Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Business as usual in Cairo on president’s birthday despite calls for general strike | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – A general strike called by Egyptian activists appeared to have fizzled Sunday with the streets of the capital Cairo choked with its customary heavy traffic.

There was a high security presence in this city of 18 million and many people said they were not interested or had not heard about the general strike called to mark the president’s 80th birthday. The strike was publicized through mobile phone messages and internet social networking sites such as Facebook.

“It’s normal right now, I don’t see any change from an average day,” said a heavily bearded shopkeeper in a congested downtown square beneath the headquarters of a political party flying banners supporting the strike. “It seems most people ignored the call.” He declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The lack of response was in sharp contrast to a strike called for April 6, when traffic was dramatically diminished and many schools and universities were practically empty. That strike was called in solidarity with workers in the northern industrial town of Mahalla el-Kobra, a center of labor activism where there have been repeated demonstrations over low wages and soaring food prices.

On Wednesday, President Hosni Mubarak announced a 30 percent raise in public sector wages in response to rising prices, which may have helped diffuse popular anger. “Isn’t it enough for the president to give them a 30 percent raise, what else do they need?” said a taxi driver guiding his cab through bustling lower class neighborhood.

“As you can see the traffic is normal today,” he added, also on condition of anonymity.

In Mahalla, meanwhile, residents reported a massive security presence with armored cars patrolling to streets to ensure there were none of the violent protests that wracked the city in April.

“There has been heavy security in the city for the past two days with police patrols everywhere,” said Farag Aziza, a labor activist in the city. “Families are still waiting for their children to be released from detention after last month’s demonstrations.”

Police were also barring cars with license plates from outside the province from entering the gritty industrial city.