beatings and arrests of lawyers, the bar association called for nationwide demonstrations on December 31. Mokhtar Trifi, president of the LTDH, told Al Jazeera (December 31) that lawyers were “savagely beaten” across the country that day. The bar association announced a general strike for January 6. On January 3 about 250 demonstrators, mostly students, held a peaceful solidarity march in Thala. Police tried to stop the march by firing tear gas canisters into the crowd, injuring at least nine. Youth responded by burning tires in the streets and attacking the local office of the ruling party, the RCD. Mohamed Bouazizi died in the hospital on January 5. The opposition Internet news site Nawaat uploaded a video of the fu-



neral to YouTube. Al Jazeera showed it that evening with extensive commentary from Jamal Bal‘abi, a member of the executive bureau of the UGTT Kasserine regional union, criticizing the regime’s repression. This likely increased the number of lawyers who participated in the general strike the next day (variously estimated at 50 to 95 percent of members of the bar). UGTT Kasserine regional executive bureau member Sadok Mahmoudi told the media that between January 8 and 11 police killed as many as fifty protesters in Thala and Kasserine.12 On January 8 French journalists asked Lina Ben Mhenni to accompany them to Kasserine, Sidi Bouzid, and other center-west towns, enabling her to become the first blogger to reach these areas and photograph “the atrocities and crimes of Ben Ali’s regime and police against peaceful protestors.”13 Although Al Jazeera and the French media were on the story two weeks before her, Ben Mhenni’s reports engaged the tech-savvy youth and others who followed her blog. The massive police violence in Thala and Kasserine shocked the country and transformed a regional movement into a nationwide uprising. The popular movement was formed through the intertwining mobilizations of the people of the towns of the center-west and lawyers.14 Members of the Union de diplômés chômeurs and illegal parties who lived in the interior regions sought to provide political direction with varying degrees of success. The most important factor in the ultimate success of the movement was political and logistical support from UGTT local branches and sectoral unions (not the national leadership). Even the UGTT’s severely attenuated autonomy from the state since 1989 meant that secondary leaders could deploy its organizational structures and resources to serve the needs of their members and the unemployed and disenfranchised population of the interior. People expected the UGTT to address the government on economic issues on their behalf. Protests typically gathered in front of UGTT offices, a long-standing component of the Tunisian repertoire of contention.




The UGTT executive bureau and many other officials, like ‘Amara ‘Abbasi in Gafsa, were collaborators with the regime and partners in its corruption. They limited themselves to advocating a nonviolent response to the demonstrations and greater attention to economic development of the interior. In an interview tucked deep inside the December 25 edition of the UGTT weekly, al-Tuhami al-Hani, the secretary general of the Sidi Bouzid regional branch, explained that on the second day after Mohamed Bouazizi’s selfimmolation a crowd of thousands clashed with the security forces and thirty-seven were arrested. Local UGTT officials succeeded in securing their release over the next several days. Al-Hani claimed no organizing role for the UGTT, but perhaps any reference to it was censored.15 Mohamed Sghaier Saihi, spokesperson for the National Union of Secondary Teachers (SGES) and assistant secretary general of the UGTT Kasserine regional bureau, had a more expansive view of the actions of local UGTT officials: Our leaders were telling us to close the doors of our offices and not to get involved in “politics.” According to them, the unions were just a place for dealing with professional issues. We broke the control of the bureaucracy by working with the youth groups, the school and college students and the large numbers of unemployed. . . . This was the opposite of what the bureaucracy wanted. But the revolution was too strong, and the base of the UGTT was the locomotive of the revolutionary movement.16

SGES, where the left was well entrenched, encouraged the uprising. Addressing the December 27 demonstration in Tunis, SGES secretary general Sami Tahri expressed the “total solidarity” of trade unionists with the youth of the Sidi Bouzid region and called for economic development and jobs programs that would ensure a decent standard of living for the youth of the interior.



UGTT secretary general Abdessalem Jrad disparaged the same demonstration: “We haven’t called for any rally and the slogans brandished don’t concern the UGTT at all.”17 In his January 10 speech, Ben Ali offended popular sentiment by dismissing protesters as “hostile elements in the pay of foreigners, who have sold their souls to extremism and terrorism.” Nevertheless, he highlighted the importance of economic issues in the uprising by proposing to create 300,000 new jobs in 2011 after previously promising to reduce the prices of milk, sugar, and bread. Jrad, loyal to the end, declared upon leaving a meeting with Ben Ali on January 12, I have found that the President of the Republic possesses a profound understanding of the principal problems and their causes and the will to resolve them. . . . He has every consideration for workers and their organization and devotes due attention to them and to needy persons.18

Nonetheless, the majority of the executive bureau belatedly acceded to pressure from below by authorizing regional general strikes in Sfax—the union’s historic heartland, where success was most likely—Kairouan, and Tozeur on January 12, and a two-hour strike in Tunis on January 14. Following the Tunis strike, Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia. THE UGTT AFTER BEN ALI

On January 17 Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who had occupied that office since 1999 with no indication of dissent from Ben Ali’s course, formed an interim government including three UGGT members, members of legal opposition parties (PDP, ­Ettakattol, and Ettajdid), independents, and RCD members in the key ministries. On January 18 street demonstrations denounced this government as a betrayal of the revolution. The UGTT ministers and Mustapha Ben Jaafar of Ettakattol resigned forthwith.



UGTT members then joined another Ghannouchi-led government. On January 23 hundreds of youth from Menzel Bouzaiane and other center-west towns began marching to Tunis, where they occupied Kasbah Square in front of the main government buildings and called for removal of all RCD members from the government. The UGTT again changed course and endorsed their demand, although it is unclear if the leadership also supported the general strike by primary schoolteachers on January 24 and the regional general strike in Sfax two days later, which fortified it. The UGTT ministers again withdrew from the cabinet. Ghannouchi dismissed all the RCD ministers on January 27. The sit-in, dubbed “Kasbah 1,” dispersed. However, dissatisfaction over Ghannouchi’s remaining in his post persisted. On February 11 radical left parties, NGOs, and Ennahda, with strong support from the UGTT and the Bar Association, formed the National Council to Protect the Revolution, which insisted that Ghannouchi resign, that they be given a decision-making role in the transitional period, and that a National Constituent Assembly (ANC) be elected. On February 20 caravans from the interior again converged on Kasbah Square, occupied it, and demanded Ghannouchi’s resignation and the dissolution of the RCD. On February 25 some 100,000 (estimates vary wildly) gathered in the square. After three days of clashes between demonstrators and the police, Ghannouchi resigned on February 27. Interim president Fouad Mbaaza appointed Béji Caïd Essebsi as interim prime minister. Despite having served as minister of foreign affairs under Bourguiba in the 1980s and president of the Chamber of Deputies under Ben Ali in 1990–91, Essebsi retained a certain nationalist legitimacy because of his successful defense of UGTT leader Ahmad Tlili on a capital charge in 1952, when Tlili was organizing armed resistance against France. On March 3 Mbaaza announced elections for the ANC on July 24 (subsequently postponed for three months). The occupiers were satisfied; “Kasbah 2” dispersed the next day.



To the extent that a revolutionary dynamic developed during and after the uprising against Ben Ali, Kasbah 1 and Kasbah 2 demonstrated that its principal social driver was the youth and unemployed of the interior. They had the rage and élan necessary for a revolution, but not the organization or political vision. EGYPTIAN WORKERS AND THE 2011 POPULAR UPRISING

Although the movement of Egyptian workers was the largest single component of the culture of protest that crystallized in the 2000s, unlike in Tunisia, they had no institutional mechanism to compel ETUF to join the popular movement against Mubarak.19 Very few second-level leaders had been involved in the collective actions of the 1990s and 2000s. Moreover, ETUF’s existence was premised on its eschewing political engagement, which was the UGTT’s birthright. The informal local networks that animated the workers movement could not be duplicated at the national level or organize sectorwide or general strikes comparable to those in Tunisia, Iran’s oil industry in 1979, or Poland in 1989. A6YM called for demonstrations on Police Day, January 25, 2009 and 2010, to protest police brutality. Only a few hundred attended. A6YM joined with the “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page and others in issuing the same call for January 25, 2011. This time some fifteen to twenty thousand people assembled in Tahrir Square, as well as sizeable crowds in Alexandria, Mahalla al-Kubra, Suez, Ismailia, and Aswan—the largest demonstrations in Egypt since the semiauthorized protests against the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Why was January 25, 2011 different? The quickening pace of social protest throughout 2010 was a factor. Ben Ali’s demise allowed A6YM-ers like Asmaa Mahfouz, whose January 18 vlog went viral, to hope that “maybe we can have a revolution like Tunisia.”20 Most decisive was the tactical innovation of calling for the demonstration by distributing leaflets in popular neighbor-



hoods, beginning several demonstrations simultaneously in those neighborhoods, gathering crowds too large for small detachments of the security forces to block, and marching to Tahrir Square before it could be sealed off—not exactly hi-tech wizardry. In Suez, demonstrators attacked police stations and the NDP headquarters on January 25, the first sign that something extraordinary might occur. Violent police attacks attempting to clear demonstrators out of Tahrir Square turned the January 25 protest into an occupation and a call for an even larger demonstration on January 28. The torching of the national NDP headquarters in Tahrir Square that day escalated the occupation of the square to a popular uprising with a revolutionary thrust. Workers initially participated in these events as individuals, not as workers or representatives of their workplaces. Kamal ‘Abbas, general coordinator of the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS), Kamal Abu Eita, president of the independent Real Estate Tax Assessors Union (RETAU), and others concluded that the mass occupations of Tahrir and other public squares changed the political balance of forces. They decided to seize the opportunity of the regime’s disarray to establish an independent trade federation, encourage the formation of additional independent unions, assert the presence of workers, and place their issues on the national political agenda.21 On January 30, 2011 RETAU, smaller independent unions of health professionals and teachers, the six-million-­ member retirees association, and groups of other workers formed the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU)—­ expanding RETAU’s challenge to ETUF’s legal monopoly on union representation. EFITU urged workers to conduct sit-ins and strikes to achieve “the demands of the Egyptian people,” and demanded raising the minimum wage and freedom to organize independent unions. However, unlike the UGTT, EFITU did not have the historical legitimacy, militant activists, or logistical capacity to organize



strikes from a national trade union center. EFITU aspired to be a formal national organization—a very different structure from the informal local networks that had sustained the collective actions of the previous decade. But this could not happen overnight. There were relatively few workplace collective actions in the first days of the uprising. ETUF stood firmly with Mubarak. On February 2 hired thugs of the regime mounted on camels and horses attacked the crowd occupying Tahrir Square, causing eleven to fourteen fatalities and over one thousand injuries—a clash dubbed the “Battle of the Camel.” The thugs were beaten back, a victory that raised the revolutionary hopes of the occupiers. In April 2011 ETUF president Hussein Megawer, a prominent member of the NDP, was incarcerated pending trial on charges of instigating the Battle of the Camel. The government ordered all public business sector enterprises to close from January 28 to February 5, fearing that revolutionary fervor would spread to them. Production in key industrial zones dropped by 60 percent that week. When business resumed, some fifty to sixty thousand workers declared strikes at dozens of workplaces, including strategic enterprises like the subsidiary companies of the Suez Canal Authority, Ghazl al-Mahalla, the Cairo and Alexandria Public Transport Authorities, and Telecom Egypt. Medical doctors also went on strike. An NGO with a decade of experience collecting collective action statistics claimed that the economic paralysis created by these strikes “was one of the most important factors leading to the rapidity of . . . Mubarak’s decision to leave.”22 Without hard evidence such as minutes of meetings or phone calls between generals in Cairo and Obama administration officials, which undoubtedly occurred, the exact weight of strikes in Mubarak’s demise, though surely significant, is uncertain. Moreover, Mubarak did not “­decide to leave.” On February 11, 2011 the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), led by Field Marshal Muhammad



Hussein Tantawi, the minister of defense for the previous twenty years, assumed power in a coup disguised as a revolution. Mubarak’s departure spurred the pace of workers’ collective action. During February 2011 some 150–200,000 workers engaged in 489 strikes and other contentious actions. In addition, EFITU leaders and their allies leveraged the momentum of the revolutionary movement to advocate substantive democracy, not merely changing the face of the regime. Forty of them met on February 19 and adopted a proclamation of “Demands of the Workers in the Revolution,” including the right to form independent trade unions, the right to strike, and dissolution of ETUF, “one of the most important symbols of corruption under the defunct regime.” Reflecting a widespread sentiment among workers and the poor, they asserted: If this revolution does not lead to the fair distribution of wealth it is not worth anything. Freedoms are not complete without social freedoms. The right to vote is naturally dependent on the right to a loaf of bread.23

On March 2 EFITU convened a conference entitled “What Workers Want from the Revolution.” They demanded that SCAF rescind its appointment of ETUF treasurer Isma‘il Ibrahim Fahmi as interim minister of manpower and migration, a choice signifying no real change from the Mubarak era. They achieved their goal in less than two weeks: an unprecedented exercise of popular political power. In Fahmi’s place, EFITU proposed Ahmad Hasan al-Bura‘i, a professor of labor law at Cairo University who had publicly advocated trade union pluralism for several years. Al-Bura‘i did replace Fahmi, and on March 12 the newly installed minister participated in a panel discussion at the Press Syndicate entitled “Know Your Role” along with Kamal Abu Eita and Kamal ‘Abbas.24 Arguing that Egypt’s ratification of ILO conventions guaranteeing freedom of association and protection of the right to organize (Number 87) and the right to organize and bargain collectively (Number 98) constituted international treaty ob-



ligations that superseded the national legislation (Law 35 of 1976) establishing ETUF as Egypt’s only legal labor union, al-Bura‘i recognized EFITU and scores of newly established independent, enterprise-level trade unions. SCAF, the effective ruler of the country, blocked all efforts to broaden the scope of the revolutionary movement and especially its social dimension. Military Decree 34 of March 24 established a fine of up to 50,000 pounds (then about $8,333) for anyone participating in or encouraging others to join a sit-in or any other activity that “prevents, delays or disrupts the work of public institutions or public authorities.” The penalty increased to 500,000 pounds (about $83,333) and at least a year’s imprisonment in the event of violence or property damage that might lead to “destruction of means of production” or harm “national unity and public security and order.” The decree was subsequently formalized as a law. Strikes continued despite the effort to criminalize them. Nearly one million workers engaged in 1,377 collective actions, including 280 strikes, during 2011, the largest number of actions with nearly twice as many participants as any year of the previous decade.25 Many erupted at workplaces where new independent unions were established. Hundreds of thousands participated in the September national teachers’ strike—the high point of collective action that year and the first time so many teachers adopted the tactics of unionized workers (there had been smaller job actions in the Mubarak era). The opposition of the Muslim Brothers, a strong force in the Teachers Syndicate, was overcome, a significant political achievement. TRADE UNIONS AND THE CONTEST OVER THE CHARACTER OF THE NEW ERA IN EGYPT

Despite SCAF’s opposition, al-Bura‘i, with support from proponents of trade union pluralism, pressed forward within the limits of his bureaucratic power. He implemented a long-standing court



order nullifying the fraudulent 2006 ETUF elections and dissolved the ETUF executive committee and the executive committees of all its constituent national unions. In their place he appointed an interim steering committee to manage the federation. As a compromise measure, al-Bura‘i appointed former ETUF treasurer Isma‘il Ibrahim Fahmi, SCAF’s original nominee for minister of manpower and migration, to head the committee, which included eighteen independents, leftists, and Muslim Brothers and seven ETUF stalwarts of the old regime.26 With broad support from advocates of independent trade unions, in August 2011 al-Bura‘i’s ministry and the cabinet approved a draft “Trade Union Freedoms Law” stipulating that any fifty workers in a workplace could form a union, permitting multiple unions in a single workplace (a direct challenge to ETUF), and taking the government out of the business of supervising trade unions. SCAF refused to ratify the law. Reversal of the momentum for institutional change in ETUF began in November 2011, when most of the old leadership was reinstated in the midst of a general political upheaval. Prompted by the publication of the Selmy document—a trial balloon floated by SCAF that would have formalized the army’s privileges by blocking civilian oversight of military matters—revolutionaries reoccupied Tahrir Square. Four national unions loyal to ETUF declared a strike, seeking to force al-Bura‘i to restore the powers of the ETUF executive board and dismiss the interim management committee he had appointed.27 ETUF loyalists were apparently piqued by the attempt of independents on the committee to remove Ahmad ‘Abd al-Zahir, an associate of former ETUF president Hussein Megawer, who had become its chair. The independents alleged that ‘Abd al-Zahir was responsible for organizing the attack on demonstrators at the Battle of the Camel. Al-Bura‘i surrendered and restored the entire Mubarak-era ETUF leadership, except for Megawer. Then, al-Bura‘i and the entire cabinet resigned in protest over SCAF’s refusal to allow them to govern and



its repeated authorization or acquiescence to violent repression of street demonstrations. Kamal Abu Eita was formally elected EFITU president in January 2012. He and his followers sought to position themselves rapidly as spokespersons for as many workers as possible. They believed that this would enable EFITU to deal with the SCAF and other political forces from a position of power while the political situation was fluid and open to promoting workers’ interests. Abu Eita was a leading member of the Nasserist Karama (Dignity) Party and was eager to participate in the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections, held in three rounds from November 2011 to January 2012. Karama joined the Muslim Brothers-led Democratic Alliance, and Abu Eita won a parliamentary seat—the only trade unionist to do so. Other EFITU leaders ran on different tickets and were defeated. Rather than parliamentary and national politics, Kamal ‘Abbas and CTUWS focused on education in democratic trade unionism from the bottom up. They believed that this was the best longterm guarantee of a democratic regime, and prioritized that task over entering the parliamentary political arena. Influenced by the political training of Yusuf Darwish (Darwiche), ‘Abbas resolutely opposed the Muslim Brothers because of their long history of antiunion activities and their positions on gender relations. He was critical of the joint Karama–Muslim Brothers electoral list. In principle, there is no reason why the high politics and bottomup approaches could not be pursued in tandem. The combination of limited personnel and resources and personal rivalry undermined that possibility. ‘Abbas’s tireless work for nearly two decades and the establishment of RETAU made EFITU’s creation possible. Abu Eita and his supporters nonetheless argued that because ‘Abbas had not been a member of any union since his dismissal from the Iron and Steel Company in 1989, he should have no decision-making role in EFITU. They similarly argued that since CTUWS is an NGO, not a union, it should not be an EFITU affiliate.



Consequently, ‘Abbas, CTUWS, and others who shared their vision withdrew from EFITU. On October 14, 2011 they convened the inaugural meeting of the Egyptian Democratic Labor Council (EDLC) with 149 unions represented.28 By the time EDLC convened its founding congress in April 2013, EFITU and EDLC claimed that some 1,800 unions independent of the ETUF with some three million members had been established since the uprising against the Mubarak regime.29 This is surely an exaggeration. There were no independent unions at Egypt’s largest industrial enterprises—Ghazl al-Mahalla, Egyptian Iron and Steel, Egyptian Aluminum, and Eastern Tobacco. But even much smaller figures would be impressive. For Egyptian workers as a class, establishing national trade union organizations with leaderships that sought to represent them and articulate their demands as urgent national interests was a salient accomplishment of the revolutionary era. This encouraged stronger enterprise-level union committees and the establishment of many new unions. The split between CTUWS/EDLC and EFITU weakened both organizations. But it did not slow the pace of workplace collective actions, which continued to be locally led. Egyptian workers’ most significant material gain from Mubarak’s overthrow was an increase in the monthly minimum basic wage to 700 pounds (then about $116) for public sector employees, effective on January 1, 2012. In October 2011 the first-ever private sector minimum wage was announced at 700 pounds. But as many anticipated, this was a dead letter. The most important consequence of Mubarak’s overthrow for workers was the achievement they shared with all Egyptians: the recovery of their human dignity and voices. The revolutionary upsurge did not substantially alter the institutions, practices, and habits of mind of the military and the elites of the Mubarak ­regime. However, even many low-paid and marginalized workers began to feel that they had the right to challenge existing hierar-



chies of power and demand accountability from their government and employers. That sense of empowerment, while greatly attenuated by the failure to install a remotely democratic regime after Mubarak’s demise, is not an experience easily forgotten. ELECTORAL POLITICS AND THE EBBING O F E G Y P T ’ S R E VO LU T I O NA RY T I D E

Besides Kamal Abu Eita, the only other pro-labor members to win seats in the 508-member People’s Assembly in the December 2011– January 2012 elections were a majority of The Revolution Continues Alliance (nine seats, with the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, SPA, the largest component). The Karama (six seats), Tagammu‘ (four seats), and Social Democratic (sixteen seats) parties were nominally friendly to labor. The latter two parties prioritized allying with businessmen (Naguib Sawiris) and elements of the old regime (‘Amr Musa) against Islamists, while Karama changed course and adopted that approach after the legislative elections. This strategy had discredited the Tagammu‘ (and the Communist Party of Tunisia) in the 1990s and 2000s. The minimal representation of the workers movement in the parliament was largely due to the limits of its organizational and leadership style in the 2000s, when winning parliamentary seats was impossible and could have achieved little in any case. The Muslim Brothers’ Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) won 47 percent of the parliamentary seats. Deputy General Guide Khairat al-Shater and Hasan Malik—“Brothers of the 1 percent” as Bloomberg Business termed them—shaped the FJP’s economic and social policies. But they accomplished little before the Supreme Constitutional Court found fault with the electoral law and ordered the People’s Assembly dissolved in June 2012. The low visibility of workers and social justice issues in the parliament prompted both Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights director Khalid ‘Ali and SPA leader Abu al-‘Izz al-Hariri to



announce their candidacies for the presidency. They received less than 1 percent of the vote between them in the May 2012 firstround balloting. The inability to unite behind one candidate reflected the same inexperience as the split between EFITU and EDLC, although there was never a realistic chance for a candidate of the left to reach the second round. Karama’s presidential candidate, Hamdeen Sabbahi, finished a surprisingly close third with 20.7 percent of the vote in the first round. He won support from many workers, leftists, and liberals as “the most electable non-Mubarak regime secular candidate.” Sabbahi’s proposed strategy for economic development was vague. Historically, the Nasser regime, whose legacy he claimed, destroyed democratic trade unionism in Egypt. Nonetheless, his platform was certainly more worker-friendly than the FJP’s Mohamed Morsi, or SCAF’s best hope, Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last-chance prime minister, who placed first and second in the first-round balloting, respectively. Morsi won the runoff and was inaugurated in June 2012. He presided over the rollback of efforts to reform ETUF and enact democratic labor legislation. In May 2012 SCAF reappointed Isma‘il Ibrahim Fahmi, their original choice, as minister of manpower and migration. Independent trade unionists were not able to force his removal as they did in March 2011—symbolizing their loss of political clout. In October 2012 a court acquitted former ETUF president Megawer along with twenty-three other NDP leaders and associated businessmen of any responsibility for the Battle of the Camel, a defeat for independent trade unionists and others seeking a change of regime, not merely personnel. On November 22, 2012 President Morsi issued a “Constitutional Declaration,” granting himself wide-ranging powers subject to no judicial review. Less noticed was a presidential decree three days later amending the 1976 Trade Union Law. It allowed the Muslim Brothers to take over large parts of the ETUF apparatus by removing all executive board members over sixty years old and



replacing them with candidates selected by the minister of manpower and migration. Morsi had appointed FJP member Khalid al-Azhari to that post—one of the few ministers who were open members of the Muslim Brothers, indicating ETUF’s institutional importance for the state. In December al-Azhari installed Gibali al-Maraghi, a Mubarakera apparatchik, as ETUF president. At the same time, Morsi appointed al-Maraghi to the Shura Council (the upper house of parliament). These appointments constituted a Muslim Brothers’ offer to share control of ETUF with former Mubarak supporters. Such efforts to extend Muslim Brothers’ control over all state institutions provoked fear and resistance, which ultimately led to Morsi’s downfall. E G Y P T I A N W O R K E R S , T H E M O R S I P R E S I D E N C Y, A N D T H E M I L I TA RY C O U P

The 1,969 workers’ collective actions in 2012 more than tripled the pre-2011 highs of 614 in 2007 and 609 in 2008.30 Contestations were motivated by the same issues as most collective actions over the previous decade: higher wages, nonpayment of wage supplements, and security of employment. Most of those collective actions occurred after Morsi’s inauguration as president in June. They tested his intentions toward workers and found him lacking. In November and December large demonstrations and clashes between FJP supporters and opponents erupted over Morsi’s undemocratic Constitutional Declaration and the terms of a draft agreement with the IMF for a loan that would have required substantial price increases. The December 2012 strikes at Ghazl alMahalla, Eastern Tobacco, Egyptian Aluminum, and the port of ‘Ayn Sukhna—altogether nearly forty thousand workers—were a prominent component of the growing opposition to Morsi, as were the 1,972 collective actions during the first six months of 2013, the last months of Morsi’s rule.31



All of Egypt’s independent trade union federations—EFITU, EDLC, and the Permanent Congress of Alexandria Workers—as well as CTUWS and ECESR, enthusiastically supported the Tamarrud (Rebel) campaign, which turned out millions of demonstrators on June 30, 2013 to express “no confidence” in President Morsi and demand early presidential elections. The Egyptian military seized (or perhaps created) this opportunity to depose Morsi on July 3, claiming with some validity that the people supported the military coup. The army imposed increasingly repressive, antidemocratic measures, including killing about one thousand pro-Morsi demonstrators in August. The military remained popular among most Egyptians who were not members or supporters of the Muslim Brothers despite the increasingly repressive actions of the reinvigorated Ministry of Interior and its several police forces. The rapid decline in the number of collective actions in the last six months of 2013 to only 267, although still high by pre-2004 standards, suggests that workers also largely supported the military. Many workers expected that their demands would receive a more attentive hearing with Morsi gone, particularly since EFITU president Kamal Abu Eita accepted an appointment as minister of manpower and migration in the interim cabinet. As if to assure the military of his suitability, Abu Eita proclaimed, “Workers who were champions of the strike under the previous regime should now become champions of production.”32 A sharp debate ensued among independent trade unionists over Abu Eita’s acceptance of the ministry and the military’s transitional “road map.” A majority of the EFITU executive board and many others believed that his presence in the cabinet represented a victory and would ensure that workers’ demands were met. EFITU executive board member Fatma Ramadan disagreed, asserting, “the military and the remnants of the old regime [ fulul ] . . . kidnapped” the movement. She criticized Abu Eita for not



consulting with other EFITU leaders before suggesting that workers would abandon the strike weapon, because As a union federation our role must be to uphold all workers’ rights, including the right to strike. . . . We cannot possibly call on workers to protect the interests of businessmen by forfeiting labour rights under the pretext of bolstering the national economy.33

Abu Eita would surely never have been appointed were it not for the social movement in which he had risen to leadership. But it should have been obvious that neither the military nor any government that relied on its support would countenance the decentralized direct action from below that had been the strength of the workers movement throughout the cycle of contention that gathered strength since 2004. Moreover, given that the military had already blocked enactment of the Trade Union Freedoms Law in 2011, the majority of the business-friendly cabinet installed on July 16, with its Mubarak-era retreads, was most unlikely to (and in fact did not) support it. Any ambiguities about the balance of forces in the postcoup government were clarified when Abu Eita stood by while security forces crushed a strike at the Suez Steel Company, located in the city whose protesters were the first to target police stations and the local NDP headquarters during the January 25 uprising. On July 6, 2013 interim president Adly Mansour issued a constitutional declaration governing the period until adoption of a new constitution. ECESR openly attacked the document as a “Constitutional Coup against the Principles of the Revolution,” protesting that there was no consultation with the political forces that mobilized the June 30 demonstrations over its contents, and that it ignored economic and social rights, such as the right to housing, health, medical treatment, food, drink, clothes, insurance, pensions, social security and the minimum and maximum wage. It failed to link wages to



prices or to specify the right to worker representation on corporate boards and in profit sharing.34

When the minister of defense and commander in chief of the armed forces, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, called for nationwide demonstrations on July 26 to give him a mandate to confront “violence and terrorism”—a thinly veiled reference to the Muslim Brothers—ECESR joined several advocacy NGOs in expressing concern about his intentions. In contrast, EFITU released a statement affirming workers’ rights to freedom of expression, to demonstrate peacefully and to strike, but simultaneously supporting “all the security apparatuses of the Egyptian state in confronting terrorism and the forces of darkness [that is, the Muslim Brothers].”35 Those same apparatuses broke strikes and attacked demonstrators during Morsi’s presidency and continued to do so after his demise. The July 26 demonstrations were massive, as were counterdemonstrations by supporters of Morsi. Among those who answered el-Sisi’s call was ETUF, which pledged to mobilize all its members. Independent trade unionists thus found themselves in awkward agreement with their Mubarak-era nemesis. The new cabinet soon announced a series of measures that sought to reduce contestation by appearing to respond to Egyptians’ expectations of social justice. Most importantly, in September 2013 it announced an increase in the monthly minimum basic wage for public employees to 1,200 pounds (the private sector minimum wage remained unenforced) effective January 1, 2014. Workers, like the majority of Egyptians, hoped Mansour’s interim government would end Morsi’s undemocratic practices and political incompetence, stabilize the country, and address their economic needs. Six months after the coup it was evident that none of this had happened. CTUWS was reserved about the military regime for several months. In the fall of 2013 it issued several reports documenting the Muslim Brothers’ antiworker policies. This could be interpreted as indicating some degree of support for



the army. However, the CTUWS annual report for 2013 firmly asserted that “there was no improvement” in workers’ conditions since Morsi’s overthrow.36 On January 1, 2014 the government implemented the previously announced higher minimum wage, but only for some six million civil servants—the base of support for all governments since the 1950s. And instead of establishing 1,200 pounds as the minimum basic monthly wage, it was made the minimum gross monthly paycheck, including all bonuses and supplements. Workers in the public business sector, publicly owned utilities, and many others were excluded. EFITU executive board member Hoda Kamel criticized the exclusions: For the past six months, the people waited for the government to be the government of the revolution—as they had promised. . . . But when January came, people realised it was a trick because the minimum wage is just for a very small part of people working in the government, not for the private-sector or most government [public sector] workers.37

During January and February 2014 about 100,000 workers participated in strikes and other collective actions. Workers at Ghazl al-Mahalla, whose twenty-two thousand workers comprise over 20 percent of all public sector textile workers, were prominent in the protests demanding broader application of the minimum wage. On February 10 they struck for the fourth time in nine months to demand inclusion in the minimum wage, payment of an overdue annual bonus, and removal of the CEO of the public sector textile holding company they denounced as corrupt. They were joined by twenty thousand more public sector textile workers from a dozen other firms as well as workers in Cairo public transport, railways, post, telephone, telegraph, and garbage collectors—all demanding that the new minimum wage be applied to them.38 In addition to collective actions over wages and related economic issues, there were several strikes and sit-ins demanding renationalization of ten public sector enterprises privatized in the



last years of the Mubarak era. The struggle was sharpest in three firms with a total workforce of about ten thousand—the ­Indorama Shibin Spinning, Tanta Flax and Oils, and Steam Fittings companies—where court rulings ordered renationalization because private investors failed to uphold their contractual obligations to the workers. Delegations from those firms sat in for over a month at ETUF’s Cairo headquarters, demanding implementation of the court orders. Representatives of seven other privatized firms subsequently joined them. Independent trade unionists and their supporters also renewed their demand that the Trade Union Freedoms Law drafted by the Ministry of Manpower and Migration in August 2011 be enacted. The pace of protest escalated further in March when public sector doctors, dentists, and pharmacists declared a full strike, as did thousands of Alexandria Public Transport workers. During the year’s first quarter there were at least 240 workers’ collective actions, perhaps many more.39 The pace of workers’ contentious ­action slackened markedly after Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s coronation as president in May 2014, although it remained at historically high levels compared to the pre-2004 period. The military coup of July 3, 2013 installed a praetorian despotism far more crude and indiscriminate in its repression than the Mubarak regime. During the next two years, security forces killed at least thirteen hundred demonstrators and detained some twenty-two thousand political opponents without charges. Prisoners were beaten and tortured. Prosecutors filed manifestly false charges against opposition figures of all stripes. Courts ludicrously convicted journalists and university professors of terrorism and sentenced them to death. Press freedoms were rolled back. Activities of legal opposition political parties were obstructed. Disciplining workers rather than addressing their pressing economic needs was the order of the day. President el-Sisi celebrated May Day on April 27, 2015 by addressing a handpicked crowd at the well-guarded Police Academy.



ETUF’s contribution to the event was announcing a “Labor Code of Honor” promising not to strike—meaningless in practice since it had not endorsed a single strike since Mubarak’s ouster. The next day the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that shari‘a law permitted striking government workers to be “retired” for harming the public and that “obeying the president is mandatory.”40 ECESR, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Nazra for Feminist Studies, New Woman Foundation, Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, and nine other NGOs issued a joint statement condemning the court ruling. Conspicuous by their absence were the signatures of EFITU, EDLC, and CTUWS. Although it affirms the right to strike, EFITU has supported the military regime. CTUWS has refrained from open criticism. Nonetheless, the 393 collective actions during the first quarter of 2015 suggest that workers have not lost their voice, even as many of Egypt’s post-2011 achievements have been undone.41 TRADE UNIONISM AND POLITICS AFTER BEN ALI

In Egypt, a government minister dismissed ETUF president Hussein Megawer and dissolved and then reappointed its executive committee; another minister appointed Megawer’s indistinguishable successor. In Tunisia, the UGTT initiated its self-reform. Its twenty-second congress convened in December 2011 and democratically elected a new thirteen-member executive bureau to serve for five years—a “consensual” list of the left including past or current members of leftist parties, independents who had actively participated in recent struggles, and two representatives of the old guard. Jrad and eight of his associates were “retired” through normal procedures, not ousted as a revolutionary act. Houcine ­Abbassi, a left-leaning political independent with a reputation as a hard worker, became secretary general. The Parti unifié des patriotes démocrates (Watad) gained a substantial presence on the executive bureau, including Sami Tahri,



secretary general of the SGES, and two others. Mohamed Msellemi, representing the regional union of the industrial center of Ben Arous, and two others were members of the Parti du travail patriotique et démocratique, which subsequently fused with Watad. Hfaïedh Hfaïedh, secretary general of the primary teachers union, was a PCOT member when elected and subsequently joined Watad. Two UGTT executive board members belonged to the People’s Movement. The essential point is not the salad of leftist parties or their intricate histories. Rather, it is that after the ouster of Ben Ali, leftists became a significant presence in the UGTT leadership on the basis of their long histories of trade union struggle. However, this does not mean that the UGTT became a revolutionary political formation. It remains a trade union with a bureaucratic structure and a fundamentally reformist goal—to improve wages and working conditions within the framework of whatever regime exists. The most undemocratic aspect of the renewed UGTT is the marginalization of women, who constitute 47 percent of the members but were only 3 percent of the delegates to the twentysecond congress. To secure a majority in this male-heavy body, the winning slate for the executive bureau decided not to include any women. Only about 10 percent of the delegates were Islamists, suggesting that secularists are no more likely than Islamists to embrace substantive women’s equality. Ennahda won a 37 percent and 89-seat plurality of the 217-member ANC elected in October 2011—a much smaller proportion than the 75 percent of Islamists in the first post-Mubarak Egyptian parliament, but enough to become the leading force in a coalition interim government dubbed the “troika.” Ennahda’s Hamadi Jebali became prime minister; Moncef Marzouki, leader of the previously banned, moderately left, Islamist-friendly Congress for the Republic, which won 8.7 percent of the vote and twenty-nine seats, became president; Mustapha Ben Jaafar of the social democratic Ettakattol, which won 7 percent of the vote and



twenty seats, became speaker of the assembly. The radical left was present but weak in the ANC: three seats for PCOT; two for the People’s Movement; one for Watad. The Democratic Modernist Pole, a coalition led by Ettajdid, the former Communist Party, won five seats. The relative weakness of the secular forces in the ANC led Béji Caïd Essebsi to establish Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia), a “big tent” secularist party, in June 2012. Jeune Afrique reported that the founding meeting of Nidaa Tounes resembled a meeting of the former ruling party, the RCD.42 My very rough calculation of the “who’s who” among its founders, leaders, and post-2014 parliamentary deputies suggests a roughly equal balance between former RCD members and their business associates, former legal leftists, and UGTT leaders. There are several young businesswomen in the leadership (so-called independents and RCD-ists) to emphasize that Nidaa Tounes supports women’s rights—the biggest symbol of its difference from the Islamists. The polarization of Tunisian politics between Islamists and secularists compelled much of the radical left to unite. In October 2012 Watad, the Workers Party (formerly PCOT), the Popular Movement, and six other parties formed a Popular Front (al-Jabha al-sha‘biyya, FP). The FP included second-level UGTT leaders and others who opposed joining businessmen and old regime figures in Nidaa Tounes simply because they were secularists. The FP has considerably more institutionalized political power and a broader social base than any comparable Egyptian organization. But it is insufficient to pose a viable alternative to the control of high politics by Ennahda / Nidaa Tounes. Most UGTT leaders were far less inclined than the FP to maintain their distance from Nidaa Tounes, especially after repeated verbal and physical attacks on the UGTT by Ennahda and the ­jihadi-salafi Ansar al-Shari‘a (Supporters of the shari‘a). With some justice, Ennahda accused the UGTT of having collaborated with the Ben Ali regime. Ennahda had only a limited presence



within the UGTT and not much understanding or sympathy for trade unionism and even the limited practices of class conflict that it entailed. Neither the UGTT nor Ennahda fully accepted each other’s legitimacy. Nonetheless, the UGTT flourished during the interim period. It claimed a membership increase from 517,000 in 2010 to 750,000 by 2014. It negotiated several agreements with the government and the federation of private sector employers (UTICA): a commitment to gradually end temporary contracts in the public sector in 2011;43 a 6 percent wage increase in the private sector in 2012; an 11 percent increase in the minimum wage in 2014; and an improved contract for high school teachers in 2015. The UGTT enhanced its role as spokesperson for the economic and social demands of working people, the unemployed, and inhabitants of the interior regions. It represented political interests but was not a political party. As Adnene Hajji, the preeminent spokesperson for the 2008 Gafsa rebellion, explained: The boundary between trade unionism and politics is a line so thin it can’t be seen by the naked eye. . . . We oppose the trend in the UGTT which argues, since the 1970s, that trade union work should not meddle in politics. You can’t form a trade union and say that politics doesn’t interest you. . . . When you speak of the purchasing power of the citizen . . . you are at the heart of the political. Who determines purchasing power? That is necessarily linked to political choices and programs. When you speak of social justice and equitable distribution of wealth, you are speaking about politics.44

The UGTT did not seek to eliminate the economic policies established by the 1986 Economic Reform and Structural Adjustment Program (ERSAP), but to mitigate their negative consequences. As in Egypt, the government’s inability and unwillingness to conceptualize an alternative economic strategy, the economic slowdown due to political uncertainty, and the liberation of pentup anger and aspirations resulted in even more frequent strikes



after Ben Ali’s departure than in the late 1990s and 2000s (see ­Tables 3.2 and 4.1). Secondary and primary schoolteachers, whose leftist leadership had more freedom of maneuver than under Ben Ali, struck to improve their wages and to compel the government to implement its agreements with them. There were many unauthorized wildcats—a term that unlike in Egypt has substantive meaning in Tunisia, because the regime, while never fond of the practice, has acknowledged workers’ right to strike over economic demands since the 1970s. The UGTT leadership opposed what it called “anarchic movements and sit-ins without leadership,” but also opposed “criminalizing them.”45 Rather than repression, it advocated dialogue, reinforcing its historic role as the mediator between popular social demands and the party-state. One of the sharpest conflicts between the UGTT and Ennahda erupted over strikes of temporary workers in privatized municipal sanitation services. The Ennahda government refused to implement agreements to raise the salaries of municipal workers (then about $40 per month) concluded by Béji Caïd Essebsi’s interim government. Beginning in February 2012 and throughout the rest of the year, the sanitation workers ceased to collect garbage, seeking to attain permanent status. By this time Ennahda partisans had gained control of the League for the Protection of the Revolution (LPR), originally formed during the Kasbah occupations. They turned it into a party militia and targeted the UGTT, as well as secularists and the ta b l e 4 . 1 Strikes in Tunisia, 2010–2013 Year 2010 2011 2012 2013

Number of Strikes 420–65 567 524 399

source:, November 4, 2014 on the basis of information from the Ministry of Social Affairs.



left more broadly. In response to the municipal sanitation strikes, LPR members piled up garbage in front of UGTT offices in Tunis and the provinces.46 Others, in addition to Islamists, attacked the UGTT, asserting, in some cases ingenuously, that the entire institution was corrupted by collaboration with the Ben Ali regime. Businessmen close to the RCD always disliked the UGTT and were additionally aggrieved by its participation in the movement to dissolve the former ruling party. The PDP and Ettajdid resented the UGTT because resignation of the UGTT ministers on January 17, 2011 ultimately deprived them of their ministerial posts. In February– March 2011 the slogan “Jrad Out” ( Jrad dégage), a reprise of the slogan demanding Ben Ali’s departure, appeared in the mass media, on Facebook pages, and at demonstrations of the “silent majority” seeking a return to normalcy. Even the most oppositional elements within the UGTT, despite their harsh criticism of its leadership, rebuffed these attacks on “their” institution.47 As in Egypt, many structures and practices of the old regime persisted. Several mobilizations in Gafsa during 2012 reminded the interim government that the conditions that led to the 2008 rebellion remained unaddressed.48 The police—directed by ­Ennahda minister of the interior Ali Laarayedh from December 2011 until he became prime minister in March 2013—violently dispersed demonstrations of the unemployed in Tunis on April 7, 2012 and subsequently in Menzel Bouzaiane, Hencha, Gabes, Djerissa, and Kasserine. The UGTT responded with a statement supporting the demands of the UDC and condemning the police violence against the Tunis demonstration—the first time any Tunisian organization or party had expressed solidarity with the UDC.49 On November 27, 2012 a youth protest against poverty and unemployment erupted in Siliana. Local UGTT officials stepped in to organize it. Police opened fire on the demonstrators, wounding about three hundred. The UGTT negotiated the removal of the



governor of Siliana, who was reputed to be the nephew of ­Ennahda prime minister Hammadi Jebali, and the establishment of a jobs program before calling off the protest on December 2. Ennahda believed that the UGTT’s intervention in Siliana meant it was preparing for a confrontation with the government. Taoufik Ben Brik, a celebrated journalist jailed under the Ben Ali regime, wondered if Siliana “was becoming the Sidi Bouzid of ­Ennahda.”50 As conflict between the UGTT and Ennahda escalated, on December 4, 2012 the LPR attacked a commemoration of Farhat Hached’s murder at the UGTT Tunis headquarters, wounding ten. This insult to the memory of a national martyr incensed the entire membership. UGTT leaders called for general strikes in Kasserine, Gafsa, Sidi Bouzid, and Sfax on December 6 and a national general strike on December 13. It is unclear if they actually intended to carry out the national general strike. Clashes between Islamists and the UGTT flared during and after the regional strikes. Escalating conflict between the two poles of Tunisian politics lent dramatic urgency to the negotiations between the UGTT and the government. At the last minute a narrow majority of the UGTT executive board justified canceling the national general strike “due to the difficult situation facing the country, the tensions, the climate of insecurity, threats to our borders and to preserve social peace.”51 Although the UGTT appeared to back down, the government confirmed its national role. In addition, the government established a commission to investigate the LPR (it was dissolved in May 2014) and apologized to the UGTT. Many Tunisians hoped that the national general strike would be the decisive political confrontation between secularists led by the UGTT and Ennahda and its allies. Precisely for that reason, several prominent leftists and trade unionists who had originally supported the general strike, including Adnene Hajji, Hamma Hammami, Sami Tahri, and Jalel Ben Brik Zoghlami, advocated or accepted its cancelation, fearing that carrying it out would



i­nvite confrontations with well-armed Islamists funded from abroad and lead to anarchy.52 The UGTT was never an institution built for such a struggle. It has never sought regime change. Rather, its objective has been limited to ensuring that no one can rule without its assent. As Hèla Yousfi wrote on her Facebook page after the general strike was called off: I hope that this episode will deconstruct certain stereotypes about the UGTT: The UGTT has never been revolutionary although there have always been revolutionaries in it. The UGTT can never be completely manipulated by one political party even though historically and sociologically some political tendencies are more influential than others. . . . The UGTT because it is the only space of organized collective action has played and will play a key role in the future political transition.53

While the UGTT was willing to seek compromise to avoid undermining the stability of the state, Ansar al-Shari‘a was not. Throughout 2012–13 it assaulted secularist figures from Nidaa Tounes and the left. On February 6, 2013 an Ansar al-Shari‘a cell led by Boubaker al-Hakim shocked the entire country by assassinating Chokri Belaïd, a leader of Watad and the FP.54 The day of Belaïd’s funeral the UGTT belatedly implemented a national general strike—the first since 1978. Some 40,000–100,000 people accompanied the cortege demanding the resignation of the troika government. On July 25, 2013 al-Hakim personally assassinated FP leader Mohamed Brahmi. Crowds from Brahmi’s hometown of Sidi Bouzid attacked the local Ennahda offices. Police used tear gas to break up this and similar protests in several towns, as well as a demonstration following his funeral in front of the National Constituent Assembly in Bardo Square calling for its dissolution. All the political parties, except the troika, with support from the UGTT and the UTICA, formed a National Salvation Front, which launched a campaign to dissolve the assembly. A demonstration of about 100,000 people in Bardo Square on August 6



reinforced the front’s claim to represent a national consensus more legitimate than the ANC. Demonstrators occupied the square for over two weeks while protests continued throughout the country until October 25, when Ennahda agreed to join a “Quartet” comprised of the UGTT, UTICA, LTDH, and the bar association in a National Dialogue—a miniparliament that would resolve the political impasse and draft a consensual constitution. The UGTT abandoned street politics for the politics of compromise. But it continued to employ strikes to achieve trade union and social objectives. A one-day general strike in Tozeur on December 4, 2013 protested the continuing marginalization of the region. The UGTT was by far the most potent force in the Quartet and the National Dialogue. Secretary General Abbassi threatened and cajoled the political parties to reach consensus. The result was replacement of Ali Laarayedh’s cabinet with a caretaker team of technocrats installed on January 14, 2014. On January 26 a constitution guaranteeing full equality of men and women and acknowledging Islam as the religion of Tunisia but without mentioning shari‘a was adopted. Elections for a 217-member Assembly of the Representatives of the People were scheduled for October 26, 2014. The UGTT and Houcine Abbassi emerged as national heroes. Polarization between Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes shaped both the parliamentary and the presidential election held in two rounds in November and December. Surprisingly, Nidaa Tounes won a plurality of eight-six seats in the parliamentary contest to ­Ennahda’s sixty-nine seats. Unsurprisingly, Béji Caïd Essebsi won the presidential runoff against Moncef Marzouki, who many considered incompetent and compromised by his participation in the troika government. Workers and the left established a significant parliamentary presence. Adnene Hajji won a seat in Redeyef running as an independent. The Popular Front won fifteen seats (nine more than its



components held in the ANC). One third of its seats were in the center-west, very likely due to the work of its militants at least as far back as 2008. Ammar Amroussia, a prominent supporter of the Gafsa rebellion, won a seat for the FP in Gafsa. Mbarka A ­ ouania Brahmi, the widow of Mohamed Brahmi, won a seat for the FP in his hometown of Sidi Bouzid. Nizar Amami, a leader of the postal, telephone, and telegraph workers union and of the Trotskyist Ligue de la gauche ouvrière, won a seat for the FP in Manouba. Ettakattol, despite Zakia Dhifaoui’s prominence in supporting the Gafsa rebellion, won no parliamentary seats. Its brand of social democracy had little appeal for workers or the unemployed, and it was compromised by its participation in the troika government. Habib Essid, a so-called independent and high-ranking security official in the Ministry of Interior under Ben Ali, was charged with forming a government. After a false start, in February 2015 Essid presented a cabinet comprised of independents, members of Nidaa Tounes (who held most of the important ministries), the centerright Afek Tounes (which many considered a revival of the RCD), business magnate Slim Riahi’s Union patriotique libre, and Ennahda. THE FUTURES OF DEMOCRACY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE IN TUNISIA AND EGYPT

On the surface there is a great difference between the outcomes of the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Tunisia is a procedural democracy, albeit one dominated by an uncomfortable number of Ben Ali’s subordinates who were not known for their dissent during his rule. Egypt is even more repressive than under Mubarak’s regime and far less tolerant of even a modicum of dissent. Mindless nationalism absurdly proclaiming Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to be the reincarnation of Gamal Abdel Nasser has marginalized intelligent public discourse. This difference is certainly of great consequence, especially for the many victims of Egypt’s new torturers



and murderers. Tunisia has a better chance to move on to something better sooner. However, the difference is not fundamental for many Tunisians and Egyptians. Perhaps Moncef Marzouki put it best, inadvertently explaining his own political demise: Revolutionaries are not the ones who reap the fruits of the revolution. After the revolutionaries comes the time of the opportunists, and after the epic comes the time of failed hopes. For the poor of Sidi Bouzid return to their poverty and the cemetery dwellers in Cairo return to their cemeteries. No radical solutions are given to their problems, only lots of promises that may or may not be fulfilled.55

In fact, the promises have not been fulfilled, nor are they likely to be in the near future. The new buzzwords of the international financial institutions are “inclusive growth” and “protecting the most vulnerable.” A certain degree of skepticism is more than justifiable. Egypt held a grand economic development conference in March 2015 grandiosely headlined “Egypt the Future.” Much of the nearly $30 billion in pledged investments is unlikely to materialize. What does is likely to be spent as it was under the “government of businessmen”—the only kind of government capital managers would trust. Tunisia’s Foreign Investment Promotion Agency carries on as before, embracing policies recommended by the IMF and the African Development Bank. The letter of intent to the IMF after the 2014 parliamentary and presidential elections affirmed that ­Tunisia’s “new development model” presented at the September 2014 “Invest in Tunisia” conference is “fully consistent with the economic program and reforms supported by the IMF.”56 Despite the lack of fundamental economic change, there is a new public discourse. Jamel told a French journalist visiting Kasserine, where little had changed in the year since Ben Ali’s demise, “Ennahda hasn’t kept its promises. We elected them, but we can



depose them.”57 He turned out to be right. But even more important than any particular electoral outcome is his confidence that “we,” collectively, can effect political change. The victories of those too close to the old regimes and the destabilizing consequences of jihadi terrorism have surely undermined the confidence of Jamel and many others like him. The long-term hope for Egypt and Tunisia is that it has not been destroyed.


April 6 Youth Movement cofounder Ahmad Maher told a French journalist shortly after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster: “The workers played no role in the revolution. They were far from it.”1 In fact, A6YM was far from workers. As Maher explained, “Our role with labor movements is not professional like leftist groups and NGOs; they are more specific on the issue of the labor and the unions.”2 Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights director Khalid ‘Ali told the same journalist who spoke to Ahmad Maher, “The workers did not start the January 25 movement because they have no organizing structure.” But (referring to the dozens of strikes in the last days before Mubarak’s departure on February 11), “one of the important steps of this revolution was taken when they began to protest, giving the revolution an economic and social slant besides the political demands.”3 In Tunisia too, some, especially Islamists, were blind to the UGTT’s role in ousting Ben Ali. They did not distinguish between the top leadership and the membership and condemned the entire organization. A journalist at a regime-licensed news­ paper condemned Jrad’s meeting with Ben Ali two days before his demise, while a blogger recalled that Jrad had denounced the 135



anti–Ben Ali slogans at the December 27 demonstrations. 4 ­Tunisian workers did have an organizing structure, which was not limited to the UGTT secretary general. Second-level leaders and others had to overcome its constraints to put it to the service of the uprising. These contradictory assessments ultimately depend on what the Arab uprisings were about. Maher defined his politics as “social democratic, social liberal”—vague and self-contradictory terminology in the Western political tradition that offers nothing specific to working people.5 Maher, like many of Egypt’s “revolutionary youth,” was disappointed that workers rarely raised explicit demands for democratization and regime change and distrusted the parties and organizations that did. They considered workers’ demands as “sectoral” (talabat fi’awiyya) rather than “national.” Despite their support for the aborted April 6, 2008 strike of Ghazl al-Mahalla workers, Maher and his A6YM colleagues, like their Tunisian counterparts, had no idea how to organize working people and the unemployed. They sought primarily procedural democracy and personal rights. Lacking an adequate social base, Egyptian liberals have failed to achieve even these limited goals. In contrast, Khalid ‘Ali saw economic and social rights as the core of the popular uprising. That understanding was expressed in the most popular slogans of the 2011 uprisings: in Egypt, “Bread, Freedom, Social Justice”; in Tunisia, “Bread, Water, and No Ben Ali.” The slogan first raised in Redeyef in 2008 and then repeated in Sidi Bouzid in December 2010 and beyond succinctly expresses popular opposition to structural adjustment and neoliberal globalization (or, flexible accumulation): “A job is a right, you pack of thieves!” This is the view I have adopted in this book. Democracy is the result of protracted social struggles. Chinese foreign minister Zhou Enlai apparently misunderstood the question when he told President Nixon in 1972 that it was “too soon” to determine the significance of the French Revolution of

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1789. It is nonetheless worth considering that the French monarchy was restored three times, that a republican form of government was not fully consolidated until the 1880s, and that antidemocratic (and even pro-Nazi) sentiment remained strong in France until after World War II and has reemerged as a potent force in the twenty-first century. Judged against this standard, there is reason to believe that the Arab popular uprisings of 2011 are the beginning of a long process whose outcome cannot be foreseen. Those who have made a cottage industry of studying comparative transitions to democracy (transitologists) have emptied those processes of their social and historical specificity and staked a great deal on the theoretically ambiguous category of civil society. “Building civil society”—commonly understood as promoting nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)—was embraced and funded by policy makers, academics, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the European Union, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and private foundations as the strategy for promoting democracy in the Arab region and beyond. But what does the concept of civil society mean under authoritarian regimes that impose state regulation on all public organizations? The original impetus for the proliferation of NGOs in the Arab region was the political defeat of the Arab new left and the Islamic revival in the 1970s and 1980s. This led to the retreat of urban intelligentsias from secular party politics. Leftists and liberals who sought to continue political activity founded and joined advocacy NGOs promoting human rights, prisoners’ rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, workers’ rights, and the like.6 While NGOs proliferated, authoritarian Arab regimes were fairly effective in blocking the emergence of truly independent organizations of any sort. Except for the qualified success of human rights and women’s rights NGOs and trade unions in Morocco and Bahrain, forms of association tolerated by autocratic Arab regimes never became



e­ ffective and enduring structures of oppositional mobilization or democratization during the era of ascendant Arab authoritarianism. NGOs deemed improperly “political” according to the very restrictive legislation governing them were routinely dissolved. If and when NGOs did threaten them, the regimes changed the rules of the game. The proliferation of what academic transitologists, policy makers, funders, and Arab human rights defenders agreed to call “civil society organizations” was not an index of democratization. By 1992 there were over five thousand registered NGOs in Tunisia, including 3,300 formed since Ben Ali’s seizure of power: 3,171 cultural associations, 822 athletic associations, 509 charitable, relief, and social associations, 400 friendship associations, 126 development associations, 41 “general” associations, and 2 women’s associations.7 All NGOs were required to register with the Ministry of Interior, obtain prior approval for public meetings, and refrain from political activities. They had only a limited role in the social and political contestations during the Ben Ali era. All but the Bar Association were late to the game after the self-­immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi. By 2008, there were about 30,000 Egyptian NGOs. About 43 percent were Islamic associations; 9 percent were Coptic associations; and 25 percent were community development associations, which are quasi-governmental entities. There were also business associations and several dozen secular, liberal, and left-oriented advocacy NGOs. As in Tunisia, the Ministry of Social Affairs (now the Ministry of Social Solidarity and Justice) registers and licenses NGOs and monitors their budgets and activities in accord with the quite restrictive Law on Community Associations and Foundations (Law 84 of 2002).8 Maha Abdelrahman argues that in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, civil society was characterized by authoritarian and repressive tendencies. Moreover, its organizations, such as NGOs, . . . often actively engaged in

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reproducing unequal relations and an unjust status quo rather than providing alternatives to existing systems of power.9

Quintan Wiktorowicz concurs that in Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria (and I would add Tunisia, Yemen, and Syria) civil society organizations . . . were embedded in a web of bureaucratic practices and legal codes which allows those in power to monitor and regulate collective activities. . . . Under such circumstances, civil society institutions are more an instrument of state social control than a mechanism of collective empowerment.10

Tunisia is the only state to have emerged from the Arab popular uprisings of 2011 with a procedural democracy in place. Many observers concur with Hassan Mneimneh, a transitologist at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, who argues that in contrast to the “deep state” that foiled the transition to democracy in Egypt, the secret of Tunisia’s success . . . is the robustness of its civil society and the relative moderation of the principal protagonists. . . . The RCD was prone to autocracy and corruption, but it was also instrumental in shaping a path to development and reform in Tunisia over the past few decades. Despite political repression, RCD is not remembered in Tunisia as a totalitarian entity to be rejected outright, but rather an essentially positive force that was subverted by abuses and excesses.11

There is a politics to this celebration of civil society: the whitewashing of the RCD. The use of the passive voice neatly obscures the interests such a statement serves. Mneimneh, like most others inside the Beltway, envisions no alternative to the strategy of economic development pursued under the RCD. The legal opposition parties under Ben Ali had a similar view. Maya Jribi, secretary general of the Parti démocrate progressiste (PDP), begins with a correct assessment of the political limits of



the popular uprising and concludes with a prognosis that would leave politics in the hands of people like herself: What happened is more than an intifada but less than a revolution, and puts us in a delicate intermediate phase through which we are forced in part to build on what came before. The transition must be made on the basis of the present. That means on constitutional continuity, with the transition at the institutional level. Why? Because this revolution, although popular, did not provide a political direction. We must limit the damage and combine the political break with the past with the existing institutions.12

This is in fact close to what has actually occurred in Tunisia. Jribi imagined that people like her would be empowered to effect the transition (to what exactly she does not specify). In fact, high politics is structured by the struggle between Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes, the latter on top after winning a plurality in the 2014 legislative elections and the presidency. Politics in Tunisia, as in Egypt, is wrongly defined as a life-and-death struggle between “secularism” and “Islamism.” As Mahmoud Ben Rhomdane, a former leader of Ettajdid (the ex-Communist Party) and now a Nidaa Tounes leader and minister of transportation, put it, To start a party, you need two things: guys and money. . . . Nidaa Tounes isn’t the cleanest train. But it’s the last train. If you want to reach the terminus of democracy, you’ve got to get on board . . . otherwise it’ll be Ennahda in power for the next two generations.13

This logic has brought many UGTT leaders and former Communists into Nidaa Tounes along with former RCD members and so-called independents who held high office in the Ben Ali ­regime. It is also why many Islamists and others see Nidaa Tounes as a reincarnation of the RCD sans Ben Ali, the corrupt clan of his wife, Leila Trabelsi, and its other more odious aspects. In the 1970s and early 1980s, labor and the left in Egypt and Tunisia opposed, with greater or lesser degrees of vitality and con-

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sistency, efforts of the U.S. government, the European Union, and the international financial institutions to impose a new regime of capital accumulation on the Middle East and North Africa: neoliberal globalization or flexible accumulation. By the 1990s the legal lefts—Ettajdid, PDP, and Ettakattol in Tunisia and the Tagammu‘ in Egypt—had effectively sidelined this struggle for what they viewed as the battle against Islamism. This entailed effectively allying with the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes. In the process, they lost much of their working-class support. In Tunisia, refugees from Ettajdid, like Mahmoud Ben Rhomdane, and the many former and current UGTT officials who joined Nidaa Tounes are the successors of this “left.” The PDP’s successor, the Republican Party, won exactly one seat in the Assembly of the Representatives of the people elected in October 2014. The Social Democratic Path (al-Massar), which absorbed ­Ettajdid, received no seats. Ettakattol also won no seats due to a combination of its weak organizational capacity, coastal orientation, and association with the troika’s misrule. In Egypt, the Tagammu‘ and the newly established Social Democratic Party joined the Egyptian Bloc electoral alliance led and funded by one of Egypt’s wealthiest businessman, Naguib Sawiris, for the first post-Mubarak parliamentary balloting. The Tagammu‘ won three and the Social Democrats sixteen of the bloc’s thirty-four seats in the 518-member People’s Assembly. A pro-Mubarak court dissolved the body in June 2012, five months after it was elected. Every Egyptian labor-oriented organization—ETUF, the new independent federations, and the left- and labor-oriented NGOs— supported the military coup of July 3, 2013. EFITU president Kamal Abu Eita accepted the Ministry of Manpower and Migration (labor) in the first postcoup government. He was out of office and in the political wilderness after the cabinet reshuffle of February 2014, discredited by his predictable inability to fulfill his promise to raise the minimum wage for all workers.



On January 24, 2015 Socialist Popular Alliance Party leader Shaimaa El-Sabbagh, a thirty-one-year-old mother and poet, was shot dead by police. She and a few dozen others had just begun marching peacefully toward Tahrir Square to commemorate the fourth anniversary of “the revolution.” All such demonstrations have been illegal since November 2013. To protest the government’s failure to conduct a transparent investigation into the killing, the SPA announced it would boycott the several-times-postponed parliamentary elections along with the Revolutionary Socialists and Strong Egypt (an offshoot of the Muslim Brothers with a more thorough commitment to democracy). After an international uproar over the Medical Forensics Authority spokesman’s declaration that birdshot penetrated El-Sabbagh’s heart and lungs because she didn’t have sufficient body fat, the public prosecutor reversed course and charged a policeman with “battery causing death”—the minimum charge in the circumstances. He was convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. A video and photo of El-Sabbagh bleeding to death went viral. A much less dramatic video of the demonstration on the spot of Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation on December 17, 2010 ignited the movement that toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. This should be a warning against attempting to predict the course of social movements, the timing and immediate cause of revolutions or popular uprisings, and overestimating the impact of digital media. Whether or not the SPA and others actually boycott the election, workers and the left will not be well represented in the Egyptian parliament. Dozens of little-known parties and coalitions have formed and reformed. No more than 140 of the seats will be contested on a party list basis. If and when the election occurs, the outcome will be determined by pro-Sisi clientalistic networks, as was the case under Mubarak. The outcomes of the popular uprisings so far suggest that workers and their allies faced only unsavory choices in the aftermath of

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the ouster of Ben Ali and Mubarak. Egyptian workers, having little independent institutional and electoral weight, could only attach themselves to whatever political force seemed most friendly. There were efforts to construct an alliance of leftists and democratic Islamists (like Strong Egypt). But it was undermined by the willingness of the traditional “left” to align with capital against the “greater enemy” of the Muslim Brothers. A labor-Islamist alliance was never possible. In Tunisia, workers had more institutional and therefore electoral power. But the political calculus was ultimately the same. Having been the object of attacks from Islamists throughout 2012–13, the UGTT came to see Ennahda as an enemy. By being the main force behind removing Ennahda from power, the UGTT became more like a political party. However, it refrained from actually forming a party because that would risk splitting the organization. Consequently, workers and the left divided into two camps: one joined with Nidaa Tounes and the other entered the Popular Front. Nidaa Tounes will not adopt economic policies that meet the needs of workers and the dispossessed of the interior. The Popular Front, having wisely elected (although not without some equivocation) to remain outside the government formed in February 2015, will have to strengthen itself in order to become a plausible economic alternative. However remote one judges that possibility to be, Tunisia and its workers are far better positioned for the future than Egypt, where all dissent has been violently suppressed.


This book grows out of my engagement with Egypt and the history of its workers for over thirty-five years. The friendships, debts, and losses I have accumulated over the years of learning about and living in Egypt are incalculable. The research embodied in this book began with a visit to a sit-in strike at the ESCO Spinning Mill in Qalyub in early 2005. During the decade since then I have been sustained in Egypt by the friendship and support of Najat Abdulhaq, Nabil ‘Abd al-Fattah, Maha Abdelrahman, Tewfik Aclimandos, David Blanks, Nawla Darwiche, the late Yusuf Darwiche (Darwish), Khaled Fahmy, Hany Hanna, Rania Samir Hanna, Nadia Kamel, Hani Sayed, Amal Sedky Winter, Aida Seif El-Dawla, Sherene Seikaly, Alex Shalaby, the late Mohamed Sid-Ahmed, Joshua Stacher, Mohamed Wishahi, Sherif Younis, Alaa-eldin Youssef, and many others. Kamal ‘Abbas, Anne Alexander, Khalid ‘Ali, Muhammad al-‘Attar, Sabr Barakat, Mostafa Bassiouny, Dina Bishara, Jano Charbel, David Enders, Robert Eshelman, Sayyid Habib, Hossam el-Hamalawy, Zachary Lockman, Faiza Rady, Francesca Ricciardone, the late Samer Soliman, ‘Umar Sa‘id, Chantal Thomas, and ‘Adil Zakariyya are among the many workers, political activists, journalists, and scholars who shared their insights and enthusiasm with me. I am deeply thankful to the past and present staff of the Middle East team of the Solidarity Center—Shawna Bader Blau, Marian Fadel, Erin Radford, and Heba El-Shazly—who funded and assisted my research on an earlier, related book, The Struggle for Worker Rights in Egypt. I first met Marie Duboc when she was a doctoral student and diligent research assistant on that project. She has since become a valued colleague and coauthor. I learned a great deal from Frédéric Vairel during the course of our coediting two editions of Social Movements, Mobilization, and Contestation in the Middle East and North Africa (Stanford University Press, 2011 and 2013). My engagement with Tunisia has been less intense. Gilbert Achcar, Max Ajl, Michaël Béchir Ayari, Kalthoum Barkallah, Habib Belaïd, Chantal Chanson145



Jabeur, Laryssa Chomiak, Eric Gobe, Rebecca Gruskin, Maher Hamdi, Salah Hamzaoui, Abdessalem Hidouri, Choukri Hmed, Monica Marks, Salah Mosbah, Déborah Perez, Hafidh Tabbabi, and Hèla Yousfi pointed me in helpful directions as I worked to learn about the country—hopefully enough to avoid foolish errors. As I have come to expect, Kate Wahl and the staff of Stanford University Press have been the most supportive and efficient team in academic publishing.


Personal names and other proper nouns that have appeared regularly in the ­English or French press appear in that form. When Arabic speakers use a nonstandard transliteration of their names, I use that form. Otherwise, I transliterate Arabic using a simplified version of the transliteration method employed in the International Journal of Middle East Studies. Most English writing on Tunisia uses French terminology and acronyms. If unambiguous colloquial translations were readily apparent, I have used them. Otherwise, I follow French usage. The list of acronyms and abbreviations contains the full Arabic and/or French terms and their English translations.





Communist Party of Egypt (al-Hizb al-shuyu‘i al-misri) Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (Markaz al-khadamat al-niqabiyya wa’l-‘ummaliyya) CWP Communist Workers Party (Hizb al-‘ummal al-shuyu‘i al-misri) ECESR Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (al-Markaz al-misri lil-huquq al-iqtisadiyya wa’l-ijtima‘iyya) EDLC Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress (Mu’tamar ‘ummal misr al-dimuqrati) EFITU Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (al-Ittihad al-misri lil-niqabat al-mustaqilla) ETUF Egyptian Trade Union Federation (al-Ittihad al-‘amm li-niqabat ‘ummal misr) FJP Freedom and Justice Party (Hizb al-hurriyya wa’l-‘adala) NDP National Democratic Party (al-Hizb al-watani al-dimuqrati) NWF New Woman Foundation (Mu’assasat al-mar’a al-jadida) RETAU Independent General Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Workers (al-Niqaba al-‘amma al-mustaqilla li-dara’ib al-‘aqariyya) SCAF Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (al-Majlis al-a‘la lil-quwwat al-musallaha) SPA Socialist Popular Alliance Party (Hizb al-tahalluf al-sha‘bi al-ishtiraki) Tagammu‘ National Progressive Unionist Party (Hizb al-tagammu‘ al-watani al-taqadumi al-wahdawi)








L’Assemblée nationale constituante (National Constituent Assembly) La Confédération générale du travail (General Confederation of Labor) La Confédération générale tunisienne de travail (Tunisian General Confederation of Labor, al-Jami‘a al-‘amma al-tunisiyya lil-shughl) La Compagnie des phosphates et des chemins de fer de Gafsa (Gafsa Phosphate and Railway Company) La Compagnie des Phosphates de Gafsa (Gafsa Phosphate Company) Le Forum démocratique pour le travail et les libertés (Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties, al-Takattul al-dimuqrati min ajl al-‘amal wa’l-hurriyyat) Le Front populaire (al-Jabha al-sha‘biyya, Popular Front) La Fédération des Tunisiens pour une citoyenneté des deux rives (Tunisian Federation for a Citizenship of the Two Banks) La Ligue de protection de la révolution (al-Rabita al-tunisiyya li-himayat al-thawra, League for the Protection of the Revolution) La Ligue tunisienne des droits de l’homme (al-Rabita al-tunisiyya ­ lil-huquq al-insan, Tunisian Human Rights League) Le Mouvement de la tendance islamique (Harakat al-ittijah al-islami, Islamic Tendency Movement) Le Parti communiste des ouvriers de Tunisie (Hizb al-‘ummal al-shuyu‘i al-tunisi, Tunisian Communist Workers Party) Le Parti démocrate progressiste (al-Hizb al-dimuqrati al-taqaddumi, Progressive Democratic Party) Le Parti socialiste destourienne (al-Hizb al-ishtiraki al-dusturi, Socialist Destour Party) Le Parti des travailleurs (Hizb al-‘ummal); formerly PCOT Le Rassemblement constitutionnel démocratique (al-Tajammu‘ al-dusturi al-dimuqrati, Constitutional Democratic Rally) Le Syndicat général de l’enseignement secondaire (General Union of Secondary School Teachers) L’Union des diplômés chômeurs (Ittihad ashab al-shahadat al-mu‘attalin ‘an al-‘amal, Union of Unemployed Graduates) L’Union générale tunisienne du travail (al-Ittihad al-‘amm al-tunisi lil-shughl, General Federation of Tunisian Labor) L’Union tunisienne de l’industrie, du commerce et de l’artisanat (al-Ittihad al-tunisi lil-sina‘a w’al-tijara w’al-sina‘at al-taqlidiyya, Tunisian Union for Industry, Commerce and Traditional Crafts) Le Parti unifié des patriotes démocrates (Hizb al-wataniyyin al-dimuqratiyyin al-muwahhad, Unified Party of Democratic Patriots, or MOUPAD)



1.  Young scholars open to understanding things in these terms began investigating the workers movement in the second half of the decade. Among them are Nadine Abdalla, Anne Alexander, Dina Bishara, Marie Duboc, Dina Makram Ebeid, Kristian Takvam Kindt, Marten Petterssen, and Brecht De Smet. 2.  The most notable pre-2011 exception is the AFL-CIO-affiliated Solidarity Center, for which I wrote The Struggle for Worker Rights in Egypt (Washington: Solidarity Center, 2010). The Dutch Oxfam Novib and the Ford Foundation’s Cairo office gave grants to the CTUWS. 3.  Gilbert Achcar, The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 239. 4.  Arabic follows French in using the same word for a professional association and a trade union—niqaba or syndicat.


1.  This section is based primarily on Joel Beinin and Zachary Lockman, Workers on the Nile: Nationalism, Communism, Islam, and the Egyptian Working Class, 1882–1954 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987); Joel Beinin, Workers and Peasants in the Modern Middle East (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Joel Beinin, “Egypt: Economy and Society, 1923–1952,” in The Cambridge History of Egypt, ed. M. W. Daly (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 309–33.




2.  Abdesslem Ben Hamida, Capitalisme et syndicalisme en Tunisie (1924–1956) (Tunis: Université de Tunis, Faculté des sciences humaines et sociales, 2003), 114. 3.  Pierre-Robert Baudel, “Gafsa comme enjeu,” Annuaire de l’Afrique du Nord (Paris: CNRS, 1981), 489. 4. Tahar Haddad, La Naissance du mouvement syndical tunisien (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2013), 11, 76–95, 97, 114–19. 5. Hamida, Capitalisme et syndicalisme en Tunisie, 47. 6.  Eqbal Ahmed, “Trade Unionism,” in State and Society in Independent North Africa, ed. Leon Carl Brown (Washington: Middle East Institute, 1966), 157. 7.  Mustapha Kraïem, Etat et societé dans la Tunisie bourguibienne (Tunis: La Maghrébine pour l’Impression et la Publication du Livre, 2011), 51. 8.  Ibid., 13, 49–55. 9. Francophone modernism includes embracing laïcité—a distinctively French institution making the state the regulator of public religious expression on a putatively, but never actually, equal basis. This differs from American-style secularism, which bans any state intervention in religious affairs. While the terms laïcité and secularism are not equivalent, I henceforth use the latter, in part for simplicity, in part because pro-laïcité Tunisians and French tend not to appreciate the difference. 10.  Juliette Bessis, Les Fondateurs: Indexe biographique des cadres syndicalistes de la Tunisie coloniale (1920–1956) (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1985). 11.  Chantal Chanson-Jabeur, “Salariat et mouvement syndical en Tunisie dans l’immédiat après guerre (1943–1947)” (Thèse de 3ième cycle, Université de Paris VIII, 1982), 333–38. 12.  Salah Hamzaoui, “Conditions et genèse de la conscience ouvrière en milieu rural: Cas des mineurs du sud de la Tunsie” (Ph.D. diss., École Pratique des Hautes Études, Université de Paris, 1970), 247–69. 13.  They were subsequently joined by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which became the World Trade Organization in 1995, and the Paris Club of creditor states. 14.  See Robert Boyer, The Regulation School: A Critical Introduction (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990); David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989); Alain Lipietz, Towards a New Economic Order: Postfordism, Ecology, and Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); Michel Aglietta, A Theory of Capitalist Regulation: The U.S. Experience (London: Verso, 2000). 15.  Marsha Pripstein Posusney, Labor and the State in Egypt: Workers, Unions, and Economic Restructuring, 1952–1996 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 58–64. 16.  Quoted in ibid., 74. 17.  Ibid., 168–69. 18.  Mark N. Cooper, The Transformation of Egypt (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982). 19. Kraïem, Etat et societé dans la Tunisie bourguibienne, 7.



20.  Eva Bellin, Stalled Democracy: Capital, Labor, and the Paradox of StateSponsored Development (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), 95. 21.  Ahmed, “Trade Unionism,” 185–90. 22.  Khalid Ikram, The Egyptian Economy, 1952–2000: Performance, Policies, and Issues (London: Routledge, 2006), 10; Mahmoud Abdel-Fadil, The Political Economy of Nasserism: A Study in Employment and Income Distribution Policies in Urban Egypt, 1952–1972 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 33. 23.  John Waterbury, The Egypt of Nasser and Sadat: The Political Economy of Two Regimes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 89. 24.  Ibid., 38. 25. Christopher Alexander, Tunisia: Stability and Reform in the Modern Maghreb (New York: Routledge, 2010), 73–75. 26.  “Tunisia GDP per Capita.” Trading Economics. http://www.tradingeconomics .com/tunisia/gdp-per-capita 27.  Emma Murphy, Economic and Political Change in Tunisia: From Bourguiba to Ben Ali (London: Macmillan, 1999), 91. 28. Alexander, Tunisia, 73. 29. Waterbury, Egypt of Nasser and Sadat, 84–85, 202. 30.  Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire, ed. Sam Gindin (London: Verso, 2012), 135ff. 31.  “Oil Price History and Analysis.” WTRG Economics. prices.htm 32. Beinin, Workers and Peasants in the Modern Middle East, 149–50. 33.  Katherina Natter, “Fifty Years of Maghreb Emigration: How States Shaped Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian Emigration” (Oxford: International Migration Institute, 2014). 34.  “Workers’ Remittances and Compensation of Employees—Received (% of GDP) in Tunisia.” Trading Economics. ers-remittances-and-compensation-of-employees-received-percent-of-gdp-wb-data.html 35.  Michel Foucault, Remarks on Marx: Conversations with Duccio Trombardori (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 1991),144. 36.  This section is partly based on Joel Beinin, “Will the Real Egyptian Working Class Please Stand Up?” in Workers and Working Classes in the Middle East: Struggles, Histories, Historiographies, ed. Zachary Lockman (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 247–70. 37.  Kamal Khalil, Hikayat min zaman fat: sira dhatiyya min khilal al-ahdath (Cairo: Bayt al-Yasamin li’l-Nashr wa’l-Tawzi‘, 2012). 38.  Michel Camau and Vincent Gisser, Habib Bourguiba: La Trace et l’héritage (Paris: Karthala, 2004). dine_Ben_Kheder_Entretien.php 39.  Unless otherwise noted, this section is based on Beinin, “Will the Real Egyptian Working Class Please Stand Up?”; and Posusney, Labor and the State in Egypt. 40.  In 1975 the official rate of exchange was EGP1 = $2.60, and the black mar-



ket rate was EGP1 = $1.58. J. S. Birks and C. A. Sinclair, Arab Manpower: The Crisis of Development (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980), 232. 41.  Michael Christopher Alexander, “Between Accommodation and Confrontation: State, Labor, and Development in Algeria and Tunisia” (Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1996), 109–24, 51–58. 42.  Christopher Alexander, “State, Labor and the New Global Economy in Tunisia,” in North Africa: Development and Reform in a Changing Global Economy, ed. Dirk Vandewalle (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 182. 43. Kraïem, Etat et societé dans la Tunisie bourguibienne, 115–16. 44. Bellin, Stalled Democracy, 97. 45.  Alexander, “State, Labor and the New Global Economy in Tunisia,” 182. 46. Kraïem, Etat et societé dans la Tunisie bourguibienne, 408. 47.  al-Sha‘b, October 14, 21, 1977. 48. Kraïem, Etat et societé dans la Tunisie bouguibienne, 415. 49.  World Bank, World Development Indicators, 2015. 50.  Pamela Day Pelletreau, “Private Sector Development through Public Sector Restructuring? The Cases of the Gafsa Phosphate Company and the Chemical Group,” in Tunisia: The Political Economy of Reform, ed. I. William Zartman (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1991), 130; Murphy, Economic and Political Change in Tunisia, 89. 51.  Leila Simona Talani, The Arab Spring in the Global Political Economy (Houndmills, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 150; Alexander, Tunisia, 76–77. 52. Murphy, Economic and Political Change in Tunisia, 87–88; Alexander, Tunisia, 78. 53.  World Bank, World Development Indicators, 2015. 54. Ikram, Egyptian Economy, 26. 55.  Ibid., 92. 56.  Ibid., 282. 57.  Ibid., 88. 58.  Ibid., 22. 59. Waterbury, Egypt of Nasser and Sadat, 212. 60. Ikram, Egyptian Economy, 18, 24, 214. 61.  IMF, “Youth Unemployment in the MENA Region: Determinants and Challenges,” June 2012. (accessed July 24, 2014)


1.  Karen Pfeifer, “How Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and Even Egypt Became IMF ‘Success Stories’ in the 1990s,” Middle East Report, no. 210 (1999): 23. 2.  John Williamson, “In Search of a Manual for Technopols,” in The Political Economy of Policy Reform, ed. John Williamson (Washington: Institute for International Economics, 1994), 26–28.



3.  John Williamson, “Democracy and the Washington Consensus,” World Development 21, no. 8 (1993): 1329. 4.  John Walton and David Seddon, Free Markets and Food Riots: The Politics of Global Adjustment (Oxford, UK, and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1994), 39–40. Food riots continued throughout the 1990s. 5.  Hossam el-Hamalawy, “The 1977 Bread Intifada” (M.A. thesis, Amerian University in Cairo, 2001). Husayn ‘Abd al-Raziq, Misr fi 18 wa-19 yanayir: dirasa siyyasiyya watha’iqiyya (Beirut: Dar al-Kalima, 1979). 6.  Mustapha Kraïem, Etat et societé dans la Tunisie bourguibienne (Tunis: La Maghrébine pour l’Impression et la Publication du Livre, 2011), 439; Eva Bellin, Stalled Democracy: Capital, Labor, and the Paradox of State-Sponsored Development (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), 108–9. 7. Kraïem, Etat et societé dans la Tunisie bourguibienne, 437–69. 8.  Unless otherwise noted, this and the following section are based on Marsha Pripstein Posusney, Labor and the State in Egypt: Workers, Unions, and Economic Restructuring, 1952–1996 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Omar El Shafei, “Workers, Trade Unions, and the State in Egypt: 1984–1989,” Cairo Papers in Social Science 18, no. 2 (1995); Hisham D. Aidi, Redeploying the State: Corporatism, Neoliberalism, and Coalition Politics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Nicola Christine Pratt, The Legacy of the Corporatist State: Explaining Workers’ Responses to Economic Liberalisation in Egypt (Durham, UK: Durham University, Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, 1998); and Huwayda ‘Adli Ruman, “al-Haraka al-ihtijajiyya lil-tabaqa al-‘amila al-misriyya, 1982–91,” in Humum misr wa-azmat al-‘uqul al-shabba, ed. Ahmad ‘Abd Allah (Cairo: Markaz al-Jil ­lil-Dirasat al-Shababiyya wa‘l-Ijtima‘iyya, 1994), 173–96; and Joel Beinin, “Will the Real Egyptian Working Class Please Stand Up?” in Workers and Working Classes in the Middle East: Struggles, Histories, Historiographies, ed. Zachary Lockman (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994). 9.  Alan Richards et al., A Political Economy of the Middle East, 3rd ed. (Boulder: Westview Press, 2014), 248–49. 10.  “From the Editors,” Middle East Report, no. 161 (November–December 1989): 2. 11.  Joe Stork, “Egypt’s Factory Privatization Campaign Turns Deadly,” Middle East Report, no. 192 (January–February 1995): 29. 12. Bellin, Stalled Democracy, 111–15. 13.  Emma Murphy, Economic and Political Change in Tunisia: From Bourguiba to Ben Ali (London: Macmillan, 1999), 90, 92–96, 99. 14.  Ibid., 96–100. 15.  Interview, Tunis, December 15, 2014; Chris Toensing, “Tunisian Labor Leaders Reflect upon Revolt,” Middle East Report 41, no. 258 (Spring 2011). 16.  UGTT Executive Bureau, Circular No. 87, March 5, 2008, quoted in Hafid Tabbabi, Intifadat al-hawd al-manjami bi-qafsa, 2008 (Tunis: al-Dar al-Tunisiyya lil-Kitab, 2012), 37–39.



17.  Nourredine Fathalli, quoted in Michael Christopher Alexander, “Between Accommodation and Confrontation: State, Labor, and Development in Algeria and Tunisia” (Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1996), 275; Toensing, “Tunisian Labor Leaders Reflect upon Revolt.” 18.  Quoted in Christopher Alexander, “State, Labor and the New Global Economy in Tunisia,” in North Africa: Development and Reform in a Changing Global Economy, ed. Dirk Vandewalle (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 177. 19.  Alexander, “Between Accommodation and Confrontation,” 266–68. 20.  Kheireddine Bouslah, interview, Tunis, December 15, 2014. 21.  Quoted in Alexander, “Between Accommodation and Confrontation,” 276. 22.  Ibid., 266–88. 23.  Quoted in Murphy, Economic and Political Change in Tunisia, 130. 24.  World Bank, World Development Indicators, 2015. 25.  Leila Simona Talani, The Arab Spring in the Global Political Economy (Houndmills, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 153–54. 26.  Kenneth J. Perkins, A History of Modern Tunisia, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 212; Alexander, “Between Accommodation and Confrontation,” 294; Hakim Ben Hammouda, Tunisie: Économie politique d’une révolution (Brussels: Groupe De Boeck, 2012), 94–95. 27.  Richards et al., Political Economy of the Middle East, 134–35, 242. 28.  Pfeifer, “How Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and Even Egypt Became IMF ‘Success Stories’ in the 1990s.” 29. Fareed M.A. Hassan, Tunisia: Understanding Successful Socioeconomic Development (Washington: World Bank, 2005), ix–x. 30.  World Bank, World Development Indicators, 2015. 31.  Mourad El Hattab, “Malnutrition, Food Insecurity Threaten Unrest in Tunisia,” Al Monitor, January 6, 2014. /2014/01/tunisia-poverty-hunger-threaten-unrest.html# 32.  World Bank, “Most Improved in Doing Business,” 2008–10. http://www 33.  World Bank, World Development Indicators, 2015. 34.  Richards et al., Political Economy of the Middle East, 134, 139, 140, 251. 35.  World Bank, Arab Republic of Egypt: A Poverty Assessment Update, Report No. 39885—EGT (Washington: World Bank, 2007). 36.  World Bank, World Development Indicators, 2015. 37.  Karen Pfeifer, “Neoliberal Transformation and the Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt,” unpublished paper, 2013, 18. 38.  Figures are based on my interviews with workers and factory owners from 2004 to 2008. 39.  Pfeifer, “Neoliberal Transformation and the Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt,” 16. 40. Talani, Arab Spring in the Global Political Economy, 155–57, 185–86. 41.  Ibid., 162–71, 194–98.




1.  Hossam el-Hamalawy, “Egypt’s Revolution Has Been 10 Years in the Making,” The Guardian, March 2, 2011. mar/02/egypt-revolution-mubarak-wall-of-fear 2.  Rabab El-Mahdi, “The Democracy Movement: Cycles of Protest,” in Egypt: A Moment of Change, ed. Rabab El-Mahdi and Phil Marfleet (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2009); Maha Abdelrahman, Egypt’s Long Revolution: Protest Movements and Uprisings (London: Routledge, 2015). 3.  Karine Gantin and Omeyya Seddik, “Révolte du ‘peuple des mines’ en Tunisie,” Le Monde diplomatique, August 2008. http://www.monde-diplomatique. fr/2008/07/GANTIN/16061. For a compendium of repression in the first half of the 2000s, see International Federation for Human Rights, World Organization against Torture, and International Center for Human Rights and Democratic Development, “International Fact Finding Mission: Tunisia and the World Summit on Information Society,” May 2005. 4.  Vickie Langohr, “Too Much Civil Society, Too Little Politics: Egypt and Liberalizing Arab Regimes,” Comparative Politics 36, no. 2 (2004): 184; Amor Boubakri, “What Are Democracy’s Prospects for the Tunisian Revolt?” Maghreb Review (December 2010–January 2011). key_challenges_on_the_road_to_democracy; node/1030 5.  Human Rights Watch, “The Price of Independence: Silencing Labor and Student Unions in Tunisia” (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2010), 12–14, 17–24. 6.  International Federation for Human Rights et al., “International Fact Finding Mission.” 7.  Norsk P.E.N., “Tunisia: Call to Public Opinion.” English/EnglishDetails/tabid/515/ArticleID/805/Tunisia-CALL-TO-THE-PUBLIC -OPINION.aspx 8.  Maher Hamdi (a UDC founder and two-term member of the board), interview, Tunis, December 13, 2014. 9.  Unless otherwise noted, this section relies on Joel Beinin and Marie Duboc, “A Workers’ Social Movement on the Margin of the Global Neoliberal Order, Egypt 2004–2009” in Social Movements, Mobilization, and Contestation in the Middle East and North Africa, ed. Joel Beinin and Frédéric Vairel, 2nd ed. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), 205–27, and the sources cited there. 10.  Egypt. Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, 2006; Karen Pfeifer, “Neoliberal Transformation and the Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt,” unpublished paper, 2013, 17–18. 11.  Ridha Kéfi, “D’un congrès à l’autre,” Jeune Afrique, July 17, 2006. http://—-d-un -congr-s-l-autre.html



12.  Human Rights Watch, “Price of Independence,” 8–9; ILO, Reports of the Committee on Freedom of Association, 354th Report of the Committee on Freedom of Association, June 2009, 1117ff.—-ed_ norm/—-relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_108490.pdf 13.  Kalthoum Barakallah (Solidarity Center), interview, Tunis, December 15, 2014. 14.  “Réveil syndicale,” Jeune Afrique, July 17, 2006. http://www.jeuneafrique . com/Article/LIN16076rveillacidn0/?art_cle=LIN16076rveillacidn0; Vincent Geisser and Eric Gobe, “Tunisie: Consolidation autoritaire et processus électoraux,” L’Année du Maghreb (Paris: CNRS, 2004), 32. 15.  Béatrice Hibou, The Force of Obedience: The Political Economy of Repression in Tunisia (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2011), 127. 16.  Khalid ‘Ali ‘Umar, “The Right to Form Trade Unions and Related Rights as Principal International Labor Standards: The Case of Egypt” (Cairo: Hisham Mubarak Law Center, n.d.), 11. 17.  Mostafa Bassiouny, “al-Hurriyya al-niqabiyya,” Awraq Ishtirakiyya, no. 17 (Summer 2007): 55. 18.  Ghada Raja’i, “Taqrir ‘an ahwal ‘ummal al-ghazl wa’l-nasij wa’l-malabis aljahiza,” Economic and Social Rights Series, no. 63 (Cairo: Land Center for Human Rights, November 2008), 19. 19.  Unless otherwise noted, this section relies on Beinin and Duboc, “Workers’ Social Movement on the Margin of the Global Neoliberal Order” and the sources cited there, including interviews with strike leaders. 20.  Egyptian journalists and Westerners who rely on their work, the British Socialist Workers Party, and their Egyptian affiliate, the Revolutionary Socialists, advance this view. See Anne Alexander and Mostafa Bassiouny, Bread, Freedom, Social Justice: Workers and the Egyptian Revolution (London: Zed Books, 2014). 21.  Center for Trade Union and Workers Services, Facts about the Trade Union Elections for the Term, 2006–2011 (Cairo: CTUWS, 2007), 19. 22.  Kareem Elbehirey, (reposted October 9, 2013); (uploaded September 23, 2007) 23.  This section is based on my eyewitness observation, continuing discussions with members of the Ghazl al-Mahalla strike committee, and Joel Beinin, “L’Egypte des ventres vides,” Le Monde diplomatique, May 2008. 24.  For example, Sidney G. Tarrow, Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 106–22. His formulations in the third edition of the book (2011) are more flexible. 25.  Unless otherwise noted, this section relies on Beinin and Duboc, “Workers’ Social Movement on the Margin of the Global Neoliberal Order” and the sources cited there, and the account of the strike in Alexander and Bassiouny, Bread, Freedom, Social Justice, 157–82. 26.  Mostafa Bassiouny, interview, London, November 4, 2014. 27.  Amin Allal, “L’Autoritarisme participatif: Politiques de développement et



protestations dans la région minière de Gafsa en Tunisie, 2006–2010” (Ph.D. diss., Université Paul Cézanne–Aix-Marseille III, 2013), 348ff. 28.  Ibid., 350. 29.  Unless otherwise noted, this section is based on ibid.; Larbi Chouikha and Eric Gobe, “La Tunisie entre la ‘révolte du bassin minier de Gafsa’ et l’échéance électorale de 2009,” L’Année du Maghreb 5 (2009), http://anneemaghreb.revues. org/623; Eric Gobe, “The Gafsa Mining Basin between Riots and a Social Movement: Meaning and Significance of a Protest Movement in Ben Ali’s Tunisia” (Paris: HAL Working Paper , 2010); Laryysa Chomiak, “Architecture of Resistance in Tunisia,” in Taking to the Streets: The Transformation of Arab Activism, ed. Lina Khatib and Ellen Lust (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), 22–48; Gantin and Seddik, “Révolte du ‘people des mines’ en Tunisie”; Hafid Tabbabi, Intifadat al-hawd al-manjami bi-qafsa (Tunis: al-Dar alTunisiyya lil-Kitab, 2012). 30.  African Development Bank Group, “Completion Report on the Rehabilitation of the Gafsa Phosphate Company (Tunisia), October 1996, 20. 31.  Mahmoud Ben Romdhane and Ali Kadel, “Hawd al-manjami fi qafsa: ­al-ihbat tahta al-kunuz,” al-Tariq al-Jadid, June 8, 2008. spip.php?article60 32.  Populations according to the 2004 census. Chômage Gafsa 2004, http://–edit.svg ; Habib Ayeb and Ray Bush, “Small Farmer Uprisings and Rural Neglect in Egypt and Tunisia,” Middle East Report, no. 272 (2014): 6. 33.  Amnesty International, Tunisia Report 2009, region/tunisia/report-2009; “Tunisia Releases Prisoners Held over Gafsa Protests,” November 6, 2009, 34.  Organisation mondiale contre la torture, “Tunisie: Condamnation de Mme Zakia Dhifaoui à huit mois de prison fermé,” August 19, 2008. http://www 35.  Press release of Fédération des Tunisiens pour une Citoyenneté des deux Rives, Paris, May 7, 2008. leptirapporteur, /05/08/tunisie-chomage-droit-de-lhomme/ 36.  Gantin and Seddik, “Révolte du ‘people des mines’ en Tunisie.” 37.  Published in Anthropologie du present. gafsa-avril-2008/ 38.  Chouikha and Gobe, “La Tunisie entre la ‘révolte du bassin minier de Gafsa’ et l’échéance électorale de 2009.” 39.  The website of al-Badil ‘Ajil was not functional while this book was being written. 40.  Gantin and Seddik, “Révolte du ‘people des mines’ en Tunisie.” 41.  Le Comité tunisien de soutien à la population du basin minier de Gafsa, “Redeyef: Le Combat de la dignité” (documentary film, 34 min., 2009?). 42. Ibid.



43.  Le Comité Nationale de soutien aux habitants du basin minier, “Tribunal de première instance de Gafsa, L’affaire no. 3357” (January 2009), reprinted by Forum tunisien pour les droits économiques et sociaux (Tunis: 2014?). 44.  Amnesty International, “Tunisia Releases Prisoners Held over Gafsa Protests,” November 9, 2009. tunisia-releases-prisoners-held-over-gafsa-protests-20091106


1.  Maha Abdelrahman, Egypt’s Long Revolution: Protest Movements and Uprisings (London: Routledge, 2015), 68–69. 2.  Nawaat, “Tunisie: Un Rassemblement de jeune diplômés chômeurs de la ville de Skhira tourne à l’affrontement avec les forces de l’ordre,” February 4, 2010,; Abdessalem Hidouri, interview, Menzel Bouzaiane, December 9, 2014. 3.  Lina Atallah, “Workers, Activists Demand National Minimum Wage,” Egypt Independent, May 2, 2010. 4.  Nhar 3la 3ammar, “Comment?” 5.  “Limites de la cyberdissidence,” Debatunisie, September 9, 2007. http://www. 6.  A. Messadi et al., “Contribution à l’étude des aspects épidémiologiques des brulures suicidaires en Tunisie: A propos de 94 Cas,” Annals of Burns and Fire Disasters 11, no. 1 (March 1998): 10; Olivier Piot, “De l’indignation à la révolution,” Le Monde diplomatique, February 2011; Hèla Yousfi, L’UGTT, une passion tunisienne: Enquête sur les syndicalistes en révolution 2011–2014 (Tunis: Editions Mohamed Ali / IRMC, 2015), 60. 7.  Yasmine Ryan, “How Tunisia’s Revolution Began,” Al Jazeera, January 26, 2011. 8.  Abdessalem Hidouri, interview, Tunis, 2014. 9.  Lina Ben Mhenni, “How the Web Fed Our ‘Dignity Revolution,’” CNN, January 23, 2012. 10.  Maher Hamdi, interview, Tunis, December 13, 2014. 11.  Ashraf Allam, “The 29 Days That Preceded Ben Ali’s Departure from Tunisia,” Egypt Independent, January 16, 2011. –days-preceded-ben-alis-departure-tunisia 12.  “Tunisie: Les Heurts gagnent la capital,” Le Monde, January 12, 2011, http:// _1464340_3212.html. The government claimed “only” twenty-one dead. 13.  Ben Mhenni, “How the Web Fed Our ‘Dignity Revolution.’” 14.  On the lawyers’ mobilization, see Eric Gobe, Les Avocats en Tunisie, de la colonisation à la révolution (Paris: Editions Karthala, 2013). 15.  al-Sha‘b, December 25, 2010, 16.



16.  Quoted in Siân Ruddick, “Tunisia: Two Years On,” Socialist Worker, November 12, 2012. 17.  Le Temps, December 28, 2010. 26963 18.  Nour, “Les Architectes de la révolution du jasmin: L’UGTT ou la cheville ouvrière du changement,” Réseau des Démocrates, January 26, 2011. 19.  Unless otherwise noted, this section is based on Beinin and Duboc, “A Workers’ Social Movement on the Margin of the Global Neoliberal Order”; Joel Beinin and Marie Duboc, “Mouvement ouvrier, luttes syndicales et processus révolutionnaire en Égypte, 2006–2013,” in Soulèvements et recompositions politiques dans le monde arabe, ed. Michel Camau and Frédéric Vairel (Montreal: Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 2014), 121–42; Joel Beinin and Marie Duboc, “The Egyptian Workers Movement before and after the 2011 Popular Uprising,” Socialist Register 2015 (Pontypool, Wales, UK: Merlin Press, 2014), 136–56; and Joel Beinin, “Workers, Trade Unions, and Egypt’s Political Future,” Middle East Report Online, January 18, 2013,, and the sources cited there. 20. 21.  Mostafa Bassiouny, interview, London, November 4, 2014. 22.  Mu’assasat Awlad al-Ard li-Huquq al-Insan, “186 i‘tisaman wa-77 idraban wa-151 tazahuratan wa-48 waqfatan ihtijajiyyatan wa-27 tajamuran wa-fasl ­wa-tashrid 4205 ‘amilan - hisad al-haraka al-‘ummaliyya fi shahr fibrayir” (Cairo: 2011). Anne Alexander and Mostafa Bassiouny, Bread, Freedom, Social Justice: Workers and the Egyptian Revolution (London: Zed Books, 2014), also adopt this view. 23.  “Matalib al-‘ummal fi al-thawra,” al-Ishtirakiyya al-Thawriyya, February 19, 2011. 24.  Yassin Gaber, “Egypt Labor Minister Declares the End of Government Domination of Trade Unions,” Ahramonline, March 14, 2011. http://english.ahram 25.  This figure averages my conservative estimate, of 593,000, based on collating the monthly reports of Mu’assasat Awlad al-Ard li-Huquq al-Insan posted on various websites throughout the year, and the estimate of 1.3 million in Anne Alexander, “The Egyptian Workers’ Movement and the 25 January Revolution,” International Socialism, no. 133 (2012). issue=133 26.  Interview with Sabr Barakat (member of the interim ETUF management committee), Cairo, December 19, 2012. 27.  Yasmine Fathi, “ETUF Workers Stage Sit-in to Demand Fresh Board Elections,” Ahramonline, November 16, 2011. /1/64/26737/Egypt/Politics-/ETUF-workers-stage-sitin-to-demand-fresh-board-ele.aspx



28.  Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress, “Foundation of the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress,” October 16, 2011, received by email. 29.  Center for Trade Union and Workers Services, “Trade Union Freedoms Report of 2013” (Cairo: CTUWS, January 2014), 3. 30.  Ilhami al-Mirghani et al., Ihtijajat al-‘ummaliyya fi misr, 2012 (Cairo: alMarkaz al-Misri li’l-Huquq al-Ijtima‘iyya wa’l-Iqtisadiyya, 2013), 1, 7, 12, 34, 5; “70 Cases of Labour Protests over 5 Months: Manpower Ministry,” Egypt Independent, December 5, 2013. 31.  al-Markaz al-Misri li-Huquq al-Iqtisadiyya wa’l-Ijtima‘iyya, Taqrir al-ihtijajat al-sanawi, 2013 (Cairo: ECESR, 2014), 35. 2014/07/Protest-report-2013–Web.pdf 32.  Jano Charbel, “And Where Do the Workers Stand?” Mada Misr, July 15, 2013. 33.  Email from Fatma Ramadan, “Raddan ‘ala bayan al-ittihad al-misri li’lniqabat al-mustaqilla,” July 10, 2013. 34.  Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, “Constitutional Coup against the Principles of the Revolution,” July 11, 2013. 35.  “Bayan al-ittihad min fadd al-i‘tismat, 14-8-2013.” 36. CTUWS, Trade Union Freedoms Report of 2013 (Cairo: 2014), 1. 37.  Quoted in Patrick Kingsley, “Egyptian Army Runs Cairo Buses amid Ongoing Strikes; Around 100,000 Workers Have Taken Industrial Action This Year over Demands for Minimum Wage to Be Rolled Out Nationwide,” The Guardian, February 27, 2014. 38.  Jano Charbel, “Strikes in Public Sector Textile Companies Reach New High,” Mada Misr, February 18, 2014,; Abdel Halim H. AbdAllah, “Spinning and Weaving Workers at Kafr Al-Dawar Strike in Solidarity with Mahalla Workers,” Daily News Egypt, February 16, 2014. 39.  Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, “Protests in 2014,”; Kingsley, “Egyptian Army Runs Cairo Buses amid Ongoing Strikes.” According to El-Mahrousa Center for Socioeconomic Development, “Annual Report on Labor Movement in Egypt,” there were 1,420 collective actions in the first quarter of 2014, and 2,274 for the year. lish/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/The-Annual-Report-Brief-on-Labor-Movement-in -Egypt1.pdf 40.  “10 nuqat hawla hukm al-idariyya al-‘ulya bi-hazr wa-tajrim al-idrab— bayan mushtarak,” May 1, 2015,; “Court Forces Striking Workers into Early Retirement for ‘Opposing Islamic Sharia,’” Mada Misr, April 29, 2015. 41.  “Labor Unrest High so Far in 2015, but Pales in Comparison to Last Year, Says Report,” Mada Misr, April 8, 2015.–pales-comparison-last-year-says-report



42. Abdelaziz Ben Hassouna, “Tunisie: l’appel du 16 juin de Béji Caïd Essebsi,”Jeune Afrique, June 28, 2012. tunisie-l-appel-du-16-juin-de-b-ji-caed-essebsi/ 43.  The agreement applied to 140,000 workers, but a year later the extent of its implementation was modest. “Mahdar jalsa,” April 29, 2012. tn/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/pv.pdf 44.  Quoted in Yousfi, L’UGTT, 142. 45.  Ridha Bouzriba (deputy secretary general), al-Maghreb, December 27, 2011, cited in Yousfi, L’UGTT, 139. 46.  Mustapha Kraïem, La Révolution kidnappée (Tunis: La Maghrebine pour l’Impression et la Publication du Livre, 2014), 445–46. 47. Yousfi, L’UGTT, 118ff. 48.  Forum tunisien pour les droits économiques et sociaux, Rapport basin minier (Tunis: October 2012). 49. Yousfi, L’UGTT, 211. 50.  Taoufik Ben Brik, “Tunisie: Siliana, la ville qui peut faire chuter Ennhada,” SlateAfrique, December 19, 2012. niques-de-siliana-revolution-sidi-bouzid-tunisie 51.  Ursula Soares, “Tunisie: L’UGTT annule son appel à la grève,” Radio France International, December 12, 2012.–tunisie-ugtt -annule-son-appel-greve/ 52.  “Adnene Hajji appelle l’UGTT à annuler la grève générale,” Investir en Tunisie, December 11, 2012, php?option=com_content&view=article&id=17444:-tunisie—adnene-hajji-appelle -lugtt-a-annuler-la-greve-generale&catid=95:politique-social&Itemid=317; Hamma Hammami, interview on Mosaique FM, December 13, 2012, http://archive.mosaiq–Hamma-Hammami—le-gouvernement -est-en-rupture-avec-le-peuple.html; Jalel Ben Brik Zoghlami, International Viewpoint, January 31, 2013, 53.  Tawa fi Tunis, “La Politique n’est pas un match de foot!” Slate Afrique, December 14, 2012. 2%80%93–%C2%ABla-politique-n%E2%80%99est-pas-un-match-de-foot-%C2%BB/ 54.  Jean-Pierre Filiu, “Boubaker Al-Hakim, le jihadiste qui veut mettre la France à feu et à sang,” Le Huffington Post, April 7, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost .fr/jeanpierre-filiu/boubaker-al-hakim-daech_b_7009322.html 55. Munsif al-Marzuqi, “al-Afaq al-mur‘iba wa’l-mudhilla lil-thawra al‘arabiyya,” Al Jazeera, March 10, 2011. ebf247b6–88f4–4a6d-97da-e701bc004dc4 56.  Letter of Intent, December 3, 2014. tun/120314.pdf 57.  Arielle Thedrel, “Tunisie: Le Désenchantement des jeunes de Kasserine,” Le Figaro, January 15, 2012.




1.  Raphaël Kempf, “Racines ouvrières du soulèvement égyptien,” Le Monde diplomatique, March 2011. 2.  Nancy Elshami, “Internal April 6 Dynamics, Egyptian Politics, and Outlooks for the Future: An Interview with Ahmed Maher,” December 7, 2011. http://www 3.  Kempf, “Racines ouvrières du soulèvement égyptien.” 4.  Hèla Yousfi, L’UGTT, une passion tunisienne: Enquête sur les syndicalistes en révolution 2011–2014 (Tunis: Editions Mohamed Ali / IRMC, 2015), 80. 5.  Elshami, “Internal April 6 Dynamics.” 6.  Joe Stork, “Three Decades of Human Rights Activism in the Middle East and North Africa: An Ambiguous Balance Sheet,” in Social Movements, Mobilization, and Contestation in the Middle East and North Africa, 2nd ed., ed. Joel Beinin and Frédéric Vairel (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), 105–28. 7.  Eva Bellin, “Civil Society in Formation: Tunisia,” in Civil Society in the Middle East, vol. 1, ed. Augustus Richard Norton (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 136–37. 8.  Maha Abdelrahman, Civil Society Exposed: The Politics of NGOs in Egypt (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2004), 1. 9.  Ibid., 6–8. 10.  Quintan Wiktorowicz, “Civil Society as Social Control: State Power in Jordan,” Comparative Politics 33, no. 1 (2000): 43. 11. Hassan Mneimneh, “Why Tunisia Is the Arab Spring’s Success Story,” Democracy Digest, October 23, 2013. -success-story/ 12.  Quoted in International Crisis Group, “Popular Protests in North Africa and the Middle East (IV): Tunisia’s Way,” Middle East/North Africa Report 106 (April 28, 2011): 16. 13.  Quoted in Monica Marks and Omar Belhaj Salah, “Uniting for Tunisia?” Sada (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), March 28, 2013. http://carnegie